Investing 104: Low-Cost Investments, BIG Rate of Return

True or False…In order to net a significant return on investment you must “trade like the big boys” and invest a large sum of capital.

The answer, of course, is false. However, a little perspective goes a long way.

For most people who are new to investing, the axiom “it takes money to make money” generally means you have to invest large sums of capital in the stock market in order to see a large rate of return trading stocks. Potential investors who share this point of view typically ignore the world of penny stocks.

Penny stocks are stocks of smaller companies that are traded “over-the-counter” directly from brokerage firms.  Such stocks are issued by companies that either don’t have enough market exposure, don’t have enough capital (total assets) or have been de-listed from the NYSE because they lost their high credit rating.  This doesn’t mean that penny stocks are bad investments.  It simply means penny stocks are riskier investments because information about such companies is usually very scarce.

You can find most penny stocks on the newly revised Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB) now known as the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) or on most regional exchanges.  The new FINRA OTCBB has learning tools for beginning investors and industry leaders alike, as well as, the latest market industry news, fraud alerts, stock tickers for both the big boards and small/micro-cap (penny stock) investment options.  However, it still pays to do your homework before investing in any company’s stock. The best place to start is by reviewing the company’s quarterly Form 10-Q report, its annual Form 10-K report or their Form 8-K report which lists periodic events of significant importance as required by the Security and Exchange Commission (SEC).

It doesn’t take a ton of money to get started in investing especially with penny stocks. You could start either by opening an account with an online broker (i.e., TD Ameritrade, Etrade, Charles Schwab, etc.) or you could participate in a direct investment plans (DRIPs) where deposits are made into an investment account and stock is purchased once the account balance reaches sufficient levels to purchase stock.

Most people learn about penny stock through mass email submissions. Such emails play up the large financial gains a small investment in penny stock could yield. It’s not uncommon to read reports claiming gains of 100% – 900% increase in profits from their initial investment. While it is true that you can recognize big profits from a small invest in penny stocks, it’s important to remember three very important things when making such an investment:

  1. Invest like a speculator. Always keep in mind that you’re investing in penny stocks for the short-term. Your goal is always to make a quick return on investment (ROI) and get out ahead of losing any significant financial gains. This is where knowing how to read stock charts comes into play.

  2. Know how much you’re willing to risk. If you’re unwilling to accept losing your investment, then odds are investing in penny stocks is not for you because chances are you’ll lose more often than you’ll win with such risky investments.  The key here is know your limit and only invest as much as you can afford to lose.

  3. Know when to cut your loses. Because trading activity with penny stocks is so fluid, it’s important that you buy into a system to help track the movement of your high risk investment. The speculative investor is constantly monitoring his/her investment to know when is the right time to buy or sell due to the volatility of the market. Therefore, it’s important to know when to cut your loses and walk away from the investment. Know when to hold ’em and know when to fold ’em.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Investing 103: Proven Investment Strategies

As mentioned in my previous blogpost, “Investor 101: Are You a Speculator or an Investor,” there’s a distinct difference between a speculator and an investor.  Both risk their capital investing in the stock market in the hopes of extracting a reasonable rate of return on their investment; however, each apply different investment strategies to achieve profitability.

For the speculator, a combination of cyclical norms, such as buying stock in the fall of the second-year of a presidential cycle and holding until the end of the year or sell in May and re-enter in October, and chart analytics are the tools of the trade.  In this regard, the speculator is always attempting to time the market so as to adhere to the stock market axiom “buy low, sell high”. There are two fundamental problems with such speculative strategies:  1) your timing has to be right over 50 percent of the time in order to make any gains; and 2) you have to know when to pull out of a stock in order to limit your losses.  That’s not to say that such timing strategies aren’t effective. However, as indicated in this article from (“What? Some Proven Investment Strategies Are Too Simple to Accept?”), none of the speculative strategies work every single time.  Hence, knowing when to fold ’em is critical for the speculator as his bottom line can be significantly impacted if he is wrong on either end of the “timing chain”.  Pull out too soon and you could miss out on substantial financial gains.  Stay in too long and you may loss any gains achieved from the point of purchase.

