Don’t Let Yourself Lose $125,000

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Word to the wise: This post is long, and details how to set up an IRA to help you be rich when you are old. If that does not interest you, I would recommend not bothering to read this post.

My Old Roommate

Recently, I got a text from my old College Roommate. He was looking for some investment advice (no doubt he came to me based on my awesome previous post: How to Get Free Money and Retire a Millionnaire)

Kris: “Who do you have/who would you recommend for an IRA? I’m finally gonna start one”

Me: “Congratulations! That’s a good move. I use fidelity because they are so easy to use. They are 100% online except for a few physical stores. The other one I’ve heard good things about is Charles Schwab”

Then, he dropped the bombshell that made me realize I don’t know as much about opening retirement accounts as I should. I can tell you what to do once you have one open, but I’m a bit clueless beforehand, apparently.

Kris: “Any thoughts on Ameritrade? It looks like fidelity and Schwab both have a minimum investment that I’d rather not spare right now”

That’s fair, right? After all, you absolutely, positively should not wait until you have $2500 to invest in your future, which is what we thought Fidelity required. Hell, you shouldn’t even wait until you have the $1,000 that Charles Schwab requires. How much should you start investing with?

I’ve spoken in the past about the power of the 401(k), but now I’m going to talk about the IRA (Individual Retirement Account). Kris works in a profession where he might not be with the same company for 5 years, or even 1 year. It makes sense for him to start an IRA – 401(k)’s are only useful if you get an employer match. So, if your employer doesn’t match (give you free money) your investments in a 401(k), your best bet is an IRA.

You should start your retirement account with any amount of money you can spare. Shoot for $50.

That’s right. Start your account with $50. That’s it. Seriously.

  • Next time you want to drive 300 miles. Don’t. (You will save $50 in gas)
  • Next time you want a video game, rent one instead. (You will save $50 on a game)
  • Next time your friends want to go out for the night, decline, or suggest a party at home (Your savings will vary based on your typical consumption of Alcohol and Food)
  • Ask your parents for $50 to open a retirement account. Seriously. They will appreciate your forethought. 
You get the point.

Who Do You Send your Money To?

Got your $50? Good. Now we’re going to send it to someone. This person will safeguard it, and watch it grow, every year, until you are a rich old man, then they’ll give it back to you. 
This person is known as a “broker”. You’ve probably heard of a lot of them: Charles Schwab, Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, Scottrade, E-Trade, and about a zillion others.
To save you some time, I did the research for you and broke it down. If you don’t want to read through the details: The Winner is Scottrade, with Fidelity in a close second place.
I looked at 5 factors for each brokerage house.
  1. Minimum Amount to Open a Roth IRA – this is very important
  2. NTF Mutual Funds
  3. NTF ETF’s
  4. Stock Trade Commission
  5. SmartMoney Customer Service Rating


  • IRA: Individual Retirement Account. This is an account you open that lets you save towards retirement. There are two types of IRA Account: Traditional, and Roth
    • Traditional: You put money in your account. You don’t have to pay taxes on this money. However, when you pull money out (when you’re an old rich guy), you pay taxes on it then.
    • Roth: You put money in your account. You pay taxes on the money before you put it in. However, when you pull money out (…old rich guy), you don’t pay any tax. This is what we’ll focus on.
  • Mutual Fund: Your best friend. Mutual funds (and their cousins the Index Fund) invest in a whole bunch of stocks, bonds, currencies, and sometimes other investments. You buy into the fund, and you get a share of the gains, losses, and dividends. This is a great way to “diversify” your portfolio without buying 50+ individual stocks
  • ETF: Exchange Traded Fund – this is like a mutual fund, but they made a stock out of a bunch of stocks. You may by one share of an ETF, but it’s kind of like investing in 2,000+ stocks at the same time. They do the work for you.
  • NTF: stands for No Transaction Fee. Usually, there is a fee to invest in a mutual fund or ETF. NTF funds don’t charge this fee up front (which can be $75 or more!)

How do they Stack Up?


Minimum to Open an Account: $0
NTF Mutual Funds: >3,100
NTF ETF’s: None
Stock Trades: $7
SmartMoney Customer Service Rating: 4/5


Minimum to Open an Account: $0
NTF Mutual Funds: 1,300
NTF ETF’s: 80
Stock Trades: $9.99
SmartMoney Customer Service Rating: 4/5

TD Ameritrade

Minimum to Open an Account: $0
NTF Mutual Funds: <1,000 
NTF ETF’s: >100
Stock Trades: $9.99
SmartMoney Customer Service Rating: 3/5


Minimum to Open an Account: $0
NTF Mutual Funds: 2847 (as of 3/19/2013)
NTF ETF’s: 65
Stock Trades: 7.95
SmartMoney Customer Service Rating: 3/5

Charles Schwab

Minimum to Open an Account: $1,000
NTF Mutual Funds: >1,000
NTF ETF’s: >100
Stock Trades: $8.95
SmartMoney Customer Service Rating: 3/5
Those are the big brokerage houses – in some cases, your bank may offer a Roth IRA. I do not recommend this, as you can usually only invest in a very limited number of places. You want flexibility here.

