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How to Start Investing: Basic Investment Ideas

Use these basic investment ideas to start investing and get on track to meet your goals

We spend a lot of time talking about basic investment ideas on the blog. Ok, you’re probably about tired of hearing about some of the simple investing ideas but they are so important. Wall Street wants you to think you need to spend all your time analyzing stocks or just pay for its advice but all you really need is a few investing rules to meet your goals.

Even the pros stick to the stock market rules we talk about here, though they love to pitch their complicated trading strategies online and on TV. We’ve covered a lot of the mechanics of how to get started buying stocks online but I wanted to go over two more basic investment ideas that will help keep you on track.

  • Diversification – Investing in different assets (stocks, bonds, real estate) and different investments in each asset to make sure your portfolio doesn’t all plunge with a stock market crash.
  • Life stage investing – Investing according to how much time you have left to major purchases and the amount of risk you can manage.

Diversification is one of the Most Basic Investment Ideas

Diversification gets a lot of talk by investors but few people really do it correctly. To understand diversification, understand that different investments react differently to the economy and other headlines. Strong economic growth is great for stocks because it usually means corporate profits are heading higher.

If you were investing in bonds, a booming economy might not be so great because it might mean higher interest rates and lower bond prices. Conversely, when the economy falls apart, stocks sink while bonds hold up much better.

If you invested in just stocks or bonds then your portfolio would jump or plummet with the economy and other factors. If you had both, the ups in one investment would smooth out the downside in the other and you wouldn’t lose sleep every time Wall Street takes a nosedive.

diversification investment ideas

But diversification doesn’t stop at just stocks and bonds. You need to hold other asset classes like real estate and even personal loans through Lending Club. I put together a chart of the major asset classes and investment ideas in a previous article to show how this basic investment idea means I don’t have to worry about the next stock market crash.

For real diversification, you need to own a few investments in each of the asset classes:

  • Stocks
    • U.S stocks of large and small companies
    • Foreign companies
  • Bonds
    • Bonds of U.S. corporations
    • Personal loans
  • Real Estate
    • Real Estate Investment Trusts (REITs) trade just like stocks
  • Cash Investments
    • CDs and Money Market accounts for short-term cash needs

Within stocks, there are nine sectors in which you need to invest. These are broad groups that operate in common industries in the economy. Just as the value of asset classes react to factors differently, stocks within different sectors react differently as well. Companies within utilities and consumer staples do better when the economy is slowing while energy and technology companies do better when the economy is growing.

Stock Sector Investment Ideas

Finding different stocks from different sectors is pretty easy with most stock screeners. I’m posting a screen shot of the TradeKing stock screener below but most screeners are basically the same. Keeping to this basic investment idea of diversification, means spreading your investment across several stocks within the sectors and across different size companies.

On the stock screener, you will want to break the total investment you are going to make into nine buckets and look for at least two or three stocks in from each of the nine sectors. Avoid stocks from the Micro Cap selection as these are extremely small companies with a high risk of failure. Choose more Large and Mega Cap companies but invest in a few small and mid-cap companies as well.

Basic Investment Ideas in Stocks

You’ll come across a lot of ‘analysis’ and commentary on investing that will make you think you should invest more in a particular sector and less in another. This is called ‘market timing’ but should be called ‘I want to lose my money to high fees and panic selling.’ Trying to time the markets is a fool’s game and defeats the purpose of diversification.

It’s best to just split up your investment evenly between the sectors. Deposit savings into your account regularly but wait at least three to six months before investing your savings. This will cut down on the amount of times you buy stocks and the amount of fees you pay.

Over three to five years, some sectors will do better while others might lag a little. You can do one of two things to even things out again.

  • With your regular six-month investing, split your total investment unevenly so that more is invested in the sectors that have lagged. For example, if your energy stocks have done well and total $500 but your technology stocks only equal $300 then you will want to invest more in your technology stocks to even out the sector investments.
  • If you’d rather split your regular investments evenly then you can wait to rebalance after several years. Every few years, sell some investments from sectors that have done really well to invest in other sectors that have lagged. Set a specific date to do this and not more often that every two or three years.

Simple Investing Ideas around Exchange Traded Funds

A much simpler way to invest is through exchange traded funds (ETFs) and other fund choices. An exchange traded fund is a group of stocks held around a common theme or strategy. There are funds for each sector as well as funds that hold real estate stocks and even bonds.

You buy and sell ETFs just as you would an individual stock and the fees are much lower than mutual funds. You get instant diversification because most ETFs hold hundreds of individual stocks but you only have to pay one commission instead of buying each of the stocks.

For investments in each sector, I like the Select Sector SPDRs which hold the largest American companies in each sector. The funds charge a management expense of less than 0.2% of your investment each year, well under the 1.4% average fee charged by mutual funds.

Basic Investment Ideas Sector Funds

For an even cheaper way to invest, I have an account with Motif Investing. Motif is an innovative new way to invest in funds, reviewed here last month. You pick up to 30 individual stocks or funds to group together and then buy them all for one commission. It’s like creating your own ETF but you don’t have to pay the annual management fee that comes with ETFs and mutual funds. To decide which stocks to put in your funds, just look at which stocks are in the Sector SPDR funds.

Basic Investing with Life Stage Investing

While investing an equal amount of money within each sector is ok, you should be investing a different amount across asset classes.

This basic investment idea is built around life-stage investing, the amount of time you have left to invest and circumstances around your financial life. Stocks offer better long-term returns than bonds and real estate but are much riskier. Younger investors with several decades left to retirement can hold more in stocks and won’t have to worry about a downturn in the market. Even if stocks lose their value in a recession, the investor has plenty of time to recoup those losses when stocks rebound on the next cycle of growth.

As you age, the time you’ll have to be able to a make up for losses on riskier investments decreases. Older investors will want to hold more of their portfolio in bonds and real estate. These safer investments will not grow as fast as stocks but are more stable and will help ensure your portfolio is there when you’re ready to retire.

Simple Investing Ideas Life Stage

The percentages of your money you invest in each asset class will depend on your own tolerance for risk as well as your point in life-stage investing. Younger investors that do not want a lot of risk in their portfolio may opt for more bonds and real estate than is normal.

Just as with shifting your balances in stocks, you shouldn’t shift your balance across your asset classes more frequently than every few years. In fact, since life-stage investing changes according to your age, you may hold off to rebalance your asset classes every decade. Every ten years, decrease the amount invested in stocks in favor of investments in the other two asset classes.

These two basic investment ideas, diversification and life-stage investing, are the two simplest concepts that you will need to start investing. Amazingly, they may also be the only two concepts you need to invest. Over ten years as an investment analyst, I’ve learned that the investing basics are really the best and only tools you need to meet your financial goals. Resist the temptation to make investing more complicated than it needs to be!

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