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November 12, 2007

The Investment Diaries

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I procrastinated — first for a week, then six. What if I bought all losers? How could I choose between similar-sounding mutual funds? What kind of treasury bonds did I need? Fortunately, I had an MBA friend who owed me for editing his grad-school application essays. In an hour-and-a-half on a rainy Sunday, he answered my questions, listened to my loose framework of a strategy, and showed me how to put it into action. He helped me find funds that got me exposure where I wanted it (some emerging markets, a mix of domestic stuff) with fees a fraction of what I'd always paid. For the first time, I felt like I actually understood something about investing — that win, lose, or draw, I had allocated my money in a way that made sense to me.

All my financial life, I'd assumed that money managers had some preternatural power to outsmart the market and keep my precious net worth from deteriorating. But I've learned that, at least at my level of investment, superpowers are an illusion. I don't need a get-rich-quick scheme, I need a return that mirrors the market and, with luck, does a little better now and then.

I've got big plans for my money — soul-expanding trips, retirement, and college for my hypothetical kids should I ever get my love life sorted out. For now, I'm comfortable working toward these goals on my own, being fiscally responsible for myself. Though it always helps to have an MBA friend on speed-dial.

Check out The Marie Claire Guide to Getting Ahead
The game of life? Win it, easy. How to put your bank account and your career in fast-forward.


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