The advice in this book is both simple and realistic. There is no magic potion in the investment world because the truth is that one doesn’t exist. There is no quick road to riches. And if someone promises you a path to overnight riches, cover your ears and close your pocketbook. If an investment idea seems too good to be true, it is too good to be true. What I offer are ten simple, time-tested rules that can build wealth and provide retirement security. Think of the rules as the proven way to get rich slowly.
- Start saving now, not later. Don’t worry about whether the market is high or low — just begin investing. “Trust in time rather than timing,” Malkiel writes. “The secret to getting rich slowly (but surely) is the miracle of compound interest.”
- Keep a steady course. “The most important driver in the growth of your assets is how much you save,” writes Malkiel, “and saving requires discipline.” To develop discipline, the author recommends that you learn to pay yourself first (invest before anything else, even paying bills), implement a budget, change spending habits, and pay off debt.
- Don’t be caught empty-handed. Malkiel recommends that readers open an emergency fund. He doesn’t specify how much should be set aside, but he does cover a variety of places to put the cash: money market accounts, certificates of deposit, and online savings accounts. He also recommends purchasing term life insurance.
- Stiff the tax collector. Make the most of tax-advantaged savings: Open an Individual Retirement Account, contribute to your company’s retirement plan, take advantage of tax-free savings for your child’s education, buy your home rather than rent. All of these things help to reduce the bite that taxes take out of your money.
- Match your asset mix to your investment personality. Based on your risk tolerance and your investment horizon, choose the best mix of cash, bonds, stocks, and real estate. (Malkiel encourages investors to buy each of these through mutual funds.)
- Never forget that diversity reduces adversity. Don’t just buy stocks — buy stocks, bonds, and other investments classes. Within each category, diversify further. And don’t just buy one stock — buy mutual funds of many stocks. (Malkiel makes his case with the stark example of a 58-year-old Enron employee who had a $2.5 million 401k — of Enron stock. When Enron went bust, the employee not only lost her job, but her retirement savings vanished completely.) Finally, the author recommends “diversification over time” — making investments at regular intervals using dollar-cost averaging.
- Pay yourself, not the piper. Interest and fees are drags on your wealth. “Paying off credit card debt is the best investment you will ever make.” Avoid expensive mutual funds. “The only factor reliably linked to future mutual fund performance is the expense ratio charged by the fund.” In fact, the author advises that costs matter for all financial products.
- Bow to the wisdom of the market. “No one can time the market,” Malkiel says. It’s too unpredictable. Professional money managers can’t beat the market, financial magazines can’t beat the market — nobody can beat the market on a regular basis. The best way to earn consistent gains is to invest in broad-based index funds. It’s boring, but it works.
- Back proven winners. After Malkiel has preached the virtues of index funds, presumably converting the reader to his religion, he spends a chapter suggesting possible index funds and asset allocations.
- Don’t be your own worst enemy. Malkiel concludes by admonishing readers to stay the course, warning them against faulty thinking. He discusses the sort of money mistakes I’ve mentioned before: overconfidence, herd behavior, loss aversion, and the sunk-cost fallacy.
- It’s short.
- It’s written in plain English — there’s no jargon.
- It’s easy to understand — concepts are simplified so the average person can grasp them.
- It’s filled with great advice.
Malkiel is a proponent of the Efficient-Market Hypothesis. The idea is that markets have in them all the information they need to perform efficiently and an individual investor will not be able to outperform them consistently.