Discover this One Technique that Will Help You Accomplish More…In Less Time

Man racing against time

Stop racing against the clock and get more done in less time by utilizing Parkinson’s Law

How would you like to get more work done in less time?

It seems like we always have so much to do, but so little time. In this article you will learn about Parkinson’s Law which will help you accomplish more in less time.

How this law helps you achieve financial freedom

We have a lot to do. We are working and hustling to get the next gig, pump out the next article, or write the next book.

As a result we never seem to have time.

Our work suffers, output drops, and we become burned out on the fringe of quitting.

We become stressed because we have allowed these tasks to take over your life. We resort to checking Facebook more frequently and binge watching Netflix.

This is where Parkinson’s Law will help you out. Once you understand this law you can use it to your advantage to do the work of two people in half the time.

What is Parkinson’s Law?

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Parkinson’s Law is a law that states “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

This Law was first mentioned by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in a humorous essay published in The Economist in 1955.

Parkinson developed this law over the course of his career working in the British Civil Service.

Parkinson theorized that people have a tendency to create more work for themselves because they have given themselves so much time to complete the task.

As a result they set long deadlines and work much less efficiently.

For example, let’s say you give someone ten hours to complete a task that would normally only take two. The chance of that person completing that task in exactly ten hours, no more, no less, are very high.

Even though the task only typically takes two hours, that person will find a way to make the task last the full ten hours you allotted it.

How can you use Parkinson’s Law in your favor?

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The 5 Reasons Why I am Gradually Moving More of My Money to Exchange Traded Funds

In the recent months I have begun moving more and more of my money to index funds/exchange traded funds. Below I list the 5 main reasons why I have chosen to do this.

1. Picking Stocks Takes Time

I love researching and picking my own stocks, especially when they turn out to be big winners. However, in order to pick the right stocks it takes time and patience.

When I pick stocks I am very meticulous in my research. I only pick stocks that appear to be a great companies at a good value.

Finding these stocks takes time.

In order to free up time for my other ventures, I have begun investing more and more into exchange traded funds, also known as ETF’s.

2. My Chances of Beating the Market are Slim

I know that the chance of me beating the market as a whole is slim. While I love researching and picking stocks, it is highly likely that my returns will be subpar, or right at the market at best.

Instead of hoping to match the market and maybe beat it, I have instead chosen to invest my money into the very funds I am trying to beat.

This goes hand in hand with #1 listed above. Why spend so much time matching the market when I can buy an ETF in the market?

3. Diversification is Simpler

Trying to diversify a portfolio with many stocks can prove to be a difficult challenge. This is another reason I have chosen to invest more in ETF’s.

Consider this: I have one Total Stock Market ETF and on Total Bond Market ETF. It is much easier for me to balance this portfolio than if I am juggling with 20 different stocks and bonds in my portfolio all at one time.

4. Keeping Track of Stocks Takes Time

I noted above that picking stocks takes time, but tracking your own stocks takes even more time.

In order to maintain your portfolio, you need to have some idea of how your stock positions are performing.

So you need to stay updated on the stock’s news and know when a good exit point for you will be.

I have lost out in some instances where I waited too long to sell a stock. As a result, I am still holding some stocks that have proven to be losers which brings me to #5.

5. It’s Hard to Cut Losses

With individual stocks it is hard to cut losses and move on. This is something that I have struggled with.

I currently own some stock in 3D Technology (DDD) which has dropped 39% since I bought in about a year ago.

What is holding me back?

If I had to guess, it would be the loss aversion theory in action. I wrote a post about loss aversion which you can check out here.

Do you pick your own stocks or do you opt to invest in an exchange traded fund instead? Why did you choose one over the other? 

What is Financial Freedom?

As you know this blog has been inspired by financial freedom. While there are differing opinions about what financial freedom, this article will present financial freedom from my personal perspective.

What is financial freedom to me?

Financial freedom to me is having enough money to live without ever really having to work again. Now this does not mean you never have to work again. Instead it means that you work on your own terms.

You never have to worry about the stress of losing your job. You don’t have to worry about whether you have clients or not. When you are financially free, work no longer becomes a requirement in life but rather a choice.

How would you get there?

There are a number of ways to achieve financial freedom. The most effective way is by building passive income streams. This is done in a few ways shown below.

Have Your Money Make You Money

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Build up enough cash so that it will generate money-almost like planting your very own money tree.

The first way to build a passive income stream is to build up enough cash so that it will generate money. Use your cash to purchase dividend paying stocks or bonds which pay you interest. You could also purchase annuities which would pay you over the life time of the annuity.

For example, if you have $5 million in cash right now you could invest in bonds which pay out 5% a year. Just by having those bonds alone, you will generate $250,000 a year in interest income!

Imagine, $250,000 in your pocket and you don’t have to do anything at all! You can accomplish this with dividend paying stocks as well.

Stocks pay a wide range of dividends, and are not quite as reliable as bonds for paying you out every month.

