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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 April 8, 2019

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

    Unless you’re infinitely rich or prepared to rack up major debt, you need to budget your income. Setting limits on how much you are willing to spend helps control expenses. But what about your time? Do you budget your time or spend it carelessly?

    Deadlines are the chronological equivalent of a budget. By setting aside a portion of time to complete a task, goal or project in advance you avoid over-spending. Deadlines can be helpful but they can also be a source of frustration if set improperly. Here are some tips for making deadlines work:

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    1. Use Parkinson’s Law – Parkinson’s Law states that tasks expand to fill the time given to them. By setting a strict deadline in advance you can cut off this expansion and focus on what is most important.
    2. Timebox – Set small deadlines of 60-90 minutes to work on a specific task. After the time is up you finish. This cuts procrastinating and forces you to use your time wisely.
    3. 80/20 – The Pareto Principle suggests that 80% of the value is contained in 20% of the input. Apply this rule to projects to focus on that critical 20% first and fill out the other 80% if you still have time.
    4. Project VS Deadline – The more flexible your project, the stricter your deadline. If a task has relatively little flexibility in completion a softer deadline will keep you sane. If the task can grow easily, keep a tight deadline to prevent waste.
    5. Break it Down – Any deadline over one day should be broken down into smaller units. Long deadlines fail to motivate if they aren’t applied to manageable units.
    6. Hofstadter’s Law – Basically this law states that it always takes longer than you think. A rule I’ve heard in software development is to double the time you think you need. Then add six months. Be patient and give yourself ample time for complex projects.
    7. Backwards Planning – Set the deadline first and then decide how you will achieve it. This approach is great when choices are abundant and projects could go on indefinitely.
    8. Prototype – If you are attempting something new, test out smaller versions of a project to help you decide on a final deadline. Write a 10 page e-book before your 300 page novel or try to increase your income by 10% before aiming to double it.
    9. Find the Weak Link – Figure out what could ruin your plans and accomplish it first. Knowing the unknown can help you format your deadlines.
    10. No Robot Deadlines – Robots can work without sleep, relaxation or distractions. You aren’t a robot. Don’t schedule your deadline with the expectation you can work sixteen hour days to complete it. Deathmarches aren’t healthy.
    11. Get Feedback – Get a realistic picture from people working with you. Giving impossible deadlines to contractors or employees will only build resentment.
    12. Continuous Planning – If you use a backwards planning model, you need to constantly be updating plans to fit your deadline. This means making cuts, additions or refinements so the project will fit into the expected timeframe.
    13. Mark Excess Baggage – Identify areas of a task or project that will be ignored if time grows short. What e-mails will you have to delete if it takes too long to empty your inbox? What features will your product lack if you need a rapid finish?
    14. Review – For deadlines over a month long take a weekly review to track your progress. This will help you identify methods you can use to speed up work and help you plan more efficiently for the future.
    15. Find Shortcuts – Almost any task or project has shortcuts you can use to save time. Is there a premade library you can use instead of building your own functions? An autoresponder to answer similar e-mails? An expert you can call to help solve a problem?
    16. Churn then Polish – Set a strict deadline for basic completion and then set a more comfortable deadline to enhance and polish afterwards. Often churning out the basics of a task quickly will require no more polishing afterwards than doing it slowly.
    17. Reminders – Post reminders of your deadlines everywhere. Creating a sense of urgency with your deadlines is necessary to keep them from getting pushed aside by distractions.
    18. Forward Planning – Not mutually exclusive with backwards planning, this involves planning the details of a project out before setting a deadline. Great for achieving clarity about what you are trying to accomplish before making arbitrary time limits.
    19. Set a Timer – Get one that beeps. Somehow the countdown of a timer appears more realistic for a ninety minute timebox than just glancing at your clock.
    20. Write them Down – Any deadline over a few hours needs to be written down. Otherwise it is an inclination not a goal. Having written deadlines makes them more tangible than internal decisions alone.
    21. Cheap/Fast/Good – Ben Casnocha in My Start Up Life mentions that you can have only have two of the three. Pick two of the cheap/fast/good dimensions before starting a project to help you prioritize.
    22. Be Patient – Using a deadline may seem to be the complete opposite of patience. But being patient with inflexible tasks is necessary to focus on their completion. The paradox is that the more patient you are, the more you can focus. The more you can focus the quicker the results will come!

    Featured photo credit: Estée Janssens via unsplash.com

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