Sure, there are some lucky people who do get rich quickly. People do win lotteries, hit the jackpot on the slot machine, and even pick the “right” stock at the “right” time, turning their investment into a potential fortune overnight.
But these fairy tales rarely come true. More often, we achieve our financial and personal goals when following the principle at the heart of Aesop’s Fable, The Tortoise and The Hare — that “slow and steady wins the race,” or more specifically that consistent, effective effort leads to success. In the investment world, this is more likely to be true.
Stick to a Consistent Plan
In the simplest terms, if you start early and consistently stick to an ongoing savings schedule where you set aside money on a regular basis, you should start to see your savings accumulate over the long term. However, just as in the Fable, (where the turtle used "smarts" — not just time — to his advantage), when investing, there are time-tested strategies that can help you reach your goal.
Stay Ahead of Inflation
For the same reason you wouldn't stash your cash under your mattress, when saving for the long term, most professionals wouldn't recommend “banking” all of your money. While it’s true that investments with a fixed rate of return, such as CDs (certificates of deposit), offer principal protection that others do not, they may not provide the growth you need when you factor in inflation.
Inflation refers to a general rise in prices of goods and services. Even low inflation reduces purchasing power over time, because as prices rise, a dollar buys less. For example, over the past 30 years (1983 – 2012), inflation has averaged 2.9 percent per year. This is the primary reason people invest in stocks, or equities. Over the long term, stocks historically have been an investment choice for some to outpace inflation.
However, no one can control or predict the performance of the stock market, let alone a single equity. That’s why it’s important to diversify your portfolio across major asset classes to help you pursue optimal returns for the risk level that you’re willing to take. In addition, you’ll want to diversify within each asset class to take advantage of different styles and market sectors so strong performance in one area may be able to minimize downturns in another.
The goal is what professionals call “non-correlation.” That just means all of your investments are unlikely to move the same way at the same time. On any given day, some may be up and others may be down in value. In a well-diversified portfolio, you can realize the profit on the gains without losing too much on the losses. It all goes back to the age-old adage — don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
Dollar Cost Averaging1
Another popular strategy is called “dollar cost averaging”. It works like this … Say you decide to invest $10 every week in a mutual fund. On weeks when the price of the fund is up, your $10 may buy a few shares. On weeks when the price is down, $10 will buy you more shares. Over time that will keep your average purchase price low. That’s good because the lower your average purchase price, the more you’ll profit from any price gains.
Make It as Easy as Possible
Whenever possible you should consider setting up an automatic investment plan.
For example, if you invest in an employer-sponsored 401(k), you can set up automatic investments for each pay period. The percentage of your total pay (up to the maximum permitted) is taken out of your paycheck before any taxes and invested in the mutual funds or asset allocation strategy you choose. Your employer might even match a portion of your contribution. Not only do your savings accumulate, but the taxes on any investment gains you may realize are deferred until you retire and begin taking distributions2.
Be Consistent — and Smart
Consistency is the name of the game — as well as making a plan and sticking with it. Investors who change course a lot are much more likely to lose money.
Invest whatever you can afford regularly in a well-diversified portfolio, and reinvest all your gains and dividends along the way. Whether you’re saving for retirement, a new home or college education, slow and steady investing can help you win the race.