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Fund Your Future: Winning Strategies for Managing Your Mutual Funds and 401(K)

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Financial planner and broker Julie Stav took the world by storm with her PBS financial series and New York Times bestseller Get Your Share-showing women how to strike it rich in the stock market. Now she speaks to everyone-men and women, young and old, new and seasoned investor alike.

In this updated edition of Fund Your Future, Stav shows step by step how to set financial goals and examine your current investment plans to determine if you are investing as profitably as ...

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Overview

Financial planner and broker Julie Stav took the world by storm with her PBS financial series and New York Times bestseller Get Your Share-showing women how to strike it rich in the stock market. Now she speaks to everyone-men and women, young and old, new and seasoned investor alike.

In this updated edition of Fund Your Future, Stav shows step by step how to set financial goals and examine your current investment plans to determine if you are investing as profitably as possible. Her signature blend of supportiveness and expert practical advice takes the fear out of investing and puts the roadmap to riches within easy reach.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
Julie Stav has a welcome message: Financial planning -- with its confusing array of acronyms, numbers, and technical terms -- is, in fact, a skill we can all acquire with a modicum of effort. Stav, the author of the bestselling Get Your Share, speaks from personal experience -- as a divorced schoolteacher, she was forced to stop ignoring her financial situation and start planning for her young son's future. Putting aside her fear of numbers, she took control of her own money, eventually becoming a successful stockbroker and financial planner.

Fund Your Future was written for people who want to have access to the benefits of investing but don't want to take big risks or feel compelled to readjust their investments every day. Stav begins by guiding readers through the basics (coming to terms with your financial picture, setting goals, determining your needs) and then focuses on two potential vehicles -- mutual funds and company-sponsored 401(k) plans. Her advice is straightforward, accessible, and sure to be appreciated by entry-level investors who need to master the basics. One added bonus of the book is that Stav also talks readers through the process of using the Internet to get reliable information.

Above all, readers will appreciate the positive and encouraging message that inspires Fund Your Future: You can enjoy life while also making smart decisions that will help guarantee your financial future. (Sunil Sharma)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780425196052
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 6/1/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.08 (w) x 8.94 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Julie Stav, a financial planner and broker, was born in Cuba and came to the United States as a teenager. She is the founder/owner of Retirement Benefit Systems, a financial planning firm in California, and also runs a network of investment clubs. She has appeared on Lifetime's New Attitudes and ABC Eyewitness News, and has appeared numerous times on ABC's The View.

Get Your Share and Fund Your Future have been developed into television series and are currently airing on PBS.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One: Before You Can Get Where You're Going, You've Got to Know Where You Are!

When it comes to money, before we can figure out where we are going, we have to figure out where we are. Do you know where you are in terms of your finances? How much money do you have available to invest? How much money do you really need to reach your goals?

"Whoa! Hold on!" you say. "How can I even consider these questions when I have no money to invest and no way to save any?" If that sounds like you, then we're going to make a little bet. I bet that after you finish the next section, you're going to find that you had more money than you thought. Ready?

Show Me the Money

Our goal here is to identify your most obvious sources of hidden money so that you can begin to apply what's in this book.

1. At the end of each month, after you pay all your bills and right before you get your next check, do you have any money left?

a. If your answer is yes, what do you do with it? If you save it, are you happy with its rate of return (the interest you are earning on it)? If you are not, circle that amount. This money is a possible investment candidate.

b. If your answer is no, you are probably forgetting the most important monthly bill you have: you! We all tend to live up to—and sometimes even a little beyond—our means. Can you remember the last time you got a raise? It probably either got sucked into the vacuum of bills due, or it seemed to fade into your lifestyle. Usually, the more money we make, the higher our standard of living . . . and the higher our monthly bills.

If you pay yourself first—let's say 10 percent of your take-home pay, every single paycheck—chances are you are still going to cover your monthly expenses as you did before. You may not even miss the 10 percent. Do it. Make it happen. You are your most important financial responsibility, and it's time you take the proper place you deserve: first place! Next paycheck, make out that first check for 10 percent in your name and deposit it into the investment account you are going to start soon. Better yet, do it on payroll deduction directly into your account. We may have already found some money!

2. Are you currently saving or investing money on a regular basis? What is your rate of return in this account (how much money is your money generating for you)? Are you happy with its performance? If you're not, circle this amount. If you are happy with its performance, we will still have a use for it later on. Keep it in mind.