But stocks do have the advantage of appreciating in value over time, so that when you sell the stock you have a chance to make more money.

I don’t have $5 million to put away, what should I do?

Fair enough. Most of us do not have $5 million in liquid cash at our disposal at any time. So what should you do instead?

Create a Business which Produces Cash with Minimal Effort

While I was writing that subheading, it sounded a tad bit scammy. Just like one of those spam emails which tell you how some guy makes $5,000 a day just by clicking a few buttons.

There are people out there with legitimate businesses that do not require much effort on their part.

They do this by doing one of two things

1)      They automate their business so they don’t have to do most of the work or,

2)      The create a product which they can sell to the masses

In order to accomplish number one listed above you would do a few things. First you would have to build a business up from scratch (if you can’t buy one initially).

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Automating your business by hiring employees is one method you can use to become financially free.

Then you would look to hire employees to help do the menial tasks that you don’t want to do. Then finally you would hire a manager to help oversee the employees and take care of the higher level duties that you don’t want to do.

This leaves you to plan for the future and grow, and takes you away from the day-to-day tasks that you would be doing at any typical 9 t
o 5 job.

For the second item, you would create a product that you only need to create once or can be created by others, and sell it to the masses.

Key Point: Learn How to Separate Time From Money

The key to building a passive income business is separating your time from money. Most jobs will pay you for every hour you work.

It has been engrained in us that we get paid when we work and don’t get paid when we don’t.

What if you did get paid when you didn’t work? How would you like to get paid when you didn’t work? When you are sleeping? When you are on vacation?

If you have an automated business, you will no longer trade your valuable time for money.

There are a ton of ideas to help you build up passive income streams. One of the best books to help you understand the different types of business systems is “The Millionaire Fastlane” by MJ Demarco.

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Check out The Millionaire Fastlane, one of my favorite business books that I’ve read recently

In that book he lays out the “Five Fastlane Business Seedlings” which are business systems which produce passive income for the owner. Those five systems are

  1. Rental Systems
  2. Computer Systems
  3. Content Systems
  4. Distribution Systems and,
  5. Human-resource Systems

If you want to find out more, check out the book on Amazon. It really is a great resource and I would recommend it to any entrepreneur or wantreprenuer looking to get started.

My Top Three Reasons for Wanting to Achieve Financial Freedom

I have told you what financially freedom is to me. Know I want to elaborate on why it is my goal to achieve financial freedom.

Reason #1: I want to have the freedom to do what I want when I want

If I want to sleep in until 12 I can.

If I want to meet friends for lunch on the other side of town at the last second I can.

If I want to go on vacation at the drop of a hat I can.

I would also have freedom to pursue hobbies that you enjoy but would never really make you money.

For example, I enjoy playing basketball and golf. I am not really good at either one of those. I could play those whenever I want.

Reason #2: I want to explore the world

Many folks don’t have to be financially free to explore the world, but I think it would be pretty amazing being able to travel all over without a timeline to get home like you would when you work.

I have never traveled much, and I think it would be great to be able to see the world.

Being financially free would allow me to travel on my own time, and have the money to do so.

Reason #3: Spend more time with those I love

I am personally not a workaholic. I’ll admit it.

I will work really hard doing the job the needs to be done. Once it is complete I go home and do the things that I want to do.

It’s not even that I am lazy, but I just like to enjoy life and do those things that I want to do.

I don’t want to feel obligated to go into some place five days a week for the next 35 years of my life.

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You now know my reasons for wanting to achieve financial freedom. What are yours?

I enjoy spending time with family and friends, and financial freedom will allow me to do this.

Down the road when I have kids, I want have the ability to spend time with them. I want to be a part of their life.

I don’t want to be at work all of the time and come home and be too tired to spend time with my family.

This is what financial freedom is to me. This is why I want to achieve it. What is financial freedom to you? Why do you want to achieve financial freedom?

Photo Credits (in order)

Flickr/Shari’s Berries, Flickr/Phil Whitehouse, Flickr/Kalyan Chakravarthy

Six Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Pick Your Own Stocks

When I first started investing, it was an overwhelming experience. I didn’t know where to get started and figured that I could just start investing in individual stocks.

I didn’t have a real strategy behind why I was doing what I was doing. I just picked a company that looked like it would be a good investment, and bought into it.

It wasn’t until I started to do some actual research and read up on books that had to do with investing in the market that I realized that I was probably better off not picking individual stocks.

As a matter of fact, practically everyone is better off investing in an index fund or ETF instead of picking their own stocks.

In this article you will discover six reasons why you are better off not picking your own individual stocks.

1. You don’t have the expertise to pick stocks

Picking stocks can be a difficult challenge. It takes a considerable amount of time to understand the market and to learn how to read a company’s financial statements.

Not only do you have to analyze a company’s financial statements, you also have to have a good understanding of a company’s behavior and how it affects the bottom line.

In addition, there are many schools of thought on how to pick stocks. Choosing between these various methodologies can be difficult and overwhelming. Not only that, but some of these methodologies just flat out don’t work.

