Investing: How to invest in uncertain times

You know you have to do it. But, you’re not sure how to do it. No, I’m not talking about finally talking to the hot girl eyeing you in your condo, which you awkwardly smile at. I’m talking about investing – taking charge of your personal finances.

So how do you do it? It’s a question I get asked a lot by friends when I tell them about my relative investing success. Other questions follow. How did you get started? What should I invest in? What are you going to do with all that money? I made up the last one. Furthermore, when looking at the world economy, it’s in shatters. Words such as “austerity”, “bailout” and “contagion” (which was a kick ass movie) are constantly talked about by economists on TV, acknowledging our unstable global financial predicament. It’s all a lot to take in and you don’t know what it means. So I’m here to get you back to the basics of investing and help you take the leap in uncertain times.

1. Start small

Now John will make fun of you because you’re saving such a small amount. But he has a girlfriend who he panders to by taking her out for expensive dinners, so don’t listen to him.

Before you get concerned about chasing the huge returns, you have to start somewhere. You’re just new to the game. Like any game, it’s time to learn the rules in the beginning. So start small.

Firstly, starting small means a few things. It means setting aside a small amount, in the form of a pre-authorized contribution (PAC) into your investing account. You can contribute as little as $10, $25, or $50, from every pay cheque. It’s basically just one dinner outing every two weeks you’re letting go. As these savings build up, and trust me they will, you’ll soon have quite a storage of savings, the first success of starting small.

Next, it’s about investing small. Say you like a stock such as Microsoft, because you’re not into the whole Steve Jobs watching your investment from the grave thing, then buy shares in Microsoft (this is not investment advice silly, just a column). Buy a small position, a few couple hundred dollars investment in Microsoft, to get your feet wet. This will allow you to see the ebbs and flows of the market while you get invested in a company you like, with a good dividend yield (2.7%) for the technology space, which also happens to have a fairly scary looking CEO in Steve Ballmer. Mission accomplished.

2. Buy and hold

I know it’s hard but this is what you have to do. We have a tendency to think that we can time the market, getting in at the lowest lows and selling at the highest highs. Sometimes you’re able to do it  and that’s sweet, but it’s not the norm. A better strategy, is to take a buy and hold approach to your portfolio.

What buy and hold means is exactly that, you buy then hold your position through the rough times, like we are in now. The benefits are obvious. You get to forget about the daily price fluctuations. You’re able to rest easy because over time things tend to average out. Although the headlines are bad, money has to go into something, which it always does…so relax. If you play your cards right by picking stable, blue chip companies listed on the S&P 500 or NYSE, which have good dividend yields that compound over  investment over time, it will actually pay to wait. Quoting one of the greatest minds of our times, Albert Einstein, it was he who said: “The most powerful force in the universe is compound interest.”

3. Be realistic

Know that you’re not going to make a 10% return in a month. It’s rare and more indicative of a riskier investment. While these types of investments can be rewarding, it can put you at a disadvantage if it goes the other way. So, you have been warned.

Being realistic is also about having a purpose for what you want to do with your investment dollars, whether it be that vacation getaway, new tech toy, or bigger items like a partial down payment on a home or condo. It’s all about your time horizon, so if you have a short one, one to three years or a longer one (three years plus), be sure to keep this in mind when picking your investments. .

Conclusion

Talking about your finances isn’t the most sexy topic, but it’s a necessary one. If you follow these three steps: start small, buy and hold, and be realistic, it will put you in a better position for financial success as you get older.

Goodbye 2011

First things first, I have to say I was very blessed with a big capital B in 2011! It was a year in which the good things that are opportunity, luck, and desire came together to make things happen for me.

At times it felt overwhelming to work three jobs, go to school full-time for five classes, and volunteer but everything I was doing I was really into and in the end luckily (there’s that word again) it worked better than I thought it would. So with that  said here is my goodbye to 2011, or review of 2011 if you rather, looking at what happened in work, school, and what I learned in 2011.

Disclaimer: The following views are my personal views and not the views of my employers.

Work

Work dominated my life in 2011. Things started fairly simple enough with my continued employment at my government job of three plus years, but by the end of 2011, I added two others, pushing my work commitments to three. Surprisingly, It  went very smoothly. The two positions, both at school, one with the University of Ottawa (uOttawa) and the other with Redwood Strategic working on campus, added to my creativity, leadership, teamwork abilities.

uOttawa – Student Online Community Manager

Being a Student Online Community Manager (SOCM) for the uOttawa was a position I really wanted. The position is one where me, along with a team of three others, engage students at the university through social media, primarily using Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. You can follow some of the conversation on our Twitter account here.

