A Quick Interview with a Seasoned Investor

Lately, we’ve had some Budget Buds who have given a lot of the same advice: Invest in your 401ks and IRAs while you’re young! (Are you sick of hearing that yet? No? Good, because it’s important!)

Upon hearing this advice you might wonder, “OK, great, well, what next?”

To answer some of these questions, I thought it best to interview a family member who is an investment advisor. It certainly beats my guide on budgeting tips. As someone who’s been in the financial business for over 30 years, this Seasoned Investor offers some sage advice on what to do next.

Tell me about yourself and your background.

I’ve been in the investment business thirty odd years. I started in public finance, and morphed into an investment adviser. In between that time I sold bonds, so I have a varied experience. The last fifteen odd years I’ve been exclusively an investment adviser, which you guys call a wealth management adviser, which used to be called a stockbroker.

Investing tips

What does an investment adviser do?

I deal with individuals, helping them with their financial planning and wealth management.

What is your motivation?

Well from day one, when I started working in bonds sales and then morphed into working with individuals, I enjoyed the business, not only because can you help people, but also, as part of your job, you have to keep up with the geopolitical news of the day, as well as the financial news, and to me that’s fun and exciting. The part of working with people- that’s a bonus when it’s good…when you really get someone onto something that works, it’s very satisfactory.

What is your biggest advice to young people?

Start investing early. Also, I would say to any young person who has the opportunity to be in a 401k, do that before opening an account with any broker or investment adviser, because a 401k is before retirement and grows tax deferred. Compounding without paying tax over a long period of time is a great way to make money. The other part of that is if the employer matches, and whether it’s 5% to 100%, the match is free money. To not take advantage of that is a mistake.

Also, it’s very important to contribute what you can and work your way up to pay yourself first. It’s not my original phrase, but is very important and the 401k is a very good way to do that.

If your employer doesn’t offer 401k where do you go?

If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, the alternative is an IRA, and it’s the same thing (as 401ks). There are limitations (to how much you can contribute), but with the IRA you won’t have any matching. However, not every corporation matches, especially these days. If you don’t have a 401k you need to open an IRA, and if you’re self employed, you can do a SEP IRA.

Where would you go to set up an IRA?

You can go online and go to Schwab, Fidelity, or Vanguard. If you’re not inclined to do the research yourself and go on the internet, then you need to go to your local bank, as most of them will have a wealth management personal staff.

If you’re also interested in investing money, where do you start?

Like anything else, the more knowledge you have the better off you will be. You can go online to Yahoo Finance Schwab or Vanguard and they will have pages on their website on IRAs, and will give you details on what you can invest, how much, and how to go about it. Now if you don’t want to spend that much time, that’s where you go to your local bank and they’ll send you to their people.

But what if they want something more liquid than a 401k?

The reason I keep stressing IRAs is because if we’re talking about people starting off, that’s where they need to max out. But maybe they need to save for a house, or something else- those same sites… Schwab, Vanguard, they will all help you buy mutual funds that are professionally managed, and diversified.

What do you tell people who are nervous about investing?

You’ve heard that before, and it’s all very true. For most of the people your age, in their working lifetime, the market has had some very volatile periods, and though volatility is not usual, it’s been very volatile the last ten-twelve years particularly because of the credit crisis.

But you still believe in investing?

Absolutely I do! If you look over the last 20-100 years, you would have in general fared better with a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, rather than other investments such as CDs or some of the more conservative investments.

What is the biggest mistake you see people make when investing?

Not having a specific plan and being swayed by emotions, rather than sticking to plan.

Do you ever have people who decide they want to pull out all of their money after a bad day?

That’s what I mean by investing with emotions. You have to understand there will be volatility, and the important thing to do is not be swayed by the volatility, and to stick with diversification and time. Diversification and time are the two greatest things working for an investor.

What do you mean by having a plan?

What I mean by having a plan is not having a specific number of years and dollar goals, but understanding there will be volatility, and that you have to be stick with your plan of keeping the money in long term and letting their money grow over time, knowing that they have to ride out some volatile markets.

What is a good percentage of your income to invest?

I would say that’s a hard question to answer, as there’s no magic number. It really has to be what’s comfortable for each individual. Each person is so different. Most people in business will say do the max you can do. Yet, the point is it’s what you can comfortably afford to invest…If you could set 10% income aside (for your 401k or IRA) you’d be doing very well.

Explaining the Rule of 72

Here’s something- it’s called the Rule of 72. If you divide 72 by the amount of the annual rate of interest , it will tell you how long it will take to double your money investment. (For instance), if your investment grows 10% a year, it will take 7.2 years to double your money. The rule of 72 is what a lot of people use to gauge how long it may take them to grow their investment to a certain level.

What is a conservative growth estimate for you money to make when you have invested it?

That’s a great debate. Historically people have expected to get 7-10% in a good, diversified portfolio of equities, but it’s hard because there’s no black and white answer. You can pull out statistics of years gone by, and you can make the figures say anything you want. You would hope to earn anywhere from 7-10% average annual return.

He continues…

You can have a period we’ve just gone through where you’ve lost money, and have to get back to where you started. This is why it’s important to start young. If someone put in $100,000 in 2003 in the S&P 500 and had done nothing else, in 2008 it would have lost money, and (now) come back (to where it was in 2008). But, if you had put in $10,000 in 2003, and put in $10,000 each year following, you would have been way ahead of breakeven.

If you can add money (to your investments) on regular basis, whether each month, each quarter, each year, it can be advantageous.

