How to Invest in the World's Most Precious Commodity: Water

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When asked what the world's most precious commodity is, most people would rattle off guesses from a list of the usual suspects -- things like gold, platinum, oil or diamonds. However, there is a commodity more precious than any of those, one that has the potential to rise in value dramatically over the next decade, and one that you can easily invest in.

If you want to know what it is, just watch any episode of a survival reality show. Whether it's "Man vs. Wild," "Survivorman" or even "Naked and Afraid," the first thing the TV survivalists do after assessing their situation is to look for this precious commodity -- clean, drinkable water.

We need water to live. The average person can last up to six weeks without food, but according to Dr. Claude Piantadosi, a professor of medicine and pathology at Duke University, the longest you could expect to survive without water is about 100 hours. And of course, water also is needed to grow the produce and raise the livestock we eat. It cools our cars and industrial machines. It keeps us clean and is essential for processing our waste. Essentially, without enough water, society as we know it ceases to exist.

Though almost 71 percent of the Earth is covered with water, 97.5 percent of it is salt water, and two-thirds of the fresh water is locked up in polar ice, leaving less than 1 percent of all the water in the world useful for society's needs. Fundamentally, that limited supply is the reason water prices could float much higher in the future.

Californians have seen the cost of their water go up dramatically due to increased demand and a long drought. The state's Department of Food and Agriculture estimates that if the current shortage isn't addressed, it will cost California as much as $2.2 billion in lost crop and livestock revenue in 2014 alone, as well as 17,000 seasonal and part-time jobs.

Investing Down Under or Via ETFs

The idea of water as a speculative investment recently got a boost from the launch of Waterfind, an Australian futures exchange for trading in water. Since the exchange went live in late March, more than 16.5 billion liters of water have changed hands through its online marketplace. Though that's a drop in the bucket in terms of global water reserves, it is still an important symbolic step in the commoditization of water as an investment vehicle.

But you don't have to live in Australia or learn about futures to add water investments to your portfolio. Some American exchange-traded funds offer exposure to companies and entities whose success rises and falls with the price of water.
  • PowerShares Water Resources Portfolio (PHO) is the biggest and most popular of these ETFs. Consisting of mostly small and mid-cap companies that produce products to conserve and purify water for business and industry, it includes well-known names such as American Water Works (AWK), Flowserve (FLS) and Toro (TTC).
  • PowerShares Global Water Resources Portfolio (PIO) is similar to PHO except that, per its name, it has a more global focus. Though American companies make up the largest allocation, the United Kingdom, France, Brazil and Japan are also well-represented.
  • S&P Global Water Index ETF (CGW) includes domestic and international companies and is half water utilities and half water equipment and materials companies.
  • First Trust ISE Water Index Fund (FIW) holds a global portfolio of companies that earn their revenue from the potable and wastewater industry, 90 percent based in the U.S.
Brian Lund's blog offers more on personal finance, the stock market, investing and the secret to eternal life.

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How to Invest in the World's Most Precious Commodity: Water
Most of us spend a ton of time researching our options when we first sign up for a plan or policy, then forget all about it and make monthly payments like a robot. But this can cost you.

If you've been on the same cell phone plan for a while, or you haven't looked at the terms of your insurance policies (home, life, auto) since you got them, it's time to do a review. Your circumstances may have changed, and new plans or deductions may have come out since you first signed up. Call up customer service (or your agent) and have them walk you through your options if you're having trouble comparing things on your own.
One of the biggest budget sucks is our own forgetfulness. We miss payments and incur late fees because we've misplaced our statement or didn't manage to get our mail out in time. We fail to save as much as we'd like because we just never remember to do it.

The easiest way to save yourself some money (and hassle and stress) is to set it and forget it. Sign up for auto-pay so your monthly bills are automatically deducted from your checking account. Have a certain amount automatically transferred each month from your checking to your savings account. Remove the human error factor, and your budget will be better for it.
We charge so much nowadays -- whether on credit cards or debit cards -- that it's easy to spend a lot of money without really registering it. When you have a set amount of bills in your wallet, however, it's extremely easy to see how much you've spent so far this month and how much is left.

Take those budget categories of yours -- groceries, entertainment, etc. -- and turn them into real, physical envelopes. At the beginning of each month, put that month's allotment of cash into each envelope. When you're running low, you'll know you need to be careful with your purchases. When you're out, you're done spending on that category till next month.
If you're prone to impulse purchases, imposing a waiting period on yourself is an easy way to break the cycle.

For large purchases, a 30-day waiting list is best. Write down the item that's calling to you, then wait 30 days before allowing yourself to buy it. You may realize in that time that you don't need it after all. Or you may forget why it called to you in the first place.

For smaller impulse buys, like that fancy new product you spotted in the grocery aisle, follow a 10-second rule. Before the item can go into your cart, spend 10 full seconds asking yourself if you really need it and how you will use it. Simply analyzing why you're getting something can disrupt the siren call of a product.
It's all too easy to blow $5, $10, even $20 on something, whether it's an extra meal out or a coffee on the run. In the grand scheme of things, it "doesn't seem like much" to us. But if you start thinking of your money in terms of the time it took you to earn that money, suddenly you find yourself evaluating your spending choices a little closer.

Figure out what you make per hour if you're salaried (if you're hourly, this will be easy). Let's say you make $15 per hour. For every $15 you spend, you'll have to spend another hour of your time at work to pay for that item. A coffee a day for a week can cost you an hour or two. And bigger items, like that flat screen TV you're eyeing? You get the drift. Framing purchases in light of time spent can help you make sure something is worth it.
In the end, a budget is simply a means of making sure your money is working for you. It allows you to see how much you're brining in and allocate it towards the things that are most important to you. If you can hold those bigger goals in mind, everyday budgeting becomes easier.

If you're wondering whether or not to buy something, ask yourself if that money would be better spent towards your big goal. Put a visual reminder in your wallet to keep you on task-like a photo of a sandy beach if you're trying to save up money for a trip. Viewing your budget in terms of what it will allow you accomplish-not the things it won't allow you to buy, can revolutionize your spending.
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