Q: If I don't know much about stocks and don't have much money, how should I start investing?
- - M.M., Tampa, Fla.
A: Begin by increasing your knowledge until you feel comfortable putting some of your hard-earned dollars to work for you. Don't jump in blindly.
If you end up deciding that you don't want to study and carefully select stocks or mutual funds on your own, your best bet is probably to sock your long-term money into a broad-market index fund, such as one based on the Standard & Poor's 500. Learn more at www.indexfunds.com and www.fool.com/school/mutualfunds/mutualfunds.htm.
Q: How can I track my portfolio online?
- P.W., Syracuse, N.Y.
A: Many online services offer portfolio tracking - try AOL, for example, or Yahoo Finance. At such sites, you can enter the various stocks and funds you own, the prices at which you bought them, and the purchase dates and commission costs. From then on, you can check in anytime to see the latest value of your individual holdings, as well as your total portfolio. Many brokerages, on their Web sites, will show you the value of the assets they hold for you in a similar fashion.
Your payroll professional calls a meeting and explains the company's 401(k) plan. Your eyes glaze over, hearing confusing words such as aggressive growth, bond, gold, emerging growth, international, value and money-market funds. You haven't a clue what to do, so you do . . . nothing. You are not alone. In 2004, about 21 percent of those eligible for 401(k) plans did not participate in them. It is not as complex as it looks, though.
Here are some tips:
Born in Boston in 1986, I pioneered the office-supplies superstore concept, aiming to offer small businesses the low prices that large companies were getting at the time. Today, I rake in more than $18 billion annually from my 1,900 stores around the world, and from my Web site and mail-order catalog. My typical store carries more than 7,000 items, while my Web site offers tens of thousands. My stores also offer UPS shipping and built-to-order computers. My stock has appreciated roughly 15-fold over the last 15 years, and I began paying a dividend in 2004. Who am I?