- 1 Introduction
- 2 .Step 1.
For God’s sake, give me the young who have brains enough to make Fools of themselves.
—Robert Louis Stevenson
You have a brain, and it’s extraordinary. While you’re off playing soccer or your banjo or cards with your grandparents or U2’s great new CD, your brain won’t stop. It’s calculating. It’s remembering. It’s planning. It’s making decisions and adjustments, millions of them. It’s dreaming. Then reasoning. Then reconsidering.
Your mind is a wonder.
We believe that, at your age, the diligent use of your mind is the single best way to be financially independent. What does financial independence mean? It means being able to live where you want to, work when and where you want to, and provide generously for yourself and those you love. It means being able to give money to a charity you believe in without having to worry about going into debt.
More specifically, financial independence means being able to fly off to wander the coves and beaches of the Bay of Islands in New Zealand. It means being able to buy a great mountain bike, buy and care for your first car, rent an apartment that you like. It means being able to afford to go to cooking school or to pay down the cost of medical school or to get an advanced degree in physics or philosophy. Financial independence means being able to take a year off to paint murals or to study the migratory path of the short-toed treecreeper (a delightful, rare bird) or to start your own band.
It means not being anxiously nervous about your money, ever.
The mission of The Motley Fool Investment Guide for Teens is simple. We want you to be financially independent. We want you to be able to direct your life without financial care. At first, it would seem an impossible task, what with millions of American adults up to their ears in credit card debt. The last five years have seen more personal bankruptcy filings than any period in American history. Virtually none of the nation’s high schools or universities offer even basic tutorials on saving, investing, and planning for your future. And today’s college graduates have more credit card debt than ever before.
My oh my. Do we really think we can help you toward financial independence?
1. You already have more than you think going for you. You probably know a lot more about making good financial decisions than you’d think. And you have a gigantic financial advantage over adults—Father Time. We will soon prove that very small investments of $5 and $10 today can create enormous rewards for you in the years ahead.
2. Most adults were never taught that they’d make far more from their investments throughout life than from their working salary. If you learn this now, and apply the lessons, you can have more than enough capital to enjoy your life (and likely become a millionaire before your teeth fall out).
3. You will soon realize that every dollar you spend is an investment—whether you invest in a case of Coca-Cola or in a share of ownership of Coca-Cola stock. You can buy two pairs of cargo pants from Abercrombie & Fitch, or you can buy just one pair and spend the rest on a share of stock in Abercrombie & Fitch. Every dollar you pay out—in fact, every hour you spend in life—is an investment. Our aim is to help you find the best way to invest.
4. Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t have to be rich to succeed at investing. Twenty-five years from now your financial life will be defined more by how well you figured out the world around you than by how much money you started with. Investing is open to everyone. A dollar bill and a share of stock don’t know if their owners are male or female, black or white, thin or wide, short or tall, rich or poor.
5. Perhaps best of all, growing a pile of money can actually be darned fun. You don’t have to swear off ice cream or snowboarding or buying your favorite books, or all three, in a desperate attempt to save every last nickel. Of course, you can expect that we’ll advise you not to blow all your savings on the Power ZX-5000 Sports Coupe or that thousandth pair of new shoes, but let’s not go overboard here. The aim of our brief time together is to help you enjoy life and grow rich—simultaneously.
All we need is for you to put your mind to use, creatively and diligently. It won’t take all that much, and we may even have a bit of Foolish fun along the way. Make no mistake about it, though, our aim is to give you the means to freely pursue your interests in life.
Teen Financial Concerns
Your parents and their friends may think back fondly to their youthful days, often remembering the good times and ignoring the rest. But you know now, as a teenager, that your life is busy, complex, filled with joys but also anxiety. Are you succeeding in school? What does he think of you? What does she think of you? How will you pay for college? What will you do after that?
Life’s fun. But life’s complicated. Every single one of the teenagers we talked to, in preparing for this book, had some sort of financial question or concern. As Dustin, a seventeen-year-old, told us, Everyone worries about not having enough money. I worry about my parents not having enough. I want to help them out as much as I can. Fifteen-year-old Emma adds, I really am worrying about how I’ll pay off my massive college debts. It’s terrifying.
Other teens’ financial thoughts are less far away. Most can relate to fourteen-year-old Deb’s financial goals: a car. Eighteen-year-old Jason says, I’d like to get a really nice cell phone. Sixteen-year-old Rae dreams of a new computer and a fish tank. Daniel, also sixteen, would like to try flying remote-control airplanes, but it costs $350 or more to get entry-level equipment.
