Why are you investing? It's OK if you have many different answers for this question, but there is a big problem if you have no answer at all. Investing is like driving - it is best done with your eyes open!

Having clear reasons or purposes for investing is critical to investing successfully. Like training in a gym, investing can become difficult, tedious and even dangerous if you are not working toward a goal and monitoring your progress. In this article, we examine some common reasons for investing and suggest investments that fit those reasons.

Retirement
No one knows whether the pension system will survive the coming decades. It is this uncertainty and the reality of inflation that force us to plan for our own retirement. You need only open the newspaper to find out about a company that is freezing pensions or a new bill that will cut government payouts. In these uncertain times, investing can be a tool to help you carve out a solid path to retirement. Three maxims apply to investing for your post-work years:

  1. The more years between today and your retirement, the more years your money has to grow. You have to keep in mind that you are fighting inflation when you are planning to retire. In other words, if you don't invest your money to outpace inflation, it won't be worth as much in the future.
  2. The older you are when you start, the more risk averse you will have to be. This means that you will likely use guaranteed investments such as debt securities, which have lower returns. By contrast, if you start young, you can take larger risks for (hopefully) larger gains.
  3. The earlier you start learning about investing, the easier it will be to pick it up. Financial professionals are difficult to choose and costly to keep, so it is best to manage your own affairs whenever possible.

Investing for retirement is similar to long-term investing. You want to find quality investment vehicles to buy and hold with the majority of your investment capital. Your retirement portfolio will actually be a mix of stocks, debt securities, index funds and other money market instruments. This mix will change as you do, moving increasingly toward low-risk guaranteed investments as you age.

Achieving Financial Goals
You don't always have to think long-term. Investing is as much a tool for shaping your present financial situation as it is for forming your future one. Do you want to buy a BMW next year? Want to go on a cruise from Seattle to Morocco? Wouldn't a vacation that was paid for with dividends feel nicer?

Investing can be used as a way to enhance your employment income, helping you to buy the things you want. Because investing changes along with the investor's desired goals, this type of investing is not like retirement investing. Investing to achieve financial goals involves a blend of long-term and short-term investments. If you are investing in the hope of buying a house, you will almost certainly be looking at longer-term instruments. If you are investing to buy a new computer in the New Year, you may want short-term investments that pay dividends or some high-yield bonds.

The caveat here is that you need to pinpoint your goals first. If you want to go on a vacation in a year, you have to sit down and figure out the cost of the vacation in total and then come up with an investing strategy to meet that goal. If you don't have a set goal, the money that should be going into that investment will doubtless be used for other purposes that seem more pressing at the time (Christmas presents, a night out and so on).

Investing to achieve financial goals can be very exciting and challenging. Combining the pressure of time constraints with the fact that you're not usually dealing with large sums of vital money (as in retirement investing), you may be less risk averse and more motivated to learn about higher yield investments (growth stocks, shorting, etc.). Best of all, a tangible reward is at the end.

Reasons Not to Invest
Just as there are two main reasons to invest, there are two big reasons not to invest: debt or a lack of knowledge.

In the first case, it is a simple matter of math. Imagine that you have a $1,000 loan at 9% interest, and you get a $1,000 bonus. Should you invest it or should you pay down the debt? Short answer: pay down the debt. If you invest it, the money has to make a return of well over 9% (not counting commissions and fees) to make it worthwhile. It can be done, but it is much easier to find good returns on investment without having to fight losses on your debt.

There are different kinds of debt - credit card, mortgage, student loans, loan sharks - and they carry different degrees of weight when you are considering whether to invest in spite of them.

When it comes to lack of knowledge, it is a matter of "Fools rush in where angels fear to tread." Throwing your money haphazardly into investments that you don't understand is a sure way to lose it quickly. Returning to the exercise analogy, you don't walk into a gym and squat 500 pounds your first day (unless having kneecaps bothers you). In other words, your introduction to investing should follow the same incremental process as weight training.

