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- Different Ways of Investing Money – What is the Best Choice for You?

Wall street NYSE.jpgThere are virtually as many different ways of investing money as there are investors. That's great because it means that there is the perfect investment for just about everybody. One of the keys to investing success is to match the investment to the individual investor. There are so many ways of investing money that it would take a book to describe them all, and in fact many such books have been written.

Some of your general investing choices include real estate, individual equities (stocks), bonds (debt), equity funds, mixed funds (stocks and bonds), and your own business. Within those very broad classifications, there are numerous sub classifications. For example, there are many different types of mutual funds you can invest in, all with different characteristics designed to meet the needs of different investors. You can short sell stocks, buy and hold, or try and time the market (for most investors timing the market isn't too smart).

For real estate investors, you can invest in REITs, buy single family properties and rent them out, rent multi family properties, flip properties, concentrate on foreclosures, develop and improve existing properties, or develop raw land. If you'd rather run your own business, there are literally more different business opportunities you can invest your money in than there is room to list them. You can start your own business from scratch, buy an existing business, buy a part of an existing business, or buy a franchise. The different types of businesses that are available to invest in is mind boggling.

There are several characteristics of investors you can look at to find just the right investment choice. One of the first to consider is the time horizon. How long will it be until you'll need access to the money? If you're investing for retirement and you're only 25 years old, you'll choose a totally different strategy than if you're 56 (the new 36) and rolling over an IRA. If you're 25, you can invest more aggressively than if you are closer to the time when you'll need the money because there is time to recover from volatility effects.

Typically more aggressive investments will deliver a higher rate of return, but they will bring with them commensurately more risk. If you're investing for far down the road, you'll have time to recover from those little ups and downs. Looking back over the last 20 years the tech sector has done very well indeed. However, there have been some serious bumps in the road.

For example, the Fidelity Select Software and Computer fund (FSCSX ) has returned an annualized 16.34% over the life of the fund. That's a highly respectable return, and you could do well if all your assets generate such a ROR. The problem is that the tech sector tends to flirt with volatility on occasion. If, in 1998 you were planning on retiring in 5 years, you may have looked at the stats for life of the fund return and think that plopping your money in FSCSX would have been a great idea. That would have been a fatal mistake with regards to your portfolio, however.

As you were crawling our from under the overpass, squinting in the noonday sun, and wondering what the hell happened to your money, you would have realized that just because an investment has great historical returns, it might not be the best investment for you. In this case virtually all equities in the tech sector were pulverized by the implosion. FSCSX lost almost 50% of it's value between the end of 1999 and the end of 2002.

More recently investors have experienced similar problems with regards to real estate and mortgage sector investments. The key when evaluating an investment vis-a-vis your time horizon is to look at the volatility. By definition volatility indicates a greater likelihood of wide swings in value, even if the overall rate of return during a specific time period is high. That means that you could be caught with your pants (or portfolio's value) down just when you need to begin withdrawals. By choosing investments with lower volatility when your time horizon is relatively short, you'll lower your risk of this happening.

The next thing to examine when evaluating different ways of investing money is your required rate of return. You can never predict an investment's future rate of return with 100% accuracy because you only have past history, industry trends and an evaluation of the local and world economies on which to base your decision. Lord knows any of these variables can be pretty difficult to predict with any certainty, let alone all of them combined.

You can, however, get within shouting distance of what you can expect to receive as a return on your investment by examining these factors and the past history of the prospective investment. In many cases there will be any number of industry analysts only too happy to offer their opinion. In some cases they'll be spot on, but it's often better to look at a general consensus on what performance can be expected in the future.

You will need to determine your required rate of return by determining how much you'll need to accomplish the goal of the particular investment. If you're investing for retirement, you'll need to determine how much annual income you'll require to keep you in the lifestyle to which you've become accustomed, and how long after retirement you plan on living (ah, but you know what they say about the best laid plans!). You can calculate how much of a retirement nest egg you'll need to supply that annual income figure for the requisite time period. Basically, your lump sum retirement account is calculated to pay out like an annuity. Typically a fixed rate of return is assumed for calculating purposes.

Once you know how large that lump sum must be and how long you have to amass that sum, you'll be able to calculate what rate of return you must generate to reach it, providing you known how much you'll be contributing each year. You can calculate your required rate of return using a formula, but it's generally easier to use an investment calculator.

The next thing you'll want to look at when evaluating a prospective investment is your risk tolerance. Many people have substantial tolerance for risk, others are extremely risk averse. Sometimes their risk tolerance for things financial is different that in other aspects of life. For example, you can love to bungie jump, ski and rock climb, but get pretty skittish when it comes to risking your hard earned cash. You'll want to balance your risk tolerance with the required rate of return to find a suitable investment.

Keep in mind that there is usually a positive relationship between risk and return. Higher risk investments compensate investors for taking greater risks with a higher expected rate of return. It's the expected part that can trip you up here.

Lastly, there are various intangibles that come into play. You may want to invest in things that interest you or in industries with which you have some familiarity. If you have a strong social commitment, you may want to pursue “socially responsible” investing. Other things will impact your investment choices as well, such as local or global economic factors that can make certain investments more attractive due to temporarily greater expected returns, shortened expected payout times or lowered risk.

An example of this is real estate investing in the current economy, particularly in foreclosed properties. Many regions have particularly large opportunities available here due to conditions in their regional economies. In these areas current economic climates, there are large numbers of foreclosed properties, leading to opportunities for investors who would like to invest their time and money here. You may want to retire unbelievably wealthy in a short amount of time. Well, your choices are understandably limited here, but foreclosure investing does offer you the ability to do so. Although the potential upside is large, you could also get yourself and your retirement nest egg into a spot of trouble this way. After all if it was that easy, everyone would be doing it. A few wrong moves and you could be the one getting foreclosed upon.

Another investment opportunity spawned by changing economic conditions is the growing number of new business that cater to those people wanting to save money on fuel costs, weather on motor vehicle fuel or heating oil. The very rapidly rising costs quickly created a market for products and services that wasn't really viable just a short time ago. The risk here is that your investment could be torpedoed if fuel costs drop in the future. Although analysts predict the costs of petroleum products to remain high for at least the next 18 months, possibly longer, analysts have been wrong before.

In order to evaluate different ways of investing money, you'll want to look at the following factors:

  • Your investing time horizon

  • Your required rate of return – Is the prospective investment expected to generate sufficient returns?

  • An investment's risk as it relates to your personal risk tolerance

  • Other personal factors that influence your comfort level with a personal investment.

  • Your reason for investing – Is it a hobby, do you want regular income from the investment, or are you investing for retirement?

These factors will help determine if the different ways of investing your money will deliveer your desired result.

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