In the theme of Christmas and the spirit of giving, I have used the past two weeks leading up to Christmas to count down the 12 Days of Christmas in all their Foolish glory. In my rendition of this Christmas tale, you didn't hear about turtledoves or French hens but were instead treated to great ways to save money in 2013, and were told tales of CEO gaffes galore.
In the previous "Foolish Days of Christmas," we've looked at:
For a final time, I ask you to sing along with me: "On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me ..."
The one thing you must do to be a successful investor in 2013!
Unfortunately, there is no holy grail to investing that says, "Do this, and you will be successful." Being a successful investor takes hard work, persistence, and a desire to succeed. Therefore, the one thing you must do in 2013 to succeed is invest in yourself!
It may sound corny, and the idea of putting in hours of research behind a computer might seem like the type of torture I experience while picking out a pair of shoes, but there are multiple ways you can effectively invest in yourself. Here are a few examples:
Buy into companies paying dividends. This is one that I can't stress enough, as dividends are (in most cases) recurring on a quarterly basis and a sharing of a companies' profits with shareholders. Although dividends are taxed, it's still one of the closest things to free money on Wall Street. I made a pledge earlier this year that this would be the year that I paid myself, and I've added quite a few dividend-paying companies since then. Dell and France Telecom , which I highlighted on Friday as real-money contrarian purchases, are yielding 3% and 9.7%, respectively, based on projected yield and look very cheap on a forward earnings basis. My royalty trust, BP Prudhoe Bay Royalty Trust , is yielding north of 10% and I suspect will rebound as oil prices keep higher over the long run. Even Bank of America , which was the best-performing stock in the Dow Jones Industrial Average this year, chipped in with a 0.4% yield for me this year. Every little bit helps!
Add to or start an IRA. You'd think by the simple fact that I've mentioned this in four of the 12 Days of Christmas that I'd think this was important or something! With contribution limits of $5,500 annually in 2013, traditional IRAs or Roth IRAs give you the ability to let your money grow tax-free while you get the choose whether you want an upfront tax deduction for your contribution, or if you'd rather pay higher taxes now in favor of paying no taxes on any capital gains distributed after the age of 59.5. On day seven I highlighted seven great companies that could get your IRA started, including Intel , the microprocessor leader that looks poised to become the hardware supplier of choice for cloud-computing servers and data centers.
Max out your 401(k) contribution. Perhaps this is one that I didn't emphasize enough, but if your employer offers a 401(k) match in any way, form, or shape, and you aren't taking full advantage of it by maxing this out, then you're leaving free money on the table. In addition, 401(k) contributions are completely tax-deductible (trust me, the government wants you to save some of your money for retirement!), so it will reduce your income come tax time.
Stop thinking about tomorrow. Stop trying to time the bottom of every company you like and selling your winners that are up 10% after a few days, and think about how compounding growth and dividends could grow your investment over the long term. About a year ago, my Foolish colleague Morgan Housel ushered out a series of articles that demonstrated the performance of tried-and-true blue chips versus the S&P 500 over the long term. Adjusted for dividends, many of these names grew by literally thousands, or even tens of thousands, of percent -- and even more if the dividends were reinvested.
Educate yourself. You can't play the game if you aren't willing to pay for the game ... in time, effort, and dedication. I'm not a terribly big fan of the Peter Lynch truism of "buying what you know," as I think there are plenty of great unknown companies that make fantastic investments out there, but I do believe you need to understand every facet of a company first before you buy, or short-sell, for that matter. You should, in theory, be able to tell a child what it does and why you like it -- and if that can't be done, it's back to the books!
Take a vacation. You heard me. I'm giving you a free and clear conscious to take a vacation. As much as I love the stock market -- and my friends will tell you I never shut up about it -- I even need time away to clear my head and enjoy the real world now and then, and so should you. Make time for family and friends, because there's more to the world than just investing!
And with that brings to a close the Foolish 12 Days of Christmas. I hope you've enjoyed this series as much as I have.
If the spirit of giving is still rushing through your veins, then I encourage you to check out our Foolanthropic charity, Charity: Water, and help as many children and people as possible get clean drinking water.
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The article The 1 Thing You Must Do to Be a Successful Investor in 2013 originally appeared on Fool.com.
Fool contributor Sean Williams owns shares of Dell, France Telecom, BP Prudhoe Bay Royalty Trust, and Bank of America, but he has no material interest in any other companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, track every pick he makes under the screen name TrackUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.The Motley Fool owns shares of France Telecom, Bank of America, and Intel. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of France Telecom and Intel. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.