2. You don’t have time to pick your own stocks.

I know you lead a busy life. If you want to pick your own stocks it will only add to the daily tasks that you to do.

It takes a significant amount of time to manage your own investments. You always need to keep an eye on your individual stocks in the event that something unusual does happen.

You also have to keep track of earnings announcements and other press releases by the company to make sure they are staying on the right track.

Most people don’t have the time or simply don’t want to take this much time with their investments.

3. You want to get rich quick.

Investing in the stock market won’t make you a millionaire overnight. Sure, some people became millionaires during the internet boom of the late 90s, but these people are the exception to the rule.

There were also many people who lost a ton of money in the 90s following the same strategies. They just ended up on the wrong side of the coin.

4. You don’t have the patience

In order to invest in individual stocks, you need to be extremely patient.

You have to be careful with your investment because it is easy to panic if your stock starts to plummet out of nowhere.

Investing in the stock market takes years of patience and discipline. If you aren’t willing to put in that time and effort, don’t pick your own stocks.

5. You don’t enjoy picking stocks

This one seems fairly obvious but if you don’t enjoy picking stocks, don’t pick your own stocks.

However, a lot of people don’t know if they enjoy picking stocks until after they have bought their first stocks. They realize how much time and stress is involved but by the time they realize it, it is too late.

One thing I would recommend is to use a stock market simulator game for a few weeks or even a few month.

Practice picking stocks and tracking companies in your free time. If you actually enjoy finding stocks and tracking them, maybe you are fit to pick your own stocks.

If you don’t enjoy this process, then don’t even think about picking your own stocks.

6. You want to beat the market

Let’s just clarify one thing: you will not beat the market. Many people don’t beat the market.

Professional money managers rarely beat the market. If they can’t do it, what makes you think you can?

According to Brad Barber of UC Davis and Terrance Odean of UC Berkeley, only 1% of active traders beat the market. They concluded that the more frequently people trade, the worse they ended up doing.

Sure it’s fun to imagine being the next Warren Buffett or Peter Lynch, but chances are you won’t be one of those guys.

What should you do instead?

If you aren’t picking your own stocks, what should you do with your money?

My recommendation for those investors is to invest in a total market ETF. My personal favorite is the Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI).

By investing in this ETF you will have a diversified portfolio which also has extremely low fees compared to other mutual funds.

The Importance of Low Fees

Picking a fund with low fees is important to me and it should be important to you too.

Many actively manage funds have high fees. This means you will have to pay more money which will end up eating into your return on investment.

The kicker is this: most managed funds don’t beat the market.

Remember what I said above about beating the market? Most fund managers fail to beat the market consistently. Why pay more fees for something that’s not even going to give you a higher rate of return.

Why do you benefit from investing in a Total Stock Market Fund?

By investing in a total stock market fund, you experience a couple of benefits.

First, there is much less management on your part. All you have to do is put your money into this fund and sit back and let the stock market do the work.

You don’t have to spend a bunch of time analyzing individual stocks and tracking your portfolio.

Second, there is much less stress by investing in a total market fund. Because your investments are diversified, you don’t have to worry about a single company destroying your investment portfolio.

But what if I really want to pick my own stocks?

Now you know that you shouldn’t pick your own stocks. But what if you still have an itch to pick some individual stocks. What should you do?

One thing that you could do is invest a large percentage of your portfolio in the total stock market fund, and use the remainder to pick your own individual stocks.

This is a strategy that I personally use. I enjoy picking stocks but I don’t like the stress that comes with putting all of my eggs in only one or two baskets.

What I do is invest 60% of my portfolio in the total stock market fund (along with some bond funds) and I use the remainder to invest in individual stocks.

I still get the enjoyment of picking my own stocks, but I don’t have to deal with the risk of having all of my money investing in only a few companies.

Do you pick your own stocks or invest in a market fund? 

Your Fear of Losing Will End Up Costing You Big Time

I was discussing the stock market with one of my co-workers the other day, and we were talking about how stocks are generally overvalued and how the market will have to come back down eventually.

He said “This is why I don’t want to invest in the market right now. Everything is just too high and it’s going to fall eventually. I would rather wait for things to come down to get started.”

I don’t blame him for not wanted to invest everything in stocks right now, but he could invest a small portion of his money in stocks and put the other portion into other forms of investments. Keep in mind, he didn’t invest in the market when it was high in 2007, but he also didn’t invest in 2009 when it hit rock bottom.

It’s not unusual for first time investors to have this mentality

Many first time investors hesitate when it comes to investing. Personally, I spent a couple of years dreaming of investing but never took the leap of faith. What was holding me back those two years is the same thing that holds back many first time investors: loss aversion.

The loss aversion theory explains why many people are afraid to get started. People will make excuses as to why they don’t want to invest in the stock market because they are scared of losing money.

But, this begs the question, when exactly do you plan on investing in the market?

What I saw with my co-worker was a classic example of the loss aversion theory in action. He was so afraid of losing money in the market. As a result, he has not investing in the stock market at all in the past 8 years.

