At 22 years old, I've already seen how easy it is to fall into financial traps, and I've decided to finally take steps to ensure my future is secure beyond a paycheck-to-paycheck basis. Unfortunately, I'm lost on where to start.
I have read the advice guides and seen just about every tip and trick in the book about how to proceed, so I have a basic understanding of the options before me in terms of savings and investments to make. But when it comes to actually doing something with my hard-earned money, I've got cold feet.
The biggest investment cliché I keep running into tells me over and over not to put all my financial eggs in one basket. So I decide to go with that bit of guidance and get started.
The problem is, to keep diversified and keep my eggs in several places I might spread myself too thin. I'm still young, still in college, and haven't had a steady reliable source of income for long enough to build a significant amount to work with. I would estimate that I'm looking at a starting investment amount of $10,000 -- barely enough to open some higher-end accounts or funds, but certainly enough to do something with besides leave it in a low-yield savings account. But the concept of keeping things diverse is a wise one, so I just need to figure out how to diversify without putting such small amounts of money in each basket that it makes no sense or difference.
Before settling on what stocks and accounts to pursue, I have found that it's vitally important to take assessment of what risk I'm willing to take on with my finances. It's one thing to say that interest added a couple hundred dollars to my savings account balance, but if inflation has outpaced those earnings, then I really haven't made anything because I have no increased spending power. So to be able to ensure that I can potentially see increased returns on my investments, I'm going to need to assume some moderate risk.
Luckily, as a student I have very little in the way of current expenses. My part-time job during the semester covers daily activities, such as gas and food, and I could continue living comfortably in the event of economic problems without having to empty my emergency savings accounts. Therefore, my $10,000 is ready to invest and I'm able to assume some risk in order to increase my returns. While I certainly don't want to lose my principal investment, I can also understand the need to diversify across low and high-risk options. Keeping my eggs out of the same basket, so to speak.
Right off the bat, I want half of my allotted amount to go to longer-term savings. Since I'm still in college and without a full-time job, for the time being a 401(k) is out of the question. Although it is paramount to start retirement savings at a young age, that's a basket I will keep my eggs out of for the time being. Instead, I want to focus on using this $5,000 to build up that emergency fund, so that when I graduate and get a full-time job I can afford to put more money towards the all-important retirement savings category.
I feel like the best option for this right now is a high-yield 12-month CD. By putting my money into a CD versus a standard savings account, I'm assured that I won't be tempted to withdraw that money early, as I'll be forced to pay an early withdrawal penalty. Since I already have a part-time job with wages being deposited into a standard student checking and savings account, I'm also looking for something more long-term and with a better return than the regular free savings account will offer. And a 12-month term will perfectly carry me past graduation and several months into a steady job.
According to the banking-rates research Web site BankingMyWay.com, national banker Wachovia (WB) - Get Report currently offers a 12-month CD with a minimum $5,000 deposit and a fixed annual percentage yield (APY) of 4.25%. In comparison, a typical Wachovia savings account with the same amount deposited carries an APY of just 0.15%, so the 12-month CD is a much better low-risk option to help grow my principal.
That still leaves another $5,000 to work with, and this is where things get more complicated for me.
The most concrete thing I know about where I want to go from here is that I want to look at the stock market. Unfortunately, the market and the economy as a whole are far less-than-stellar these days, making it even more difficult to figure out good from bad. However, the one thing still holding true for me is the importance of diversification, although the real rule of thumb seems to be narrow diversification. In fact, investing billionaire Warren Buffet advises that "wide diversification is only required when investors don't know what they're doing."
So if the key to getting a head start on diversification is to focus on a few stocks that pull from various industries and products, instead of focusing on a large amount of stocks in only a few sectors, where do I start?
Jason Nolan of Magnet Investment recommends Sociedad Quimica y Minera de Chile S.A. (or SQM, also known as the Chemical and Mining Company of Chile) (SQM) - Get Report and Robbins & Myers (RBN) , both of which offer diversification from within the companies, translating to diversification in my investments.
Of course, when talking about investing in stocks it's always a good idea to look into mutual funds as well. And considering that two stocks will never get the job done for me, that's exactly what I would be wise to research next.
Ideally, as a working adult, I would be using my 401(k) and putting more of my income towards a diverse array of mutual funds or exchange-traded fundsand individual stocks, but with the amount I have to work with now, I'd rather start with one fund to go with two diversified stocks for some shorter-term growth. One fund and two stocks (combined with my CD) can add some low- to medium-risk growth potential to a previously nonexistent investment portfolio.
Financial planner Adam Leavitt suggests anchoring any fund portfolio with "blue chip choices such as the Vanguard Growth Index (VIGRX) - Get Report ." This fund is low-cost enough (minimum investment: only $3,000) to meet my current needs and it focuses on well-known large-cap stocks, such as Wal-Mart (WMT) - Get Report and Proctor & Gamble (PG) - Get Report . While these may not be the most exciting companies, the overall reach of a fund like this makes it a good choice to consider as a supplement to any individual stocks I decide to invest in.