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The best investment advice I ever heard is not the financial advice you hear most often. Every time you turn around you get the same thing from finance professionals: start investing early in life and invest money whenever you can. That’s fine, if you were born with bucks. Most of us were not.

The magic of compounding is forever shoved at you for two reasons. First, the theory of compound interest can not be disputed. The amount of financial assets you accumulate will depend on three things: how much you invest, the rate of return you earn, and the amount of TIME your money has to grow.

Second, the investment industry wants you to invest money with them. That’s because that’s how they make money. The more you invest and the longer you invest with them the more they make in charges and fees.

That’s an obvious fact of financial life. But what is the best investment advice that anyone can follow, even if they’re not presently in a position to invest money. Invest some time and effort and get an investment education.

An investment education does not require a degree in finance from a major university. In fact, a finance degree has little to do with learning how to invest money as an individual investor. As a personal note, I left a major university with an MBA (finance major) years ago and knew little if anything about the stock market, bond investing or mutual funds.

Start investing as soon as you have your personal cash flow situation under control, with a cash reserve in the bank to handle emergencies. Then start investing money every month and earmark it for a longer-term goal. Examples: for a down payment for a home or for retirement.

Meanwhile, start your investment education and continue to learn investments as you start investing. Your age doesn’t matter. I’ve has retired folks tell me they’re too old to learn and too old to invest. Well, if you’ve got some cash you’d better learn to put it to work. And if you don’t you better figure out a way to set some aside.

Uncle Sam can not afford to take care of you. Neither can your present or past employer.

Start the learning process by concentrating on investment basics. No matter what your station in life, some investments are appropriate for you and some are not. For example, if you have financial problems and a negative cash flow, investing in stocks in an IRA or 401k should not be a priority for you.

Why? You need to concentrate on getting your financial house in order first. As you free up some cash you then need to start investing in safe, liquid investments like money market funds. Once you can see financial daylight you move into stocks and bonds and retirement accounts to get growth, higher income and tax breaks.

Your first lesson once you’re ready to invest money for longer-term goals: start investing in stocks and bonds with mutual funds. They handle the asset managing (picking stocks and bonds) for you.

Your second lesson: continue to do your homework. Investments and investing are not rocket science. You can learn the game if you start by learning investment basics first.

A retired financial planner, James Leitz has an MBA (finance) and 35 years of investing experience. For 20 years he advised individual investors, working directly with them helping them to reach their financial goals.

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