For the investor, knowing when to buy is far more important than knowing when to sell.  As with any stock purchase, you want to get in as close to the ground floor (lowest buying price) as possible.  Why?  Because as an investor you’re looking to buy value at the lowest price and hold the stock for an extended period of time, generally no less than 5 years. Thus, value investing is your investment strategy with “buy and hold” as your guiding philosophy. The value investor looks at a company’s BIC – balance sheet, income statement and cashflow analysis – to find solvency, value, long-term growth and, of course, potential profitability in the company before making a stock purchase.  The value investor is, therefore, looking at stocks as a business owner and takes the long view on investing.

The basic tenet of investing is to make a good assessment of whether the value of the investment will increase regardless of which investment strategy you employ.  The key thing to remember is to do your research before you buy a stock.  Nevertheless, if you follow the four basic rules of investing and you’re able to keep your emotions out of the purchase or sell of any stock, you should see a reasonable rate of return on your investment regardless whether you’re in for the short or the long haul.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week when I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.





Investing 102: The Stock Exchanges

Recently, a small group of friends asked where they could find stock quotes. My initial response was “try looking in the Wall Street Journal,” but as our discussion continued I realized my they were looking for more than just the latest stock quotes.

Finding the right stock to invest in takes some research. But in order to get started you have to know precisely where to look. While most people have heard of the New York Stock Exchange or even the NASDAQ (short for National Association of Securities Dealers’ Automated Quotation system – I’ll talk more about this “exchange” later), few realize there are other stock exchanges in the U.S. The following is a brief summary of the nine major and minor (regional) U.S. Stock exchanges:

Major U.S. Stock Exchanges

  • The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE; aka, “The Big Board”) is the world’s largest stock exchange. It lists over 1,800 U.S. companies (most of which are major large-cap corporations) and conducts over $16.6 trillion per year in trading volume (on avg., $169 billion in trading per day).

  • The NASDAQ is considered the second largest U.S. stock exchange; however, it really isn’t a physical trading floor but rather is an electronic stock exchange serving primarily as a hub for brokerage firms who conduct stock trades online. The NASDAQ lists over 2,700 U.S. and conducts over $8 trillion in annual trading volume.

  • The NYSE MKT LLC (originally the American Stock Exchange but more formerly known as the NYSE Amex Equities stock exchange) is the third largest U.S. stock exchange. Companies listed here are usually small-cap corporations trading primarily in the options market and exchange trade funds (ETFs).

  • The Over-the-Counter Bulletin Board (OTCBB) is home for the “penny stock”. Companies listed here are either small start-ups with market capitalization under $75 million or companies that have been de-listed from the NYSE. However, don’t let their small market valuation or de-listing fool you. Companies listed on the NYSE MKT LLC are still considered viable players in the market place. These are stocks valued at below $5 per share, but don’t let their cheap prices fool you. Most Fortune 500 companies got their start on the OTCBB. Moreover, many novice speculators cut their investment teeth here. Some have gone on to make small fortunes of their own.

U.S. Regional Stock Exchanges

Of the fifteen or so regional stock exchanges across the country, the five largest regional exchanges are:

  • The Boston Stock Exchange;

  • The Chicago Stock Exchange;

  • The Pacific Exchange;

  • The Philadelphia Stock Exchange; and,

  • The Cincinnati Stock Exchange (which is a smaller version of the NASDAQ electronic stock exchange).

Stocks listed on regional exchanges are of local companies which for either economic or other reasons elect not to be listed on the major stock exchanges. Nonetheless, if you’re interested in sharing in the growth of a local company, there’s no better place to start your investigation into the strength of a local company’s stock than with your regional stock exchange.