So you may be wondering “What exactly is the loss aversion theory?”

The theory states that people have a tendency to value gains and losses differently. So if something is presented in terms of gains and losses, people are more likely to pick the item based off the gains presentation.

Why do we value gains and losses differently?

This is due to the fact that people strongly prefer to avoid losses rather than acquiring gains of the same amount. In some studies, they have showed that the pain of losing is almost twice as strong as the pain of gaining.

In one example, people were given the option of risking $5,000 to make $10,000 on a flip of a coin. Many people would forgo the gain just so that they didn’t lose any money.

Think about that one for a second. If you could flip a coin and make $10,000 or lose $5,000, would you take that chance? Truth is, you really should take that chance. 50% of the time your will come out ahead with $10,000. What do you think you would do in this situation? Why?

How can you apply loss aversion theory to investing?

The thing about loss aversion is this: it causes people to stay in stagnant positions just so that they don’t have to risk losing any money. Due to the fact that people are so afraid of losing, they will stay in a position that is worse in the long run.

For example, some individuals would stick with losing investments over a long period of time because they don’t want to realize losses. As a result, they will ride down with a sinking ship so that they don’t have to experience the pain of losing…until it is too late of course.

To make matters worse, some people will actually invest more money into a losing stock to average out the cost of their investment. This makes it seem as though the stock hasn’t lost as much value.

How can you avoid the loss aversion bias?

Above I have illustrated two situations in investing that are subject to the loss aversion bias.

The first one being new investors who just don’t get started because they are afraid to lose money.

The second one being experienced investors who hold on to losing stock positions because they do not want to realize losses, which would turn paper losses into actual money losses.

How can new investors avoid the loss aversion bias?

For new investors, it is important to realize that there is some risk to investing in the stock market. You need to understand that your investments may lose value in the short term.

What you also need to know is that the market has been upward trending for the past 130 years and more. You can’t let your fear of losses hold you back from investing.

Another way to hedge your losses is to make sure your portfolio is well diversified. Make sure you have your money invested across a range of stock indexes, bonds, and other investment types. This will help limit your losses over the long haul and make you less likely to lose your money.

Finally, you need to stop worrying and accept the fact that you could lose money. You need to grow comfortable with the fact that your portfolio will have extremely high days and extremely lows days. The most important thing is to weather the storm and not panic on those bad days.

How can experienced investors avoid the loss aversion bias?

My advice for experienced investors is quite different from new investors. New investors are afraid of losing money from the get go whereas experienced investors are afraid of realizing losses on certain investments.

For experienced investors, you need to maintain a long term view of investments. It is important for you to understand how a loss will impact your portfolio as a whole.

One way you can avoid holding on to a losing stock for too long is to place a stop loss order on that stock. This will force you to sell your stock once it hits a certain low point.

Another good thing to remember is that selling investments at a loss will actually help you. When you sell at a loss, you will be able to offset any short term and long term taxable gains.

Final word to experienced investors

Do not hold onto a stock longer than you should. If there are legitimate, solid indications of a sign to sell your stock now, you should absolutely sell.

Now, this doesn’t mean every time a tv pundit tells you a stock is a sell that you should sell it. However, if a company is going through turmoil and revenues and profits are way down, then you should probably sell before it is too late.

You don’t want to hold on to a stock just because you hope it will go up in value. You shouldn’t buy a stock which you hope goes up in value, so why would you have that mentality for a stock you currently own?

What do you think?

What do you think about the loss aversion theory? Have there been times where you didn’t do something because you were afraid of losing? Can you apply this theory to other areas of your life?

Should you pay off your mortgage or invest your money?

Suppose you win the lottery and you win just enough to pay off your mortgage. Should you pay off your mortgage? Or would you be better off investing that money?

In order to answer this question, we must weigh a number of factors. The most important factor deals with your risk profile. You will also want to consider how your current investments are allocated. There are numerous other factors that you must consider. Before we get to all of those factors, let’s make a few assumptions.

Let’s assume the following:

Yeah, I know the saying about people who assume. However, for purposes of answering this question in as full of detail as possible, I need to assume a few things before we dive in and discover my opinion to this question.

The following assumptions are being made:

  1. You have 25 years left on your mortgage so you have a long timeline left to pay it off.
  2. You are in the 25% federal tax bracket, and will remain there for the foreseeable future.
  3. In addition, your state income tax rate is 8%
  4. You current mortgage rate is on par with national averages at 4.5%
  5. You have $200,000 left on your mortgage
  6. You expect the average rate of return of the stock market to be 8% over the next 25 years.

With those assumptions being made, we have the foundation to truly evaluate what you should do with your lottery winnings: invest in the stock market or pay off your mortgage?

Tax deductions make your interest rate lower

The first item that you must consider is that your interest rate is really not the 4.5%. Why is this true? The United States has favorable tax deductions available to homeowners, so your actual interest rate will effectively be lower. What would be the effective interest rate based on our assumptions above?

