We're celebrating Financial Literacy Month in numeric style. Follow our crash course on maximizing your portfolio and finances with The 10 Essential Money Lessons.
The path to financial literacy follows a logical sequence from start to success. So far in this series you've:
- put your financial house in order,
- set aside the cash that you need for the near term,
- brushed up on some classic investing tomes,
- learned some key investing metrics,
- and kicked the tires on a couple of investment ideas.
Ready to invest? Set! And ... wait! One more thing -- well, eight more things, actually.
Your moment of investing Zen
How well do you know yourself? Do you know your tolerance for risk and loss? Have you pinpointed your investing time horizon? To what degree are you interested in digging into stock research? In other words, what color is your investing parachute?
As Warren Buffett says, "Success in investing doesn't correlate with I.Q. ... what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing." You've gotten this far, so it would be a shame to get sidetracked by emotional triggers that lead to bad investment decisions.
How are you wired?
Before you deploy your money in the market, take this quiz to identify your natural inclinations (both good and bad) so you can find the methods, philosophies, and strategies that best match the way your brain is wired.
1. You're at the store and on the shelf is an array of options for the product you need. Which are you most likely to toss into your shopping cart?
A. The brand you've purchased in the past, even though it lacks the bells and whistles of some of the others.
B. A pricier brand you've always wanted to try because it's on sale for 20% off today.
C. A brand-new product that promises revolutionary results.
D. A reasonably priced version that has not been FDA approved, but has gotten favorable reviews from its customers.
2. You log onto your brokerage account. Which scenario are you happiest to see?
A. The market's up a whopping 10%, but your stock gained just 1% during the run-up.
B. One of the companies you own missed hitting its earnings target and is down 30% as a result, giving you the opportunity to buy more shares at fire-sale prices.
C. Over the past six months a stock in your portfolio has traded anywhere from $10 to $80. It's at the low end of that range right now, but you think it has the potential to double or even quadruple over time.
D. One of your stocks is up 15%, but there's no obvious reason why, so you'll have to do more research to find out.
3. Which activity are you most likely to choose at the theme park?
A. A spin on the merry-go-round with your kids.
B. The newly revamped 3-D laser Zombie show.
C. The Nitro at Six Flags.
D. Forget the rides and head to the "Tastes of the World" food court.
4. How much information do you need to comfortably make buy, sell, or hold decisions?
A. You like to get regular company updates that are widely followed and analyzed by Wall Street, the media, and individual investors.
B. You prefer to check in on the business -- or its customers -- firsthand either in person or via online forums.
C. You regularly consult SEC filings, trade journals, and industry forums and do all your own analysis.
D. You're content with fairly regular coverage of the sector in which the company operates, even if news about your particular company can be spotty.
5. One of your companies is in the headlines today. Which event would not cause you to lose sleep tonight?
A. The company says it may have to temporarily suspend paying its dividend.
B. The launch of the company's next product has been delayed for at least several months.
C. The Board of Directors is making noises about ousting the CEO in order to install an industry veteran.
D. The currency of the country in which your company operates has taken a haircut.
6. If this were an "I'm a Mac/I'm a PC" ad, which company would you be?
7. The business trajectory that most excites you is ...
A. A stable, mature company with some room to grow via cost-cutting efforts, strategic acquisitions, and/or partnerships.
B. A newcomer that has not yet made a name for itself (and may not for many years) and has no heady expectations priced into the stock.
C. An innovative -- and often volatile -- company that challenges the status quo and has the potential to dominate (or create) a business niche.
D. A company that is ideally positioned to capitalize on fast-growing economies overseas.
8. What kind of volatility are you willing to endure on the road to wealth?
A. I'm not looking for massive growth -- I'm willing to settle for a couple of years of so-so returns just so I don't lose a lot of money.
B. I'm willing to endure a few white-knuckle periods until my investment hits the bull's-eye.
C. I'll hold on for dear life -- even while everyone else is bailing -- if I truly believe that the long-term payoff will be big.
D. I can stomach volatility that is beyond the company management's control (e.g. currency fluctuations, political messes) if it means being in the right place at the right time.
The Key: What's your investing temperament?
Let's see how you're wired.
You've worked hard for your money and even if it means passing up headier potential returns, you're most comfortable limiting your exposure to risk. Patience is your investing virtue. Like the great Warren Buffett, you have the temperament to wait for a quality company to go on sale.
