Protecting Your Investments

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Growing up, my family never had a whole lot of money. I’ve been lucky, though, to have had a lot of opportunities. I’m graduating soon, and I’ll be taking a job that pays pretty well, with the chance to have a career that should help me be pretty comfortable. But, in some ways, I feel like I can’t shake the sense that I need to be super careful with money. Maybe that will change as I earn and save more, but I’m not so sure. And it’s a problem, I think, because I actually feel really apprehensive about some of the stuff I’m supposed to do in order to make my savings work and build wealth. For instance, I’m great at saving, but the idea of investing scares me a lot. And buying a house–or even a decent car–seems crazy to me, because I don’t want to spend all of the money! Experts, what can you tell me about fixing this problem?


What you’re experiencing is not unusual. In fact, it’s quite common for our early experiences to determine our relationship with money. Our financial decisions and savings habits can often be traced to the ways in which we (and our families and friends) dealt with or experienced money and wealth when we were children. There’s even a name for this phenomenon: our learned behaviors related to money are our “money story.”


But you are right to note that the relationship that you in particular have developed towards money is not an ideal one. The things you are fearing are, in fact, important parts of financial security and building wealth.


Take stocks, for instance. Your instinct is to fear the risk associated with stocks. And, actually, that’s not a terrible instinct–but you should use it to develop a sensible investment strategy, rather than as an excuse to avoid investing entirely.


Stocks (and other investments) are crucial to building wealth because they help you to generate interest. As you no doubt already know, inflation makes our individual dollars and cents less valuable over time. That’s an unavoidable cost for some of our cash–we’re always going to have a few bucks in our wallets, and we should always strive to keep a decent emergency fund in a readily accessible place, such as a checking account (checking accounts offer only very low interest rates). But savings beyond the money we need quick access to should be stashed in places with higher interest rates: savings accounts, for instance, or investments.


Yes, we can lose money in investments. But since we know that the stock market generally tends to go up over time, we can make relatively low-risk investments by spreading our cash widely across many stocks and enjoying the performance of the market as a whole. You may want to consider funds that track market metrics like the S&P 500–mutual funds and ETFs can do this quite efficiently, and investing in such an “index fund” will take care of your investment diversity for you.


Buying stocks is one thing, but buying a house is another. It’s easy to see why buying one can be stressful and scary: houses are expensive, and the money we put into them is locked up in a property that takes time to sell. You won’t have easy access to the value you store in your home, because real estate is relatively illiquid (hard to sell quickly for cash).


Yet buying a home is still considered to be a sound financial decision in many cases (whether or not it’s true in your case will depend on where you live). That’s because mortgage payments–unlike rent payments–help you store value by going toward your ownership of an asset (your house) that you could later choose to sell or otherwise make use of (as leverage for a loan, for instance, or as the basis for a reverse mortgage–or simply as a place to live for free once you’ve paid off the mortgage in full).


Like stock ownership, home ownership has risks. But you can help protect yourself (and help yourself remain calm!) by protecting your investment with insurance policies. And while you can’t control the real estate market as a whole, you can control the condition that your home is in. Sturdy construction and elegant design go a long way in real estate, explain this trusted home builder in Telford, PA. Choose a great builder or, if you’re buying an existing home, be sure that a careful inspection is done. Of course, once the home is in your possession, it’s up to you to keep everything shipshape. The best way to protect your investment in your home is to be as proactive as possible about maintenance and repair, advise experts in professional roofing services. If you put off repairs, you’ll end up spending more–and could see more permanent damage that could mean that your home has lost value.


On a smaller scale, buying and maintaining a car should be a bit like buying and maintaining a house. Once again, we’re dealing with a hefty price tag and a valuable possession; once again, you’ll want to choose wisely, get insurance, and be proactive about maintenance and repair. According to pros at a car dealership in Novi, MI, there are sensible car purchases to make at every budget range. You want a reliable ride, so don’t cost yourself money by going to cheap: a real clunker is likely to cost you more in the long run due to its unreliability and excessive maintenance costs. Instead, get a new car or a reliable certified used one. And, just as you would with a home, stay right on top of regular maintenance and repair needs in order to preserve the value of your ride. Be sure to choose only certified mechanics, say the educators at an automotive and diesel technology college in NY. While it’s true that your car is almost certain to drop in value over time (something that is not true, thankfully, of your home), there are still plenty of reasons to stay focused on preserving its value. You may want to sell your car at some point. Even if you don’t, you’ll want to maximize its time on the road in order to minimize the amount of money you spend on your cars over the course of your life.


It’s important to understand the underlying pattern here: if you try to keep things too “cheap,” you’ll find that you often end up spending more. By avoiding the risk of stocks, you’ll slow or stall the growth of your wealth. By avoiding home ownership, you could cost yourself money in rent. By skimping on your car, you could end up in the breakdown lane instead of at the big meeting, costing you in your work life and perhaps slowing your income growth. And, in the case of all of your material investments, failing to spend money to protect them with insurance policies, maintenance, and immediate repairs to any issues will cost you dearly down the line!


That’s why you need to be proactive about changing your money story. Create plans and step out of your comfort zone, and remind yourself as often as necessary of how decisions like the ones we talked about above should be handled in financially responsible ways. Think in concrete terms, and don’t rely on instincts alone to make financial decisions–you are more than your “money story,” and you’ll be most successful if you are able to overcome it. Good luck!


“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark.” — Michelangelo, artist and architect