Your effective interest rate after considering the mortgage tax deduction would actually be 3.105%. How did we arrive at that number? Using this handy calculator at Bankrate, you can easily calculate what your interest rate will be after your mortgage tax deduction.

Go ahead and play with the calculator a bit. It is interesting to see how much the mortgage tax deduction will actually help you. In this example it is almost like cutting 1.4% off your interest rate on your loan!

Paying off your mortgage means no mortgage tax deduction

Why is your interest rate important? This will help us in making our final decision whether to invest our money or pay off the mortgage.

If you choose to pay off your mortgage, you will no longer be eligible for the mortgage tax deduction. You will have to pay more in taxes as a result. But, you won’t be making mortgage payments anymore!

So it looks like a win for paying off you mortgage, doesn’t it? But wait, it can’t be that simple. Well…I guess we have to consider a few other factors before making our big decision.

The opportunity cost of paying off your mortgage

Paying off your mortgage would be a great relief. However, there is an opportunity cost to paying off your mortgage. Ah, opportunity cost, that word you used in economics and never thought you would see again.

By paying off your mortgage, you are foregoing other options with your lottery winnings. What specific opportunity costs can you think of by paying off your mortgage?

The biggest opportunity cost to me is that you will not have that money to invest. This is the biggest opportunity cost in my opinion, so hear me out.

By paying off your mortgage you are taking all of your money off the table to get rid of a huge debt, which can be a relief. However, you will not be able to do anything with that money once to pay off your mortgage.

This brings up an age old question: Should you invest or pay off your debt?

Generally, you would rather invest any extra money when you can achieve returns which are higher than the interest rate on your debts. For example, let’s say you have a loan with 2% interest. Let’s also say that you can make an investment which will return 5% in the next year.

If you choose to pay off your loan, the money will be gone for good. However, if you choose to go with the investment, your money will appreciate by 5%. Now you will have to pay 2% on your loan. As a result, you end up with a net positive return of 3%. Simple enough, right?

The answer is staring you right in the face

Let’s go back to our original example and decide whether you should pay off your mortgage or invest in the stock market.

Based on the assumptions being made, you will be able to achieve an average annual return of 8% in the stock market in the next 25 years. During that same time period, you will be paying an effective interest rate on your loan of 3.105%. You do the math. What will be your total net return of this decision?

Got your answer? Okay good.

I’m sure you answered 4.895% you smart cookie. For simplicity sake, let’s just say you will get an average net return of 4.9% if you decide to invest in the stock market and keep your mortgage as is.

This is precisely where I would stop and not even consider paying off the mortgage. I’m a numbers guy, and the numbers are telling me one thing: INVEST! However, I know that many people aren’t as into the numbers as I am, so I will lay out a few other factors that will help you make your decision.

Factor one: Your risk profile

Your decision will depend heavily on your risk profile. If you like to take on risks and live life on the edge, you would want to invest in the stock market regardless. You don’t care about the fluctuations of the markets, you live for this sort of thing!

Even if you have a moderate risk profile, you would likely opt to invest in the stock market as opposed to paying off your mortgage. Sure, paying off your mortgage would feel good, but you know there is a very good probability the market will return around 8% in 25 years’ time.

If you are extremely risk averse, you will take the sure thing and pay off your mortgage. What if the stock market crashes tomorrow and you lose all your money? You don’t want to take that risk no matter how unlikely it is. You want a sure thing, and the only sure thing is today. You would get rid of that mortgage.

Based on your risk portfolio, what would you do in this situation? Would having a shorter time horizon make you more likely to pay off your mortgage?

Factor two: Asset allocation

Another factor you have to consider is your asset allocation. This will depend on how many assets your had just before winning the lottery.

If you have very few investments, and you choose to pay off your mortgage, you are essentially putting all of your eggs in one back: real estate. This will throw your asset allocation all out of whack, and you will have a high risk exposure to the real estate market. This risk is even higher when you consider you are putting all of your money into one single asset: your home.

If you have few investments and choose to invest in the stock market, you are better able to spread your risk out among number companies, funds, and indexes.

However, if you already have many investments you would not be as impacted by choosing either option. We would assume that you already have a well-balanced profile. Paying off your mortgage wouldn’t expose you to asset allocation risk.

Factor three: Interest rates

In the example above, I illustrated that if you had a low interest rate you would be better off investing in the stock market. I did not consider the factor of higher interest rates.

The interest rate on your mortgage will affect whether or not you choose to invest your money or pay off your mortgage. Logic says the higher the interest rate on your mortgage, the better off you are to pay off the mortgage.

Other factors to consider

Psychological effect of paying off your mortgage early

Paying off your mortgage is a huge accomplishment. For many people, paying off debt is a rewarding experience. You will sleep better at night knowing that your will not have to make to monthly payments every month.

You will no longer have to worry about whether you will have enough money to make mortgage payments. The only payments you will have to make will be for insurance, property taxes, and any miscellaneous repairs and other expenses.