All of us, at every age, have financial needs and wishes (and one of the keys is recognizing the difference). Your parents may want a second home in the country. Your grandparents may need a bit more money to improve their medical care. Your aunt and uncle may be budgeting to take a two-week trip to Milan this year. And no doubt you have your own list—clothes, music, travel, adventure?
Now if you come to this book with very little understanding of high finance, you have plenty of common ground with just about everyone on the planet. Few people ever receive any kind of formal education about money. Most adults are playing it by ear, hoping they didn’t overpay for that car or house, hoping they have enough saved to retire someday. Sure, adults have bank accounts and mortgages and even some stock and mutual funds. But believe it or not, many of them are very insecure about their money. They make regrettable financial decisions here or there. And quietly, if not openly, many people feel ill equipped to face the challenge of managing money throughout their lives.
Keep in Mind
Fool = Good
If The Motley Fool is new to you, understand that our references to capital F Fools and Foolishness are positive. We wear the title of Fool proudly. The Motley Fool is a company founded in 1993 to help people make better financial decisions—saving more effectively, spending more intelligently, and investing more profitably.
Our name comes from act II, scene vii, of William Shakespeare’s play As You Like It. Often in Elizabethan drama, the Fool was the only one able to speak the truth to the king—without getting his head cut off. We aim to be that very kind of Fool, telling the truth about financial matters and entertaining you along the way. To us, you’re the king or queen.
They had no education, and they did not start early enough.
Fortunately, you have a chance to get a head start. And contrary to the abounding evidence in America, it actually isn’t hard to be smart with your money. All you’ll need to do is make a series of smart choices today, and you’ll be well on your way to mastery. Saving and investing will seem more like a game, more like a series of opportunities than a sequence of nightmares.
Take It from Me
You Know More Than You Think
My first experience with investing came vicariously through my parents. When I was thirteen, my mom and dad thought they’d discovered a great stock. LA Gear was a new clothing and shoe line for kids and teens that had met with recent success. One night when I slipped into the kitchen for a late night snack, my parents were discussing their portfolio and contemplating buying shares of LA Gear. My dad turned to me. Jess, he asked, what do you think of LA Gear shoes? I told him that I wouldn’t be caught dead in a pair of LA Gear sneakers. I walked out of the room in my sparkling Nikes, aghast that Dad could even think LA Gear might be cool.
My father didn’t heed my advice, and my parents lost just about every dime they invested in LA Gear. Nike’s shares, meanwhile, are up 300 percent over the last ten years. Always remember, you know more about investing than you think you do—if you’re truly familiar with the product or service. Your intuition and experience can help you tune out the white noise surrounding investing and tune in to some potentially great opportunities.—Jessica J. Powley, 24
How This Book Is Organized
This book aims to explain how money can help you pursue your interests in life. It does so in nine key steps:
1. Set goals (and reach them).
2. Make and save money.
3. Be smart about your money.
4. Avoid financial blunders.
5. Know what to expect.
6. Your new friend: the mutual fund.
7. Actually invest!
8. Learn together.
9. Win $1,000 being a Fool.
Keep in Mind
You’re Worth a Lot Already
If you dig through your pockets and look at your bank account, you might turn up that you’re worth just $175, or so . . . but you’d be wrong. Billionaire investor Warren Buffett, one of the world’s richest people and brightest minds, speaks often to classes of high school and college students. At the 2001 annual meeting of his company, Berkshire Hathaway, he explained, I tell students what a valuable asset they have in themselves. I’d pay a good student plenty of money in exchange for 10 percent of what they produce for the rest of their life.
Warren Buffett’s onto something. Think about all the promising people around you in school. Imagine all the amazing things they’ll do. Some will travel the world. Others will start companies. Some will perform as musicians or actors. Others will be exhaustive and diligent scholars. Others will design and build homes. Any of them who learn the basics of personal finance and investing now are virtual shoo-ins for financial comfort in their adult lives. They’d make for a great investment.
Those steps make up the main course, nutritious and balanced and designed to give you a substantial head start on your money and your life. This digested, you can legitimately start dreaming about that ski chalet or that whiz-bang computer or that extended trip in space (hey, that’ll happen in your lifetime). For those with greater ambition, budding enthusiasts for our subject, this Foolish book offers a substantial dessert tray, in the form of six more steps. It is our Bonus Section:
10. Finding great companies.
11. Tracking your companies.
12. Launching an investment club.
13. Understanding the business.
14. Crunching the numbers.
15. Managing your portfolio.
As you read, you’ll discover that it really is all up to you. You can take small amounts of money in the years ahead and turn them into a lifetime of riches. Or you can spend your life trying just to eke by, spending more than you have, and asking your parents for handouts.
