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 (too much information?), 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. Try holding a little bit of small-cap retail, like Zumiez
Or how about a dose of out-of-favor tech? The nauseating slide in game-market leaders Electronic Arts
And things don't get any easier when Mr. Market has a freakout. The recent market swoon began with a wholesale dumping of foreign stocks, meaning solid Mexican companies in my portfolio, like FEMSA
The volatility that comes with investing in growth stocks can be enough to rock some investors' boats off course. By steadying the boat with a slow, steady, growing fund, the swings and the sweating that come with investing in growth stocks can be greatly assuaged.
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 to figure out whether Expedia is going to come back from its recent drubbing or wither in the face of competition, whether Continental Airlines is the real deal or just another jet-fuel burner, or whether Bausch & Lomb's recent rebound from its eye-fungus lows is the real thing or a dreaded "dead cat bounce."
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 or ATI Technologies
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 take an easy, proven route: 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.
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 eight 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 FEMSA but no position in any other company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here . Electronic Arts, Activision, and eBay are Stock Advisor recommendations. Zumiez is a Hidden Gems pick. Fool rules arehere.