You will have excess cash to invest

While you won’t have the initial $200,000 to invest when you first pay off your mortgage, you will have an extra $1,000 to invest.

While you are deferring compounding interest on your investments, you will also be reducing your risk over time. Having this extra money each month will give you some flexibility for investing and give you extra cash flow every month.

Question to consider:

Would you borrow 3.1% to invest in the stock market?

Answer: for me the answer is a definitive yes. That is basically the decision you are making if you do decide to take your lottery winnings and invest them in the market (again, using our assumptions about market return made above).

What do you think you would do in this situation? Do you think you would pay off the mortgage or invest your money? What other things must you consider before making this decision?

Investment Options for College Students Revealed

Question: I’m currently in college and I am looking to get started investing. What are the best investment options for me?

For first time investors, especially those still in college, investing can be a daunting challenge. Given the number of investment options, it is no wonder many people don’t begin investing at a younger age.

In this post you will learn about what the investment options that are available to you. These options are broken down into different categories which will depend on how long you plan on keeping that money invested.

What is your time frame?

What investments you choose to go with will depend largely in part on how long you plan on keeping that money invested. In other words, how long do you think you will go without having to touch your savings?

There are several investment options available for those who don’t plan on needing money for a long time and for those who will need money in less than a year and everyone in between.

Different time frames

The first thing that you want to do is understand the four basic time frames for investing. By understanding your time frame you will be able to make the most educated decision as to where to put your money.

Very Short Term – If you think you will need to use your savings within the next year, you will have a very short term time horizon. This would be you if you think that you will have to use your savings to cover expenses at some point within the next 12 months.

Short Term – If you think you will be able to put you money away for over a year, but might need access to it within the next three years, you would have a short term time horizon.

You would have a short term time horizon if your future is uncertain, and you do not know what will happen in the next few years.

I imagine most college students would fit under this category. Uncertainty in the job market and your living situation make it better for you to have money quickly accessible, given the unpredictability of your situation.

Intermediate – If you think you can put away money for the next three to six years, you would fit best under this time frame.

A person in an intermediate time frame would be one who would likely need money in a few years to purchase a home, pay for a wedding, or some other large expense, which would require a significant amount of cash.

Long term – If you are able to put away money for ten years or more, you will take a long term approach to your investment decisions.

This would be you if you are comfortable not touching your money for at least ten years. If you can get comfortable with not having access to your cash for that long, this approach is best for your.

What time horizon are you?

Now that you have learn of the different time horizons, which one best suits you? Keep in mind you don’t have to be ONLY short term or ONLY long term.

You have flexibility in what you choose with your decision. This exercise is just to help you understand what investments you should be making based on your situation.

Here is what I want you to do: Figure out how much savings your have (or you plan on having) and then determine what percentage you plan on putting away for a certain time horizon.

For example, if I had $40,000 put away, I would put away 15% for very short term, 20% for short term, 25% for intermediate term, and 35% for the long term.

Don’t take too long to do this, but just jot down some numbers to get an idea, and then continue reading below.

Investments to make based of your time horizon

So you now have an idea of what your investment time horizon is. Simple enough, right? Now let’s get to the meat of the subject: what you should invest your money in.

Very short term investments

If you have a very short time horizon, you are best keeping your money in a checking account, high yield savings account, and money market account.

Checking Account

Now, a checking account is not really an investment option and I know you already have one open. The only reason I put this here was because you do need some money on hand so you can cover typical monthly expenses, along with any unexpected repairs and other expenses that could pop up.

Other than that, checking accounts don’t yield any money. They are more like a storage space for you cash that you have immediate access to. Now on to the actual investments…

High Yield Savings Account

Opening a high yield savings account is a useful option for the very short term and short term investor. High yield savings accounts have a return of about 0.75% to 0.95%, depending on where you open your account.

You generally will not get that high of a yield if you go to your local or big branch bank. The best savings accounts are usually found online and will require a little research, but are well worth the time and effort.

Money Market Account

Money market accounts are similar to a savings account in terms of returns. They net an average of 0.75% to 1.00% a year, depending on where you go.

Money market accounts and savings accounts are very similar in nature. You really should not spend too much time deciding between the two. Just pick the one you think is best and go with it. Close your eyes and pick one. It doesn’t really matter. What matters is getting started today.

Short term investments

You already know of two short term investments, high yield savings accounts and money market accounts. In addition to those two, another short term investment option is a Certificate of Deposit.

Certificates of Deposit (CDs)

Certificate of Deposits are investments in which you place you money for a set period of time, and do not touch that money until the term is up.

As a result, you get a slightly better return on your investments. Keep in mind, the terms of a CD can vary from a few months up to a few years.

Returns for a one year CD will be about 1% whereas your return for a two year CD will be around 1.10% to 1.40% per year. Basically, the longer the term of your CD, the higher your rate of return.

CDs are not quite as attractive as savings accounts or money market accounts because the money is locked in for a set period of time. While you do get slightly better returns, you will generally not have access to that cash until your CD is fully matured.

