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10 More Investments You Should Know

10 More Investments You Should Know

    On Tuesday, we discussed the first ten of the twenty investments everyone should have at least a passing familiarity with. We still have another ten to go, so let’s get started.

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    1. Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS)

    While I wouldn’t recommend buying an MBS these days, it’s still an investment worth knowing. In order to be able to afford to offer mortgages, most small banks package their mortgages and sell them through Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As the housing industry works through the toxic mortgages it’s offered over the past couple of years, it’s best to avoid investing in an MBS or a collateralized mortgage obligation (CMO) — the cheaper version of an MBS.

    2. Municipal Bonds

    Municipal bonds, often called ‘munis,’ are bonds issued by states, counties, or municipalities for capital expenditures. When you purchase a municipal bond, you’re essentially offering a loan to the local government. At first glance, most municipal bonds seem to have very low returns; however, most are exempt from federal taxes and can be exempt from state and local taxes as well. When you factor in the improved tax situations, the return on municipal bonds is significantly better.

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    3. Mutual Funds

    Members of mutual funds lump their money together and have a mutual fund manager buy stocks. The mutual fund manager is responsible for researching stocks, making sure the fund is diversified and all the details that can make investing in stocks worrisome for first time investors. Most funds have a set goal, along with strategies for risk and return. Mutual funds are particularly popular because you can easily make monthly purchases.

    4. Options (Stocks)

    Options are not actually securities, unlike many investments. Instead, options are the privilege to buy or sell a particular security at a set price within a certain period of time. If, for instance, you were to buy an option to buy a stock, you would hope the share price will rise significantly; you then purchase the stock and immediately resell it — or you can resell the option. Stock options are a particularly risky investment and most brokers will require you to receive approval to trade options — the added step is an attempt to limit the number of traders with no experience or knowledge.

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    5. Preferred Stock

    Preferred stock represents your ownership in a company, just like common stock, but most preferred shares do not confer any voting rights, unlike common stock. For most preferred stock, dividends are also often different than common stocks: you would normally receive a fixed dividend indefinitely with preferred stock. Preferred stock is treated more like a combination of stocks and bond than straight stock. The main benefit of this approach is that, in the event of a company going bankrupt, its preferred stockholders will be repaid before common stockholders.

    6. Real Estate and Property

    For most people, purchasing a home is the largest single investment they will ever make in their lives. Of course, real estate investments can go far beyond houses: commercial properties, undeveloped land, condos and other opportunities are all included in this category. While real estate has developed something of a bad reputation lately, it can still be a very worthwhile investment. However, it is important to remember that real estate can be one of the more expensive investments to hold, between maintenance, property taxes and related expenses.

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    7. Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT)

    If you’re interested in investing in real estate, but feel like it’s too expensive, you can still invest in REITs. These investments are traded like stocks on most major stock exchanges — they are directly invested in properties or mortgages. Compared to traditional real estate investments, REITs are far more liquid, have better tax advantages and have high yields. REITs are usually less volatile than the rest of the stock market, although lately they’ve been riskier than usual.

    8. Treasury Securities

    Treasury securities actually include a number of different investments, including treasury bills (short-term investments), treasury notes (medium-term) and treasury bonds (long-term). All treasury securities are considered low risk; they are loans made to the national government which is assumed to be unlikely to default. Because of the risk factor, the return on treasury securities is fairly low.

    9. Unit Trust (UIT)

    UITs are fairly similar to mutual funds in that they hold a portfolio of investments. However, they differ dramatically in the portfolios they each hold: UITs may own common stock, but rely on income-producing securities like municipal bonds, government bonds and corporate bonds. UITs are not actively managed like other investment portfolios might be: because they hold income-producing securities, they allow these investments to mature and pay out. UITs are mostly low-risk investments, although those that hold stocks can be less certainty of a good return.

    10. Zero-Coupon Securities

    While most bonds pay a return (known as a ‘coupon’) beyond their face value, banks or brokers also offer zero-coupon securities. Essentially, zero-coupon securities are bonds that have had their coupons stripped off: the broker removes the coupons and trades the remaining bond as a zero-coupon security. The benefit of investing in these securities is that you will pay less than face value — significantly less if the bond won’t mature for quite a while. For instance, you might pay $800 today for a $1,000 security that will mature in five years, when you will receive the full face value. Zero-coupon securities have little risk, but they do have a few tax disadvantages.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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