And there you have it. Whether you have thousands of dollars to invest or just $50, know that you have several stock exchanges to choose from when attempting to make your fortune in stock trading. You don’t have to risk it all playing with the big boys on the big boards. You can start small while also gaining valuable experience. And hopefully, you’ll make a decent profit in the process.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Like me on Facebook and Follow me on Twitter.


Investing 101: Are you a Speculator or an Investor?

In what way do you want to participate in the buying, selling and potential profitability that can only be found in the stock market? Will you be a speculator or an investor? Answering this fundamental question before risking your hard earned dollars in the volatile world of stock trading is crucial to how you approach investing.

Speculating involves an exercise of reason. It requires having the ability to gauge the movement of the market at any given time and make well informed decisions on when to limit your risk on a investment security, in this case stocks. An investor, on the other hand, buys stock in a company with the expectation to exact a reasonable rate of return on his investment over a long period of time. The time frame is usually determined by years, not hours, days or months. In short, speculators seek large profits over brief periods, whereas, investors seek a reasonable yet gradual rate of return on their investment(s) over the long haul.

While there is the potential for significant profitability on either extreme, it is the motivation behind the risk that remains the allure for those willing to participate in the free market system. Thus, the question must be asked and answered, “Why are you participating in the stock market?” Is it for short-term gains or long-term profitability? While there is nothing that says you can’t attempt to do both, answering this basic question beforehand is crucial to limiting your risk while also reaping the rewards that comes with investing in the stock market.

So, how do you minimize your risk and assure a high degree of profitability? Start by keeping these four basic rules in mind:

  1. You must accept the fact that there is a high possibility that you may lose money in the stock market. There’s no guarantee of wealth attainment. Therefore, you must enter into investing with a clear understanding of how much capital you’re willing to put at risk and the very real possibility that you may lose your investment. But as the saying goes, “no risk, no reward”.

  2. Increase your knowledge about stocks and the stock market starting with the basics:

    1. What is a stock and why are they issued?

    2. How are stocks valued (priced)?

    3. Where can stocks be purchased and how do your place an order to buy (or sell)?

    4. How is a stock’s progress tracked or monitored?

  3. Study the business, the industry and market trends before investing. The more you know about the company, the industry in which it operates (i.e., retail, tech, manufacturing, energy, real estate, etc.) and the changes within the industry, specifically where new innovations are concerned, the better, more well-informed decisions you’ll be able to make concerning your investments. Knowledge is power! Three informative resources I’d recommend for beginners who wish to increase their knowledge on investing are: a) “How to Buy Stock,” by Louis Engel, b) the annual 10K report of the company you wish to invest in as filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and, c) the Wall Street Journal. The more you know about the company and/or the industry you wish to invest in and are able to gauge market trends, the better you’ll be able to make well-informed decisions concerning your investments instead of basing your decisions on emotions particularly during times of frantic market fluctuations.

  4. Know when to walk away. Knowing when to sell a stock is just as important as knowing when to buy a stock. This is different from attempting to “time the market” – jumping in or out at the perceived optimum time to buy or sell a stock. Many a speculator and investor have tried doing just that with mixed – if not disastrous – results. While it’s important to know when a stock (if not the market) is on an up tick (bull market), it’s also important to know when a stock (market) is on a precipitous downturn (bear market). Stock charts play a vital role in providing the speculator and investor alike with the insight they need to make timely decisions as to “when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em.”  You should cut your loses when the value of a particular stock drops no more than 8% below its highest price gain. Anything more and you risk losing significant gains from your profit margin.  Knowing when to cut your loses is key to minimizing your risk with any investment particularly in the stock market. So, take time to learn how to read stock charts and make them an integral part of your investment knowledge base.

By following these four basic rules of investing, you can minimize your risks and increase your potential for profitability for both the short- and the long-term. But you must first answer the most crucial question concerning your investment future: Are you a speculator or an investor?

