Learn How to Become a Better Investor

Image by Lara Antal © Jacara 2019 

Better investing doesn't happen accidentally. Good investors consistently work at it. They study and they learn. Start with 10 ways to become a better investor, and once you start learning, never stop.

01
Turn off the News and Watch More Star Trek

Invest Like a Vulcan
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I grew up watching Star Trek. One of the main characters is Spock, a Vulcan who, unlike us humans, is logical to a fault. You can learn a lot by watching his cool, unemotional character make rational decisions in the face of great stress. Old economic theory thought that humans were like Spock, always making rational decisions that would lead to maximizing wealth. The newer field of ​behavioral finance tells us otherwise. To be a better investor, study behavioral finance, and watch more Star Trek.

Get better at investing through behavioral finance

02
Treat Your Money Like Soap

White bar of soap in water
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Gene Fama is a famed academic in the field of finance. I've been told that his son once said, “Your money is like soap. The more you handle it, the less you have.” So true. Moving money entails transaction costs, sometimes tax consequences, and most often, you’re going to move it at the wrong time. How do I know this? Year after year, research shows that average investors underperform the market, earning half of the returns they could have all because of their poor timing abilities. To fair better than the average investor, when you move money, it needs to be part of a well-designed investment plan, not a last-minute reaction.

Why average investors earn below average market returns

03
Learn the Term "Dollar Cost Averaging"

Hundred dollar bills
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Dollar cost averaging is a strategy used to reduce market risk by automatically investing a set amount of money at regular intervals. It forces you to buy more shares when the market is down, and buy less when the market is up. Smart savers automate their savings plans and let them run for years and years at a time. Be a smart saver, and if you don’t already, start dollar cost averaging. 

Setting up your own dollar cost averaging plan

04
If You Can't Handle the Heat, Steer Clear of the Fire

man running away from burning papers
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Stocks are not for everyone. You can build a solid financial plan using only guaranteed, safe investments. If you don’t understand the stock market or what a mutual fund is, probably best to avoid these investments altogether until you learn more. If you do understand but get too nervous, then stay out of the market. 

Making safe investments

05
Read the Turtle and the Hare

tortoise with snail on its back
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Your colleague just doubled his money because he bought Apple stock at the right time. Does that mean he was smart... or lucky? Slow and steady savings with a disciplined plan delivers results, much like the Turtle, who steadily plods along. Bet on luck or skill and it may turn out okay, or you may get an unpleasant surprise. 

06
Get Comfortable With Cash

hundred dollar bills sticking up out of grass
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If you feel like money sitting in cash or money market accounts is wasting away, think again. Cash can be a great place to store money while you research, study and learn how to make smart decisions with it. People with cash have the ability to take advantage of great investment opportunities when the real estate or stock markets go down. Those who were fully invested don’t have those same opportunities. 

The power of cash

07
Know What You Own

woman at computer
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A stock is not the same as a stock index fund. A bond fund is not the same as a stock fund. It is amazing how many people who own large-cap equity mutual funds react to an irrational fear that they can lose all of their money. Do they have any idea what they own? Do they really think all the 500 largest companies in the U.S. are going out of business at once? There is a distinct difference between what I call a Level 5 Investment Risk, where you can lose all your money, and taking on a Level 4 Investment risk, where you can’t. ​

How much investment risk do your funds have?

08
Read Books, Not Just Websites

different colored books
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I love the internet. The amount of information available is astonishing, and at times, overwhelming. However, to get the depth of knowledge on a topic, I still think nothing beats a good book. Educated investors earn higher returns. Commit to learning first and you'll become better at investing.

Great investment books

09
Study Your Shopping Habits

man comparing products in grocery store lines
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When is the last time you went to the mall, saw something you really wanted that was on sale at half price, and thought, “No, I am afraid the price might go down more. I am not going to buy it now.” When stocks drop substantially in price that means your future financial goals are on sale. Better investing means acquiring the knowledge and discipline to recognize when things are on sale and buy low. 

Why acting on price can be a mistake

10
Remember, They Do Not Know You

news reporter
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Who is “they?” All the people (including me) who offer advice and financial commentary to the public. We don’t know you or your situation. We are offering advice that is applicable to a broad population. Does it apply to you? I don’t know, and neither do “they." Only you, and if you have one, your personal financial advisor can determine if the advice is applicable to your situation. 

How to find a financial advisor who does know you