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Personal finance author Jennifer Barrett learned how powerful investing could be by watching her grandmother.
“My maternal grandmother, born in 1912 in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, didn’t fit anyone’s stereotype of a wealthy person,” she wrote in her book, “Think Like A Breadwinner.” Her grandmother was a single woman who raised two children and worked for years as a secretary. But she was able to build an investing portfolio worth $500,000 by the time she died.
The strategies she used weren’t get-rich-quick strategies or advanced hacks — they were simple principles constantly recommended by experts. Here are the five strategies Barrett’s grandmother used to build her own wealth and create her large portfolio.
1. She invested a part of her paycheck each time she got one
Barrett’s grandmother was investing before the time of a 401(k) — those plans weren’t widely adopted by employers until the early 1980s. At a time when pensions were the common form of retirement funds, her role as a secretary in a law firm didn’t grant her one.
She knew she had to invest on her own, so she started to save a part of her paycheck consistently. “If she was going to save enough money to support her family and herself in old age, she realized, she was going to have to figure out how to do it largely on her own,” Barrett writes.
So, she took matters into her own hands. She opened an investing account. “She continued putting some of each paycheck into her investment account,” Barrett writes.
In a sense, she started crafting her own retirement account, saving a part of her paycheck. While this is now easier with the availability of 401(k)s, saving a portion of a paycheck consistently for many years paid off for Barrett’s grandmother.
2. She invested in a wide range of companies
Before the advent of the ETF, or a fund that combines the shares of many different companies, Barrett’s grandmother understood the need to not put all her eggs in one basket.
“Rather than bet on a few stocks, spreading your money across a diverse mix — large and small companies across different sectors — can help you lower the risk of losing money on one bad bet,” Barrett writes. And, that’s exactly what her grandmother did.
Her grandmother invested in a variety of companies, and tried to get as much exposure to different corners of the market as possible. While she couldn’t simply invest in an ETF, she invested in the right companies that were different enough to keep her portfolio afloat.
3. She bought what she knew and understood
Barrett writes that her grandmother was an avid investor in the products that she knew, understood, and had a relationship with. “Nana invested in every company she either wrote a check to or whose products she bought on a regular basis,” she writes. “She didn’t invest in currencies or pork-belly futures or precious metals. She invested in companies she understood.”
It’s a strategy that not only worked for Barrett’s grandmother, but other investors swear by this method as well. For her grandmother, this rule meant investing in “a wide range of publicly-traded companies — from her electric and phone companies to her favorite department store chains to Coca-Cola.”
And, it helped her grandmother justify her investments. “A bonus was that if her electric utility rates went up, for example, she would pay more as a customer, but she would gain as an investor because the stock’s value could increase as a result,” Barrett writes.
4. She used a dollar-cost averaging strategy to keep investing consistently
When her grandmother invested a portion of her paycheck, she didn’t save up large chunks and try to wait to invest when the market seemed low. Instead, she put money in every week consistently.
This strategy is a simple one, but it’s powerful. Those who follow a dollar-cost averaging strategy keep investing consistently, no matter what’s going on in the market. “By doing so, you’ll buy more shares when stock prices are down and fewer when they’re up, and you can lower the average price per share you pay over time,” Barrett writes.
This strategy makes for more money and time in the market. “You can also invest earlier than if you’d waited until you had more money to invest, so your money can start growing sooner,” she writes.
5. She stuck with her strategy for a number of years
Though she didn’t start investing until she was 46, Barrett says that holding onto investments despite ups and downs was part of the strategy for her grandmother.
“Buying and holding is usually a better strategy than trying to time the market, because timing the market’s ups and downs is nearly impossible,” Barrett writes.
For her grandmother, that meant keeping her investments as long as she could. It sounds simple, but it’s not always so easy to handle the ups and downs. Leaving money alone and staying the course with your investing schedule is generally the smartest choice, say, financial planners and investing experts. This strategy can help make money grow with time, regardless of when you start investing.