Would you rather make money by working the rest of your life or make money investing the dollars you have accumulated? As they say, you can either work for it, or you can make your money work for you. There is only one problem with the obvious answer here: most folks are somewhat clueless, and to make money without going to work you first need to learn to invest. Let’s get started.In order to make money investing over the long term your goal should be to make your money grow at a rate that at least outpaces inflation and taxes. Otherwise, you’re not getting ahead; you’re treading water at best. You must first understand that growth is the objective, and then you need to learn to invest money so you can put it to work. There is no secret formula to make money investing, but there is a shortcut if you really want to learn to invest, especially if you sometimes feel clueless.Here’s why people feel clueless: they don’t know what their choices are or what to look for when investing money. These are the basics, and until you understand them your odds are poor if you want to make money investing over the long term. Plus, you will likely never feel comfortable, especially if you’ve lost money in the past. It is very difficult to learn to invest piecemeal… picking up one nugget of information at a time. The pieces of the puzzle just won’t ever seem to fit together.So, here we start at the beginning, the ground floor. This is your shortcut if you want to learn to invest money with a firm foundation so that the pieces of the puzzle start to fit together and make sense. There are only four basic choices that any of us have, and if you want to make money investing over the long term you should get a handle on all four of them. Here they are in order of least risk (with lower profit potential) to higher risk (with greater profit potential): cash & savings, bonds, stocks, and alternative investments. That’s it.The first choice simply pays interest and features safety. Think of checking accounts, savings accounts, CDs, T-bills and money market funds. The second choice offers higher interest income with moderate risk. Here we have Treasury bonds, municipal, corporate, investment grade, junk and a multitude of other bonds as well as bond funds. If you want to make money investing without too much risk you should include both of these safer choices in your portfolio.Your third choice is stocks, your primary growth engine, and it obviously involves risk. You make money in stocks through price appreciation (rising stock prices) and from dividends. Here you find terms like blue-chips, high quality, low-priced, growth, growth and income, industrials, financial, high-tech and so on to describe them. You don’t really need to learn to invest in individual stocks; you can go with stock funds and let them do the stock picking for you. But if you are going to achieve growth, stocks can not be avoided.The fourth category of choices is growth oriented and risk can be significant as well. Some professionals in the financial services business ignore it or consider these alternative investments unnecessary. The list is long, but think: real estate, natural resources, gold, silver, oil, and other commodities like aluminum and copper. I feel that if you ignore these choices, you’re missing out on the opportunity to make money investing when the likes of stocks and bonds are out of favor. The good news: you don’t need to learn to invest in real estate, gold, oil and so on. Mutual funds are available that do the heavy work for you in all of these areas.Now you know your basic choices. The next step is to ask a few basic questions, and here are some questions you need to ask anytime you consider making a specific investment in any of the four basic areas. Ask about: liquidity, safety, income, growth potential, income taxes, and the costs involved. Ask yourself and then find the answers, or ask the person (like a financial planner) who is making a recommendation to you. Never ignore the costs involved. You are trying to make money investing. High costs only work against you.You can’t learn to invest money by reading one article, but you can get pointed in the right direction. That’s what I have tried to do here by starting at the beginning. Once you have a handle on the basics, it’s a whole lot easier to learn the rest. Don’t give up, and stay focused on your objective: to make money investing so you don’t need to work for the rest of your life.
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