Investing the right way can take a lot of time, and it should. After all, if you spend a lot of your time working to create the money you will set aside for investment, shouldn't you spend some time to make sure your hard-earned money is invested wisely? While we Fools tend to devote a huge amount of our time to thinking about investments, our time is limited, too, so each of us has developed some time-saving methods that allow us to get the most out of the time we spend hunting for good ideas.
We asked our team of Motley Fool contributors to share their top tips for saving time when they are on the hunt for great investment ideas, and here's what they had to say.
Todd Campbell: Creating watchlists of stocks, ETFs, or funds that I own or that I'm interested in buying is one of the ways I simplify my investment process and cut down the time I spend researching investments.
Most brokers and many online financial websites, such as Yahoo! Finance, allow you to create watchlists, and most of these sites can be accessed from any Internet connected device, which means the lists are available on your desktop and mobile devices.
Watchlists allow you to organize ideas by any number of criteria, such as market cap or sector, and they allow you to quickly view and compare data, such as forward EPS expectations and valuation metrics, including P/E ratios.
Personally, I've found it most useful to limit myself to a handful of watchlists made up of 10 to 15 stocks each, but you can create dozens of lists if you want, and many sites will allow you to create lists of 50 stocks or more.
Overall, because watchlists gives me the information I want to see, when I want to see it, all in one place -- I find them to be an incredibly helpful time-saver.
Adam Galas: As surprising as it might be to hear this from a writer at The Motley Fool I think one of the simplest time-saving tools for most investors to simply dollar-cost average into low-fee index funds such as the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF or Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF.
Numerous studies have shown that three things usually trip up investors and cause them to underperform: what to buy, when to buy it, and over trading.
A large body of research proves that market timing usually doesn't work in the long term, especially if you're buying shares of highly hyped and, at times, overvalued stocks.
On the other hand, since 1871, the S&P 500 has returned an inflation-adjusted compound annual return of 6.9% CAGR, and that's through numerous banking panics, world wars, oil shocks, and even the great depression.
Dollar-cost averaging removes the temptation to time the market, because you're investing a certain amount of money each month, regardless of what the market is doing, and it maximizes the amount of time your cash has to let the miracle of compound growth work its magic.
Another huge benefit is low costs and tax efficiency. The two Vanguard ETFs above both have net annual costs of 0.05% and 3% annual portfolio turnover, two important things for investors to keep in mind when trying to maximize their returns.
While individual stocks can be great for active investors who have the time and interest to devote to researching and tracking several companies, passive low-cost index fund investing -- that automates the entire process and removes as much emotion as possible from the equation -- is probably the best long-term approach for the vast majority of people.
George Budwell: Stock screeners are a great time-saving tool for investors looking for new ideas. Depending upon the screener, you can typically sort through literally hundreds of stocks based on a central theme such as dividend yields, short ratios, analyst recommendations, or almost any form of fundamental or technical parameter.
While most brokerages provide access to an in-house stock screener for their clients these days, there are some decent free screeners available, such as Zacks' Stock Screener, FinViz, Google Finance, and The Motley Fool's own stock screener, which even allows users to export their data to an Excel spreadsheet.
When using any screener -- free or otherwise, however, it's important to keep in mind that this tool should only be viewed as a good starting point in the stock selection process. After all, the sources of data that stock screeners tap can, and often do, vary greatly, leading to inaccuracies in their outputs. In other words, you'll want to make sure to check the screener's results against, say, a company's SEC filings for fundamental types of data before investing.
That being said, screeners are a quick and easy way to generate ideas, and they should therefore be an essential part of any investor's stock-picking process.
Brian Feroldi: While I'm personally a huge fan of picking out individual stocks, I do realize that not everybody has the time or desire to do so on their own. For investors who fall into this camp and still want to gain exposure to the stock market, I agree with Adam that choosing low-cost index funds or ETFs for the bulk of your portfolio is a great time-saving move.
However, I still think it's a smart idea to add individual names to your portfolio, as it can be both fun and rewarding to follow an individual company's progress. One way to save time finding an investment is to look for one in the industry that you already probably know quite well: the industry you currently work in.
Warren Buffett, the world's greatest investor, calls this investing in your "circle of competence," as you likely know a lot about the industry in which you are currently employed, and that can give you a leg up in your research efforts over the average investor -- and save you a lot of time.
If you see a company in your industry that is killing it, you should consider picking up a few shares with a small percentage of your portfolio, and as long as the bulk of your portfolio is invested in index funds, you can feel good about being properly diversified, even if you only invest in a handful of names.
For investors who are interested in saving time and still want to make individual stock picks, I think that's a smart way to save time.
Rather than trying to time the market or -- even worse -- day trade stocks, a disciplined strategy of regularly buying quality businesses with the intent of holding them for as long as possible can be a far more effective strategy. Less taxes and lower trading costs are well-known benefits of a buy-to-hold strategy. But you'll also benefit from the perspective of being a partial owner of a real business, and profit alongside the company as it delivers more value to the world over time.
In addition, the time commitment required for this strategy is also far less than any short-term focused trading strategy. As a long-term investor, you'll simply need to find a handful of strong businesses, and set aside some money at regular intervals to buy more of their shares.
The challenge, of course, is identifying outstanding businesses that are worthy of being held for many years. Competitive advantage is paramount, here, as is the ability to identify the trends that will impact the competitive landscape of the businesses in which you invest.
Many Fools find the study of these two areas a pleasure and thoroughly enjoy the time we spend in this regard. If that doesn't describe you, no worries -- The Motley Fool has you covered. Our analyst teams excel at identifying great businesses that are poised to reward their shareholders for years to come, and we'd be happy to help you do the same.