This article appeared originally in the June 2008 Levitt Letter.
Dear Mrs. Levitt & Dr. Seif,
Is Mark Levitt or whoever writes the financial column going to come out with a financial advice booklet—preferably soon?
No, but let me suggest a book that Zola gave me a decade ago—one that has been revised and updated time and again: The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, inexpensive at www.amazon.com. It’s a frank, lighthearted paperback with clear, straightforward advice.
Here are some of its highlights:
“There is no dignity quite so impressive, and no independence quite so important, as living within your means.”—Calvin Coolidge
It is a fact that 90% or more [and 98% may be a more accurate figure] of the people who play the commodities game get burned. Similarly: antique cars, wines, autographs, stamps, coins, diamonds, art, and commemorative medallions.
Gold itself pays no interest and costs money to insure. It is a hedge against inflation, but you might do better with stocks or real estate. In the long run, they will rise with inflation. And in the short run, they pay dividends and rent.
Broadway shows are fun to invest in, but even if the show you back gets rave reviews, you are likely to lose.
Chain letters never work. Schemes that look like cosmetics companies but are really chain letters in disguise, where the big money to be made is not in selling cosmetics but in selling franchises to sell franchises (to sell cosmetics), don’t work either.
Things that involve a personal salesman who is full of enthusiasm at the prospect of making you rich don’t work either. The richer he hopes to make you, the faster you should run.
The problem with trying to beat the stock market is that professional investors are so talented, so numerous, and so dedicated to their work that as a group they make it very difficult for any one of their number to do significantly better than the others, particularly in the long run… [It is] so easy, while trying to do better, to do worse.
No stockbrokers can beat the market consistently and by enough of a margin to more than make up for their brokerage fees. Or, if there are a few, they are not going to work for peanuts—and any account under $100,000 is peanuts. By and large, you should manage your own money (via no-load mutual funds). No one is going to care about it as much as you do. And no one but you is going to manage it for free.
It’s just as easy to live well when you’re poor as when you’re rich—but when you’re poor, it’s much cheaper.
P.S. Visit www.andrewtobias.com/theonly.html