Today is certainly an uncertain time in the stock market. However, history has shown that when the bear is roaring loudest, that's the time to invest. Many times, though, you'll run across the following: "If you had invested $10,000 into company ABC back then, you would have X today." Of course, X is always a large number like $500,000 or $1 million.
I don't know about you, but whenever I see one of those "If you had invested" claims, I always get depressed. I don't know about you, but I don't have $10,000 to invest at once!
Like a lot of you, I make a modest salary, pay my bills, and save for the future. I think I'm getting ahead when I manage to save a few hundred dollars each month. Then I read a statement like the one above and despair at never making it.
So what to do?
Maybe you're in the same position, able to save what seems like just a little bit each month. Is it worth investing that little bit? You tell me. A friend of mine turned a measly $220 investment in SYSCO into $57,000. Granted, it took him 27 years, but what an X! On average, he earned about 23% per year by investing in the food distribution giant.
Back when my friend made that investment, he paid a very large commission, both because he bought a few shares rather than a 100-share "round lot," and because brokers charged a lot at the time. Paying such large commissions back then tended to keep small investors, ones like you or me with only a few hundred dollars to invest at a time, locked out.
Today, though, discount brokers such as TDAmeritrade or Scottrade will charge you less than $10 per trade and no longer charge extra for buying less than a round lot.
Many brokers also provide other features that make this a better time than ever before for small investors to get started in the market than ever before. Maintenance fees for low-balance accounts are often a thing of the past, and many have direct deposit plans, which let you put a portion of your paycheck directly into your account every payday. Saving is effortless when you never "see" the money. To see what different brokers have to offer, check out our Broker Center.
It doesn't take much
Instead of the $10,000 mentioned above, let's see what small investments in a few different companies would have done.
- Just $500 in fertilizer supplier PotashCorp
(NYSE: POT)10 years ago would be worth $4,650 today -- a beautiful annual return of 25%, even after its big decline at the end of last year. Of course, an investment in competitor Chemical & Mining Co. of Chile (NYSE: SQM)would have done slightly better at 27.6% annually. That would have gotten you to over $5,700.
- A similar-sized investment in Symantec
(Nasdaq: SYMC), maker of the popular Norton line of computer defense software, would be worth some $3,240 today, returning a superior 20.5% per year.
- Coal to gas company Sasol
(NYSE: SSL)would have gotten you to $5,650, starting from just $500. That's better than a Lynchian 10-bagger!
- Annual returns greater than 24% annual returns would have been had with small investments in energy companies Chesapeake Energy
(NYSE: CHK)or Southwestern Energy (NYSE: SWN)and retailer Urban Outfitters (Nasdaq: URBN).
That's the way to riches -- starting with just a few hundred dollars and combining it with time. Anyone can do that. If you're in school, now is the time to start. If you've been working for a few years, even many years, now is the time to start. If you've just retired, given the longer life expectancies today, it certainly can't hurt to start. In other words, get started.
"Thank you, sir! May I have another?"
The trick, of course, is knowing which stocks to pick. Analyzing stocks takes time. You have to read the annual and quarterly reports, look at margins and returns on equity or assets, and evaluate management. It's a big commitment, and it can be difficult to fit in between work, family, and watching the Steelers play.
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This article was originally published on Feb. 27, 2007. It has been updated.
Fool contributor Jim Mueller lives in D.C., but rooted for the Steelers last weekend. He owns shares of SYSCO and Chesapeake Energy. SYSCO and Sasol are Motley Fool Income Investor picks and Sasol is a Global Gains choice, too. Chesapeake Energy and Symantec are Inside Value recommendations. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.