The Winner is: Scottrade
Though Fidelity comes in a close second
Honestly, it’s hard to go wrong with one of these brokers. Go to their websites, see which one feels best for you (personally, I found Schwab’s website to be painfully difficult to navigate) and go with it. If you hate it later on, you can switch it up (though for simplicity’s sake, you shouldn’t)

How to Start the Investment

Open an Account

Go to the website of your preferred broker.
Click on “Roth IRA” – usually tucked under a section called “retirement”
Click on “Open an Account”
They’ll take it from there.
I know I I’m holding your hand through that process, but I want to make sure you have EVERYTHING you need.

Choose a “funding source”

When they ask for a source of funds-this just means where will your money come from – you should enter your bank account information – account number and routing number. You should have your account number…and your routing number can usually be obtained from your bank website, or from the bottom of your checks if you have check writing available.

Choose your base investment

I want to make this easy for you, so the simple option is what I’ll present first. If you want to make more complex investments, then I’ll provide some resources for you, but you’ll have to do your own homework. E-mail and let me know if you’d like a more in depth view of complex investments done here.

The Simple Option: Buy into a Target Date Fund. You take 65 minus your age, then add that number to this year. So, for me, I would say:

Now, a quiz. If you were presented with the following options for funds, which is correct for me:

  1. Target Date Fund 2035
  2. Target Date Fund 2040
  3. Target Date Fund 2045
  4. Target Date Fund 2050
  5. Target Date Fund 2055

Correct Answer: Target Date Fund 2050. You could say 2055, but 2050 (earlier) is more conservative.

Try it for yourself, now!
YUR + 2013 = Target Date Fund for You

Got your date? Good. Now go find the fund that is just for you.

Investing like a Pro (Not Recommended for most)
For a more detailed primer on how to invest your money, I have 4 sources for you:

Growing Your Investment

You’ve done the hard part! Yay!
Now comes the easy part. Figure out how to automatically deposit more money into your account. This can be via direct deposit from your employer, or via a monthly draw from your bank account. Find a way to make it automatic, though. That way, the computers will keep investing for you, and you won’t have to rely on yourself to remember. 
$50, $25, $10, whatever you can afford – you should invest it.
You’ll set up two moves, actually:
  1. $50 automatically transferred (or, ideally, direct deposited) into your account at the start of every month (right after pay day)
  2. $50 automatically invested into your fund of choice

A Word of Caution about Automatic Investing

You need to ensure that your fund allows automatic investing (most target date funds should), and confirm a second time that there is no fee for investing. It’s pointless to invest $50 in your fund if it will charge $75 to do so. A little homework here goes a long way.

When you look at your fund, look for a section called “fees”, and ensure there are no transaction fees. There will also usually be a section marked “automatic investment allowed?” and “automatic investment minimum”. Confirm that automatic investing is allowed, and that the minimum is not too high (again, it will usually be $0)

My Favorite Fidelity Fund has a $0 minimum
for the “Automatic Account Builder”

What are you Waiting For?

If you truly don’t have the $50 to spare right now, then find a way to save it. But if you do (and don’t try to fool me, most of you have way more than $50 to spare right now), then now is the time to start your IRA. 
You don’t want to be Poor When You Get Old, so now is the time to start investing.
Being poor as an old man sucks

 If you wait 5 years (based on investing $50/month for 10 years, $6,000 total), then you are missing out on $50,000

$50,000 can buy a lot of Viagra and prune juice!

Health + Wealth + Love = Happiness

I’ve spoken briefly in the past about Health, Wealth, and Love. I’d like to expound upon this concept now.
A lot of you have heard this phrase, or a variation thereof at some point, but it is one of those phrases that we tend to let roll off our backs. We hear it, but it doesn’t sink in. Kind of like…
  • Fall 7 times, get up 8
  • Dance like there’s nobody watching
  • Experience is the best teacher
  • Work smarter, not harder
  • Think outside the box
  • Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today
These are phrases that, if you were hearing them for the first time, would probably provide some inspiration, guidance, or at least simple advice. Many were profound when they were first said, but they have since reached ubiquity, and are part of that dreaded class of phrases called “cliche”
Here’s why Health, Wealth, and Love should not become a cliche. We can guide our lives by this simple principle:

You need health, wealth, and love, to be happy. Any can pull the others up, but any can also pull the others down. 

Before we get into how we can use this principle, I’d like to give a brief definition of each – at least, this is how I define them for myself.


Arguably the most important, and the most often ignored feature of this triad of happiness. Health refers to physical health, of course, but also mental health. 

