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Simple Ways to Start Investing

Investment Strategies for New NEA Members

How can you invest when you don’t know where to start and funds are scarce? The first step is recognizing the importance of the process. Though the market is indeed volatile, investing savings for the long term is a sensible way to create wealth and secure your future. The sooner you begin, the more money you’ll accumulate for near and distant goals.

  • Start today. The fact is, the longer you wait, the more earnings you sacrifice. Bill DeShurko, a financial advisor and author of “The Naked Truth About Your Money,” notes that by starting immediately, you have the most powerful force in mathematics working for you: compound interest. “With it, interest is calculated not only on the deposits you make but also on the accumulated interest from prior periods.” To illustrate, he gives the example of two investors: 

    1. Jane started investing $2,000 a year at age 25 until age 34, for a total savings of $20,000. She stopped at age 35 and let her money sit and grow at a rate of 10 percent per year. By age 65 she will have $672,999. 

    2. John postponed investing until age 35, at which point he began to set aside $2,000 per year until age 65. Though his contributions totaled $62,000 (three times that of Jane’s), he will only have $400,275 at age 65. By waiting 10 years to invest, John forfeited about $200,000 in earnings!

How much can you accumulate by starting today? Plug in your own numbers and find out.

  • Start investing, even if you have debt. A common question is whether it’s best to pay off debt before investing. The answer, says DeShurko, is to do both simultaneously. “Even if you have debt, start putting $100 a month into a low-risk investment, such as a credit union money market account,” he urges. In exchange for paying some finance charges to your creditors, you establish a powerful savings habit and accrue funds for emergencies and life’s pleasures. As you’re investing, though, don’t ignore your debt, warns Lucy Duni, vice president of consumer education at TrueCredit.com by TransUnion. “Keeping your [credit] score intact can be as easy as paying your bills on time, even if it’s just the minimum payment,” assures Duni. If your investment plans include buying property and financing a mortgage, this is a particularly significant point.
  • Use every automatic savings program available. One of the best aspects of your pretax retirement plan is that funds come out of your paycheck before you see a penny of it. This prevents you from using that money on other expenses and ensures it goes toward retirement. “Automatic savings is the best way to build wealth,” promises certified financial planner Jon Clark, a former teacher and NEA member. “The biggest cost is not setting it up.” Arrange a similar program with your bank or credit union for your other financial goals. Total all your monthly expenses, and then subtract that amount from your net monthly income. Have the remaining sum regularly deducted from your checking account and deposited into savings. Not much (or any) left over? Either decrease unnecessary expenses or augment your income to generate extra cash. When you have at least a few months’ of necessary expenses saved, use the rest to invest.
  • Use dollar cost averaging. The easiest way to begin investing is with dollar cost averaging, a strategy where you apply a fixed sum into one or more diversified investment vehicles (typically mutual funds) every month. “It’s an incredibly efficient method,” assures Henry Montag, a certified financial planner with a long history of helping teachers invest. “It greatly reduces risk, since when the price is lower, you automatically purchase more shares. When the price is higher, you purchase fewer shares.” Your next step is to decide where to invest those funds. Montag suggests contributing one third into a global fund, another into domestic equities, and the last into a bond fund. If you’re nervous about investing because of the current state of the stock market, Clark recommends looking at it another way. “Now is the time to buy,” he says. “Everything is essentially half price–for people just starting out this is a wonderful opportunity.”
  • Get guidance. Knowledgeable, objective investment assistance is always useful. “Successful investing and financial planning is really more about avoiding mistakes than making brilliant decisions,” says DeShurko. Meeting with a professional should, at a minimum, help you avoid the really costly mistakes. Contact your retirement plan representative for guidance on picking mutual funds. For broader advice, look for a Certified Financial Planner (CFP) or contact the Financial Planning Association.
  • Finally, make a commitment to self-edification. Read quality financial newspapers, websites and journals such as the Financial Times, The Motley Fool or Forbes. While trepidation about investing is normal, the more you learn, the more comfortable and enthusiastic you’ll feel about the process.
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