When I was a youngster, I remember seeing a book by the late comedian Alan King, with a cover photo of a broken fortune cookie. The book's title: Help! I'm a Prisoner in a Chinese Bakery.
AOL.com recently presented the "top 25 fortune cookie sayings," as compiled by rinkworks.com. None of them was nearly as amusing as King's quip, but I noticed that they nonetheless offered some financial insights. Let's look at a few.
- "You are free to invent your life." True. We may spend time wishing we had this or could do that, but in most cases, if we want something badly enough, we stand a good chance of getting it. If you want a bigger house, you could take a second job for a while, or you could look at different neighborhoods. If you wish you were running a bakery instead of practicing law, you can take steps to become a baker. It's rarely too late to try a new career, to start investing, or to find some other way to reinvent yourself.
- "Don't panic." Think about big swings in the market. A big downturn reflects a lot of panicking, in which lots of people are losing money. Yet they're choosing to lose money, because they're joining the panic and are selling out of stocks or funds that have fallen. They're not remembering that markets recover and that solid companies have solid futures, despite any short-term hiccups. If you ever find yourself panicking about your investments, think things over calmly. You might still end up deciding to sell, but at least you might do so out of rational conviction, not knee-jerk impulsiveness.
"Simplicity and clarity should be your theme in dress." The earnings reports and CEO letters to shareholders that you receive should be clear and candid, too.
The same holds for your portfolio. In 30 seconds at the most, you should also be able to explain why you're invested in any given company or mutual fund. That might not sound like much time, but try discussing something that you don't know much about in 30 seconds. It's not so easy.
To get to that point, you might choose to focus on what you know. If you just don't understand how biotech companies like Gilead Sciences
, Progenics Pharmaceuticals (Nasdaq: GILD) , and ImClone (Nasdaq: PGNX) make money, you won't be comfortable investing in them. On the other hand, you might find retailers such as Wal-Mart (Nasdaq: IMCL) , Coach (NYSE: WMT) , and Safeway (NYSE: COH) easier to grasp. (NYSE: SWY)
- "Endurance and persistence will be rewarded." These are critical qualities to have as an investor. Think of the multimillionaires and multibillionaires you know about. How many of them got rich quickly? How many are dabblers, as many of us sometimes are -- buying a little of this and a little of that, and not sticking firmly to any particular strategy? It's fine to tweak your system as you go, but to be a great investor, it's good to have a system in the first place. You might, for example, be a value investor looking for dollars that are selling for 50 cents. That's what the analysts at our Motley Fool Inside Value newsletter service do with undervalued companies. (Try the service free for 30 days, and you'll have full access to all past issues.)
- Finally: "It could be better, but it's good enough." That's a good one. We might dream of being billionaires, and we might bemoan our likely inability to even hit a net worth of $10 million. But really, for most of us, if we start with very little and manage to build up, say, $2 million or $3 million by retirement, we should be rather pleased. That's probably enough to serve most of us well. If we draw down 4% of that nest egg every year, that would be $80,000 to $120,000 -- with some Social Security on top of that.
So go ahead and reach for the stars. If you end up with only a handful of blossoms from a tall tree, that's not so bad, is it?
Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Wal-Mart, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Coach is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services today, free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.