Whether you're new to investing or find yourself in catch-up mode, it's easy to be stymied by the distance between points A and Z on your financial road map. Not to worry: To paraphrase the ever-quotable Jerry Reed -- not to mention the theme song from Smokey and the Bandit -- if you've got a long way to go and, maybe, a short time to get there, there are smart moves you can make to go the distance. Here are three of them.
1. Start investing now
When it comes to investing, time really is money. A contribution of $4,000 a year to a Roth IRA will "magically" morph into more than a quarter-million dollars over the next 20 years if all you do is invest in an S&P-tracking index fund that earns the market's historical average of 10.4%.
Still, while such a fund can provide healthy exposure to market behemoths such as Coca-Cola
Those two stocks smashed the S&P's return for the 10 years that ended with September, delivering annualized returns in excess of 30% and 40%, respectively, over the period. The upshot, then, is this: Along with providing an additional layer of diversification, carefully calibrated exposure to smaller-cap stocks can help juice your returns, too.
2. Stay disciplined
It's relatively easy, of course, to keep plowing money into the market when it's on an upswing. The hard part is to keep on keeping on through its inevitable downturns. Doing precisely that, however, can also juice your returns.
It's when Mr. Market throws one of his periodic temper tantrums, after all, that you can buy high-quality outperformers on the cheap. Consider, for example, Wal-Mart
Here we have two industry leaders that crank out gobs of free cash flow (FCF), with price-to-earnings multiples currently clocking in below those of their typical competitors. And that discount comes despite both firms' gargantuan market share and long-haul track records of delivering the goods for investors and then some.
The moral of the story? Zigging when others zag should be an integral part of your financial road map as well.
3. Stay informed
Ongoing due diligence is an important part of investing success, too, but boring though that may sound, it's really part of the fun. Indeed, the Fool aims to put you ahead of the investing curve on a daily basis. What's more, while buying to hold is a sound principle, you'll want to gauge your holdings relative to your timeline and tolerance for risk. Your portfolio will likely need some tweaking and tuning up as that point that seemed so distant at first gets closer and closer and ...
Well, you get the picture. The first step, though, is to get going, and if you'd like some assistance on that front, consider taking the Fool's new GreenLight service for a risk-free spin. In each issue, we aim to offer specific advice you can use right away to help kick-start your financial future.
Consider a GreenLight guest pass, which provides 30 days to peruse the service and decide if it's right for you. I'm biased, of course, but I think you'll find GreenLight useful as you plot your route and -- as the Bandit himself might phrase it -- put the pedal to the metal. Click here to, um, start your engines.
Shannon Zimmerman runs point on the Fool's Champion Funds newsletter service and co-advises GreenLight with his pal Dayana Yochim. At the time of publication, Shannon didn't own any of the securities mentioned above. Johnson & Johnson is an Income Investor pick. Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart are Inside Value recommendations. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy by clicking right here.