Successful investing doesn't require a lot of work, research, or attention. Although you may miss out on the best-performing investments, you can achieve the most important of your financial goals simply by doing two things: saving enough money, and buying sound, diversified investments that provide solid returns.
Unfortunately, many people don't see it that way. In their eyes, successful investors use sophisticated systems with complicated rules for actively trading stocks, options, or whatever the most popular new investing vehicle happens to be at the time. If someone knows that you have been successful with your investing, you may get questions about how you do it. You're often expected to make a lengthy explanation of all the different sources of information you look at, all the computer tools and other analysis you use to make and confirm your decisions, and all the tracking you have to do on an ongoing basis in order to maximize and protect your profits.
It's not that difficult
It's unfortunate that so many people believe that investing is complicated. This mistaken belief leads many people to avoid trying to invest in the first place, and misleads others into thinking that they need expensive assistance to use even the most basic investing techniques. Furthermore, even people who have a moderate amount of experience with investing sometimes second-guess themselves into thinking that they have to learn everything there is to know about every type of new investment that becomes available. This can often lead people to stray from effective investing techniques, replacing them with other methods they don't completely understand. That can create even more anxiety and self-doubt, which can in turn drive promising investors to abandon good ideas for lack of confidence.
Boring but effective
Needless to say, investing doesn't have to be that hard. If you set aside $1,000 each month and make an average return of just 5%, then after just 33 years, you'll have a million dollars. Even using an extremely conservative return assumption, the power of time, diligent saving, and compound interest will inevitably lead to good results. Increasing your return will make your money grow faster and get you to your goals sooner, but it's not an absolute requirement.
Once you realize that the key to successful financial management is a strong, disciplined approach to maximizing your savings, the investment piece of the equation becomes less intimidating. If you don't feel like you have to earn the best returns year after year, passive investment options like index mutual funds or broad-based exchange-traded funds can earn income in line with the general performance of the market while drastically reducing the amount of time you need to spend looking at your investments. Instead of glancing at how your individual stocks are doing two or three times a day, you can just send in your regular investment check every month and go on with living the rest of your life.
Cha-ching without the bling
This type of simple investing isn't sexy. You won't have people crowding around you at cocktail parties asking you questions about the latest hot craze in the stock market. If someone asks you which of your investments has made you the most money, you may not have a clue. Yet at the end of the day, you will fare far better than many active traders have done over the ups and downs of the financial markets.
Of course, if you have a bit of flair for the dramatic, it's easy to add a little sex appeal to your portfolio by setting aside a small percentage of your assets for speculation. For instance, if you want to be able to discuss the prospects for a company that manufactures robots that help doctors perform basic surgical procedures, buying a couple hundred shares of Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick Intuitive Surgical
Throughout your investing life, you will constantly run across new ideas and ways to put your money to work for you, and some of them may prove useful. However, for the most part, once you are comfortable with an investment method that works for you, you should rarely feel compelled to change a successful strategy. Even if you end up making less money than you could have, sticking with something you understand -- something that meets your needs -- is a simple way to financial and personal success.
Further Foolishness, plain and simple:
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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger keeps the big picture in focus but also likes zooming in on the insignificant details from time to time. He doesn't own shares of Intuitive Surgical. The Fool's disclosure policy is simply the best.