Conclusion: Allowing for Change
Your reasons for investing are bound to change as you go through the ups and downs of life. This is an important process, because the only other option is to invest with no purpose, which will likely result in investing practices that reflect your uncertainty and cause your returns to suffer. Your reasons and goals will have to be reviewed and adjusted as your circumstances change. Even if nothing significant has changed, it is always helpful to reacquaint yourself with your reasons at regular intervals to see how you've progressed. Like running on a treadmill, investing gets easier and easier once you actually start.

Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    How To Start Saving For Retirement

    If you establish these money-saving habits and patiently allow your wealth to build, you will be taking some huge steps forward in making your financial future more secure.
  2. Retirement

    3 Ways To Make Your Retirement Funds Last

    These retirement income distribution methods are all viable; the one you choose will depend on your personal circumstances.
  3. Options & Futures

    Which Retirement Plan Is Best?

    We'll show you how to choose between Roth IRAs, Traditional IRAs and 401(k)s.
  4. Retirement

    6 Late-Stage Retirement Catch-Up Tactics

    It's not too late, but if you want to retire comfortably you'll have to be aggressive.
  5. Options & Futures

    Retirement Savings Tips For 25- To 34-Year-Olds

    Keep saving when mortgages, marriages and debt demand your attention.
  6. Retirement

    Retirees: How to Survive When Interest Rates Drop

    Low interest rates are a portfolio killer if you're living off of investment income. Some strategies for dealing.
  7. Insurance

    Beware the Sneaky Math of Universal Life Insurance

    Universal life insurance's cash value can be a cash cow – if there's any left. Read on to see if it'll work as an income source after you've retired.
  8. Stock Analysis

    If You Had Invested Right After Berkshire Hathaway's IPO (BRK.A)

    Learn how much you would now have if you had invested right after Berkshire Hathaway's IPO, and find out the classes of shares that you could invest in.
  9. Stock Analysis

    Is Now the Right Time to Buy Coty? (COTY)

    Find out whether fragrance and color cosmetics powerhouse Coty deserves a place in your portfolio. Will recent acquisitions help turn the company around?
  10. Mutual Funds & ETFs

    Top 3 Allianz Funds for Retirement Diversification in 2016

    Discover the top three Allianz funds for retirement diversification in 2016, with a summary of the portfolio's managers, performance and risk measures.
RELATED FAQS
  1. What is finance?

    "Finance" is a broad term that describes two related activities: the study of how money is managed and the actual process ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. What is the 'Rule of 72'?

    The 'Rule of 72' is a simplified way to determine how long an investment will take to double, given a fixed annual rate of ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Am I losing the right to collect spousal Social Security benefits before I collect ...

    The short answer is yes, if you haven't reached age 62 by December 31, 2015. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 disrupted ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. What is a stock split? Why do stocks split?

    All publicly-traded companies have a set number of shares that are outstanding on the stock market. A stock split is a decision ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. What is the maximum I can receive from my Social Security retirement benefit?

    The maximum monthly Social Security benefit payment for a person retiring in 2016 at full retirement age is $2,639. However, ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Are target-date retirement funds good investments?

    The main benefit of target-date retirement funds is convenience. If you really don't want to bother with your retirement ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Socially Responsible Investment - SRI

    An investment that is considered socially responsible because of the nature of the business the company conducts. Common ...
  2. Presidential Election Cycle (Theory)

    A theory developed by Yale Hirsch that states that U.S. stock markets are weakest in the year following the election of a ...
  3. Super Bowl Indicator

    An indicator based on the belief that a Super Bowl win for a team from the old AFL (AFC division) foretells a decline in ...
  4. Flight To Quality

    The action of investors moving their capital away from riskier investments to the safest possible investment vehicles. This ...
  5. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
  6. Ponzimonium

    After Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme was revealed, many new (smaller-scale) Ponzi schemers became exposed. Ponzimonium ...
Trading Center