Basics for beginners:
How much money you need to start investing: Not a lot. In fact, it’s mathematically proven that it’s better to start small than to wait until you have more to deploy — even if you try to play catch-up down the road. That little eye-opener is thanks to a magic formula called compound interest.
What to invest in: Stocks. Or at least investment vehicles that provide exposure to the stock market. The stock market is the place that will deliver the best long-term return on your money.
How to buy stocks: The easiest way to start investing in stocks, and the most common, is to buy a mutual fund — a type of investment that pools money from many investors and invests it in a group of different stocks; call it the “eggs in many baskets” approach.
The secret to making money in stocks: Stay invested. Time (to let your investments ride out the market’s inevitable short-term rough patches) and temperament (the ability to keep cool while others are freaking out) are the keys to investment success. So says a guy you might have heard of named Warren Buffett.
Investing 101: Saving vs. investing
There’s saving (amassing money) and then there’s investing (making it multiply). Two big differences between them: time and the type of account you use as a holding pen for your money.
Saving is what you do with the money you’re going to use to pay for short-term goals — ones in the next five years or so. That money belongs in an account where it’s liquid — that is, easily accessible — and safe, such as a high-yield savings account or even a CD if you’re confident you won’t need the funds until after a certain date.
Investing is what you do with money earmarked for long-term goals like retirement. With a long time horizon, you can make growth, rather than liquidity, the priority.
What’s wrong with simply playing it safe with all your retirement money and keeping it in cash? Inflation!
Over time, inflation erodes the purchasing power of cash. If the current inflation rate is 3%, when you go to spend the $100 bill you stashed in a coffee can last year, that money will only get you $97 worth of groceries compared to what it would have gotten you last year. In other words, the cash you’ve been sitting on doesn’t buy as much as it used to, because everything has gotten 3% more expensive.
Now imagine the effect of decades of inflation on wads of money. Actually, you don’t have to imagine.
Real estate investing basics
There’s an entire genre of TV shows that make it appear as though buying and flipping real estate is the modern equivalent of alchemy. You'd think just about everyone has the amazing ability to turn drywall and vinyl siding into gold. Those who buy property hoping to get rich quick should understand the dangers.
Real estate is a business that comes with huge, expensive complications, ones that can potentially ruin unsavvy speculators. Any back of the envelope calculation of investment return must take into account expenses such as property taxes, insurance, and maintenance.
Canadian business guru Joe Canavan, founder of GT Global (Canada) and Synergy Asset Management, looked at the numbers and realized, that over the last 25 years, the S&P TSX Composite Index was up by about 325%, while during that same period, the average home price across Canada increased about 200%. That said, buying a house has been for generations a kind of forced saving plan for undisciplined investors; it might not be the absolute best investment, but without that monthly mortgage payment, they might not have saved anything at all.
Those seeking diversification in their portfolio in addition to stocks and bonds can invest in real estate without any of the headaches that come with actually owning a house or apartment. Real estate investment trusts, or REITs, are companies that sell shares in their various real estate investments. Just as diversification is important in stock holdings, REIT investors can spread their risk among dozens — or even hundreds — of REITs through REIT ETFs, of which there are literally hundreds to choose from.
REITs also offer some major tax benefits that neither home ownership, nor investments in stocks or bonds, offer.