Now that I am out on my own, trying to figure out who to listen to as an individual, coming up with places to put 401k money -- I always kept it in Treasuries before because I had enough risk in the market with
-- I am amazed at how hard the media make it to manage your money.
First of all, it seems that anybody can say anything when it comes to television. Financial planners come on and who the heck knows if they know what they are doing. They are nicely coiffed and sound good but have they ever made you any money? Do they know anything other than the party line? I swear, I was listening to some guy on the tube Thursday who was telling me that the
ease doesn't affect the longer-term so you shouldn't invest thinking of it. Huh?
Some other clown came on not long after and said that it doesn't matter what the Fed does, it is too little, too late? To little to help the average investor. What? Does that mean I shouldn't invest at all? Invest in my checking account? My safety-deposit box? The First National Bank of Sealy Posturepedic? Where do they get these guys? I know they have to fill up time between commercials and I know that they try to have people who look and talk the part, but I think some of these people are just on as advertisements for their companies and nothing more.
When I worked at
we always used to joke that there were plenty of people who played the part of good analysts on TV, and that was before the boom in television programs about the market. So what are you supposed to do? I find the following things really do work: I have invested in mutual funds since 1978. I think the single most important financial decision you can make is to be sure that you put money away for retirement in the first few months of the year. When I was living in my Ford Fairmont off Interstate 5 in California in the spring of 1978, I still found a way to get $500 to Peter Lynch at
. I was stupid as pumice about my own personal affairs, couldn't pay the phone bill, couldn't afford auto insurance (which was the same as homeowners for me, come to think of it) and owed everybody in the world $200 -- except the credit card companies. (I couldn't get a credit card with my lack of an address -- yes, even those desperate companies that give cards to the dog in your household will deny some of us cards!!). And I still found a way to get that $500 to Lynch.
I found Lynch because of his record. He had one that went back longer than the two years that most of the hotshots now have. Because of the wild and totally aberrant way the market has been in these past five years, I think investors' first criterion should be to find someone with a track record that goes back at least until 1990. That gives you someone who has lived through and traded in two tough times for the economy. We are in those tough times. I want the person to have consistently beaten the market. (Meaning the
.) They do exist. Secondly, investors' should want someone who has never lost more than 10% in a year. This is retirement money, I don't want guys trying to roll snake eyes, even if they have a lifetime to roll it.
Three, be sure that the record of the fund belongs to the manager. You don't want to go with the
National Gift Wrap and Mid-Cap
fund, you want to go with the manager who accumulated that record for the National Gift and Mid-Cap fund. Make sure you check this out.
Finally, you want to be sure that you do it, no matter what. I don't care that the market has been turbulent or that the economy is awful. I care that you will need some bucks 30 years from now and you better get on the case right now to be sure your money grows. Don't be confused. It's a simple process: Make sure the manager has a good long-term record and hasn't blown up! Get it to work!
I don't praise our personal finance stuff enough. Unlike the talking heads on television and the people who seem to pop up in interviews all of the time in market roundups, our personal finance staff seems to pursue winners. I devour what they say. All of the answers to the above questions are on
. You don't have to go to a million places.
James J. Cramer is a director and co-founder of TheStreet.com. He contributes daily market commentary for the network of TSC sites and serves as an adviser to the company's CEO. Nonstaff contributing columnists for TheStreet.com and RealMoney.com, including Cramer, may, from time to time, write about stocks in which they have a position. In such cases, appropriate disclosure is made. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. While he cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites you to send comments on his column to