Want to get started on investing? Here are some tips

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 31, 2013

Youth, they say, is wasted on the young. Yet, the only ones who believe that are in the winter years of their lives.

But in terms of investing, that well-worn saying couldn't be further from the truth.

Time on one's side, as the young have in spades, is probably the single biggest advantage anyone can have when it comes to investing.

Have a fetish for dividends? Imagine that compounded over a longer horizon.

Need to ride out the bust-boom cycles? It'll be less stomach-churning if you've got time to suffer the slips and slides.

Naturally, more time to plump up the savings means you need to put aside less and still get to see it grow more.

So, it's easy to appreciate the sense in starting out early even as the young ones are busy glamming up for a party night, frolicking on the soccer field or burying their faces in books to add more frills to their resumes.

There's hope. Anecdotal evidence in Singapore suggests that the number of young investors is rising, with most starting out with an average of $10,000 to invest.

The variety of trading platforms introduced by stockbroking houses for young investors further cements the notion that this is a segment that is growing and can't be ignored.

This gadget-savvy generation are also more likely to carry out their trading via online platforms.

Being a novice investor today is much easier than it was a decade ago. Access to information, use of technology and availability of multiple platforms have made it so easy to buy stocks and other asset classes.

The young are more likely to self-trade than their elders, partly motivated by a need to cut costs and partly due to their craving for seamlessness and immediacy in their pursuit of financial freedom.

There is much the older generation can re-learn from the young, such as the joys of spontaneity and the liberating trait, fearlessness.

But here are some takeaways which novice investors can learn from their more experienced counterparts who have logged more investing years.

1 Start early

It doesn't matter how small you start when investing. Just get started. It's like losing weight - you start slow and there seems to be little payoff, then suddenly you start seeing returns.

In Singapore, that means when you're 18 years old, the age at which trading stocks is permitted.

When you start can determine the size of your nest egg.

2 Read and reap

Tap the abundant literature on investing tips by experts.

Robert Kiyosaki's Rich Dad, Poor Dad is a book espousing financial literacy and encouraging one to invest in real assets which generate cash flow as opposed to parking the funds passively in banks. That's a sure way to manage inflation and make money.

Get a healthy dose of motivation from my personal favourite and another best seller, Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill. It is a classic which offers timeless financial advice.

"If you do not see great riches in your imagination, you will never see them in your bank balance," says the American author. Be a "practical dreamer".

How can anyone not like that?

3 Sit it out and dance

Shares fall and rise. That's part of the investing rigmarole, yet many have been put off buying equities because of the painful slumps they've had to endure.

The fearless instincts of the young, tempered, it is to be hoped with a dose of reason, should leave them more open to opportunities - whether in a bull or bear market. Use this to full advantage, if you have time on your side.

Think long-term.

4 Animal spirits

Not all animal spirits are bad. Famed British economist John Maynard Keynes referred to "animal spirits" as a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction.

If the animal spirit is dimmed and spontaneous optimism falters, he said, enterprise will fade and die.

Nick D'Aloisio, 17, had lots of that. At 15, the London-based boy genius created a smartphone app from the comforts of a desk in his bedroom, a task that enriched him in every sense. Last week, it was reported that he sold the app to Yahoo for a cool £20 million (S$38 million).

In other words, follow your instincts, peppered with fundamental analysis (never one independent of another) to get your money to work.

Other animal instincts such as fear and greed however are not worth succumbing to.

5 Pies aplenty

Why shouldn't you have a finger in many pies?

Fat pies in investing lingo is a sweet phrase. It could translate to plump rewards.

Invest across the various asset classes - stocks, bonds, currencies, commodities, cash - to spread your risk. In drearier terms, diversify. This will allow you to ride out the down cycle in one asset class and bask in the upcycle in another.

6 Resist one impulse

- herd mentality

Market directions are largely dictated by investor behaviour, whether in times of exuberance or jitters. Tailing market behaviour rarely earns one a high win rate.

If Warren Buffett has taught us anything, it's this - scoop up the steady earners. If they're pricey, simply wait - a young charge has more wiggle room to do that than the 83-year-old iconic investor - till they reach an attractive level. Never chase stocks.

Lastly, here's the best part. If you find the whole investment game overwhelming, you don't have to play solo. Don't be afraid to ask. School may not have equipped us for investing but surely it's taught us that.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on March 31, 2013

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