Investment Basics: How Diversification Can Protect Your Money

by Gary Foreman

Investment Basics Protect Your Money photo

If you’re new to investing, you’re likely fearful you could lose your money. And you could. But there are steps you can take to minimize the chance of loss. Here’s a look at how you can protect your money from the unexpected.

You’re beginning to save a little money. You’d like to put it into the stock market. What’s your biggest fear? That the market will crash two days after you’ve made your investment! And it could happen. It’s not very likely, but it’s still possible. More importantly, no one can tell you for sure that it won’t happen.

So, how do you invest your money and still protect it from the unexpected? You use one investment to protect another. It’s one of the significant advantages of diversifying the ways you grow your money. Let’s see how it works.

How Diversification Can Help Protect Your Money

Suppose there was a severe drop in the stock market. Many investors would want to sell their stocks. But, they need to put the money they get from selling somewhere. The most likely place to reinvest that money is to buy high-quality corporate or US Government bonds. Why? Because they’re safe in recessionary times.

You can use this information to help you. If you own both stocks and bonds, a decline in the stock market will increase the value of your bonds. So what you’ve lost in your right pocket, you’ve gained in your left.

How about another example? Many of you are old enough to remember the inflation of the late 1970s. Prices went up one percent each month for a while. That was a really tough time for people who owned longer-term bonds. In some cases, they had committed to loan money out at 6 or 7% interest for years into the future. Yet, inflation was going up by twice that amount. So they were actually losing 6% each year. Not a very good investment.

But those same years were excellent for hard asset investments. Real estate, for instance, went up with inflation. There was no better investment for that period. You came through that period without significant losses if your portfolio had real estate and bonds.

What’s the point? The same circumstances that cause one type of investment to go down cause another to go up. So, by owning both, you have some protection against unexpected events. You don’t need to be able to see into the future. A portfolio holding different types of investments is ready for any future event.

How Diversified Should Your Portfolio Be?

In our last column, we discussed the different types of investments: stocks, bonds, hard assets, and cash.

The next logical question is how much of each should you own. And unfortunately, there’s no one right answer for everyone. But, on the other hand, it’s not as if one answer is right and all the others are entirely wrong. Even if you don’t have the absolute best answer, getting close should still be good enough to accomplish your goals.

A good, basic cautious mix is stocks 50%, bonds 25%, hard assets 10%, and cash 15%. If you’re younger than 50 years old, you might want to have another five or ten percent in stocks. If you’re retired, you’d want a little more in bonds. Don’t spend all your time trying to find the perfect blend. It’s better to get started and then fine-tune as you go.

Some of you are probably saying, “I can save about $100 a month. How do you split that up four ways?” Some investment apps allow you to purchase small amounts of stocks and bonds, but buying $25 worth of real estate at a time isn’t as easy. That’s where mutual funds come in. They are an excellent tool for people who can afford to invest a small amount regularly.

A mutual fund automatically spreads your investment around. You don’t own shares in just one company if you have a stock fund. You’re diversified over several companies. The funds allow you to reinvest your dividends and provide some nice record-keeping. And it doesn’t take thousands to start. Many excellent funds allow for initial purchases of $100 and add very small amounts.

There are several good mutual fund companies you can use. We won’t get into selecting one here except to say that you’ll want to check out each fund’s performance over a period of time, the sales charges (if any), and the expenses incurred running the fund. You can find comparisons of funds in many magazines.

Look for funds that invest in the area that you want. For stocks, you’ll see names that include “growth” or “capital appreciation.” Bond funds will often include “income” in their name. Hard asset funds will invest in gold, oil, or real estate. And your money market fund is good for the cash portion. If you think a particular fund looks interesting, it’s not hard to find out more about it. The prospectus will tell you what type of investments are being purchased in the fund. Read the sales brochure or contact the company. The better funds will be happy to answer your questions, no matter how dumb you might think they are.

So there you have it. The basic framework for a diversified investment portfolio for people who don’t have a lot of money. You can start with a small amount of money and still be protected from economic surprises. If you start now and add to your accounts regularly, you’ll see how quickly the money grows. Get started today. Years from now, you’ll be glad you did.

Reviewed February 2024

About the Author

Gary Foreman is the former owner and editor of The Dollar Stretcher. He's the author of How to Conquer Debt No Matter How Much You Have and has been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report, US News Money, and

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