We’ll make as strong a case for the former as we can, but it’s your decision.
Keep in Mind
This book was written with the help of a team of several dozen teen consultants who responded to our on-line call for help. They’re a diverse group. Some have invested for a few years, have read books about business, and have many answers. Others aren’t sure if they even want to invest. Some have literally never thought about money as a tool in their lives.
Here are examples of who we’re talking about.
Adam Kaufman admires great scientists and wants to be a geneticist or oncologist. Shashank lives in England and has already started a small Internet company of his own. Deb Sperling is always reading: If I’m not reading a book, I’ll be reading a magazine, newspaper, or whatever is put down in front of me . . . pamphlets, billboards, you name it.
These and other teens weigh in on many topics throughout the book, sharing their experiences and suggestions. Some of the book was tested on them, too, to make sure we were ready for prime time. And we’d also like to thank a handful of adults as well, people who offered advice based on things they did right and wrong in their youth. The adults are mostly employees, friends, or members of the The Motley Fool community (www.Fool.com). Throughout the book, expect to see references to these people and to their contributions.
. . . . . .
EIGHT STEPS TO WEALTH
Set Goals (and Reach Them)
Success to me is having ten honeydew melons, and eating only the top half of each one.
What does success mean to you? If you’re like many teens, success might be excelling at school or in athletics, getting into and thriving at the college of your choice, preparing for a career you’ll love, finding the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend, or just not making a complete idiot of yourself in public!
Since this is a financial book, think for a moment about what success means to you financially. Hey, we know that up till now, you might not have given it a moment’s thought. So humor us. You might start by thinking, Success is . . . well . . . hey, I just want to be rich! So let’s start there. How would you define rich? Today, 40 percent of the world’s population, more than two billion people, struggle to live on less than $2 per day. Viewed from that perspective, you’re already stinking rich. In that context, virtually all Americans are.
We asked a bunch of teens to define rich, and the answers varied widely. Some thought that if you made $250,000 per year, you were rich. Others thought having $2 million or $5 million stashed in an account would do it. One explained that if you had enough money in the bank to live comfortably just off the interest (payments a bank makes to you for keeping your savings with them), without working, then you were rich. The common thread running through most of the responses was that you’re rich if you’re able to buy what you want, within reason.
What’s reasonable? It’s probably not reasonable to anticipate owning mansions in three different countries, driving a Porsche with a Bentley in the garage, and having a large staff (masseuse, fan waver, grape feeder, foot rubber, and palm reader) tending to your every wish. You may not even want any of that stuff. It is reasonable, though, to aspire to someday own a house you love, one or two cars for your family, and enough of the things that give you pleasure that you call yourself content with life. Stuff like musical instruments, pets, maybe a boat, a home entertainment center, a fast computer, a decent wardrobe (um, less than fifty pairs of shoes, please), workout equipment, shelves full of books . . . and an android (gotta have an android).
Take a few minutes now to list some of your goals and dreams, both long- and short-term. You might think this a silly exercise. But ain’t it peculiar how few people spend time thinking out and writing down their dreams? Dream a little. What do you want to be, to do, to call your own? Then estimate how much you think each one would cost (some will be easier to guess at than others—and some will have no associated financial cost).
My Goals and Dreams
We’ve got some good news for you. And then some even better news. Chances are you can meet a bunch of your goals even if you don’t read our book. Just be ambitious for them—whether it’s hiking the Himalayas or starting your own bookstore or writing for The Simpsons.
All of that said, if you do learn the basics of your money with us, you’ll likely reach more of them—perhaps even all of them. Without robbing any banks, without saving and overpolishing every penny you ever get your hands on, without sacrificing joy, you can finance the dreams that need financing. If you get started now.
Time for a relevant tale.
Anne Scheiber: From Simple to Substantial
In 1932, Anne Scheiber was a thirty-eight-year-old auditor for the Internal Revenue Service. Attracted by the promise of the stock market, she forked over most of her life savings to her brother, a young stockbroker on Wall Street. Disastrously, his entire brokerage firm went bankrupt, and Anne lost all her investments. (Moral of the story—and you’ll find us nodding our heads at this one: Keep a darn close eye on your brother.)
Determined to try again and do it on her own, she then saved $5,000 and plunked it back into stocks in 1944. By the time she died in 1995 (at the age of 101)—get this—her money had grown to $22 million—far more than any of us need in this life.
How’d she do it?
