Stick it to The Man…with investing

the man
…with investing

Let’s get back to basics today with some simple action points covering everything you need to get started with investing in the stockmarket.

I’ve been an active investor for the last 17 years and I’ve a learnt a lot during that time.

I have to tell you that most people are doing it wrong.  This applies to life generally but to investing in particular.

The biggest and most common mistakes when it comes to investing are:

1. Not saving and investing (enough) in equities (shares)

2. Trying too hard to beat the market

3. Short-term gambling rather than long-term investing

4. Over-trading

5. Getting fleeced on costs

6. Getting paralysed by complexity

Investing means thinking long-term in the expectation of being rewarded for patience. That is very different from short-term gambling. Forget those “Trade your way to riches” seminars. They are only profitable for the people selling them…for the novice traders and customers not so much.

Active investing is filled with many paradoxes, distractions and traps for beginners and people that are not prepared to put in the time and effort to truly understand what they are doing.

The good news is this. There is an incredibly easy way to invest smartly in equities that means you will consistently outperform most investors, whilst spending little time or emotional energy.  That is to invest passively by index tracking.   Index trackers allow you to own a fund that holds shares in the big publicly traded companies of the world.  This spreads your risk and means that you own a stake in the largest and most successful businesses in the world.

Once you own a broad equity index tracker, the entire capitalist system is working for you.  You are no longer the sucker, in fact The Man is now your bitch.  All those CEOs, middle managers and worker drones, turning up every day to factories, offices and warehouses around the world are working so that their companies can pay you a share of their (growing) profits.  They keep on working even while you are asleep.  You don’t have to watch over them – you have people to do that for you.  If they don’t turn up and work for you, they get fired.

This is power but not exploitation – they are given the same chance to be free that you are.  The capitalist system is the most productive and the least unfair that mankind has ever been able to devise.  Unfortunately, most people choose to squander their money on shit rather than own enough of the system to achieve freedom.

When considering index trackers, there is just one fund management company that stands out from the rest. That company is Vanguard.  This is no secret to the small cadre of people in the FI community.  However it amazes me that, out there in the wider world, most people have not even heard about equity investing via Vanguard index funds / ETFs.

Why Vanguard?

1. The company is owned by you the customer (i.e. investors in Vanguard funds).  Thus, Vanguard have no incentive to screw you.  No other large fund management group is set up in this way.

2. Their costs are the lowest. The entire business model is set up around the objective of minimising costs.  When they can reduce fees, they do.

3. Their ethics and ethos compare favourably to many other firms in the financial services industry.  The founder, John Bogle, has arguably done more for investors to democratise investing than just about anyone else in history.

4. They are big. They are one of the largest fund managers in the world and their products are widely available in Europe as well as North America.

Thanks partly to Vanguard, costs have come down. Although other fund management groups sometimes offer funds that may appear slightly cheaper, those other funds groups do not have the alignment of interests with investors that Vanguard’s unique ownership model provides. They will sometimes publicise a cheap product to draw you in and then try to sell you other stuff.

Our time and mental energy is limited. We must allocate these scarce resources ruthlessly.  In my opinion, it’s not worth the effort to try and save costs beyond the low fees already offered by Vanguard.

Let’s cut to the chase.  Here is all you need to know to get started:

1. Equity investing allows you to own businesses and capture the growth in the economy over time. It’s what rich people do.  Its often an important part of how they got rich.

2. Open an account with a cheap, execution only online broker (or platform). Personally, I use The Share Centre (they offer a free practice account so you can try them out with no risk, no cost).  You can use the excellent Monevator table to compare and consider others.  Use tax efficient accounts e.g. ISAs.

3. Invest a regular amount each month. Use a Vanguard global equities index tracking fund (see examples here). Pay yourself first, investing on automatic pilot straight after your salary hits your bank account.

4. Hold for as many years as possible (forever is good), trading as little as possible.

5. Never sell (or stop contributing) during a market panic.  You will never need do so because you are smart, live within your means and always keep a cash emergency fund to hand just in case.

People will tell you its more complicated than this.  Be warned that financial services providers, the mainstream financial media and their advertisers will try to scare you and sell you more complex and expensive stuff. It’s what they do.

That’s it.  You are now good to go.  You can certainly make things more complicated than this…but, before you do, are you sure it would justify the time, cost and effort involved? 

Remember, the most fun things to do in life have nothing to do with money.

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  1. nice introductory take on the whole “how do to it” approach to equity investing. I’ve got a dozen or so individual stocks, but after getting my fingers burnt on one of them I’ve been leaning increasingly into the Vanguard Lifestrategy funds for the last 18 months or so.

  2. paullypips · · Reply

    Mistake number 4 got me. I thought I was clever always buying the best performing funds of the past “X” years (as invariably advertised in the financial press/money sections of newspapers).
    My number one piece of advice is…don’t do it! Fund charges will suck the lifeblood from your savings.
    I really wish that I had discovered this years earlier.
    Next advice is…buy Vanguard trackers and forget them as recommended by T.E.A. and other excellent FI writers.
    An excellent blog many thanks for your efforts, it’s nice to see a new (to me anyway) and British FI site.

    1. paullypips

      Many thanks for your comments – you can do your bit for Britain and its fledgling FI movement by forwarding a link to this site to any friends / family you think would enjoy it…spread the word – it is the patriotic thing to do.


  3. Jamie Sampson · · Reply

    First of all, great blog! I’m literally going through all of your posts with a fine tooth comb. So many nuggets of gold.

    I’m 26 and want to get serious with equity investing. I have just started to put 50% of my wages in a Vanguard Lifestrategy fund (60% equity 40% bonds). I just wondered what your views are on this product? I know Monevator has written a favourable article about them.

    I thought this approach might be a better start for me than individually picking a few EFTs.

    I would be grateful for your views.

    Many thanks!


  4. Ken Adkin · · Reply

    Hi Barney. You recommend opening an account with a cheap, execution only online broker. My question is if Vanguard’s charges are so cheap why would you need to go through a broker?
    I’m fairly new to FI and am currently absorbing all the advice out there.
    Cheers, Ken

  5. Great blog …and UK based!
    A quick question on this article – would you hold all of your investments with Vanguard? As the pot grows larger and I approach FI, I am worried about eggs and baskets, so have started buying similar trackers with other providers.
    What’s your thinking here?

  6. John Smith · · Reply

    MG: have a quick read of this post –


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