If you're like I was, your first taste of Wall Street came in smaller, bite-sized nuggets. After all, most of us begin investing because we want to eventually be wealthy -- not because we already are wealthy.
My first foray into the market came in 1990. I had just gotten married, and my wife and I had bought an adorable two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bathroom townhouse. Small place. Big dreams.
We were both fresh out of graduate school. She had a Master of Arts degree in communication, and I had just earned my MBA. Small diplomas. Big potential.
Like most college students starting a new life together -- and with a mortgage to boot -- we didn't really have the means to live it up like Lovey and Thurston Howell. We were determined to live beneath our means, and that meant plenty of leftovers, lots of clipped coupons, and impulse purchases held mostly in check. Small funds. Big problem.
Diversify with pocket change
I set aside $2,000 for the stock market. I knew all about the wonders of compounded returns and how starting early was the key. Even though my first consideration was to throw all of my money at a stock or two, I felt too green to take that kind of chance. I wanted to own a pocket of attractive stocks but with a minimal investment.
Mutual funds seemed like the best fit. An accountant friend had suggested going with Vanguard, but the steep -- to me at the time -- $3,000 minimum on all but one of its funds found me looking elsewhere.
I was young. I knew that I wanted in on small growth stocks. I eventually divided my investment between two funds with low minimum initial requirements: 20th Century Ultra (now American Century Ultra), a blazing fund that packed plenty of octane, and Janus Venture, a solid offering from the Janus
They served me well. I ultimately sold them both as stocks became a bigger part of my portfolio, but I have always owned a mutual fund or two because it's just too ideal an investing vehicle to ignore. If I find an area or an investing style that I want to be a part of, without the learning curve to master it on my own, I'll just buy a fund. You wouldn't believe how many stock ideas I have acquired over the years, just by reading through mutual fund quarterly reports.
Big bang for the little bucks
Starting small is fine. It worked for me, and -- more importantly -- it's better than never starting at all. Many mutual funds may have high initial investment minimums, but some make exceptions if you commit to making additional purchases in the future.
One of my favorites in this thrifty regard is a fund that Shannon Zimmerman recommended to his Champion Funds newsletter subscribers last year.
Investors can get started with just $200, as long as they set up an automated investing plan through which they kick in another $50 each month. In one fell swoop, you are buying in to a fund that holds 70 stocks. What kind of companies are we talking about here? Let's check out the largest holdings.
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The emphasis appears to be in building, insurance, and financial services, but they are also cheap stocks. They all trade for 18 times earnings or less. If you own any of these stocks -- or are thinking about buying in to any of these companies -- could your portfolio benefit from owning them through a fund with a like-minded manager at the helm and instant diversification? Of course.
How much would you pay to have a proven market crusher on your side? On that initial $200 investment? Your tab in fund expenses would run you just $2.12 a year. Thanks to a reasonable expense ratio of 1.06% that is pro-rated over the course of the year, that's the price of admission. That's clearly a bargain for a fund that has averaged better than 17% in annualized returns over the past 15 years.
The fund? It's Muhlenkamp Fund
Shannon didn't merely recommend the fund last year. He tracks it perpetually. A month after he singled it out, subscribers to Shannon's newsletter service were treated to an interview with Muhlenkamp to learn more about his eclectic market-thumping style.
We all start small
That's just one of the dozens of funds that Shannon has handpicked over the past two years. There are plenty of other gems in there, many with low initial investing requirements. It's worked out great so far. The average recommendation is up 21.2%, while the market's return in that time has averaged a mere 9.8% return.
New subscribers have access to his freshest picks, as well as to the past two years of issues, updates, and special features. I read it often and am eyeing an international fund that Shannon picked 10 months ago and has come through with a 29% return since then in a region that I really want to be a part of. If you're still not sure about subscribing for the long haul, go with a trial subscription offer that will grant you free access to the service for the next 30 days. Yes, free.
In the end, it's all about taking that first step -- or the next step -- in your investing education. Small funds? Big dreams. Big potential. No problem.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz thinks that funds are part of a balanced portfolio breakfast. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.