One note about short term investments

With many short term investments, you will get higher returns for the more money that you invest. Banks do this to encourage you to give them more money, and the reward you with a higher yield on your investment.

Also, there are a number of extremely useful resources on the web to help you find different savings accounts, money market accounts, and CDs, along with the rate of return on those investments as well as any fees you have to pay to own them.

Long term investments

For now I will skip intermediate term investments and will get back to them shortly. The reason for this is because intermediate investments are simply a mixture of long term and short term investments.

What types of investments for the long term?

The two investments you would want to make for a long term time horizon are in stocks and bonds. The reason for this is because stocks and bonds will yield much more over a longer period of time than other investments.

In addition, stocks and bonds are more volatile in the short term, so their value could drastically go up or down in any given day. They are not good short term investments for this very reason.

Stock and Bond Funds

The two types of long term investments that would be best for any beginner are the Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI) and Vanguard Total Bond Market ETF (BND).

It is recommended that you have 50% of your balance in stocks and 50% of your balance in bonds to help hedge your risk.

The reason you should invest in these two ETF’s are numerous:

  1. Vanguard has extremely low fees compared to others, which means more money for you
  2. Most people are better off NOT picking their own stocks
  3. You get good coverage of the total market, and thus diversify your portfolio by investing in these two.

Another Option for long term investors

Another investment option for long term investors is a Target Retirement Account. These investments are good because they require no management on your part.

You would want to invest in a Target Retirement Account if you plan on keeping your money invested for a very long time (retirement basically), because your portfolio will change over time.

Intermediate investments

Finally, we are on to intermediate investments. With intermediate investments, you basically want to balance short term investments with long term investments.

Remember the exercise that you completed above? You figured out what percentage of cash you would need in the short term, intermediate term, and long term. This is pretty much how you will want to balance your investments.

You will spread your investments across your savings account, money market account, CDs, stocks, and bonds.

Now I could write an entire article on how you would want to do this, but the take home message is this: you should always spread your investments among different time horizons, depending on your own situation.

Conclusion

Above I have presented investment options for college students. I believe that they best way to understand your options is first by understanding how long you plan on investing your money.

From there, you will have various options to choose from. Don’t complicate things, just GET STARTED. Thinking too much will lead to analysis paralysis.

Take some time to carefully consider your options, then act immediately. RIGHT NOW!

I made 59% on one stock in nine months, here’s what I learned

Yesterday when I was checking my stocks, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw one of my stocks was up nearly 20% for the day. Not only that, but the stock had climbed nearly 60% since I initially bought it in September of 2013.

The stock that I’m referring to is Williams Company (WMB). When I bought the stock on September 5, 2013 I paid $35.10 for 15 shares. Yesterday (June 18, 2014) I had sold the 15 shares at $55.90 per share. This resulted in a 59.3% return on this stock in only nine months!

Lesson learned

Why did I buy WMB in the first place?

When I bought the stock in the first place, I was looking for a high dividend paying stock. When I found WMB it was paying out dividends around 4.5%.

In addition, the stock seemed to be trading at a low price at the time. It seemed like a no brainer to buy this stock. My thinking was flawed, which I will get to in a minute. Regardless, I bought 15 shares at $35.10 and watched the stocks grow over the coming months.

Why did I sell WMB yesterday?

I sold WMB for a number of reasons, the most important being to lock in my gains.

I made over $310 or about 59% on my investment, and I didn’t want to lose out on locking in that money for good.

Currently, WMB seems to be overvalued. The stock has a PE ratio around 96, which is ridiculously high when compared to similar companies in its industry. Now seemed to be a good time to get rid of a stock which will probably drop off in a matter of time.

The flaw in my thinking

When I bought WMB I was under the impression that I was getting the stock at a reasonable price. The stock was trading close to its 52 week low. Truth is, the stock wasn’t really that cheap when looking at its PE ratio.

While the PE ratio was on par with other companies in WMB’s industry, that was not really a sign that it was a stock to buy. I didn’t do much research before jumping into this stock. Honestly, I got lucky that it shot up the way it did.

I held on and reaped the benefits and got out on my own terms

I had actually though about selling WMB on multiple occasions. The reason I held on was because the stock’s value was continually increasing.

I realized that I needed to sell the moment the stock jumped 20% in one day and I made over 50% in less than a year. Sure, the stock could keep going up but I don’t want to take that risk.

Take home message

When it comes to investing you need to recognize when you are lucky and when you were actually skilled. Too many people think they have the secret formula to making money in the stock market.

At the end of the day it’s safe to say that I got lucky with this stock. I invested on a flawed premised and I am grateful that I made the money that I did, but I don’t feel like it was because of some skillful move.

 

First Time Investor: What do I do?

I was recently talking to a family friend about his finances. He seemed very interested in getting started in investing money. Keep in mind, the family friend is turning 30 this year built up an emergency fund and is now looking to invest $3,500.

