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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 July 8, 2020

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    3 Techniques for Setting Priorities Effectively

    It is easy, in the onrush of life, to become a reactor – to respond to everything that comes up, the moment it comes up, and give it your undivided attention until the next thing comes up.

    This is, of course, a recipe for madness. The feeling of loss of control over what you do and when is enough to drive you over the edge, and if that doesn’t get you, the wreckage of unfinished projects you leave in your wake will surely catch up with you.

    Having an inbox and processing it in a systematic way can help you gain back some of that control. But once you’ve processed out your inbox and listed all the tasks you need to get cracking on, you still have to figure out what to do the very next instant. On which of those tasks will your time best be spent, and which ones can wait?

    When we don’t set priorities, we tend to follow the path of least resistance. (And following the path of least resistance, as the late, great Utah Phillips reminded us, is what makes the river crooked!) That is, we’ll pick and sort through the things we need to do and work on the easiest ones – leaving the more difficult and less fun tasks for a “later” that, in many cases, never comes – or, worse, comes just before the action needs to be finished, throwing us into a whirlwind of activity, stress, and regret.

    This is why setting priorities is so important.

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    3 Effective Approaches to Set Priorities

    There are three basic approaches to setting priorities, each of which probably suits different kinds of personalities. The first is for procrastinators, people who put off unpleasant tasks. The second is for people who thrive on accomplishment, who need a stream of small victories to get through the day. And the third is for the more analytic types, who need to know that they’re working on the objectively most important thing possible at this moment. In order, then, they are:

    1. Eat a Frog

    There’s an old saying to the effect that if you wake up in the morning and eat a live frog, you can go through the day knowing that the worst thing that can possibly happen to you that day has already passed. In other words, the day can only get better!

    Popularized in Brian Tracy’s book Eat That Frog!, the idea here is that you tackle the biggest, hardest, and least appealing task first thing every day, so you can move through the rest of the day knowing that the worst has already passed.

    When you’ve got a fat old frog on your plate, you’ve really got to knuckle down. Another old saying says that when you’ve got to eat a frog, don’t spend too much time looking at it! It pays to keep this in mind if you’re the kind of person that procrastinates by “planning your attack” and “psyching yourself up” for half the day. Just open wide and chomp that frog, buddy! Otherwise, you’ll almost surely talk yourself out of doing anything at all.

    2. Move Big Rocks

    Maybe you’re not a procrastinator so much as a fiddler, someone who fills her or his time fussing over little tasks. You’re busy busy busy all the time, but somehow, nothing important ever seems to get done.

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    You need the wisdom of the pickle jar. Take a pickle jar and fill it up with sand. Now try to put a handful of rocks in there. You can’t, right? There’s no room.

    If it’s important to put the rocks in the jar, you’ve got to put the rocks in first. Fill the jar with rocks, now try pouring in some pebbles. See how they roll in and fill up the available space? Now throw in a couple handfuls of gravel. Again, it slides right into the cracks. Finally, pour in some sand.

    For the metaphorically impaired, the pickle jar is all the time you have in a day. You can fill it up with meaningless little busy-work tasks, leaving no room for the big stuff, or you can do the big stuff first, then the smaller stuff, and finally fill in the spare moments with the useless stuff.

    To put it into practice, sit down tonight before you go to bed and write down the three most important tasks you have to get done tomorrow. Don’t try to fit everything you need, or think you need, to do, just the three most important ones.

    In the morning, take out your list and attack the first “Big Rock”. Work on it until it’s done or you can’t make any further progress. Then move on to the second, and then the third. Once you’ve finished them all, you can start in with the little stuff, knowing you’ve made good progress on all the big stuff. And if you don’t get to the little stuff? You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that you accomplished three big things. At the end of the day, nobody’s ever wished they’d spent more time arranging their pencil drawer instead of writing their novel, or printing mailing labels instead of landing a big client.

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    3. Covey Quadrants

    If you just can’t relax unless you absolutely know you’re working on the most important thing you could be working on at every instant, Stephen Covey’s quadrant system as written in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change might be for you.

    Covey suggests you divide a piece of paper into four sections, drawing a line across and a line from top to bottom. Into each of those quadrants, you put your tasks according to whether they are:

    1. Important and Urgent
    2. Important and Not Urgent
    3. Not Important but Urgent
    4. Not Important and Not Urgent

      The quadrant III and IV stuff is where we get bogged down in the trivial: phone calls, interruptions, meetings (QIII) and busy work, shooting the breeze, and other time wasters (QIV). Although some of this stuff might have some social value, if it interferes with your ability to do the things that are important to you, they need to go.

      Quadrant I and II are the tasks that are important to us. QI are crises, impending deadlines, and other work that needs to be done right now or terrible things will happen. If you’re really on top of your time management, you can minimize Q1 tasks, but you can never eliminate them – a car accident, someone getting ill, a natural disaster, these things all demand immediate action and are rarely planned for.

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      You’d like to spend as much time as possible in Quadrant II, plugging away at tasks that are important with plenty of time to really get into them and do the best possible job. This is the stuff that the QIII and QIV stuff takes time away from, so after you’ve plotted out your tasks on the Covey quadrant grid, according to your own sense of what’s important and what isn’t, work as much as possible on items in Quadrant II (and Quadrant I tasks when they arise).

      Getting to Know You

      Spend some time trying each of these approaches on for size. It’s hard to say what might work best for any given person – what fits one like a glove will be too binding and restrictive for another, and too loose and unstructured for a third. You’ll find you also need to spend some time figuring out what makes something important to you – what goals are your actions intended to move you towards.

      In the end, setting priorities is an exercise in self-knowledge. You need to know what tasks you’ll treat as a pleasure and which ones like torture, what tasks lead to your objectives and which ones lead you astray or, at best, have you spinning your wheels and going nowhere.

      These three are the best-known and most time-tested strategies out there, but maybe you’ve got a different idea you’d like to share? Tell us how you set your priorities in the comments.

      More Tips for Effective Prioritization

      Featured photo credit: Mille Sanders via unsplash.com

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