The Best Fitness Tips on a Budget

A few months before my wedding last year, I totally splurged and hired a personal trainer. She whipped me into the best shape I’ve ever been in, but once the wedding came and went, and Mr. Practical came on board, I, unfortunately, couldn’t keep on splurging. If I ever when the lottery her services will be the first thing I buy!

That being said, this Fall I’ve been yearning for a different project and a way to get in shape beyond my normal elliptical routine to combat the happy marriage weight about which I keep being warned. I’ve always wanted to run a half marathon, and since I live in one of the flattest, if not flattest places in the US, I decided it was now or never. (I still have nightmares from hilly runs in Virginia my roommates goaded me into going on with them).

Budget Fitness TipsNow before you say, “I could never run a half marathon,” let me just say that when I told one of my closest friends from college that I was running a half marathon a week before the race she said, “but… since when do you run?”

Which was a very fair question, because two years ago the answer would have been never to rare. Since then it’s grown to runs when the weather has been nice. But as our newest Budget Bud, the Saving Scientist said, “Running is cheap. All you need is your investment in your running shoes.”

You can’t argue with that, and through my training I’ve actually grown to like running. And if I can run a half marathon anyone can, and more importantly, it doesn’t cost that much money to train properly. Below see some of my tips on training on the cheap.

1. Find a free training schedule that works for you: There are plenty of free ones online, such as ones from Hal Higdon, which were suggested to me by the Saving Scientist and a fellow friend who have run multiple half and full marathons. Another important piece of advice the Secret Scientist told me was to not get too stressed and bogged down about the daily schedule, but to definitely keep up the long weekend runs. This turned about to be great advice, or I might have thrown in the towel after skipping some days of training at first. This is good to know when you’re busy at work you have a social engagement you can’t turn down.

Side note: I will say that whenever I kept up my runs during the week, I was much less sore after my long Sunday runs.

2. Don’t let missing your post workout runs derail you. If you find it difficult to run in the dark or hate running in the gym, running clubs are a great, social way to train. Happy’s Running Club meets at, you got it, Happy’s in the CBD on Wednesday evenings. The run is a little over 3 miles and starts at 6:16. And there are drink specials after, take that for motivation! There’s also Louisana Running Group in Mid-City, which departs at 6:30 on Mondays and Wednesdays, and offers both a 3 and 5-mile loop. I’ve been to Happy’s, but haven’t been to Louisiana’s, although the Saving Scientist has. Both groups have a variety of runners on different skill levels at varying paces. So, if like me, you’re afraid of being the last one- don’t! In addition, Varsity Sports also has a calendar of different runs around town all week.

3. If you hate the treadmill, try intervals: First of all, I hear you. Four miles is about as far as I can run on the treadmill, even when my favorite crime show that Mr. Practical refuses to watch with me is on TV. (Don’t knock it till you watch it). I did find that doing intervals on the treadmill (also recommended to me by the Saving Scientist) was a way for me to get my workout in at the gym, and keep the boredom at bay.

4. How to deal with the long run. I, of course, was terrified the morning of the first long run I had to complete. How could I possibly run five miles? Six miles?? Seven??? But you can do it, and it’s important to build up gradually. For my first six mile run, I ran with a friend, who gave me a lot of moral encouragement. Pick a scenic run and download some music or a great podcast. Also, another great piece of advice I acquired was to pick a new route on your long run days to keep yourself interested and energized.

Side note: As far as long runs went, my favorite route was to either start running up St. Charles, followed by a loop around Audubon Park, and finish running down Magazine, or to head down Camp, go through the Quarter and then up Esplanade and back.

5. Register early to save money on the registration fee. I signed up for the rock n’ roll half marathon, which provided bands along the way and an after-run concert, so it was a little bit more than others at $120. (I also registered late December, so I could have gotten more of a discount if I hadn’t procrastinated.

6. How to save on running shoes? Running shoes can be expensive, but there are ways to offset it. Some running stores will give you a discount when you turn in your old shoes. The last time I bought at Louisiana Running Company, I found a shoe on sale from the previous season. They looked and felt the same to me, but were about $40 less than I had budgeted. I really could care less what season my running shoes are, so I was thrilled. (More room to buy much needed running accessories. Who says you can’t look stylish when you run?)

7. Do lunges to prepare as well. The day after the half marathon I felt like I had done 300 lunges the day before. I walked with a slight limp, and did worry it would be permanent. I wish I had done more weight and cross training workouts to intersperse with my training like these.

8. Find healthy food on the cheap. Eat plenty of lean meat, beans, and grains like quinoa. One of my favorite new dishes is taco chicken bowls from budget bytes. They are seriously so delicious and cheap. I’ve started paring it with quinoa instead of rice, to get some extra protein. I also loved eating toasted Ezekial Bread for pre- breakfast runs topped with peanut butter.

9. Get yourself some inexpensive luxury. You need Epsom salts for a bath to soak your sore muscles. Also, a foam roller is a great investment to roll out your sore muscles. And community yoga classes are key for stretching out those hamstrings.

10. Pick a great post-race brunch spot. For my celebration brunch I chose Shake Sugary. I might have gotten looks when I ordered an apricot turnover, a blueberry galette, a sweet potato-bacon biscuit, and ginger snap cookie (and to think Mr. Practical thought I’d be sharing with him). But could you blame me? I had just run 13.1 miles (which I did keep announcing loudly so people wouldn’t think this was my normal Sunday breakfast), and the thought of those treats got me through the last every mile. And it only totaled $12 including tax and tip, so could you really blame me?

It was mile four and I was already dreaming about Shake Sugary. If you think a half marathon is out of the running for you, register for the Shamrockin Run, which is only 4.97 miles. Register before 3/1 to save on rates! Have any other tips I missed? Let us know!