This blog is about Graphic Design, Vector Art, and Cartoon Illustration

Understanding investing

I'm a big believer in investing. In its simplest form, it's paying out something, usually money, in the hopes of getting more in the future, called a return.

My first lesson in investing was when I was a little kid, and became aware of something that one of my uncles had invested for me when I was born, a Mutual Fund. My uncle bought 100 shares of Massachusetts Investors Trust, and once I was old enough to read and try to understand, I would look at the little booklets that were mailed to me regularly. I called it my "Trust Fund" because it reminded me of comic book characters like "Richy Rich".

In my late thirties, I worked for a very short time for a company that sold investments, including Mutual Funds. I became what is called a "Series 63", which allowed me to sell basic investments, such as Life Insurance and Mutual Funds. I never did, as I didn't stay with that job for more than a few months, but I learned a lot in that time. It was a Brokerage Company, and they also sold stocks. Of course, I couldn't, that could only be sold by a Series 6, which is much more advanced than I was.

Although I never sold stocks and bonds, or even insurance and Mutual Funds, I'm glad that I learned about them. Every once in a while people ask me about what they should invest in, and if they're interested I'll share what I learned. There are particular steps to follow, and most people don't even get to the very first step at all. So here they are:

• Pay off all debt, except your house. Credit card debt is your number one priority - zero it out as quickly as you can. Keep the debt on your house, because mortgage interest is one of the very few things allowed as a tax deduction. By all means keep your credit cards, and use them every once in a while, but pay them off immediately. After that...

• Open a Savings Account. Be sure to have as much money in an ordinary savings as you would like to have on a credit card, say 6-10,000 dollars. That will keep you from needing to use the credit card in case of a rainy day, which may happen. Savings accounts don't pay much interest, so don't get too carried away with the amount. After ten thousand dollars, it's time to think of other investments...

• Retirement Savings. If you're lucky enough to work for a company with a 401K, also save there to the maximum allowed if they have a matching program. If they don't match, do it anyway, as it will reduce your taxable income until you retire.

• Whole Life Life Insurance. Not Term. This is the first place to start putting in extra money that's left over after your savings and your 401K. This could be a lifesaver, literally, for your family if you should die. If you don't die, it's a great investment that you can draw money out of once you no longer need to look out for dependents. If you don't have any dependents, Life Insurance isn't necessary. Put bluntly, if no one will suffer financially from your death, skip it.

• Mutual Funds. If you've done all of those things, now you're ready to invest in the stock market, but carefully. Mutual funds are stocks, but not just individual stocks. They're a group of stocks that are managed. If you're like my uncle, you'll invest in a Mutual Fund that is made up of the very best stocks in the world. My Mutual Fund included General Motors, Coca-Cola, McDonalds, and many more. It also had Pepsi and Ford, which I always found kind of funny. That's how Mutual Funds work, the risk is spread out. There's still risk, of course, but I remember reading the names of the companies that my Mutuals funds were in and I figured if they went under, there would be rioting in the streets, anyway. That is, the entire world economy would collapse.

• Stocks. This is so close to gambling that I'm inclined to advise you to just go to a casino. Of course, with great risk comes great rewards, so it's up to you. I've always like the old saying "A man should never gamble more than he can stand to lose". If you can stand to lose it, go for it, if you want to.

Image at the top of this post: A cartoon I did for the Art Institute of Phoenix. I'm a strong believer in investment, and your best investment is in yourself. Invest in yourself!