Well, to start, she was a long-term, involved investor. She wasn’t trying to strike it rich overnight. She didn’t buy stock today and then sell it tomorrow (something that too many people try, with little success). She attended shareholder meetings and followed her companies closely. She bought big, name-brand companies like Pepsi, Chrysler, and Coca-Cola. She reinvested the money that companies sent her as dividends, buying more shares of stock with it. And she placed her faith—and her money—in these growing companies and patiently watched their earnings expand over decades.
Some years, Anne’s companies struggled. Other years, the stock market got hammered. In 1973 and 1974, the market lost nearly half its value. It was a very discouraging time. President Nixon left the White House in disgrace. United States Armed Forces left Vietnam in defeat. The nation’s over-reliance on oil from the Middle East sent our economy into a tailspin. And everyone thought the new bell-bottom pants were really cool. We had just about hit rock bottom. But Anne Scheiber held on to her investments. She was rewarded for doing so. When she died, she donated her $20 million plus to Yeshiva University in New York.
How the heck did she do it?
Anne invested relatively little money in the middle of her life, then watched it grow to an enormous sum. You may be thinking, Yeah, but that was decades ago; things are different now. Not so fast! Although a lot has changed since 1944, the stock market is still around, still making people like you wealthy. We’ll explain how in subsequent chapters.
Or you might think, Geez, I don’t want to wait fifty years to become a millionaire! And that’s a fair point. Note, though, that she ended up with more than $20 million. If you’re happy with just $5 million, you won’t need fifty years. Also, she started with just $5,000 and added very little after that. You can put more than that away in the years ahead, if you’re motivated. Start saving and ask your extended family to match every dollar you save. We’ll show you how. You’ll be there in no time.
If you get started, we think you can have whatever money you’ll need to finance your dreams. If you get started now, you’ll win, just as Anne Scheiber did. Errr . . . well, mostly. Because you might not want to do it just the way she did. Why not? According to those who knew her, Anne kept to herself, lived alone in a small New York City apartment, wore the same coat day after day, year after year, and often skipped meals rather than use her money.
So that part’s actually quite sad—sad because it obviously wasn’t necessary.
Check this out again: She was worth millions of dollars, but she skipped meals, wore old clothes, and basically had no friends. We’re going out on a limb here and speculating that she didn’t ever pick up her Motley Fool teen guide and fill out what you just did—your list of dreams in life. What’s clear is that she settled for the sole pursuit of money, rather than the pursuit of money to enhance her life and the world around her. There’s a big difference between the two—a difference that makes all the difference.
Fortunately, you don’t need to pinch every penny to succeed in saving and investing. And you have filled out your list of dreams above (if not, go back and complete the task!). We Fools generally love investing and creating wealth alongside the many other pleasures that life has to offer. Stuff like reading books, whipping a Frisbee around an open field, tossing a dart at a world map and traveling there this summer with our two best friends, sleeping late on Sunday, going to movie festivals, swimming the English Channel, or just sitting around making jokes about Dad wearing black socks and tennis shoes. Ya know, the regular stuff.
Anne Scheiber’s investment legacy provides a powerful example of what you can achieve if you’re methodical and patient with money. She also reminds us, though, to stop, plant, water, tend to, and smell the roses now and then. Both matter.
Great News for You: The Millionaire-Making Magic of Compounding
If you’re not the type who enjoys math class, that’s okay. If you don’t delight in figuring out how long it’ll take that plane to get from Phoenix to Denver, no problem. If you don’t put on big sloppy grins at quadratic equations, breathe easy. We’re going to do a little math together that all of us can enjoy.
It’s time to talk about the magic of compounding growth. This mathematical force applied to your money depends on three key factors:
1. How much money you invest.
2. How long you set aside your money.
3. How much your invested money grows each year.
Let’s look at some examples. We’ll start with a simple one.
We’ll start with $100. Your $100. The hundred bucks you set aside after mowing half a dozen lawns or changing a bunch of diapers or just cracking open the birthday check from your grandparents (you lucky dawg). Let’s take that $100, invest it in the stock market, and see what happens. It’ll earn the market’s average yearly gain of 10 percent. Look there, you’re already making money. After the first year, your $100 grows to $110. You made ten bucks. After the second year, the $110 grows to $121. Look at that. You made $11. Then after year three, your money grows to $133. Even though it climbed the same 10 percent, you made $12.
Interesting. But kinda boring, right?
Well, now let’s watch it over longer periods of time.
Growing $100 over Time
Start with $100. Grow it by 10 percent per year. And here’s