I’ve begun to sort through the batch of questions GRS readers submitted a few weeks ago. Surprisingly, many of them are about the basics of investing. But looking at the archives, GRS hasn’t covered investing much in the past couple of years; I assumed that the articles in the archives were enough. Maybe it’s time to revisit the subject.
As an example of the sorts of questions people sent in, here’s one from Becky about what to do with a modest windfall. How should she invest it?
I’m getting some extra money — about $10,000 — and have no idea what to do with it. I’m 57 years old, out of debt, and have about $9,000 in my company’s 401(k). That’s my only savings right now. Also, I bought a house about three months ago.
I have no knowledge on how to invest, but do have a couple of people in my life who have some understanding of investing. Do you have any suggestions or could you give me some websites that would help me make this decision?
First things first: If I were Becky, I’d use some of this windfall to start an emergency fund at a local credit union or in an online high-yield savings account. It’s all well and good to invest, but it’s vital to have easy-to-access savings for when things go wrong. And with a house, things will go wrong. (Kris and I just had to replace part of our roof, for instance. I’m paying for that from my emergency fund.)
After setting aside $1000 (or $3000, or even $5000), then I’d invest the rest. It doesn’t sound like Becky has a Roth IRA, so this might be a good time to start one.
It’s been a l-o-n-g time since we covered Roth IRAs, so to refresh your memory, these little beauties allow average folks to set aside up to $5,000 of after-tax income per year for retirement. The money grows tax-free, and there are no additional taxes when the investor eventually withdraws the money in retirement.
A Roth IRA isn’t an investment, though. It’s a place to put investments. It’s like a bucket that you can fill with stocks or bonds or mutual funds and all sorts of other goodies. I recommend that most investors keep things simple at first. Don’t get caught up in the idea that you have to buy all sorts of stuff you don’t understand. You don’t.
Instead, to decide what to invest in, Becky should pick up a good introduction to the subject at her local library. (Or used book store or thrift shop.) Any of the following are great places to start:
- Saving and Investing by Michael Fischer. This book is dry, but the information is solid. (If video’s more your thing, Fischer has put together an outstanding series of YouTube videos about savings and investing.)
- The Random Walk Guide to Investing by Burton Malkiel. This book is packs lots of great advice into a small package using plain English. It’s easy to understand, if not as detailed as Saving and Investing. [my review]
- The Four Pillars of Investing by William Bernstein. This book is the most difficult on this short list, I think, but also the most rewarding. For those who really want to read about investing, this is a great choice. [my review]
Becky actually asked about investing websites. One I refer to again and again is Money 101 from CNN and Money magazine. It’s a solid introduction to all sorts of financial topics, including mutual funds and the like.
My final piece of advice? Be careful. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is. It’s okay to listen to investing advice from other people, but always remember: Nobody cares more about your money than you do. If your nephew tells you to put all of your money in gold, don’t just run out and do it. Get a second opinion. Think things through. Take your time. Decide what seems to make the most sense for you.
What do you folks think? What should Becky do with her $10,000? Should she invest it all? Put it all in a savings account? Buy a bunch of gold? And what’s the best way for her to learn about investing? How did you decide where to invest your retirement savings?