The Week in Review -- January 15, 1999

The Markets

  01/08 Close 01/15 Close Change %Change
DJIA 9,643.32 9,340.55 -302.77 -3.14
S&P 500 1,275.09 1,243.26 -31.83 -2.50
Nasdaq 2,344.95 2,348.20 +3.25 +0.14

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6-String Foolery
by Jerry Thomas (

Greetings, Fools.

I have a guitar. Aside from my Fool cap, it is probably my most cherished possession. It is a steel string acoustic Martin Dreadnought, and I can play it just about well enough to bother my neighbors, if not impress them. Oh well.

In last week's Notes, I spoke of lessons learned; this week I wish to speak of learning lessons. Here at The Motley Fool, we have our world-famous Fool's School, where the tuition is free and the education is priceless. At the top of our home page, you'll see our motto: "To Educate, Amuse, and Enrich." You'll note that of our three primary ambitions, education comes first. This begs the question: What is education?

I have been playing the guitar for a long time. I have never been terribly good at it. Eddie Van Halen can rest assured that he will see little to threaten him in the musical prowess of this Fool. When I was a teenager I got a couple of lesson books, learned a few chords, and banged away. I picked up a few tricks from friends, and that was the extent of my study of the instrument. Ever since, I have been repeating the same patterns over and over again, learning little, annoying many. For all practical purposes, my education as a guitarist ended at least 15 years ago. That's pretty sad, really.

People do the same thing with their money management. For many, learning to balance a checkbook -- or knowing how to juggle their credit card payments just enough to keep several brawny men from hauling off their furniture -- is the extent of what they know about finance. That's about as sad as my playing the same six songs over and over again for the last 15 years. It's especially unnecessary in these exciting new days of the Internet, when an education is just a few clicks away.

It has been an erratic week in the markets, with currency jitters in South America making many investors nervous. Our online portfolios twisted in the volatility, as did the markets as a whole, but given the remarkable rewards this economy has been so gracious to bestow on those who are patient, it is hard to complain. Among the pages of our website you would have found the usual fine Foolish commentary on events as they unfolded, always with an eye on how little day-to-day fluctuations mean in the Foolish long term. For my own part, I especially enjoyed David Gardner's Tuesday Rule-Breaker Report, where he spoke cheerfully of that portfolio's one-day loss of over $50,000. Let me tell you -- if you can be nonchalant about that kind of loss, you've come a long way in your Foolish education.

So much on our website is devoted to this sort of discovery. What is an education, after all, but simply a habit of examination -- a checking and rechecking of what one really knows? That's maybe why our "My Dumbest Investment" message folder is among our most intriguing features, and why Thursday's Post of the Day from a Fool known as "Mensad" is so instructive. When you can lose 100% of your investment and still draw a lesson from it, how much have you really lost?

The funny thing about learning is that when you're ready for it -- when you really want it -- it happens rapidly. All the doors open at once, and what formerly was tedious study becomes a palpable joy. I recently decided to pick up my guitar again with a renewed sense of purpose, aiming to break through my old, limiting habits, and learn -- really learn -- my instrument from the ground up. A few weeks of study have already paid wonderful dividends -- I have learned much not only about music, but about learning itself. I never would have imagined that hours of purposeful study would be such an unsullied pleasure. There is something wonderful about playing an impossible passage over and over again until you own it.

You can have exactly that same pleasure by taking charge of your finances. Imagine taking the money that moves through your life and playing it like a musical instrument. A good place to start is in our Fool's School, especially our 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly pages. Another good habit to form is to keep reading our regular features. Monday's Drip Report by George Runkle (TMF Runkle), for example, does a great deal to explain an approach to investing that you can begin with as little as $100. And Tuesday's Rule Maker Report from Fool Al Levit explains the basics of stock market investing in a piece you can read in less than five minutes.

So look to the joys of learning. You may never be the next Warren Buffett, but that's okay. I'm not going to be the next Eddie Van Halen. The point is that we learn, and we discover the joy to be found in learning.

A couple of media notes: first, you may be surprised to know that our proud founders, David and Tom Gardner, have followed in the steps of Dan Rather, Julia Roberts, and Chris Rock as subjects of Playboy magazine's famous "20 Questions" interview in its February issue. Click here for details. Also, this week on The Motley Fool Radio Show, Michael O'Higgins, father of the "Dogs of the Dow" approach to investing, will be the featured guest. Check here to find a Foolish radio station near you.

Until next week,
Fool on!


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