On top of that, the family friend does not know anything about investing. Now, I could have gone on and told him about IRA’s, 401(k)’s, and individual brokerage accounts, but I knew two things would happen:

  1. He would get bored with what I was saying and just want me to tell him what to do
  2. I would overwhelm him and he probably would put investing on the backburner for a while until he was able to “figure it out.”

Getting Started

So, what I told him was that it was very simple to sign up. All he had to have was a computer, over $3,000 in his bank account, and his estimated retirement age. With all of this available, he would be well on his way to building his retirement account.

The very first thing I suggested to him was to sign up for an account at Vanguard. He didn’t ask why, but if he did I would have told him this: Vanguard charges the lowest fees of any other mutual fund provider. Lower fees means more money in your pocket when you retire.

So, he signed up for an account at Vanguard. The next thing I had him do was sign up for a Roth IRA account. You can read more about why you should always choose a Roth IRA here.

Account ready and Roth IRA set up, he deposited his $3,500 into his Vanguard account. Then he asked me “What should I invest my money in?” Once again, I could have gone on a tangent about exchange traded funds vs. mutual funds and asset allocation, but I skipped the lecture.

I asked him, “When do you plan on retiring?”

He responded, “I don’t know, maybe around 60 I guess?”

“Okay, that’s all I needed” I told him.

I showed him Vanguards mutual funds, filtered “Asset Class” for “Balanced”, selected “Target Retirement 2045” and we were done. He has just made his first investment into a wide variety of stocks and bonds which automatically balances over time based on his risk profile, without him ever having to lift a finger.

Do you want to get started?

If you are a newbie just getting started with investing, picking a “Target Retirement” dated mutual fund is the simplest way to get started.

All you have to do is figure out your target retirement date, subtract your current age, and add that to 2014 and you will know exactly which fund to invest your money in.

If you are 24 years old and plan on retiring at 65, your Target Retirement date would be 2055. Viola! You are done.

Now that you know what to do, here is why you are doing it

Target Retirement date mutual funds are attractive for a number of reasons:

1. They automatically balance your portfolio for you.

You already know that you don’t want to put all of your eggs in one basket. By investing in a Target Retirement date account, you are investing in a wide variety of stocks and bonds, and effectively spreading your dollar out everywhere. This limits your risk of loss because of diversification.

2. As you get older, your investments become less risky

When you get closer to retirement, the last thing you want to worry about it giant fluctuations in the stock market destroying your investments. Target Date mutual funds become less risky as you move closer to your retirement date, making it less likely that you lose money. As a result, you will have a more stable, predictable income stream in retirement.

3. They are extremely simple to set up and manage

With Target Retirement mutual funds, you literally do not have to do anything at all except put money into the account. Every month you invest your savings into these accounts, and everything else is all taken care of. This is ideal for those who don’t know much about investments and do not care to learn about investments, but still want to retire comfortable.

That’s it!

There you have it. You just set up a retirement account that will do all of the hard work of investing for you. All you have to do is sit back and wait to reap the benefits.

SEP IRA Rules and Contributions: What you need to know

What is a SEP IRA?

A SEP IRA is short for a Simplified Employee Pension Individual Retirement Account. It is basically an IRA account which employers have the ability to contribute to. Employers benefit from having an SEP IRA because it is easier to set up than a 401(k) and also costs less to administer.

Who is eligible?

All employees are eligible are long as the meet these three requirements:

  1. At least 21 years old
  2. They have worked for the employer at least three of the past five years
  3. They have received compensation of $500 or more for the tax year

As a result, any employee who meets these three requirements must participate in an SEP, even if they are only part-time, seasonal, were laid off, fired, etc., during the year.

Why would you want to choose a SEP IRA?

SEP IRAs are must easier to set up than a 401(k). It is basically the same as setting up a regular old investment account. Start up and maintenance costs are also very low when compared to 401(k) plans. Contributions are discretionary, so the employer can decide if they want to contribute to the retirement plan that year. SEP contributions and Traditional IRA contributions are completely separate. That means the employer and employee can contribute to the same IRA account, and the limits applied to the two accounts do not affect one another. A SEP is a very attractive option to a small business owner that wants to provide a retirement account to employees at a low cost.

What are the contribution limits to a SEP IRA?

Employers are allowed to contribute the lesser of 25% of an employee’s compensation for the year or up to $52,000 for the 2014 taxable year. The limit that employers can contribute for themselves is a little more complicated, but it is basically 18.6% of net profit.

What other rules are applicable to a SEP IRA?

The employer must provide the same amount to every employee. For example, if the owner contributes 10% to Sally’s retirement account, they must contribute 10% to every single eligible employee’s retirement account. The last day you can make contributions to a SEP is either April 15th or the extension due date. A SEP IRA is very similar to a Traditional IRA in that:

  1. You can begin to make withdrawals at 59 ½ years old
  2. You must take required minimum distributions at 70 ½ years old.
  3. Funds are invested in the same way as a traditional IRA

Final Word

SEP IRAs are great options for small business owners who are looking to create an employer contributed retirement account for either themselves or their employees.