Let's face it: Picking your own stocks is an egotistical thing to do. You're essentially betting that you, Joe Oddlot, in your boxer shorts at your Compaq laptop, can beat the biggest minds and the best money out there -- people running billion-dollar mutual funds and private money, and wearing pants to boot!
Of course, I think it is possible to win this game, but that doesn't change the fact that playing takes a great -- maybe even a silly -- degree of self-assurance. But once in a while, even this egoist goes looking for a serving of humble pie. For that, I turn to funds.
The three Bs
There are three reasons why I use funds in my own portfolio, and why I think everyone, even stock hounds, should consider them. They are all brought to you by the letter "b": ballast, bliss, and brains. After all, who doesn't like a little alliteration, right?
It's not a requirement for every portfolio, but investing is a psychological game, and ballast can help smooth that otherwise rough market ride. If you like small caps, as I do, the weekly gyrations can be nauseating. If you like value stocks, as I also do, waiting for the Street to reward out-of-favor companies can be worse than that awful, burning, "I gotta go but I don't have time" sensation we all got while playing hide-and-go seek as kids.
And things don't get any easier when Mr. Market has a freakout. Take the wholesale dumping of all things foreign over the past weeks. Big positions in PetroChina
We could all use more bliss, right? Listen, I like prognosticating about economies and industries (travel and health care are on my mind lately) and digging into company financials and market maneuvers. It can be very rewarding to try figuring out whether Expedia
But figuring all of that out can get tiring. There are times when I'd rather be doing just about anything else. (Like now, perhaps, as my wife heads out into the sunshine for a bike ride and I sit here working on a hunched back and a case of carpal-tunnel.) Unfortunately, you can't make informed investment decisions if you skimp on the homework. That's why I like the option that funds offer -- you know, relying on other people's know-how.
Like I said, stock picking is a bit of an egoist's game, but we'd be foolish (with a small f) if we didn't admit that other people could do just as well. No matter how smart we might think we are, more brains can't hurt. This is especially true in looking at fast-moving tech markets.
Without reflecting on reports of semiconductor and end-product supply-and-demand trends, how else would you know whether something like Texas Instruments
The Foolish bottom line
Of course, finding the right brains to give me the bliss to provide the ballast is a pretty daunting task. If you think picking stocks is hard, how about choosing funds? There are a lot more of those. Thousands more, in fact.
That's why, when it comes time for finding funds, I don't even try to do it on my own. I check out my colleague Shannon Zimmerman's Motley Fool Champion Funds newsletter service. Month in and month out, Shannon picks only the cheapies -- the shops likely to beat the market -- and he even calls out the duds.
A free trial will show you the details, but here's the skinny: The vast majority of Shannon's funds are beating their benchmarks, and they're doing it by a combined 7 percentage points. If he can keep that up, I may just hang up my own green eyeshade, rely on his brains, and help myself to a lot more bliss.
This article was originally published Feb. 2, 2006. It has been updated.
Seth Jayson likes picking his own stocks, but sometimes he'd rather be riding his bike. At the time of publication, he had shares of PetroChina but no position in any other company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here . Priceline.com is a Stock Advisor recommendation. Fool rules arehere.