An Englishman named Thomas Thwaites has embarked on a relatively simple endeavor: He wants to build his own toaster. That might seem straightforward enough, no? He just has to get some sheets of metal, and an electrical plug, and some kind of heating element, and so on. After all, many things can be simpler than they seem -- like making money.

But no, Thwaites is making it harder on himself. He wants to build the toaster from scratch. In other words, he went in search of iron ore, so that he could smelt it and make iron. He's processing copper, to make his own wires. He's extracting oils necessary to make the plastic he needs. And even that is harder than it might seem. For example, he tried smelting iron in a leaf-blower furnace and in a microwave.

The dreamers among us might cheer him on, but the pragmatists will wonder why he's bothering, since toasters have already been invented and exist in great supply at reasonable prices. Why reinvent the wheel?

Our own toasters
I'm in the cheering-him-on camp, myself, but his project does make me think about how we invest. You see, when we're new at investing, we often reinvent the wheel ourselves. We make the same mistakes most other investors have made, like these:

  • We get impatient. I bought shares of International Paper earlier this year and sold after losing money on it. If I'd held on, I could have doubled my money, instead of seeing it cut in half.
  • We buy stocks we don't understand. If you know nothing about agriculture or solar power, then buying into companies such as Monsanto (NYSE:MON), Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ:ESLR) or First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) isn't too advisable. All of them face unique challenges in the current economic environment and may have been puffed up too high by overambitious Wall Street analysts, and if you're not familiar with their industries, you won't fully understand their true future prospects.
  • We buy without doing enough research. Even if you think you understand a company, you might not know all of its ins and outs.

What to do
Spare yourself unnecessary heartache and financial losses and learn from others' experiences. Reading the letters to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway's (NYSE:BRK-A) (NYSE:BRK-B) Warren Buffett is one good place to get savvier. You can also learn more and get some investing ideas in these articles:

Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. First Solar is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, which is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation and a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our investing newsletters free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.