At some point in our investing careers, we're all newbies. And even after we become old hands, a little refresher on the fundamentals is often in order. The same basic rules apply, after all, no matter whether you're an Eagle Scout or a tenderfoot: Pay as little as you can in fees for those prospects that offer the biggest bang for your buck.

The envelope please
Which leads, not coincidentally, to the Rydex S&P Equal Weight (RSP) exchange-traded fund. Here we have an ETF that tracks the S&P, but with a twist: It's not market-cap weighted.

To be sure, the likes of Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), General Electric (NYSE:GE), and Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) appear in this fund's lineup. But unlike, say, Vanguard 500 Index (FUND:VFINX) or SPDRs (AMEX:SPY), such mega-cap companies don't dominate the Rydex fund. Instead, they simply take their place alongside each of the 500's other members.

The upshot is that investors here -- as opposed to those in traditional S&P trackers -- have better diversified exposure to the broad market. That trait makes the ETF an especially smart vehicle for folks who are just beginning their investment journey, but make no mistake: It could also work well for grizzled vets whose portfolios might be heavily concentrated in just one area of the market.

Geek out
As the Fool's resident fund geek, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that with index funds, the most you can realistically expect is to lag the market by about the amount of your fund's expense ratio. Actively managed options that can help you beat the market -- yes, after expenses -- certainly exist.

Still, when a fund's price tag clocks in at 0.40% (the expense ratio of the Rydex ETF), your inner cheapskate will thank you while your friendly neighborhood stock jock gnashes his teeth in jealousy: Important exceptions exist, but the vast majority of folks who manage money for a living can't compete with index funds over the long haul.

What's next?
No one remains a beginner forever, of course. Eventually, you'll want to expand your investment horizons to include smaller-cap stocks like, perhaps, Jabil Circuit (NYSE:JBL) and XM Satellite Radio (NASDAQ:XMSR) -- two intriguing names that currently sport earnings-growth forecasts in excess of 20% for the next five years and whose stock prices fall well below their 52-week highs.

Moreover, even at the outset of an investing career, there are questions beyond just where to plunk down your hard-earned moola, including:

  • Which brokerage is best suited to my needs?
  • How can I reduce my investment tax bill?
  • How do I know when it's time to sell?
  • Is my portfolio tailored to my tolerance for risk?
  • Should macroeconomics play any role in my investment decisions?

As it happens
The Fool, of course, is chock-full of information on each of those fronts, and our new GreenLight personal finance service is designed to bring our best ideas to you with little in the way of muss or fuss. "Cut to the chase" is our middle name. And if you have things beyond financial matters that keep you busy -- you know, like your day job -- GreenLight can be your one-stop shop for fast and friendly financial advice.

Better yet, you can test-drive the service for free. Click here, and a 30-day guest pass is yours for the taking. Your pass provides access to all the newsletter issues we've released so far, and you'll also be able to snag our latest installment when it hits the streets on Nov. 1. Among other things, that issue examines the "presidential cycle effect" and ponders whether now might be an especially opportune time to plow new money into the market.

Intrigued? Excellent. Give GreenLight a go -- for free.

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. Microsoft and Wal-Mart are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. XM Satellite Radio is a Rule Breakers pick. You can check out the Fool's strict disclosure policy by clicking right here.