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown


Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Like me on Facebook and Follow me on Twitter.


Automate Your Way to Wealth

Zebert L. Brown

Whenever I ask people what’s their #1 reason for not sticking to a budget, I normally get “lack of time” to manage it properly.  I then ask, “Have you tried automating your finances?” It’s at this point folks do that old “I Could’ve Had a V8” bonk upside the head thing.

In today’s busy world, it can be difficult to keep track of your spending especially if you’re still doing it the old fashioned way with pen, paper and calculator.  But if you automate your finances, your world will become a whole lot easier.  Trust me! 

I remember the first time I automated my finances using Direct Deposit back when it was the newest wave in banking.  At the time, I would receive paper checks because I didn’t trust the accuracy or timeliness of the Electronic Funds Transfer system.  But once I saw the benefits of it – no waiting in lines to cash my check and instant access to my money – I was hooked on the new banking technology and I haven’t looked back since.  I’ve even paid off three vehicles using auto-payroll deduction where the car payments were automatically deducted from my paycheck and my budget never missed it!

Today, there are multiple ways to ease the burden of maintaining your budget and you can increase your net worth in the process just by automating your finances.

  • Saving and Investing through Auto Payroll Deduction. The easiest way to get started in investing is to pay yourself first.  That means making regular deposits to your savings account.  But if making regular deposits into your savings account is a habit that remains elusive, you can take the strain out of the process by automating your savings using automatic payroll deduction.  The process is easy: Just contact your HR department, determine the amount of funds to be withdrawn from your pay each pay period, fill out the necessary paperwork and submit them to your bank, credit union or other financial institution and within a payday or two you should start seeing your savings increase.  You can also automate contributions to your 401(k) or IRA (whether Traditional or Roth) using auto-payroll deductions.  Not only is this a fast and effective way to increase your investment portfolio, you can also reduce your taxable income in some cases allowing more of your earnings to go into your bank account and less going to Uncle Same.  Once established, all you’ll have to do is sit back and watch your retirement nest-egg grow and grow and grow.

  • Online Bill Pay. Ever miss a payment on a bill and kick yourself for it?  You can save yourself the agony of watching all those late fees eat away at your hard earned income and stop kicking yourself in the butt in the process by paying your bills online.  In most cases, you simply log in to your creditor’s website, i.e., utility company, mortgage company, car finance company, insurance premium, etc., provide the appropriate account information and the payment is automatically withdrawn from your bank account or credit card.  The neat thing about online bill pay is you can either make a one-time payment or set up a payment schedule where a specific amount is withdrawn from your bank account at the interval you specify (i.e., once a week, bi-weekly, once a month).  There are three benefits to online bill pay: 1) your payment is usually processed within 24-hours saving you a late fee; 2) you save money on postage; and 3) you can stop or start the process, or change the payment method at your convenience.

  • Pros to automating your finances:

    • No hassle savings and investing.

    • Prompt payment processing

    • No late fees

    • Quick payment confirmation (usually via email)

    • Easy payment tracking (i.e., email confirmation, creditor’s website or banking app)

    • Saves time


  • Cons to automating your finances:

    • Easy to fall into that “out of sight, out of mind” mentality and forget to account for such deductions in your budget

    • Halting or changing payments made by auto-payroll deduction can take time for the required paperwork to get processed

    • An error in a payment amount could throw off your account balance and take time to correct

It’s important to monitor your banking statements and your budget in order to keep on top of your spending when automating your finances, but the pros far out-weigh the cons.  One word of caution:  You should automate your finances only when you’re absolutely sure your budget can handle it.  If your finances are tight and you’re still not comfortable with your spending being on auto-pilot, automating your finances may not be for you.  But once you get your finances on track and you start seeing consistent positive cashflow in your budget on a regular basis, I would highly recommend calling “All Systems Go” to automating your finances.