3. Do you have a retirement account sitting somewhere? You'd be surprised how many people have taken the first step toward financial freedom by opening an IRA account or participating in their 401(k) at work, only to let their money collect dust at a rate of return of 2 percent or 3 percent because of the uninformed decisions they have made. If this sounds suspiciously like what's happening to you, circle this account.

4. And this one is a doozie: Do you get a tax refund at the end of the year?

a. If you don't, do you have to pay penalties because you didn't pay enough during the year? If so, keep reading.

b. If you do get a refund, how much is it? What do you use that money for? (I had a client who overpaid her income taxes by the amount of her car insurance. It was her way of making sure she had the money ready when the bill came in June.) If you are waiting until April each year so you can get some money back from the taxes, you overpaid. Do you realize that you are giving Uncle Sam an interest-free loan by using the IRS as a savings account? How much interest did you earn on that refund money while it sat in the government's coffers during the past year? Yep, you got it: zilch, zippo, nada. Circle the amount of your refund.

I know many of you look forward to getting your tax return. You think of it as freed-up money. ("Yeehaw! $3,000. I can take a vacation!") But, in fact, that $3,000 represents money you loaned to the government—interest-free.

So here is your first tip: If you get more than, say, $300 back as a refund, or if you find yourself paying penalties because you didn't pay enough, call the person who does your taxes. Ask how many withholdings you should be claiming on your paycheck each pay period to enable you to pay your taxes in full by December 31 and perhaps even get a small refund. Once you know how many withholdings to claim on your paycheck, go to your payroll office and fill out a new W-4 form. This is the official way to tell your payroll office how much money to withdraw from your paycheck and send to the government on your behalf. In your W-4 you will fill out the number of withholdings your tax person advises. This action will reduce the taxes you pay out of your paycheck every pay period and free up more money for you on a monthly basis, ensuring that you do not owe taxes or any penalties at the end of the year. What you have just done is redirect some money to you rather than have Uncle Sam keep it until April when you do your taxes.

The ideal situation is to have you come out just even. (By the way, if you set up an automatic savings transfer from your payroll directly to your investment account with the extra money you were sending to the government, come next April, you will have your refund amount plus the profit from interest on that refund available to you!)

5. Now, what about your little "secret stash"? Yes, don't look at me with that innocent face. Most of us have a little money socked away for a rainy day, money that nobody knows about. Draw a secret circle around that one, too! If you're going to hide some bucks, you might as well make them grow!

6. Do you have change in your purse or pants pockets or scattered around your car or office? Get a coffee can. Every night, right before you get to bed, empty your coins into the can. You'd be surprised how much money you can accumulate at the end of each month.

7. Are you holding on to old life insurance policies, stocks that were passed on to you by well-intentioned relatives, your children's savings bonds? Can you vaguely remember where you keep them? Get them out and dust them off. You may have found the beginning of your investment nest egg.

8. Tidbits here and there: Is there any other possible source of money I have not asked you about? Look in your file cabinets, shuffle through your desk drawers, and rifle through old tax returns. Have you forgotten anything?

9. Now comes the killer question: Is there anything you can do to save more money than you are currently saving?

If this sounds like I am forcing you to put yourself on a budget, let me tell you a story that may help you look at things a little differently.

Most people think that they have to start from ground zero to begin saving money. Wrong! Sometimes it's simply about looking at the money you already have in a different way.

Twenty years ago, I was at my lowest point financially. I had a mortgage, a four-year-old child to support, a low-paying job, and no savings. I imagined that I had no money to spend on anything. So, poor me, I used to spend lots of time every weekend going to swap meets "just to look" at all the delectably tempting junk. Who knew when I might uncover a truly worthy piece of furniture or china? Then I realized that I was spending quite a bit of money on my seemingly innocent weekend pastime—about $1,000 a year, to be exact! That's nearly $100 per month! When I saw that I could move that $1,000 from the cashier's box at the swap meets into a mutual fund account instead, and in a while, afford to buy that furniture or china new, I was willing to budget just a bit.

At this point, I probably win the bet: You have learned where you have money you didn't know you had. Good! You've already completed the first step in my system. Now you know where you are. Later on in this book, I am going to show you how these hidden assets will make a big difference in bringing you closer to your investment goals.

But first you need to figure out where you want to go with what you've got. That's our next stop on your moneymaking journey.

Fund Your Future by Julie Stav, Copyright © November 2001, The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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Introduction

Have you ever thought about your financial goals and how much money you would need to accomplish your dreams? What are those dreams, anyway? Is it to send your children to college, to buy a house, to help your parents financially, to be able to stop working for a living?

