Stock Investing Made Easy


Stock Investing Made Easy

Step-by-Step Instructions on Stock Investing

Portfolio Development for Retirement


While reviewing comments and suggestions from Cabot Wealth Advisory readers, I found several excellent ideas. Some of your suggestions were not only interesting, but also offer lessons for all investors.

One reader remarked, “I am interested in step-by-step instructions on stock investing.” Another reader asked, “How should I develop my portfolio for retirement?”

Rather than give you my own opinions exclusively, I decided to add the expert advice of the American Association of Individual Investors. AAII, as the organization is called, is an independent nonprofit that began in 1978. AAII’s goal is to assist individuals in becoming “effective managers of their own assets through programs of education, information and research.”

AAII offers unbiased educational material online and in a monthly magazine. The organization offers lots of free stuff, and a host of additional information is available for just $29 per year. Go to for further details.

AAII divides the investment life of an individual investor into four phases:

Phase 1 begins as soon as you become employed for the first time. (My first job was decades ago in Boston as an $80 a week stockbroker trainee at Paine, Webber, Jackson & Curtis). As soon as your income begins to exceed expenses, then establish a cushion for emergencies. Your cushion will need to grow to the equivalent of six months of your income. You can fund your cushion by investing in no-risk investments such as savings accounts at your bank or money market funds at a brokerage firm.

One of the cornerstones of wealth-building is being frugal. You should set reasonable savings goals and then live below your means. You gain financial independence by budgeting, controlling expenses and saving a reasonable portion of your income.

When you have accumulated the equivalent of six months of your income and if you haven’t piled up a lot of debt, you are ready to move on to Phase 2. If your debts from college loans, car loans, credit cards, etc. have become excessive, you will need to reduce your debt before moving on to Phase 2.

Phase 2 gets exciting. Any savings above your cushion can now be invested into mutual funds, ETFs (exchange traded funds), stocks or bonds. Some advisors encourage investors to invest in mutual funds and exchange traded funds first, and then stocks when your portfolio reaches certain levels. I recommend investing in whatever interests you the most, because you’ll probably be more motivated to learn about what appeals to you.

Phase 2 is the most important step in your investment career. You need to establish a solid foundation of investments that you can build on in future years. Invest in a combination of ETFs and common stocks, which I believe is a reasonable approach for new investors. I do not study mutual funds, so I am not qualified to offer advice on a mutual fund strategy, although mutual funds may also play an important, but minor, role in your portfolio.

Your initial investments should be growth oriented, but conservative. I recommend low-risk companies with reasonably good five-year growth prospects, such as the undervalued, high-quality companies in my Cabot Benjamin Graham Value Investor. I scan more than 1,000 companies every month and pick stocks selling at modest prices with expected earnings growth of at least 10% per year. I want companies that pay dividends. I will recommend non-dividend paying companies if I think the company will start paying dividends within the next couple of years, or I am certain the company's stock price will appreciate more than average.

The best route to financial independence is slowly accumulating wealth versus a fantasy of get-rich-quick investing. Don’t expect to double your money every year. According to AAII, the average annual return for common stocks is 10% to 12% per year during the past 85 years. Nevertheless, an individual who invests $10,000 at the age of 27, adds $2,000 every year to his or her account for 35 years, and can average 11% annual returns including dividends, will end up with a cool $1,069,000 at age 62. Average annual returns of 11% are quite attainable if you aim for 9% price appreciation plus 2% dividend yields. The most difficult part is to make a plan and stick to it! I have assembled a list of a dozen companies and ETFs, which will get you started in the right direction and will provide a solid foundation for your investment portfolio. Listed below are four. I encourage you to email me the request to discover the remaining eight companies and ETFs. (You will incur neither cost nor obligation if you view my other eight stock picks!)

Abbott Laboratories (ABT) Deere & Co. (DE) Microsoft Corp. (MSFT) Prudential Financial (PRU)

The list includes an assortment of industry leaders. Diversifying your stock picks is important because you will reduce your financial risk from loss or mistakes while you build for the future.

Phase 3 begins after your initial investments start to show noticeable profits. Your initial stocks should be held for the long haul, unless the industry or the company falters badly. Sell a stock if the long-term outlook has deteriorated and replace the stock with a better one.

Assuming you haven’t accumulated a lot of debt, you are ready to start adding investments to your core portfolio. Rather than staying conservative, now is the time to start investing according to your personal preferences. If you have a high risk tolerance, invest aggressively, but not foolishly. If you are conservative, then stay with low-risk stocks, ETFs and mutual funds.

I advise adding stocks which are clearly undervalued and stocks with exceptional growth prospects. In addition, you might want to add to some of your smallest core holdings, but be sure each company’s outlook remains robust. I also recommend offsetting your aggressive investments with defensive ETFs. You should be prepared to jettison risky stocks that underperform and sell stocks that become overvalued.

Here’s another list I have compiled. This list includes six companies that I believe will provide an extra boost to your initial core investments. These stocks are selling at bargain prices and offer exceptional price appreciation potential. Here are two of the stocks; I encourage you to email me the request to obtain the names of the other four companies. (Again, you will incur no cost nor have any obligation!)

FLIR Systems (FLIR) Trinity Industries (TRN)

As your investments grow and you invest in more stocks, you will need to decide how many stocks, mutual funds and ETFs are reasonable for you to follow. When you reach your limit, add to stocks that you already own.

Phase 4 begins about five years before your retirement. At this point in your life, you should start to reverse your investment strategy. Initially, start selling some of those risky companies that you fell in love with. Invest the proceeds into ultra-conservative investments such as certificates of deposits (CDs), money market funds, bonds or low-risk ETFs and stocks.

Your goal in Phase 4 is to get back to owning very conservative stocks (your core holdings), money market funds, CDs and bonds. I advise selling stocks that aren’t paying dividends. If you need to be ultra-conservative, sell almost all of your stocks and invest in shorter-term bonds, CDs and money market funds. When you retire, your main goals should be not to lose money, and to invest conservatively.

One of the most important attributes that a successful investor must acquire is patience. The stock market can be a very frustrating place because of its unpredictability. Expect to lose money from time to time. Have confidence in your investment decisions. “If a business does well, the stock eventually follows. Our favorite holding period is forever,” stated Warren Buffett, one of the greatest investors of all time.

Until next time, be kind and friendly to everyone you meet.


J.Royden Ward
Editor of Cabot Benjamin Graham Value Investor

Editor's Note: You can find additional stocks selling at bargain prices in our new and improved Cabot Benjamin Graham Value Investor. Find out why our subscribers are showering us with compliments!

In every issue, you’ll find Roy’s legendary Maximum Buy and Minimum Sell Prices for over 250 well-known stocks. Just buy at the Max Buy Price and sell at the Min Sell Price—it’s that easy. 

Click here to get started today!

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