That’s my blogpost for this week. Join the discussion by posting your comments below. And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Going “Beyond the Debt Cycle”

Zebert L. BrownThere are several reasons people fall into debt – a job lose, severe illness or series injury, divorce, death of a loved one, poor spending habits or plain old careless with their money.  Regardless of the reason why, the question each person asks once they find themselves in debt is “how do I get out”?

As I read over the various blogs that cover personal financial management, each mentions the following as important first steps towards resolving your debt woes:

  1. Acknowledging that you have a debt problem; and,

  2. Start a budget.

Both are prudent first steps, yet both can be very difficult steps to take.

Most people who find themselves in debt are afraid to admit they’re having difficulty managing their finances properly.  Simply put:  pride gets in the way.  At our core, we don’t want to be viewed as a failure. However, by acknowledging that you need help managing the household finances, you’re seeking the assistance you need to think through financial matters that not only impact yourself but your entire family.  As explain in chapters 1 and 2 of my book (see byline below), your family should be involved in the budgeting process so that everyone understands your household’s financial situation  and helps to keep things on track.  But what if you’re single?  Where should you turn for help?  As mentioned in a previous blogpost, “10 Tips to Improving Your Financial Literacy,” agencies such as Consumer Credit Counseling, your local community college or your bank can all be of assistance.

Acknowledging you’re having difficulty managing your household finances may be easier than drafting and maintaining a budget, however.  The reason most people don’t like living with a budget is  they believe budgets are too restrictive.  I certainly use to think that way.  It wasn’t until my wife and I realized we were starting to miss payments to our creditors and beginning to bounces checks that we realized we needed to do something different about managing our household finances.  As we sat down with our bills, recent bank statements and our cash receipts and began the first rough draft of our budget, we began to see a couple of patterns emerge.  First, we were spending way too much on dining out (for lunch mostly).  Second, we were relying on memory to ensure one of us was paying specific bills on time.  Once we were able to see how negative spending habits and a lack of focus were hurting our bottom line, we were able to draft a well-constructed budget plan that took both our input into account. We also realized that we need to forecast our spending beyond the next paycheck to tackle any unforeseen circumstances that might crop up.  By forecasting our expenditures 3-6 months out, we were able to absorb added short-term expenses without significantly impacting our long-term financial goals.  And that brings me to a broader point concerning your budget:  it’s merely a tool to help you manage your money as you see fit.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Use your budget to help keep track of your earnings, expenditures and long-term financial goals.  I want to emphasize that last part.  I think it’s important for people to understand that your budget shouldn’t be a static document.  I should change as the circumstances of your life changes.  Furthermore, just because you may have to cut back and live within your means (or below them) in order to get your finances on track doesn’t mean you have to always go without.  You can – and should – incorporate leisure time activities into your budget plan. Such activities could be as inexpensive as planning a special family meal once a week or renting your favorite movies including everyone’s favorite snacks.  My point is, such leisure time activities don’t have to be extravagant.  Just plan ahead and be creative again taking input from your family.  Unfortunately, many consumers believe that “keeping up with the Jones’” – image – is more important than living debt-free.  To some, debt is just another part of life.  But I would argue that living debt-free is a better way of life because you’re in control.  Instead of being dictated to as to how to spend your money, you get to call the shots.  And wouldn’t you rather be in control of your financial future than having someone else control it for you?

Another aspect of your budget plan should be personal investments.  While most financial counselors suggest waiting until you’ve gotten your debts under control, I would suggest that you start by putting as much money as you can into an interest-barring savings account  and build up your savings over time when you can afford to save more.  The point here is to pay yourself first!  After all, you work hard for your money.  Shouldn’t you receive the benefit of its use besides just paying bills?

If you’re struggling with debt, take the first steps towards getting out of debt today by acknowledging your debt woes, seeking assistance and drafting well-constructed budget plan.  Try to forecasts your expenditures for the long-term, and don’t forget to include personal investments and leisure time activities into your budget plan.  Your family, your sanity and your financial future will thank you for it.