After attending various networking events that I have written about here, being a SOCM has really allowed me to jump deeper into social media, gain experience in public relations, and help grow the school’s brand online. With planned presentations and a better understanding of what the student population is like, I’m looking forward to connecting with more students at uOttawa this year.

Windows Leader for Redwood Strategic

Getting the SOCM position definitely helped in getting this job.  It was a quick turnaround from applying to the job then getting it but it was amazing how it all worked out.  The first perk of the job was an all expenses paid flight to Toronto. Having not been on a plane since 94’, this was great experience. As well with all of my fun trips to the city  earlier in the year, I welcomed going back again.

In addition to myself, I travelled with three other students from uOttawa. Our group would be joined by other students from provinces all across Canada, from British Columbia to Nova Scotia, for  two days of training and getting to know more about Windows/Microsoft. It’s really cool being able to say you know someone in each province of the country, but there was way more too it than this.

There was more to learn about Microsoft as a company, and what the program, being a Windows leader on the uOttawa campus is all about. Basically our job is to hold personalized demos with students one on one, teaching them how to use Windows 7 effectively in all they do at school.  After having these short demos, for each student that listens to me blab, they get a token of appreciation that enters them into a draw for gift cards as well as a new PC. But it gets better. Microsoft will also donate $5 for every token redeemed, to a maximum of $500, to a campus organization  we choose ( I chose the Centre for Community and Global Engagement) which in short, helps students, faculty and staff at uOttawa find volunteer opportunities as well as supports grassroots initiatives.

In the end it’s a big win for everyone involved, as I get to do what I love doing, networking, the student learns something new, and the organization gets another source of money. As well for Microsoft, they get to re position themselves again as a leader in the tech space, by building a community of people who use their products. After an intense two days, one in which there was a lot of product training on Windows 7 and brand new laptops, the Samsung Series 9 notebooks, the experience was over. I learned so much from true leaders, the founders of the program and those from Campus Perks, who have made their dreams a reality, as well as my  fellow peers from across the country.

School

I’m going to miss school life (I think) when it’s all done. Being six years into postsecondary schooling, now with only one more year left, has me thinking about this. Going to campus, connecting with your peers, is a unique time and experience. Although I won’t miss the bad profs, horrible groups, and useless assignments. With that said last years fall semester went so smooth, as I only had two exams for my five classes, and not a lot of homework. So it wasn’t all that bad.

Three important things I learned in 2011

1. Leadership

I want to be a leader. It’s very satisfying having the responsibility of putting others around you in positions to be successful, being in charge, and also part of the reason for success in what your doing, whether that be on an assignment, project, or another initiative. In 2011, through these different jobs and in school, I got the chance to develop my leadership skills. The respect you get as someone who is counted on for anything, be it opinions, advice or what have you is great. But being able to encourage change and progress is so much better. I think I embraced not standing around, waiting for others to take charge and realized I could do it myself. However, it really is important who you surround yourself with, which leads me into my second point.

2. Teamwork

It’s really important who you surround yourself with. I always thought I knew this in my personal life, with my parents who kept hammering it home to me, in regards to my friends, but it’s clear that in the work and school world it is just as important. In 2011, being on good teams made coming together fun and enjoyable, as everyone was on the same page. This lead to some great results (90 percent on a research project, Windows demos on campus). I’m looking forward to doing more of this in 2012.

3. Preparation, Deadlines, Goals

I learned that paying close attention to each of these three areas was a key for  my success in 2011.  They are intertwined and rely on each other, basically from the point of view that your preparation leads to you making deadlines, which in turn help you reach your goals.

Before I used to set goals that were far in the future, without putting more emphasis on my short term goals. It was important to learn that I need to take more logical steps, to get from A to B first should be a priority, rather than A to C. .

Goodbye 2011

2011 was a amazing year for me to grow more and mature through all these experiences in work, school, and life. Hopefully, using a common sports reference, it was my “breakout season”, and I can continue the momentum into this new year, 2012. There is so much out there and so much possibilities in avenues to take, it’s going to be exciting how it all plays out in 2012.