CORPUS CHRISTI, TX (August 25, 1999) -- One day in the fall of 1998, I was looking through the business and financial section of Barnes & Noble. If you've ever looked through this section, you know it can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of titles, and a variety of eye-catching, cleverly designed covers vying for your attention. I noticed a book with a couple of clowns (Fools, actually) grinning at me from the cover, wearing ridiculous hats. I suppose they appealed to some contrarian streak buried deep within my psyche, not far from my mistrust of large institutions and bureaucracies. Somehow, this cover -- which seemed to lampoon its stuffier neighbors on the shelves -- appealed to me.

After reading two or three chapters in the store, I was intrigued. Actually, I was enthralled. For better or worse, I'm the type who doesn't like to be told what to do; the notion of rejecting the advice of the so-called financial experts was very appealing. Also, the book was reasonable and readable. Eventually, I found my way to The Motley Fool online.

One year later, here I am, elated to have wandered into the Drip discussion. Prior to discovering the world of Drip investing, I was getting discouraged. It seemed that my choices were limited. I could continue dollar-cost-averaging into my index fund, or I would have to wait until I could accumulate a pile of cash to buy some stocks. In our house, we live by the automatic debit; regular voluntary contributions to savings are not likely to occur if they aren't done automatically. I wanted to start investing in stocks, but I was beginning to think I had a long wait ahead of me. Impatient as I am, this was a frustrating situation.

That was the essence of my dilemma, and I believe, the dilemma of many people. All the financial literature I had read told me I needed to invest in stocks for the long haul. "Okay," I thought, "no problem." After checking out some online discount brokerages, I opened an account. (Note the impatience here: I hadn't even considered the idea of researching companies.) Maybe I'm a little slow, but that's when it hit me: I'll need to pay brokerage commissions month after month if I'm going to invest on a monthly basis. I had run up against the fundamental problem for the small investor. When you don't have large piles of cash lying around, you have to invest on a monthly basis. But how do you do that and avoid the commissions?

I had no answer, so I was dead in my tracks� until I browsed through The Motley Fool's Drip message boards. I had seen the Drip Port link many times, but the name sounded like something that moves very slowly, so I never followed the link. Boy, am I glad I finally did! After reading various messages and occasionally participating in the discussion, I realized I had found my logical landing place. Thanks to the expertise and friendly guidance of the folks on the Drip boards, I received a free education in direct investing.

Now I have a portfolio of my own, and it is a work in progress. My wife and I are in our early thirties, and we are tickled to death by the idea of a comfortable (and maybe early?) retirement and a substantial financial legacy for our kids.

By the way, kids can provide some great stock ideas. For example, I'm considering starting Drips with Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT), McDonald's (NYSE: MCD), and Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO). Believe me, we are regular consumers of their products. Additionally, Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) products are all over our house, in the form of Band-Aids, Q-tips, Baby Wash, etc. So I've got that Drip underway to the tune of a hefty $25 per month. Rounding out the portfolio are Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) and Enron Corp. (NYSE: ENE).

The most valuable things I've learned? Patience and sticking with what I know. When I first began exploring the world of investing, I had the impression (perpetuated by the media) that the big stock market winners were always the sexy, high-flying, glamorous, complicated, high-tech companies. Knowing next to nothing about these industries, I had no real way to evaluate them. What a relief it is to realize you can profitably invest in everyday, mundane items right in your home. Learning about new, widely used technology is a good thing, but I'll stick to investing in the activities and items that are central to my family. After all, we have lots of company.

[To discuss this column, please visit the Drip Basics message board.]