No matter where you work, you probably hear it just like I do, “Hey, Derek, did you hear about XYZ stock? It’s value is up 25% this quarter alone. All the analysts say that it’s projected to keep going up. I’m definitely buying some, are you?” Oh, the good ol’ office talk. Gossip, boastful stories, and stock talk. Mostly, it’s just the guys talking about stocks, acting like we all know what we’re talking about, but in reality we all know very little about what stock values will rise and which ones will tumble. Even the experts seem to be wrong more than half the time, but yet we buy stocks based on hunches and then only talk about the winners and shrug off those picks that cost us dearly.

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When I speak of four investments, I most certainly am NOT talking about individual stock picks. I have played this game and was fortunate enough not to lose my shirt. Today, the wiser me knows that trading individual stocks is pretty much on par with playing video poker. We never really know what the next hand will be. We could get a winning hand or we might get a lousy one, but when we bet most of our money on one hand, the risks are simply too great to justify. No, my investments are somewhat less conventional and probably won’t be found in the Wall Street Journal. However, I believe these investments will lead to a very happy life – much more so than a few decent stock picks would anyway.

1) Index Funds

Road sign showing that the smart money lies aheadWhen I was studying finance at my state university, they taught me all about stock ratios, trading, and valuation, but I never once heard the term “index fund”. It wasn’t until I graduated that I heard the term and decided to look it up for myself. It turns out that an index fund is basically a mutual fund that’s modeled after a particular index, and it has extremely low fees – typically somewhere in the realm of 0.15% annually. Compared to the typical mutual fund that costs 1.0% or more, this is pretty stinking cheap.

Since there is absolutely nothing sexy or complex about this type of investment, many colleges choose not to dwell on it, but I have discovered that it is one of the most powerful tools to growing your financial portfolio. With index funds you can invest in the market and earn along with it, rather than trying to “beat the market” and lose like everyone else. By taking the slow and steady course, index fund investments almost always win in the long run.

2) Education

Graphic depicting education and training and how important it is to a person's development and career aspirationsThe second investment you should make is in your education. While I don’t necessarily think every job requires a degree, the marketplace has a different opinion. Since the supply of college graduates is huge and the job market isn’t growing at a fast enough rate, the new hires will likely have a college degree, even if the job doesn’t really require it. So, if you don’t want to get left in the dust and earn a measely $28,000 a year, you might want to get a degree of some sort – ideally in something that you’re passionate about. Graduate with a degree and your average earnings skyrocket to $45,500.

3) Self-Improvement

The circle of how personal growth worksIn a world of technology and digital communication, kids aren’t quite as socially developed as their parents or grandparents. I was recently in the salon getting my haircut and I overheard a young man saying that he was graduating from college soon. His voice was shakey, his eyes quickly darted from side to side when he spoke, and he made it clear that he was excited to use his degree and find a job. The stylist asked what his degree was in. I expected to hear something like accounting or engineering – you know, the majors for the socially awkward folks. Instead, he blurted out that his degree was in marketing. Whoa. I was taken off-guard. This kid had absolutely no idea how to even market himself, but yet he thought he was going to make big bucks by working for a large corporation? I certainly hope he does, but I highly doubt it.

That kid in the salon needed some serious self-improvement, but the truth is so do I…and so do you! We can all get better, and we should certainly do everything possible to improve on our current selves for the not-so-distant future.

Benjamin Franklin is one of the most well-known names in all of history. He had a brilliant mind from a very young age, but he was not always gifted in communication and was not very well-liked growing up. So, when he was 20, he thought of 13 virtues that he would like to excel in, and kept track of how well he did. As it turns out, Frankin’s form of self-improvement was incredibly successful as he later became a famous author, printer, politician, postmaster, inventor, scientist, and diplomat! I trust that you might want to work on yourself as well, no?

4) Exercise Tools

exercise and fitness words including run, walk, bike, calories, fat, and activityIt would be nice to have millions of dollars, a fabulous education, and a lovable personality, but if I was not healthy, would I really be able to enjoy these blessings? If I had plenty of money to travel, I would certainly love to do so. However, if I weighed 500 pounds and needed to carry an oxygen tank around with me to breathe, then life just wouldn’t be all that fun.

While a 500 pound example is pretty extreme, many of us do things that we know will lead to unhealthiness. Some of us smoke, others of us drink exessively, and many of us get nowhere near the 30 minutes of exercise that our bodies need to stay strong into our old age. If you want to enjoy your wealth, then I would suggest purchasing a good pair of walking/running shoes, active wear, and maybe even a membership to your local gym. Don’t be afraid to buy the tools necessary for you to exercise effectively. After all, how many of us would like to add five years to our life? If given the option, I’m sure we all would welcome another five years of life.

If you want a brighter future, invest in these four areas of your life. I bet you won’t be sorry you did.

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Derek Sall

Derek has been writing about personal finance for five years at LifeAndMyFinances.com. He absolutely hates debt, which is why he owns his car and his house free and clear and suggests that everyone else do the same. His equation is simple: get out of debt, save money, and be rich!
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