9 Golden Rules of Investing

By Beth Braverman · February 16, 2024 · 6 minute read

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9 Golden Rules of Investing

While each investor may have their own approach to investing, there are some best practices that have been honed over time by those with years of experience.

That’s not to say that one investing strategy is right and another is wrong, or that any strategy is more likely to succeed than another. When it comes to putting your money in the market, there are no guarantees and no crystal balls. But understanding some basic guidelines that have stood the test of time can be beneficial.

Basic Investing Principles

Following are a few fundamentals that hold true for many people in many situations. Bearing these in mind won’t guarantee any outcomes, but they can help you manage risk, investing costs, and your own emotions.

1. The Sooner You Start, the Better

In general, the longer your investments remain in the market, the greater the odds are that you might see positive returns. That’s because long-term investments benefit from time in the market, not timing the market.

Meaning: The markets inevitably rise and fall. So the sooner you invest, and the longer you keep your money invested, the more likely it is that your investments can recover from any volatility or downturns.

In addition, if your investments do see a gain, those earnings generate additional earnings over time, and then those earnings generate earnings, potentially increasing your returns. This is similar to the principle of compound interest.

2. Make It Automatic

One of the easiest ways to build up an investment account is by automatically contributing a certain amount to the account at regular intervals over time. If you have a 401(k) or other workplace retirement account you likely already do this via paycheck deferrals. However, most brokerages allow you to set up automatic, repeating deposits in other types of accounts as well.

Investing in this way also allows you to take advantage of a strategy called dollar-cost averaging, which helps reduce your exposure to volatility. Dollar cost averaging is when you buy a fixed dollar amount of an investment on a regular cadence (e.g. weekly or monthly).

The goal is not to invest when prices are high or low, but rather to keep your investment steady, and thereby avoid the temptation to time the market. That’s because with dollar cost averaging (DCA) you invest the same dollar amount each time, so that when prices are lower, you buy more; when prices are higher, you buy less.

💡 Quick Tip: If you’re opening a brokerage account for the first time, consider starting with an amount of money you’re prepared to lose. Investing always includes the risk of loss, and until you’ve gained some experience, it’s probably wise to start small.

3. Take Advantage of Free Money

If you have access to a workplace retirement account and your employer provides a match, contribute at least enough to get your full employer match. That’s a risk-free return that you can’t beat anywhere else in the market, and it’s part of your compensation that you should not leave on the table.

Recommended: Investing 101 Guide

4. Build a Diversified Portfolio

By creating a diversified portfolio with a variety of types of investments across a range of asset classes, you may be able to reduce some of your investment risk.

Portfolio diversification involves investing your money across a range of different asset classes — such as stocks, bonds, and real estate — rather than concentrating all of it in one area. Studies have shown that by diversifying the assets in your portfolio, you may offset a certain amount of investment risk and thereby improve returns.

Taking portfolio diversification to the next step — further differentiating the investments you have within asset classes (for example, holding small-, medium-, and large-cap stocks, or a variety of bonds) — may also be beneficial.

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5. Reduce the Fees You Pay

No matter whether you’re taking an active, passive, or automatic approach to investing, you’re going to have to pay some fees to managers or brokers. For example, if you buy mutual or exchange-traded funds, you will typically pay an annual fee based on that fund’s expense ratio.

Fees can be one of the biggest drags on investment returns over time, so it’s important to look carefully at the fees that you’re paying and to occasionally shop around to see if it’s possible to get similar investments for lower fees.

6. Stick with Your Plan

When markets go down, it can feel like the world is ending. New investors might find themselves pondering questions like How can investments lose so much value so quickly? Will they ever go back up? What should I do?

During the crash of early 2020, for example, $3.4 trillion in wealth disappeared from the S&P 500 index alone in a single week. And that’s not counting all of the other markets around the world. But over the next two years, investors saw big gains as markets hit record highs.

The takeaway? Investments fluctuate over time and managing your emotions is as important as managing your portfolio. If you have a long time horizon, you may not need to be overly concerned with how your portfolio is performing day to day. It’s often wiser to stick with your plan, and don’t impulsively buy or sell just because the weather changes, so to say.

💡 Quick Tip: Newbie investors may be tempted to buy into the market based on recent news headlines or other types of hype. That’s rarely a good idea. Making good choices shouldn’t stem from strong emotions, but a solid investment strategy.

7. Maximize Tax-Advantaged Accounts

Like fees, the taxes that you pay on investment gains can significantly eat away at your profits. That’s why tax-advantaged accounts, those types of investment vehicles that allow you to defer taxes, or eliminate them entirely, are so valuable to investors.

The tax-advantaged accounts that you can use will depend on your workplace benefits, your income, and state regulations, but they might include:

•   Workplace retirement accounts such as 401(k), 403(b), etc.

•   Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)

•   Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), including Roth IRAs, SEP IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, etc.

•   529 Accounts (college savings accounts)

Recommended: Benefits of Health Savings Accounts

8. Rebalance Regularly

Once you’ve nailed down your asset allocation, or how you’ll proportion out your portfolio to various types of investments, you’ll want to make sure your portfolio doesn’t stray too far from that target. If one asset class, such as equities, outperforms others that you hold, it could end up accounting for a larger portion of your portfolio over time.

To correct that, you’ll want to rebalance once or twice a year to get back to the asset allocation that works best for you. If rebalancing seems like too much work, you might consider a target-date fund or an automated account, which will rebalance on your behalf.

9. Understand Your Personal Risk Tolerance

While all of the above rules are important, it’s also critical to know your own personality and your ability to handle the volatility inherent in the market. If a steep drop in your portfolio is going to cause you extreme anxiety — or cause you to make knee-jerk investing decisions – then you might want to tilt your portfolio more conservatively.

Ideally, you’ll land on an asset allocation that takes into account both your risk tolerance and the amount of risk that you need (and are able) to take in order to meet your investment goals.

If, on the other hand, you get a thrill out of market ups and downs (or have other assets that make it easier for you to stomach short-term losses), you might consider taking a more aggressive approach to investing.

The Takeaway

The rules outlined above are guidelines that can help both beginner and experienced investors build a portfolio that helps them meet their financial goals. While not all investors will follow all of these rules, understanding them provides a solid foundation for creating the strategy that works best for you.

Ready to invest in your goals? It’s easy to get started when you open an investment account with SoFi Invest. You can invest in stocks, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds, alternative funds, and more. SoFi doesn’t charge commissions, but other fees apply (full fee disclosure here).

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.

Investment Risk: Diversification can help reduce some investment risk. It cannot guarantee profit, or fully protect in a down market.


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