They say “you can’t get rich quick.”

Even though the adverb is actually “quickly,” the sentiment is true. You can, however become comfortable over a long period of time. And, there is no shortage of people willing to “help” you along the way.

My first investing experience was establishing an IRA with a full-service brokerage firm. The IRA limit at the time was $2,000/year, which I invested without knowing what I was doing. I was encouraged to try a variety of things. Hmmm. Who puts a $100 of their first $2,000 in silver? This was the inspiration for my thought that I’ve never lost money on an investment… That I didn’t learn something from!

A couple years later I was hired by a firm that had a 401(k) with a bit of a match. The “free money” was nice, but I still didn’t really know what I was doing. Then one day at a mall book store I came across a book called The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need by Andrew Tobias.

The book has lived up to its title. I have not purchased another investing book since! Tobias covers the spectrum of options from banks, CDs, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds all the way to the complex derivative types or betting that the market will go up or down. The basic premise is that as you become better off and more sophisticated, you can make use of progressively later chapters.

A co-worker introduced me to the National Association of Individual Investors and their Dividend Reinvestment Program. The idea is that you can buy shares of stock in any of a variety of companies for a fixed dollar amount per month (fractional shares rather than whole ones) w/o the use of a broker. The dividends would be used to buy more fractional shares. The biggest thing I learned was that it’s a lot of work to track purchases 0.15 shares at a time. This was not for me!

I came across another book that has had a great impact on my approach to life and investing – The Millionaire Next Door by  Thomas Stanly and William Danko. The book presents numerous case studies on the premise that flashy people are not rich, and rich people are not flashy. My favorite line from the whole book is a quote from a Texas rancher about people who have a “big hat and no cattle.”

I’ve given both books to both kids.

Here’s what I’ve learned along the way:

  • No load mutual funds; don’t pay commissions
  • Index funds have lower expenses
  • Don’t give away the company match on a 401(K)
  • Drive reasonable cars for a long time after you’ve paid for them
  • Clark Howard has good advice for daily spending
  • Clark also says to max out a company match, fund as much of an IRA as you can afford, and if you still have money put it in the 401(K)
  • Dave Ramsey has good advice for people who need radical help, think “gazelle intense”
  • Money magazine focuses on what you should have done last month – too late
  • Kiplingers and Smart Money are both great magazines

(If you happen to buy either book, I get a few cents towards maintaining my website. The investing advice isn’t going to make me a dot-com millionaire!)