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Want to Invest Smart? Keep it Simple

It doesn’t take an MBA to reach your financial goals. We show you how you can make money the easy way.
Who doesn’t want to be the next Warren Buffett? You could start by clearing  your schedule, buying some highlighters, burying your nose in annual reports and picking up the 800-page volume Security Analysis. Of course, that’s just for starters. Want to be simply a great investor? Then learn to invest simply.

The real secret to successful investing is that it is not actually all that complicated. Most of the jargon and hype doesn’t matter. You don’t really need to know what the difference is between a credit card and a credit-default swap, or between a convertible bond and a convertible sofa, in order to manage your own money. Common sense can take you further than an MBA.

Many investors sabotage their own results when they start trying to get fancy. “When investors start tinkering, they tend to second guess and buy things after they’ve gone up or sell things after they’ve  already gone down, which is a sloppy way to manage a portfolio,” says David Swensen, manager of Yale University’s $19.4 billion endowment and the author of Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment.  Mutual fund investors, for example, have cost themselves an average of two percentage points per year over the last ten years by buying high and selling low, according to Morningstar fund tracker. Maybe we could mend our ways if we were able to see more clearly the evidence of how much our follies cost. But the more complex the investing , the more cluttered the accounts, and it becomes difficult to tell what your actual return is when your portfolio is something of a mess..

One of the few things that an investor can predict up front are costs. “There is only one thing that I am absolutely sure of about investing: The lower the fees that I pay to some purveyor of an investment service, the more there will be for me,” says Burton Malkiel, professor of economics at Princeton University, author of A Random Walk Down Wall Street.

Consider this, for example. Let’s suppose you’re preparing for your retirement by saving $10,000 a year for the next three decades. If we assume that your portfolio averages an annual return of 8% before fees, your retirement nest egg would be a bit more than $1 million – if your costs totaled only 1% a year. But if you had to pay 2% a year, you’d end up with $838,000. So you see, paying just one percentage point less per year translates into 21% more money at retirement time.

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