Are you putting away enough money for the future? How is your 401(k) performing? How do you choose among the investment choices you are given? Is it better to buy individual stocks or mutual funds? Or should you invest in an IRA or in a two-year CD? And by the way, what the heck is an IRA or a mutual fund, anyway? Confusing? You bet!

I used to think about my financial future and get so overwhelmed that I would end up fantasizing that I won the lottery. With the jackpot in mind, I would let my mind drift, and I would list the many ways that I would spend the money: a new house, a trip around the world, a shoe collection that would make Imelda Marcos jealous. I'd bargain with my fairy godmother, promising to donate half my winnings to her favorite charity if she would just be so kind as to give me that lottery. Then, when the inevitable happened and some other (clearly less worthy) soul got the winning ticket, I would be back to where I started, wondering how in the heck I was going to manage to fund my future. Can you relate?

What's the difference between people with no money worries and you? What's the difference between you and people who can afford to send their kids to college, pay for their lavish weddings, and still live out their own retirement dreams?Okay, maybe some of them inherited millions from Great-Grandpa Moneypenny, but the majority were probably once like you. They workedhard for their money, too, putting in all the hours, attending all the meetings, dealing with all the crazy demands, and working all those weekends. And they also probably walked around with that nagging little voice in their head questioning the stability of their financial future.

The real difference between them and you is only this: They set financial goals and committed themselves to an investment course that would enable them to reach those goals. Bottom line: They took control of their financial future. And you can, too. You don't need to hire some expensive, big-shot financial planner. The truth is, there is no one who has as much vested in the outcome of your financial planning as you do. So it makes sense that you should be in control of your money. Who else knows what is important to you, how much money you need, and how much risk you're willing to take to reach your goals?

If you're like a lot of people who blindly follow the recommendations of a financial advisor or flashy money guru without taking the time to learn the basics and keep abreast of your investment choices, at some point or another, you're bound to find yourself up the proverbial creek, paddling madly to get a grasp on your finances. But as long as you have taken the time to learn where you want to go with your money, you should have no trouble funding your future and living out your dreams. It's simply a matter of evaluating your personal circumstances, figuring out your goals, assessing your investment temperament, and choosing the right investment options.

After that scary-sounding list of to-dos, some of you might be getting a little intimidated right about now. Numbers were never your "thing," and the thought of burying yourself in a sea of numbers or investment terms feels as exciting as a visit to the dentist. Why can't these experts just speak English? Why can't they lighten up with all those secret agent spy codes-401(k), 403(b), W-4, IRA? Why does it have to be so confusing?

I used to be intimidated by financial and stock market lingo, too. Fancy terms and big numbers made my head spin. Following the unwritten rule that "girls are good with words, boys are good with numbers," I took pride in my flowery essays while my brother got As in algebra. Well, guess what?Money is green; it's neither blue nor pink.

When I really buckled down and tackled the stock market and mutual funds, I realized that we really don't have much use for all those fancy terms and numbers anyway. A calculator, a magnifying glass (why they make those numbers so small is probably part of the plot to intimidate us), and a solid determination to turn gibberish into serious cash is all we need to begin to see our money multiply, even while we sleep. Talk about being financially powerful! In my first book, Get Your Share, I tried to educate and motivate anyone who wished to participate in the stock market but who didn't know where to begin. We started with the very basic principles of what a stock is and why and how a company issues shares in order to raise money to expand its business. Through humor, analogies, and just plain talk, we studied the state of the market in general to determine the most advantageous moment to invest in a stock. We looked for a hot sector, a hot industry, and the hottest companies within that industry that potentially have what it takes to be the biggest and most profitable companies of tomorrow.

We were like race car drivers: We knew where we wanted to go and made sure we had high-performance individual stocks to get us there. We looked under the hood to confirm that our car had the horsepower to outperform the tough competition. We made sure all systems were go, and when the time was right, we stepped on the gas at full throttle, fueled by the anticipation of success and the thrill of the race. Sure, there was some risk involved, but that was part of the excitement-and the potential gains made it all worth it.

But some of us don't want to be race car drivers, especially when the track suddenly veers off a cliff. It's a lot of work to stay on the road. You must always be ready for the unexpected. Decisions need to be made quickly, and if you make a mistake, you can get hurt-as anyone who spun out of control in the high-tech crash of 2000 will recall. High performance comes with high maintenance.

Car racing is not for the faint of heart and neither is playing the stock market. It takes discipline and hard work to choose the best stock, buy at the right time, and know when to cut losses or cash in profits.

