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A Few Tools to Help You Invest

A Few Tools to Help You Invest

    Online tools make just about everything easier, including investing. No matter how far you’ve gotten in your investing efforts, there’s a tool or two that can help you out. I’ve listed out a few of the tools I’ve come to rely on below — and I hope you’ll add any you use in the comments.

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    Google Finance

    I rely on Google Finance for quite a few aspects of investing. I’m a big believer in checking out any hot stock tip myself, and Google Finance is one of the easiest ways to do just that. It’s got all the standard information about a stock, as well as one of the more up-to-date news streams for each stock. I particularly like the ability to save multiple portfolios — not only do I use Google Finance to track my own portfolio every day, I use it to keep an eye on a couple of other stocks that I either need a reminder not to buy (a lot of those hot stock tips wind up in that category) or a few investments I’m planning to make in the near future.

    TreasuryDirect

    Treasury securities, including bonds, have become incredibly easy to buy online. The U.S. Treasury maintains its own site — TreasuryDirect — where you can set up an account, link it to the bank account of your choice and pick up treasury bills, notes and bonds with a simple click. Even better, the interest you receive from these treasury securities is automatically deposited right back into the same bank account you used for your initial purchase. The site even includes calculators and other resources for investing in treasury securities, generally considered one of the most stable investments available.

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    Sharebuilder

    Sharebuilder allows you to buy stocks in fractional amounts, making it much easier to invest. It’s not exactly a new concept — Direct Purchase Plans and Direct Reinvestment Plans (known as DRIPs) provide the opportunity to buy smaller portions of a company than a single share. However, most DRIPs have certain requirements that can make them harder to use: you often already need to own a certain amount of stock in a company to get started. With Sharebuilder, as long as you have money, you can buy as much — or as little — stock as you want.

    The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission

    I consider the SEC’s website to be an advanced investment tool. Personally, I don’t use it all that often — but there is an amazing amount of information available if you’re willing to sift through it. All publicly traded companies are required to file a number of different documents with the SEC and almost all of those filings are available online. The system has a bit of a learning curve, but you can get annual reports, information on a company’s securities and far more without a filter of news reporting or public relations spin.

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    Tip’d

    Tip’d is a site that recently left beta: I’ve been keeping an eye on it and, as far as keeping track of information that could affect your investments, it’s fairly useful. It’s a social media site and you can vote stories up or down. There’s a pretty wide variety of stories included on the site, but if you’re trying learn as much as you can about the market before making an investment, Tip’d is a good starting point.

    Inner8

    Another site that adds social elements to investing is Inner8. It’s still in beta, but this site has quite a few useful tools for investors. Site members have the opportunity to recommend specific stocks — as well as recommend against particular stock picks. You can also keep close track of any fellow investor that you feel has a particularly good grasp on investments: you can see how accurate a person’s predictions are and receive updates as soon as they make a new prediction. Inner8 also provides the standard information on specific stocks, like forecasts, trading information and news updates. This site was built by members of the team that established E*TRADE and the two sites work well together. I don’t recommend one online brokerage over another, but E*TRADE has one of the longest histories of such companies and is worth looking at when you consider such options. Ameritrade is another well-known option for trading online.

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    Getting Started With Investments

    Between these tools and this week’s introduction to various types of investments (part 1 and part 2), you’ve got the basic information to start researching investments. While I won’t offer up any investment advice — the right investment for me may be completely wrong for you — I would say that there are plenty of opportunities out there, even though the stock market and other investments have taken a beating lately. In fact, there are a few deals out there because of the current economic crunch. Much of this information could be used to maximize your 401(k)’s or IRA’s potential, if you’ve already set up a plan for retirement savings.

    You’ve got several options as far as next steps go. In general, knowing as much as you can about an investment before you actually risk your money is a good idea. However, if you aren’t interested or able to learn as much as you’d like before investing, you can always consult a professional. There are brokerages everywhere and all of them are happy to help you invest your money.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

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

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

    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.”[1]

    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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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    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 6 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.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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