Investing is like training for a marathon. Both require discipline, focus, determination, balancing risk and safety, and long-term vision. These investing rules have been tested and proven effective by generations of investors. Many people from every kind of background have followed these investing rules to wealth … which means that you can, too.
1. Start early and invest regularly
Warren Buffet once said, “If, when making a stock investment, you’re not considering holding it at least ten years, don’t waste more than ten minutes considering it.” Think of investing as training for a marathon. If you’re a couch potato, you can’t start running the week before the race and expect to win. Not only will it take a while to get in shape; you’ll need to be able to weather some injuries, illnesses, and other setbacks before race day.
Keep in mind that the longer you invest, the more you take advantage of compounding interest, and the more money you make long term. If you like numbers, just for fun, pull out a spreadsheet or calculator and start tinkering with the Rule of 72, which states that if you divide 72 by the annual rate of return, you get the number of years it will take for your investment to double in value.
If you want to run a marathon, you can’t just go out there and run a few miles once in a while and expect to see much improvement. Regular training, and regular investing, is key. If you try to do all of your marathon training at once, you’re almost guaranteed to injure yourself, and the same thing can happen if you dump a whole lot of money into one bad investment.
One nice aside about this investing rule is that you can take advantage of some nifty tax breaks every year by showing the IRS that you’re making regular contributions to an IRA or other retirement fund.
2. Choose your asset allocation — your marathon training program
“Asset allocation” is the process of deciding what kinds of investments you want to make. Different investments behave differently and yield different amounts of money in the short- and long-term, and — just like marathon training — there is no one-size-fits-all investment strategy for everybody. Finding a balance between risks and rewards is a moving target that depends on a lot of variables.
There are three traditional asset classes: equities (stocks), fixed-income (bonds), and cash and equivalents (savings accounts, certificates of deposit, money market funds). Stocks have historically yielded the highest returns for the greatest risk of the three asset classes. They’re the sprints of the marathon training world: they’re going to increase your strength and stamina the most, but will also put you at the highest risk of injury. Bonds are the middle-ground investments. They’re like tempo and other lower-intensity interval training; lower risk of injury, but also more modest benefits. Cash and cash equivalents are your steady-state running sessions and endurance miles. You’re not too likely to hurt yourself — or lose money — but they’re also going to yield the smallest returns for your effort.
3. Rebalance yearly
Rebalancing is the practice of periodically evaluating your portfolio — your “training program” — and making any tweaks to the balance between high- and low-risk investments. You could rebalance more often, but the consensus seems to say that a year gives you long enough to see how everything is doing over a longer period of time. Plus, it gives you a regular date to write in your calendar. ‘Nuff said.
4. Keep costs down
“The goal of the nonprofessional should not be to pick winners … the ‘know-nothing’ investor who both diversifies and keeps his costs minimal is virtually certain to get satisfactory results.” — Warren Buffett
This is actually a pretty simple concept. The less you’re paying in “overhead” — fees, taxes, or heavy shoes — the more of your money (or energy) you get to keep and reinvest. Also, lower-cost investments tend to perform better than their higher-cost brothers and sisters. You don’t see too many marathoners wearing combat boots. Which brings me to the next point:
5. Make index funds the core of your portfolio
Index funds are a type of mutual fund that is built to mimic the performance of a market index such as the S&P 500. One of the features of an index fund is — you guessed it — low cost. In addition, index funds are intrinsically diverse. They include a range of high-risk and low-risk investments, all put together by professional folks who know what they’re doing and have already done all of the hard work and research for you. That’s pretty hard to beat.
6. Focus on your goal, which is to make money
Remember, this is not casual running; you’re training for a marathon. You’re not just playing with your money; you’re moving toward riches. As tempting as it might be to invest in the latest bright-and-shiny, new moneymaking concept, or to tinker with new and cool marathon training theories, if you’re just starting out, you’re better off following the investment rules set down by the generations of investors and experts who have already made the mistakes, done the research, and come up with strategies that work. After you have a nice cushion of money or a few marathons under your belt, it’s probably fine to do a little experimenting, but until then, keep it safe.
7. Don’t try to outperform the market
This is one of my favorite investing rules. If you’re running or investing at all, you’re already ahead of 99% of the population, so relax and don’t try to outfox the market. You can’t run any faster than you can … and you can’t force your investments to perform any better than they can.
8. Don’t spend your principal
This is probably the most obvious of all of the investing rules, but once you’ve invested your money, keep your hands off of it. Spending your investment is like skipping training. You aren’t going to get ready for that marathon if you don’t run, and your money isn’t going to gather interest if you spend it on anything besides your investments.