I've talked before about the Donner Party, a group of 87 travelers making their way west to California in the mid-1800s who ended up taking an ill-fated shortcut through the Sierra Nevadas. As investors, we have some things in common with those 87 pioneers. They had a goal, and they had some options in how they might reach it. We also have goals -- such as a college education for our children, a comfy retirement, and so on -- and we have options before us, too, such as 401(k) accounts, IRAs, brokerage accounts, real estate, coffee cans buried in backyards, and so on. We also have a lot of guidance available to us.

On board
Consider the Fool discussion boards, for example. There you can find answers to pretty much any question, and you can learn from others' experiences. Imagine if the Donner Party had been able to ask thousands of others all about the trail westward. They might have all survived, if they'd been able to learn which paths were most advisable. They might have been told of some places to find food, some places where rivers were easiest to cross, and so on. Indeed, if they'd been able to take laptops with them on their trip, loaded with access to our boards, they might have been able to communicate with others who were taking the same trip at the same time.

That's pretty much what happens on our Fool boards all the time. Someone realizes that he or she needs to open an IRA but doesn't know where to start. That person will ask on our boards, and someone points the questioner to our IRA Center or offers other useful advice.

Someone else is thinking of investing in UPS (NYSE:UPS), perhaps, and goes to that company's board, where he or she learns that the company has been named a strong corporate citizen, that analysts have reiterated "buy" ratings on the stock, and that there's some uncertainty surrounding some airplane orders the company recently cancelled with Airbus. This potential investor also learns about a class action suit against FedEx (NYSE:FDX).

We've got boards for thousands of companies. Our Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) board is pretty busy, and there you'll learn of the company's expansion into Russia and that the Gates Foundation has increased its stake in the company.

My point is that whether we need to figure out the best way to buy a car, how to open a brokerage account, or if we should sell or hold a certain stock, we're lucky that we don't have to go it alone. We can learn from many others. Best of all, we might even make some new friends in the process.

The Foolish problem-solver
To get a sense of how people benefit from our boards, see what community member PineyLevel recently wrote:

"I do have a life, I promise. But, when a question comes up at home, I've been known to say something like 'ale vs. lager? I'll ask [community member] Bon!' or 'Taxes? I know an expert on that!' Then I have to explain that, no, I've never met them in person and, no, his real name isn't 'sync' or whatever. Please tell me I'm not the only one who's done that."

She added: "The debt reduction and savings advice [on the Fool boards] completely changed my life. ... And very soon I'll even be able to take advantage of investing advice." Others then responded.

  • BrandNewDay said her husband "used to scoff at me calling online peeps 'friends' but then he saw all the cards and little knitted baby gifts that came in the mail."
  • From dove29: "The debt-reduction and dealing-with-creditors info here has been enormously helpful. But yes, [my ex-boyfriend] has caught me citing some of the people on the Help With This STUPID Computer board, when I'm telling him he needs anti-virus software or something."
  • And reader99 said: "I love being able to ask any question on any topic -- the Photography board helped me get my camera working again, the computer board has saved me hundreds of dollars in potential computer repair costs, and Living Below Your Means has saved me thousands over the years, besides the general moral support of being among like-minded people."

So go ahead and give our Fool Community of discussion boards a whirl. I think you'll like what you find.

Wal-Mart is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. UPS is an Income Investor pick, and FedEx is a Stock Advisor selection. Try out any of our newsletter services free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Wal-Mart. Her favorite discussion boards include Book Club, Eclectic Library, Television Banter, and Card & Board Games. For more about Selena, view her bio and her profile. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.