As the economy struggles to regain its footing, cutting costs has become a national pastime. If you've been paying a financial adviser to manage your money, you might be tempted to do it yourself. While managing your investments will save you money in the near term, is it worth it in the long run? It depends on what kind of investor you are. Online brokerage accounts have made it easy to buy stocks, bonds, mutual funds and exchange traded funds cheaply. Firms such as E*Trade Financial ( ETFC) and TD Ameritrade Holding ( AMTD) allow customers to open accounts with as little as $1,000 and charge $8 to $12 a trade. That's far less than the $10,000 minimums and 1% fees advisers require, but it means that investors need to know more than just the basics about investing. "Investors need to know a lot about themselves and where they want to go with their investments," says Paul Lebouef, a consultant for Charles Schwab ( SCHW). "They also need to be motivated to stay on top of things." Managing your investments means more than picking the right stocks or mutual funds. It means putting together a plan to reach your long-term goals, whether you're saving for retirement or a child's college education. You must choose how much risk you can tolerate, and how much growth you would need to reach your goals. Investing your own money also requires an investment of time. You need to watch your portfolio more closely, keeping an eye out for events and information that could affect your holdings. That means monitoring the news, analyzing market data and reviewing companies' earnings results.
"Professional managers have teams of people with degrees spending 18 hours a day researching this stuff," says Daniel D'Ordine, a financial planner for New York-based Life and Wealth Planning. "Studies show that about two-thirds of all active managers don't beat their respective indices." If you're considering a do-it-yourself approach, D'Ordine suggests starting with a small amount of savings, maybe $10,000 or so. That will allow you to see whether you're motivated enough to manage the account every day without risking your entire nest egg. Many discount brokerages offer tiered services that allow customers to decide how involved they want to be with their accounts. The companies can provide investment research and expert advice, for example. "We can be as involved or as uninvolved as a client wants us to be," Lebouef says. "We can sit down and go through an assessment process and make recommendations, or we can let clients do their own due diligence." Even with all of the information provided by the online brokerages, the final buying decision rests on your shoulders. And saving a little money with a rock-bottom commission won't be worth it if you end up hurting your investment because you took on more than you could handle. "People might trick themselves into thinking that managing their own investments is cheaper," says D'Ordine. "But a lot of times they end up missing out on opportunities that cost them even more in the long run."