That’s my blogpost for this week.  Join the discussion and post your comments below.  And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps and a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations.  Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Financial Literacy…How Important Is It?

LeeHeadShot4   Financial literacy has quickly become the hot new buzz term in personal financial management, but what does it truly mean?

Financial literacy refers to having a basic understanding of how money works, as well as, how to apply knowledge and skills in financial managment to make well informed decisions concerning personal financial matters.  How you earn money, manage money, invests money or donate money to help others are all part of financial literacy.  The more knowledgeable you are about basic financial principles, the better financial decisions you are able to make.

In the wake of the Great Recession, there’s been a lot of finger pointing going on where people of all stripes have played “the blame game” where personal finance meets personal responsibility.  While it is true that many consumers acted irresponsibly taking on more debt than they could afford, it’s also true that commercial entities took on more risk than they could reasonable manage.  Nonetheless, this isn’t about whose more at fault for the present state of our nation’s economy.  It’s about what you can do to take control of your personal economy.  The truth is that for over a generation our nation has fostered a culture of consumption and debt, and that culture has led consumers to take on more debt obligations than they could reasonable afford.

I remember when I was in high school one of the mandatory courses I had to take as a senior before I could graduate was Government and Economics – or “civics” as some like to call it.  Aside from learning how our government worked, this course also taught the basics in financial management. I admit it hasn’t always been easy for me to apply those financial skills I learned back then in my every-day life as a consumer, but I do try to live by the sound teachings I learned from that mandatory course back in my high school days and I can honestly say that in applying those teaches I’ve managed to make a few prudent financial decisions along the way.

I say this to make a point:  financial literacy is something that has to be taught! You can’t just pick it up as you go along. Granted, certain aspects of financial literacy are rooted in common sense, i.e., don’t spend more than you earn, but true financial literacy requires having a keen understanding of various aspects of consumer finance, such as, how to properly calculate interest rates whether it’s the Annual Percentage Rate (APR) on a credit card, the interest rate on an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM) or simple compound interest earned on a savings account.  Knowing how to “do the math” properly can help you to make better buying decisions that are sure to affect your bottom line.

It’s a fact that wages have remained flat for many Americans. As such, our overall buying power gradually decreases over time with inflation.  Unfortunately, the only alternative many consumers have to made up the difference between what they earn and what they’d like to afford is to put more and more of their purchases on their credit card, or take out a home equity loan or a line of credit against their home.  Is there any wonder then why so many people are living paycheck-to-paycheck or that fewer households have anything in savings or that many ordinary people are unable to invest because they just don’t have the extra capital to do so?  The only way to change things is for consumers to return to using sound financial principles, and it begins with implementing one common sense practice – drafting a budget and maintain it regularly.

No matter who you are, what you do or what side of the economic divide you’re on every financial planner, credit counselor or tax accountant will tell you that unless you maintain a budget on a regular basis, you’ll never know where you’re money’s going, where the excesses are, what you can do realistically to cut back on expenses or how much of your hard earned money you can put to work earning you money.

Improving your financial literacy is key to becoming a better steward of our money and will also help you to make better financial decisions.  As you consider your financial literacy skills, ask yourself the following questions:

What steps have you taken to become more financial literate?

What’s the worst financial mistake you’ve ever made and what did you learn from it?

What’s the best financial decision you’ve ever made and how did the decision improve your net worth?

What advice would you give to your partner, spouse or child concerning how to invest in their financial future?

That’s my blogpost for this week.  Become part of the discussion by posting your comments below.  And don’t forget to tune in next week where I’ll once again share more ways you can break the debt cycle and then go…beyond.

Zebert L. Brown is the author of the book, Break the Debt Cycle in 3 Simple Steps He is also a 16 year Navy veteran with specialties in administrative management, career development and public relations.  Like him on Facebook and follow him Twitter.