From Christians and Muslims, to atheists and anarchists, most of us have strong feelings about the best way to approach the world. If not a religion, we all have a governing philosophy or ethic that governs our actions on Earth.
The same holds true in the market, where some advocate growth investing, while others put their faith in value stocks. Some buy only large companies, while others swear by the small caps. Technical traders trust only the charts, while most purists follow the fundamentals. And while there are innumerable ways to make money in the markets, there are a few timeless maxims that apply, regardless of the level you play in the game.
Every investor must start with the mentality of taking responsibility for his own actions. Far too many money managers, both private and professional, seem to mostly specialize in excuses. From the Congress to corporate profits, they've always have a reason why their poor performance is someone else’s fault. Indeed, when we lose money, we tend to make everybody and everything a scapegoat — everything, that is, except our own supposedly sound judgment. As long as our losses are someone else's fault, there's never any incentive to do much about them.
Secondly, there’s the manner you actually put money into the market. Most people invest as if they were burying a time capsule. With a portfolio full of cash, they invest it all in one dramatic crack. Six months later, they dust off their brokerage statement from the bottom of a pile of mail and see if there's any buried treasure to be found.
But just as the ocean is made up of many waves, the market is really a number of smaller markets in varying stages of maturity. It's not a static still-life, but an ever changing watercolor that never dries. To that end, the idea is to pace the deployment of your assets over time. Trading capital shouldn't come sloshing into the market all in one morning, but dribbled in on an ongoing, continual basis. I picture a portfolio as dead wood being cleared away, while mature trades thrive and promising "babies" are just being born. Following this measured approach helps to ensure that there's usually at least one trade in the portfolio that's ready to blossom.
Finally, I’m a stronger believer that before you can invest, you must save. The truth of the matter is that, right now, as much as it hurts to admit it, most people aren't investors as much as they are aggressive savers — willing to take risk, but on a more limited scale.
After all the trends lines have been drawn, and research reports have been issued, I can't help but think that the best financial tip I've ever heard came from Esther Shlensky, my 102-year-old grandmother: Save your money. In this age of hyperactive Internet stock trading, this notion might sound hopelessly outdated. Yet it's the one piece of investment advice that everyone can benefit from, even though surprisingly few actually try.
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