Your stocks probably won't wow anyone at a cocktail party -- after all, big-name, been-around-forever companies don't typically make for riveting chitchat. But when the confetti settles, it's your time to shine. If your portfolio were a party guest, it'd be the designated driver: sober but reliable. It gets you where you need to go with no hairpin turns or squealing wheels.
Look for quality companies that have seen their share prices temporarily discounted. You'd also do well to seek steady growth with investments that literally pay investors back -- dividend stocks. (These are the investing strategies we practice in our Inside Value and Income Investor services.)
Sound business practices (e.g., strong balance sheets, good management) are as important to you as any investor. But you're willing to look for these things where few others dare to tread -- in small-cap territory.
While the rest of the world is fixating on the name-brand players, you're prowling for their smaller, nimbler, lesser-known competition. At The Motley Fool, we call such companies Hidden Gems.
Because of their size, these companies fly well under Wall Street's radar. The flip side is, of course, that they can often wildly fluctuate in a single trading day. But if "Bs" dominated your quiz results, then you have the stomach to tolerate the volatility, particularly in the pursuit of bigger returns.
You could build a market-beating portfolio solely comprised of Hidden Gems (or any other type of investment, in fact). But it's probably more reasonable to devote just a portion of your investible assets to the best-of-small breed of stocks -- anywhere from 10% to 40% of a portfolio depending on your comfort level.
Innovation gets your heart racing. When high-def, Bluetooth-enabled, surround-sound rocket boots hit stores, you'll probably be the first person on your block to own a pair.
In investment terms, you seek companies that challenge the status quo -- those that take on an established business, reinvent it, and eventually usurp the original. Even better are those that create an entirely new market for something everyone didn't even realize we couldn't live without.
At the Fool we call these companies Rule Breakers (apt, eh?). And in every way, these businesses defy the rules. Traditional valuation metrics like P/E ratios and discounted cash-flow calculations don't fly in the land of Rule Breakers. The numbers often look wacky because the Street simply doesn't have the tools to accurately assess these companies' merits, so as a shareholder you need to stay alert and be psychologically nimble enough to reevaluate your investment thesis. Flexibility is a must.
Also be aware of the rule of Daedalus: You can't keep flying higher and higher without eventually getting burned. This may be the most exciting kind of investing there is. But you must recognize the big-risk/big-reward connection. Your mistakes will cost you. But it's a lot less painful if you spread the risk around with other asset classes.
You are a worldly Fool. In the pursuit of investment opportunities, you're not afraid to tread into foreign territory -- literally. You recognize that the rate of growth of our economy versus others has changed. The U.S. will still grow, but there are countries where the growth opportunities are astronomical.
"International" is not an investing strategy per se. In our Global Gains newsletter service we seek investment opportunities overseas no matter what label they carry -- small cap, value, Rule Breaker, etc.
If you pine for foreign flavor in your portfolio get comfy with a little less clarity from the companies in this universe. Your comfort level with different accounting methods, shareholder laws, currency risks, and even "political risk" will determine how much of your portfolio to devote to international fare.
A combination of As, Bs, Cs, and Ds:
No, you're not fickle. You simply seek a variety of opportunities to make your money grow. In your heart you know that investing in the stock market is the one true way to build inflation-beating wealth over the long term. But sometimes your doubts overcome your determination to stay the course. You can be gun-shy, perhaps because of a few investing missteps in the past (burned by a hot tip, perhaps?). Or maybe the stock market's recent contortions have left you questioning how much risk you really can stomach.
Your answers reveal a temperament that recognizes the true price of opportunity (taking on some amount of risk) and the real cost of waiting out the storm (missing the market's brief yet inevitable uptick). You've got a mind-set that's well-suited to allocating portions of your portfolio to the best investments from a variety of stock-picking approaches.
Establishing clear parameters -- an asset allocation model -- is the way to go. As to how much to put into which pot, the correct answer is the one that best lets you sleep at night and stick it out through thick and thin. Don't fight your natural tendencies ... instead play to your strengths and seek investments that sit well with you.
Finally, consider that the stock market's recent gyrations may be influencing your answers. That's understandable; even the best investors have been rattled, and may even be questioning their own core strategies. However, in volatility, there is opportunity. Not just in finding bargain stocks, but in taking the pulse of your own investing temperament in a real-world/real-money scenario.
Now that you've gotten a handle on your finances and have tuned into your inner investor, you're ready for our bonus tip. Tomorrow, we're going to give you the rundown about Foolishly investing in the stock market. Check back then!