If you popped into Fool.com on Sunday, April 1, you probably saw our incredible announcement: Scientists at the Human Genome Project had discovered an "Investor Gene." This was a very big deal, because:

  • If you had the gene, you could beat the market.
  • If you didn't have it, you would no longer have to try. You could settle for an index fund and save yourself aggravation and money.
  • We offered a simple test to determine whether you had the gene.
  • We also offered, for a reasonable fee, to upgrade your genetic makeup and insert the gene.

If this all sounded too good to be true, well... it was. It was incredible in every sense of the word. Since April Fools' Day has now passed, we can turn the truth-telling back on.

The truth is that there is no Investor Gene. (At least, one hasn't been discovered yet.) That might sadden you, if yesterday you pressed your nose against your monitor and were delighted to learn that you had what it took to be above average. Don't be sad, though. Because...

A more exciting truth is that we all have what it takes to be successful in investing. You don't need a special gene, you don't need suspenders and an MBA, and you don't need an IQ of 210. You do need a few things, though. See how you fare on this checklist:

To invest successfully, you need:

  • A brain
  • A willingness to read, question, and think
  • The ability to add, subtract, multiply, divide, and understand percentages
  • An interest in the business world
  • A willingness to take on some risk and to lose some dollars along the way
  • The ability to learn from mistakes -- ideally those of others, but your own as well
  • Time

Why should you believe me, though, when I tell you you can do well at investing? After all, I'm just a Fool. My own portfolio has plunged in value by more than 50% over the past year or two. (Although it's still in the black over its roughly seven-year history.) Permit me to introduce some more inspiring examples of what ordinary people can do. Please meet:

  • Anne Scheiber. She was a retired IRS employee who plunked $5,000 into stocks and watched her nest egg grow to $22 million over 50 years.
  • Monsignor James McSweeney. Earning a sub-poverty-level income for decades as a Catholic priest, he focused on his investments in his free time and was worth nearly $1 million when he died.
  • Gilmore and Golda Reynolds. They seemed like ordinary next-door neighbors in Osgood, Indiana. But when they passed away, they surprised the town by leaving it $22 million that they'd accumulated through investing in stocks over many years.
  • Thomas Drey, Jr. Mr. Drey was a retired teacher who spent a lot of time researching companies at the Boston Public Library. (He even wrote several books on fast-growing companies.) Upon his death, he shocked the library by leaving it $6.8 million.
  • Jay Jensen. A retired high school teacher in his late 60s, Jensen has long lived frugally, investing steadily in blue-chip stocks for some 40 years. Jensen never earned more than $46,000 per year, but he turned that into several million dollars, most of which he's giving away.
  • Gladys Holm. She was a Chicago secretary, whose salary peaked at $15,000 before she retired. Her secret was paying attention to what stocks her successful boss was buying and selling and often following suit, to a smaller degree. Upon her death, she left $18 million to a children's hospital.
  • Donald and Mildred Othmer. The Othmers were members of a smart group of people -- those who bought shares of Warren Buffett's company, Berkshire Hathaway(NYSE: BRK.A), and held on for decades. They invested about $50,000 in the 1960s and upon their deaths in the 1990s, their estate was worth an amazing $800 million.
  • Florence Ballenger. Ms. Ballenger was another teacher who lived frugally but well (traveling around the world), and who accumulated more than $6 million on her own and with her husband through investing.
  • Oseola McCarty. She was a washerwoman who amassed a considerable nest egg without investing in individual stocks. (Of course, with stocks, she'd have grown an ostrich egg of a portfolio.)

(By the way -- if you ever run across other examples of people like these, please let me know at SelenaM@fool.com. I collect them.)

Believe it or not, these are just a few of many similar stories. There are many, many people who have lived below their means, but lived well -- investing and accumulating great wealth over decades.

If you're ready to join their ranks, here are some steps you can take:

  • Get your financial house in order first. Our Personal Finance area can help you with that, as it features information on how to get out of debt, as well as money-saving tips on buying a house, buying a car, insurance, and paying for college.
  • Head to our Fool's School, where you can read the 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly, our collection of Investing Basics articles, and some information on mutual funds.
  • Check out some of our books, either in your local library, your local bookstore, or our own company store, FoolMart.
  • Consider taking our self-paced Beginning Investing Seminar.
  • Begin asking investing questions of friends or on discussion boards.

April Fools' Day is a lighthearted holiday, so permit me to end on a lighthearted note. If you haven't done so before, I encourage you to check out our April Fools' jokes from years past. We've offered some doozies:

2000: Shakespeare's stock portfolio discovered

1999: eMeringue.com, an auto parts store turned Internet pie-topping retailer

1998: Mutual fund madness