Many investors enjoy the daily work and get a rush watching their stocks perform. And the stock market is not just for the affluent or high-powered money brokers. Nor do you need a degree in economics. In Get Your Share, I showed readers that we all can benefit from the stock market-even so far as to invest on-line with no minimum outlay. With as little as twenty dollars, we can open a brokerage account and begin trading, applying the same sound principles the bigwigs in fancy offices and designer suits use with billions of dollars. Or we can form investment clubs, where fun and finance mix as well as chocolate and peanut butter.

But I know that many of you still feel left out in the cold. You wish you could have access to the potential gains that individual stock ownership can provide, but careers, family commitments, busy lifestyles, aversion to risk, or perhaps just lack of interest have kept you from getting involved in the stock market. You want to go places, but you don't want the high-speed race.

Well, let me put your mind at ease. In Fund Your Future, I will show you how you can arrive, refreshed and relaxed, at your financial destination by letting others do the driving for you in a car built for comfort, endurance, and fuel efficiency. I will show you how to profit by investing in the stock market through the use of mutual funds. Mutual funds constitute a powerful basket of money collected from regular people like us and invested by the mutual fund company, which then buys and sells individual stocks on our behalf. With mutual funds, we get to be the passengers. Mutual fund managers do what we don't want to do. They watch our money on a daily basis and make the necessary adjustments to our accounts to stay on course. We just need to know how to pick the mutual fund that is going our way, taking the route we want to take, and going at the speed we want to go.

And speaking of choices, many employers offer 401(k) plans. A 401(k) is a company-sponsored, pretax retirement plan. Lots of us have access to incredible returns through mutual funds in the retirement programs our employers offer, and yet we don't have a clue as to how to profit from them. In this book, I am going to teach you how to work that money hard by making the right choices within your 401(k) plan as well.

But before we fasten our seat belts, we have to take a look at your starting point. We have to evaluate your current financial position in order to chart the best course. After all, there are several lanes on the road to success. Then we need to make sure we know what your destination is, so we can set specific financial goals. Whether you are planning for retirement, looking to buy a new home, seeking to resolve credit card debt, or starting a college fund for your kids, we need to determine how much money you are going to need.Once we know where you are going, using your time frame and tolerance for risk as the starting point, I will help you make the best investment choices. If you don't know a stock from a bond and get baffled when you try to balance your checkbook, don't worry. What I'm about to teach you is not complicated. And it is never too late to learn.

I used to be like many of you. I thought I could largely ignore my financial situation until tomorrow, or next weekend, or whenever I could manage to sit down and figure it all out. But then I drove into a pothole. The pothole came in the form of a divorce that left me a single mom. Money was tight. I felt completely responsible for my young son's future, and I didn't want to rely on someone else's resources for our financial well-being. For the first time in my life, I began to balance my checkbook. Every penny counted.

One day, my sister-in-law told me about a book about money, written by a woman who explained investments in a way everyone could understand. Out of sheer necessity, I put aside my fear of numbers and bought the book. And it changed my life.

The book was Money Dynamics, by Venita VanCaspel. It may be out of print today, and the tax and investment laws have changed since it was published, but the real message I walked away with from that book is the same message I would like to instill in you: We do not choose whether or not to play the money game. We all have to. But we do have the choice to learn to play it smart, regardless of our formal training, race, age, or financial status. Ms. VanCaspel, a woman I've never met, taught me that you don't need to use fancy terms and complex logarithms to set clear goals, establish a financial plan, and evaluate it along the way. Through the use of tables and a handy calculator, I was able to discover the magic of compound interest, and I began to feel in control of my financial life. I would put my four-year-old son to bed at night and sit at the kitchen table to devour the information I knew I could use to ensure a bright future for us.

I was so determined that I decided to start all over and begin again at step one. With my sister-in-law's guidance, I stopped teaching full time and joined the financial planning company for which she worked so that I could learn more about this new world. I started at an entry-level position, but I worked and studied and took the tests to become a stockbroker, and before I knew it, I understood what it took to make money in the stock market.

But how was I going to get clients? A stockbroker without clients is like a party with no guests. So I decided to marry my training with my passion. I was a stockbroker, but in my heart I was still a teacher, so I approached my business from an educational point of view. I held meetings in schools and then in local libraries, and with a lesson plan in mind, I made sure that those who attended my seminars walked away with at least one piece of information they didn't have before. I wanted to tempt them to learn more and to hire me as their financial consultant at the same time! I offered to guide them, not making the investment decisions for them, but showing them how to make those decisions for themselves.Before long, I could not keep up with my workload. It was then that one of the seminar attendees said, "Julie, why don't we start an investment club?" It sounded like fun, although quite honestly I had only a vague idea of what an investment club was. And that's how my business grew beyond my wildest dreams. People of all ages were calling my office because they, too, wanted to be part of an investment club, where with as little as twenty dollars a month, they could learn together how stocks and mutual funds could contribute enormously to their financial lives.

