When Should You Start Investing?

One of the most difficult questions for beginning investors to answer is, "When should I begin to invest?" In today's column, originally run on September 28, 1998, and remodeled for today, Brian Graney answers this tough question by shining a flashlight at the 13 Foolish Steps, debt payment advice, great books, and other resources that will prepare you to say, "I should begin to invest now!" This information is instrumental for new investors, and a good reminder for old.

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By Brian Graney (TMF Panic)
July 31, 2000

There's an ad floating around the Internet that poses the question, "Is this the right time to invest?" For folks new to investing, this single question often seems about as daunting as the Riddle of the Sphinx.

Here's the situation (insert hypnotic, time-warp music here):

Let's say that you are ready to make the move up from Fool Junior Grade to Fool First Class. The 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly have been read and committed to memory, those pesky credit cards are all paid off, and maybe you've given a little bit of thought to what to do for retirement. Check, check, check. What's next?

A little bit of dedicated research about stocks and investing might not be a bad idea at this point. You might read some good books, find out what those stock valuation ratios are all about, form some opinions about a few companies that have caught your eye, and share what you have learned with others on the Fool discussion boards. These are all good things to do.

Meanwhile, days pass, weeks sail by, seasons turn, TV sitcoms come and go -- pretty soon, it's months later and still no stocks. Is this what everyone around here means by Foolishness? Is it supposed to take this long to get started on this investing thing? And, more importantly, is there a point to all of this rambling?

What this all boils down to is the following: Take your time when you are getting ready to invest. If you can't tell a balance sheet from a balance beam, then set aside some time to figure out the difference between the two before plunking your money into your first stock. Learn as much as possible about your investment before it actually is your investment. That way, there is much less chance that your first investment will also end up being your dumbest investment.

Second verse, same as the first: Take your time. If you're Foolish and you want to become an owner in an excellent business for a long time, then there is no rush. Great businesses don't just appear and disappear overnight, of course. And, here's a newsflash -- neither do great investors.

I can hear the collective yawn of long-time Fools at this point, but for investing beginners these things are worth emphasizing (and for the veterans out there, a little reiteration never hurts). Unfortunately, the Wise on Wall Street often tend to gloss over ground-breaking concepts such as "learning." Sure, learning all this investing stuff takes time and perseverance. But, like trays of meat by-products being ground into a high-quality sausage, all of your learning will form a solid basis for what kind of investor you want to be. It's a messy process, but it's worth it.

If you are struggling to find your "inner investor," there are lots of places right here at the Fool to seek solace. Take a look at the links in this article -- besides adding some needed bursts of color, they actually lead to some great investing insights. Veteran Drippers are helping newbies along on the Drip Investing - The Basics discussion board every day. And, for more guidance, rookie investors can always look to the Ask a Foolish Question discussion board for helpful tips to get going on investing or anything finance related.

So, if you're trying to answer that "When should I begin to invest?" question, start by clicking these links! And Fool on.

Drip Portfolio

7/31/2000 Closing Numbers
Ticker Company Day Chg % Chg Price
CPBCAMPBELL SOUP1/160.24%$26.50
INTCINTEL CORP3/163.39%$66.75
JNJJOHNSON & JOHNSON-19/32-0.63%$93.06

  Day Week Month Year
To Date
Drip 1.71% 1.70% -1.88% 28.57% 67.03% 18.57%
S&P 500 .77% .77% -1.63% -2.61% 52.41% 15.02%
S&P 500(DA) .77% .77% -1.63% -2.61% 55.04% 15.67%
S&P 500(DCA) n/a n/a n/a n/a 24.29% 7.49%
NASDAQ 2.84% 2.84% -5.02% -7.43% 140.00% 33.74%

Trade Date # Shares Ticker Cost/Share Price LT % Val Chg

Trade Date # Shares Ticker Cost Value LT $ Val Ch
  Cash: $0.08  
  Total: $6,004.80  

• S&P 500 (DA) = dividend adjusted. Dividends have been added to the total return of the index.

Drip Port launched with $500 on July 28, 1997, adds $100 to invest every month, and the goal is to own $150,000 in stock by August of the year 2017. Due to the slow nature of dollar-cost-averaging and our relatively significant starting costs, we do not expect to seriously challenge the S&P 500 for the first three to five years as we build an investment base. The long-term advantages of dollar-cost-averaging still overcome the short-term disadvantages, however. Final note: our investment in Campbell Soup is frozen due to fees instituted in its investment plan. Click here for a history of all Drip Port transactions.