Physical Health

We all have physical ailments which are detrimental to our happiness. Perhaps we are overweight, have a chronic disease or acute disorder. You may have diabetes, scoliosis, halitosis, tuberculosis, or any of the other dreaded “-osis”‘s. You may be 10 pounds overweight, or 300 pounds overweight. These are all detrimental to health, and detrimental to happiness.
You may be in peak physical condition. You may run a marathon every month, eat a healthful diet, be at your body’s optimal weight, have lower than normal cholesteral, an athlete’s blood pressure, a strong ticker, huge lung capacity, a sharp mind, and be in the top 0.01% of physical specimens in this human race. These are all pro-happiness, and provide a great platform to develop even more happiness.
Odds are, you fall somewhere in between. We want to be closer to the second example than the first, and the closer we get to the first, the harder it becomes to be happy.

Mental Health

When most people hear mental health, they think that as long as they are not hearing voices which tell them to burn things, that they are healthy mentally. I’m afraid we all have improvements to make to strive toward peak mental health.

I define mental health as our ability to cope with, and be comfortable with, our situation. This ties in self-esteem, self image, confidence, positive vs. negative self talk, adaptability, and a host of other concepts. Additionally  some will suffer from depression, schizophrenia, delusions, voices, etc.

I will tend to focus on the non-clinically diagnosed disorders.


This one seems pretty simple, right? More money = more happiness.
Well, not quite. There is pretty much a similar belief among those at any level of wealth that “If I just had more money, I’d be happy”. The truth is, more money rarely equals more happiness. What really matters is the perception of wealth. 
There are hundreds…maybe thousands of travel hackers out there who don’t have a particularly large amount of money, but they can game the system to live like they are wealthy. They can travel the world and stay in luxury accommodations without having the wealth we imagine is necessary to do so. To me, wealth means flexibility – by having enough money saved, I have the options to do what I want, when I want.

I can’t go buy a lamborghini, but you know what? I could probably go rent one. 

For me, wealth focuses on the financial stability that affords higher flexibility in living than the typical person has. For some, this will mean simply increasing the number of dollars in their bank account. For others, this means spending wiser, or saving for retirement so they can have a fun retirement. I will be focusing on all the aspects that can be necessary to increase your wealth, by increasing your income and living options, reducing costs, and growing your fortune by saving/investing.


This is simple. More Sex = More Happiness.
Just kidding. Love refers specifically to relationships. There are a number of different types of relationships we can focus on:
  • Sexual
  • Romantic
  • Friendship
  • Family
  • Business
  • Mentors
I choose to focus on all aspects of the relationships in our lives. Each relationship we develop is important to our love (and in many ways, to mental health), and our happiness. While many strive for sexual and/or romantic relationships, this doesn’t mean we should neglect our other relationships in our search for a romantic partner.

This can be dragged down by social awkwardness, shyness, and fear. We will look to conquer those negatives, and build up our ability to be a social center, a strong relationship partner (romantic and otherwise) and an outgoing, fun loving person.

Don’t worry Introverts – you can be outgoing as well. As someone who tends toward introversion myself, I will not forget about you. I understand the power of introverts, so I will be speaking to you as well.

How does it all tie together?

Well, it’s simple. Think of each of the three aspects of life tied together with rubber bands. It’s possible for one to be higher than the others, but as one starts to skyrocket, it can pull the others up with it. Vice Versa, as one starts to plummet, it can pull the others down with it.
  • If you get very ill, your earning ability and flexibility drops, and your ability to maintain relationships also drops
  • If you lose your job, and spend all of your savings, it becomes difficult to maintain your relationships (they can be expensive – all types) and you might not be able to afford the proper medical care – your physical and mental health begin to decline.
  • You go to school and develop a rock start network of friends. You are in constant contact with them, and they help you in your quest to find your dream job which increases your wealth, and your mental health
  • You get a raise at work, and can now afford to go out on some dates, so you begin developing more relationships. You can also afford higher quality food, so your nutrition and physical health increases
And all three, taken together, make up your happiness. So, as each facet begins to increase, you actually can get a three fold increase in happiness (and vice versa). 

How do I use this information? 

Well, simply being aware of the facets of your life is a huge step toward maintaining and increasing happiness. Very often, one or two of these factors are much lower than they should be, but we don’t even realize it. As a result, we are being held back from being truly happy. Identifying that you physical health is in decline, or that you have destroyed a number of your relationships will allow you to begin repairing them.
Your tasks are simple right now. Simply be aware of these facets in your life. If you are being kept from doing what you truly wish to do, then your wealth is suffering. If you are bored on a Friday or Saturday and have nothing to do, then your love might be suffering. If you are filled with self-doubt, or are out of shape, then your health is suffering.
Then, look at what is going well, and figure out how it can help pull up your other elements. If you are making a great salary, but are out of shape, then go see a nutritionist and physical trainer. If you have tons of relationships, but cannot afford what you wish to do, maybe your network can help you get a higher paying job (this is called networking). 
You get the picture. And on this blog, I’ll be focusing more on how to increase each of your life elements. By focusing on only these three factors, you can take control of your life, increase your happiness, success, and turn your existence into a truly fulfilled life.
Stay Tuned.

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