Smarter Money: How Many Stocks Should Be in a Personal Portfolio? - TheStreet

Here's a great question: How many stocks should be in a personal portfolio? Yesterday, I got an email from somone who didn't get into my RealMoney.com chat, saying that she had 30 stocks in her personal portfolio and wanted to know if that was too many. I don't give personal-finance advice in email, but I thought this question merited discussion in my Smarter Money column, which I write each Friday.

First, understand that, if you are a stock jockey, as I am, it is difficult to follow too many stocks. I follow hundreds of them. But I don't own hundreds of them. We own 40 of them and we have six people who do nothing but make sure that those 40 stocks are the right ones to own. I don't think it is feasible for even the most inveterate of stock jocks to keep track of 30 stocks. You are just a mutual fund in disguise. If you want that kind of diversified portfolio, you should pick a mutual fund.

I often analogize to sports teams. I can follow a half-dozen sports teams fairly well. I think that is about the average person's capacity in stocks, too. To own a stock, long-term, you have to be able to read the quarterly and annual reports, check in on some of the research and news (all very easy given the Net) and stay in touch with the price at least once a month. That's too onerous to do to for more than a half-dozen securities.

If you own a ton of different stocks, I suggest that you begin to scale back to a level where you can do those stocks justice. If you don't have time to watch the portfolio, I urge you to give your money to a professional. To do a good job controlling your finances personally, you simply can't take on too much. You will either end up not doing a good job or having to spend more time on it than you have.

Some of you will email me and say you have no problem following dozens of stocks. To which I say, you are following them, but you don't know them. If you don't have time, let someone else know them for you. That's not a sin or an admission of defeat. That's just common sense.

THIS WEEKEND: Don't miss Jim Cramer on

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James J. Cramer is manager of a hedge fund and co-founder of TheStreet.com. At time of publication, his fund had no positions in any stocks mentioned. His fund often buys and sells securities that are the subject of his columns, both before and after the columns are published, and the positions that his fund takes may change at any time. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. Cramer's writings provide insights into the dynamics of money management and are not a solicitation for transactions. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to comment on his column at

jjcletters@thestreet.com.