Today, I am happy to say, many new investors have joined the ranks of successful, active traders and mutual fund holders because they have found that the best way to maximize their returns is to learn how to invest in the stock market and in mutual funds.

Just as I have done with those thousands of new investors, now I will share with you how to develop your best investment strategy using all the tools we have at our fingertips today. I'll show you that with mutual funds, your money can work as hard for you as you work for your money.

Mutual funds are like shoes; one size does not fit all. With my special system, you'll learn to choose from among the more than twelve thousand mutual funds out there. You will also discover how to choose those mutual funds that will keep you within your personal range for risk tolerance so you can sleep well at night. I'll show you how to finally understand those statements you receive from your mutual fund companies so you understand where your money is going.

Most importantly, you will learn how to monitor your investments so that you can make sure you're on track with your financial goals. As you approach your financial goals, you may find that you want to adjust your strategy; we'll figure out how to do that together.

I'll show you how to accumulate a nest egg and how to make your nest egg last you for the rest of your life. And you'll be happy to hear that while you are building that nest egg or that account that's going to fund your dreams, you will be able to have a life as well, free from what you may consider the tedious and scary task of keeping up with financial newspapers and daily stock quotes.Those of you who have a 401(k) at work and, like many, made your investment choices based on the recommendations of the well-meaning person seated next to you in the lunchroom, will find a wealth of information in this book. You'll learn how to maximize the funds in those accounts and make the most profits. I want you to realize how far this basic knowledge can get you, and how your employer and Uncle Sam can both help you achieve your dreams.

In Fund Your Future I will teach you how to take control of your financial future so that you don't have to keep fantasizing about hitting the lottery. Instead, you'll be able to enjoy your life while your chauffeur-your mutual fund and your 401(k)-follows the course you have mapped out. You'll get to enjoy the scenery along the way and arrive safely at your desired destination: financial freedom!

It's time to begin our new journey together. Fasten your seat belts; it's going to be a fun ride!

Fund Your Future by Julie Stav, Copyright © November 2001, The Berkley Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

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Interviews & Essays

Author Essay
Are you afraid to take a look at your mutual fund or 401(k) statement lately? You are not alone. Most investors are cringing as they watch in disbelief the shrinking numbers on the bottom line.

Let's face it, when the stock market is going up, mutual fund holders are generally satisfied with the profits from their accounts. But when the market takes a turn for the worse it really pays to know if you are holding on to a fair weather friend that has buckled under the pressure in the past or a diehard fund that has held its own even on shaking grounds.

You don't need a doctorate in finance to find out how your mutual fund is likely to react during trying times. One of the handiest tools to assess if your fund's nerves are made of steel is provided by Morningstar, Inc, a reporting company that publishes monthly mutual fund reports on the Internet, free of charge. You may also find Morningstar Mutual Fund Reports in most public libraries.

If you want to find out how your mutual fund has fared in the past during a down market, here is what you need to do:

  1. Find the "nickname" of your fund, called a ticker symbol, which consists of a group of letters. This symbol uniquely identifies each mutual fund.
  2. Look up the mutual fund report for your ticker symbol by entering its letters in the "ticker" box at www.morningstar.com or looking it up in the hard copy reports in your local library.
  3. Once you find the report for your fund, look for the section on Volatility and find the Bear Market Decile Rank, a number ranging from 1 (best) to 10 (worst). This number will tell you if your mutual fund has held its value during bad market conditions. The smaller the number the more stable the fund and the less ground it has lost during bad times.

A Bear Market Decile Ranking of 1 means that the fund has held its value during a downtrend in the stock market. A whopping ranking of 10, means that your mutual fund has experienced the equivalent of a freefall ride at an amusement park in the past. A high ranking does not necessarily mean that you have the wrong fund, but it does mean that when the going gets tough, your mutual fund is going to succumb to the pressures.

How has your fund performed during the past 12 months, what has been the average return of your fund during the last three years? If you find that the excitement of the good times does not match or surpass the agony of the bad ones, perhaps it is time to kiss your fund goodbye. (Julie Stav)

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