The stock market is hard to figure out. The best advice I have ever heard is “buy low and sell high.” The lack of practical and useful details in the saying makes it hard to apply. My actual personal experience has all too often been closer to “Buy high and sell low.” If you put the view of the stock market into the lens of the Millennials, the markets is even more intimidating. Since 1990, the market has been up, down, up and down and back up again, with many fluctuations in even the calmer periods of time. From their perspective, the stock market has cost many of their parents’ significant percentages of their savings or even their home and may have added years to their need to work. Someone who is 30 years old today has a lot of negative investment history to overcome.
The sad truth is that for someone to make headway against inflation, investments better than money market accounts, bank accounts, Treasury bills and even certificates of deposits are necessary. Only 45% of American households hold mutual funds while the number of households investing in the stock market is only a little higher at 52%.
On the other hand, according to CreditDonkey.com, approximately 26% of Americans have no savings set aside for the inevitable emergencies and over 35% have saved nothing towards their own retirement. 38 million households live paycheck to paycheck! Those figures show that most Americans are nowhere close to adequately saving for retirement. See Save More – 10% Isn’t Enough for details.
It is time for people, especially Christians, to take a responsible view of their financial futures and be better stewards of what they have. It is time to start, even if slowly.
There is much wisdom in the book of Proverbs. Even though written over 2,500 years ago, Proverbs is full of wisdom for life, work and even for investing. We see in Proverbs 21:5 teaches us that, “The plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty.” In other words, start slow and work at a reasonable pace towards reachable goals. That is the beginning of a good plan.
How do I start?
In It’s Time to Start Saving we have laid out a plan for starting, one that is time-tested and true. While it may seem counter-intuitive and it definitely is counter-cultural, start saving with a giving plan by paying God first. Then begin with a budget and save, first for an emergency fund, next for retirement, then debt elimination and finally save even more for retirement using tax-favorable vehicles such as 401(k)s and IRAs. It’s Time to Start Saving and Ideas for Living Better Through Stewardship have other ideas that can help along the way.
Learn about what you are doing
Yes, you are to trust in the Lord, but that does not mean take no responsible steps to prepare for the future. There are free seminars you can attend. Look for and read the financial sections of newspapers to improve your general money knowledge. There is a lot available at low or even no cost to help you learn to improve your finances, including the many resources of your nearest public library.
The amazing opportunities for learning in the digital age are not to be ignored either, although they must be used with caution. You do have to be careful because there are many unreliable, dishonest, and even crack pot investment schemes, especially on the Internet.
Consider hiring a good financial adviser to help you invest and to learn about investment and financial management. The Idlewild Foundation can give you ideas on good sources of information.
A good starting point is Stewardship Partners which has a video on Biblical investing and other helpful information. The Idlewild Foundation has worked with the National Christian Foundation, (NCF). NCF helps investors with charitable giving and is an amazing resource as you move forward with your financial progress.
Have a purpose and a plan
Saving is not merely for the sake of saving. There should be a purpose, a goal, and a plan to reach that goal. Preparation for emergencies is certainly a Biblically and rationally solid purpose for savings. Setting aside money for your family is also good. Retirement savings are also a solid purpose, but the question “How much is enough?” should be asked early on and the answer God leads you to should factor into those plans.
In answering the question, “How much is enough?” consider Paul’s wisdom:
2 Corinthians 9:11
11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
We are blessed, enriched, financially not for our personal pleasure or benefit but for God’s glory through our generosity. Considering God to be a part of your plans is a solid way to make greed less likely to win you over during times that are financially prosperous.
Another aid against greed is an accountability partner or partners who are Christ-focused and will be willing to hold you to your commitments. An excellent example is in the video of John Baumer and his friends who formed a Board of Directors for Life.
Regardless of where and how you start, perhaps the best way to start is slowly, recognizing that you are in it for the long-run. There are some general ideas that are useful:
Watch out for fees and commissions. This concern includes internal and more hidden fees. Always compare costs and expenses. Especially if you are investing in individual stocks, transaction fees can eat up your gains rapidly. Be patient.
Don’t get scared and don’t over-react. There will be downs as well as ups. If you are young enough, some of your investments should be in growth stocks. Certainly, some should be conservative but if you have enough years to make up for some losses, don’t be overly conservative. Stay away from speculation.
Diversify but still keep it manageable. There is a need for you to have investments across multiple markets and asset classes. Despite that, there is also a need for you to be able to track what is happening and, if something unexpected happens, reach without undue expense or difficulty.
Do not try market timing. Studies have shown that market timing, buying at the early stage of a rising market and getting out when it falls, is harder than it sounds. Without foresight into market moves, it is impossible to know what the market is going to do next. You don’t know it is the early stage of a rising market or how long and how far a market fall will go on is never certain, to say the least.
Look at but don’t live by historical performance. Every stock or mutual fund portfolio you will ever see will warn you that historical performance is no guarantee of future performance – and that is true. On the other hand, historical performance may be a way to show good investment research by a mutual fund manager, so it may not be something to totally ignore. Other considerations include researching historical performance during rising and falling markets to see how risky a particular stock or fund may be.
Watch. Being patient and knowing that you are in the market for the long haul does not necessarily mean ignoring your investments. Certainly, you should not panic at the first downturn, but you may want to adjust your plan and your goals depending upon developments in your income, the business or industry in which you work or the economy as a whole.
Keep adding to your investments. Continuing to add to your investment savings is by far the most important idea.
There are no certainties except that if you never start, you certainly will never have an opportunity to have investment success.
About the Author
John Campbell has retired from a 40-year legal practice as a trial attorney in Tampa. He has served in multiple volunteer roles at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz, Florida, where he met Jesus. He began serving as the Executive Director of the Idlewild Foundation in 2016. He has been married to the love of his life, Mona Puckett Campbell, since 1972.