Typical Stock "Screener"
I’ve got the “bug.” Bad.
You see…I opened a little bitty Scottrade account on a whim. Just a few hundred, nothing big, to see how the other half live. On a Lilliputian scale.
And now, I’m hooked.
There I sit when I should be doing laundry or grading papers or writing…staring at the little “real time stocks” app watching the colors change from red to green to red to green ’til the market closes.
I watch that little app change colors the way blue haired elder women sit watching the little animated numbers and pictures spin on those newfangled slot machines--or waiting for their bingo numbers to come up.
There’s one slight difference. I make money. Every day. Even in these weird financial times.
Here’s the thing. You know how they tell you that daily Starbucks or restaurant lunch will add up to serious money over time? I’m making just about enough to cover those daily indulgences each day. And it does add up. And I get to keep that money.
Move over Mr. Buffett, there’s a new chick in town.
Yeah, right. And those of you who have been doing this all your lives and know all there is to know can just piss off back to the bank right here. This is for people like me, who didn’t know, didn’t wanna know, and then smugly watched friends who did know lose their retirement savings when the market tanked and decided we were better off not knowing.
But after just a few weeks of this…I could kick my own ass for not doing this sooner. Like, when I was my daughter’s age. But better late than never.
So let me back up and explain how I got a little extra cash to dabble in the market—it’s quite a unique little “love” story.
A few months ago, an old Chicago friend informed me that they state of Illinois had a site called “Cash Dash” designed to help people find unclaimed sums of money left behind by loved ones. And because he’s cool like dat, he put my late mother’s name in the little window and up she popped.
But the state would not disclose amounts over $100, and apparently she had left a little more than that. To get the full total, I would have to apply--a very tedious process which I think was made to be tedious quite deliberately to discourage an avalanche of claims.
If the person who left this money behind is deceased, you need a Social Security card, proof of an Illnois address which must match the one on the account.…things like that. I had a birth certificate to prove I was related. But I wasn’t sure if I'd kept any bills or a voter registration card from her Chicago days. And I knew her SSI number, but…the card? I just wasn't sure I'd kept it.
And then…I remembered that carried her purse home in my arms the night she died and put it away in a closet without removing anything at all. It smelled of her peppermints, perfume and face powder. It still does. She’d been fanatical about that old beat up black leather purse—it went everywhere with her and she would not replace it no matter how hard we begged.
She was also one of those “half-packrat” babes, who held onto damned near everything. I used to say that she should’ve been on that game show where Monty Hall would run up and down through the audience offering ladies big bucks if they had a particular item in their purses. There was nothing he could’ve asked for that my mother wouldn’t have had in that purse. My friends and I counted on her for everything from gum and bandages to screwdrivers. Yes, screwdrivers.
She even had a little thing that looked like a compact powder container, until you opened it and found all these nested rings with a little round container in the middle. When you raised the largest “ring” firmly, it tugged the other rings up to create a little cup. The container was for pills. I cannot tell you how many times we needed that damned cup.
Unfortunately, given this, watching her find Monty’s money item might’ve been a bit embarrassing. I can see Monty’s face reddening as she removed all the various feminine hygiene items to get to whatever he’d asked for. But she would’ve won, believe me.
But because of this, I knew the purse would save the day. And it did. In fact, I learned a lot just from the weird little scribbles she’d made in her address book as her eyes failed her. Things like where almost every member of the family in Chicago and beyond was buried, plot number and all, and everyone’s birthday—if I’d checked that purse first, I might not have needed Ancestry.com to fill in those gaps in the family history.
I copied, notarized and sent all the paperwork for this potential windfall fully expecting the amount to be about $101 and some change. We had very painstakingly moved her accounts when we moved her West, going to each bank in person at her insistence.
She didn’t trust these newfangled computer things. Or even a phone call. We had to see the transaction happen and count the zeroes on the transfer paperwork carefully. So I was sure it couldn’t be much.
You already know. It was ‘way more that $100. It was almost $4000, in the form of a totally forgotten CD that she must not have found a place for her address book. There was a section for “bank accounts,” but she probably didn’t think a CD belonged there. She could be anal that way. Obviously.
The first thing I did when the check arrived was upgrade her gravesite. I hadn't wanted the permanent flower vase at first, but whenever we visited her grave I regretted that. So I felt as if this little windfall was Mom saying, “Okay, enough with the guilt--get on with it, wouldja?”
Then, I bought another CD in her honor. My daughter will know where to find it and how to get hold of it. But I intend to reinvest what it earns every six months, so that she can have a little nest egg to remember me by, too.
And finally, I opened a $500 account on Scottrade--the only reputable site that will let you open an account for so little. And I actually bought stocks just to see if I could do it. I did this because I have never forgotten an old beau who used to get monthly checks from the stocks, bonds and bills he bought with a the first few paychecks from his first and very high paying “right out of college” job.
The day I bought them, every one of them closed higher. And I was a goner.
Right now, having bought some of the most reliable stocks by adding to that account each week, I’m finding “top gainers” for under $10 a share that have big potential by using different screeners. They're more volatile, so I'll need to watch them more carefully than the others, and sell wisely.
I didn't know what any of that meant a few weeks ago. Now, in my spare time, which I have more of after retiring, I love studying all that stuff. And I've used it pretty wisely so far.
So here are some of the things I've found for fellow novices who might just want to give it a try, too.
Newbie Tools and AdviceTo get "educated" about all the stuff on those screens, here’s a site that teaches you the basics of trading via video in a “user-friendly” way. They explain things without jargon or mystery acronyms, so you’ll feel more confident and prepared when you dive in:
They want you to sign up for the “advanced” series later of course, but…the free series will do ‘til you find the right online brokerage firm which will have lots more educational videos, articles, etc.
Next, here’s the The Sivy Seventy from Money Magazine, which I used to choose the first stocks I wanted to buy and which remains one of the best lists of all:
To use this as I did, just click on the symbols and check how the stocks performed. I stuck to the ones he felt would yield highest over the next year. I clicked on them and looked at how they’d performed for the year-to-date, and chose ones that had stayed in the “green.” A few of the ones in the “red zone” are often recommended, but I’m not ready to gamble that much yet.
Here's a free "stock screener" that everyone recommends for novices and know-it-alls alike. It looks kinda like that picture up top, but has a lot more info than that on one screen. And it gives you lots of ways to analyze those stocks you’re pondering, and it’ll do ‘til you’re ready to pay for one of those really sophisticated ones. I find that this one is mentioned even in articles by the pros, though, so I’ll probably just stick with it for the long haul:
You can download hundreds of .pdf articles, books and brochures here, too. It’s like a little library of investment information you can download and study:
And finally, here’s Scottrade, and an article comparing it to two other popular sites. There are plenty of others out there, but I chose it because it was the easiest to navigate right off that bat and also because I could begin with only $500 of that “found” money. Most others ask for a twice that:
In minutes, I was able to make bank transfers and start trading. I was also able to access all kinds of resources, like educational videos, articles, real time online Web workshops and seminars here in Tucson, too. You can even trade or keep track on your cell phone. At a recent doctor’s appointment, I felt like a kid playing video games as I sat there in the waiting room watching that screen.
The Scottrade community is full of people like me who are just getting started, so you’ll find advice you can use immediately. I read through some of the threads and blog posts for tips, and was pleasantly surprised to find so many other greenhorns in the room. The folks in the know don’t need to post. Though some really sharp cookies post often, to drop a little knowledge on the newbies.
I won’t get rich. But…I may be able to have a night on the town, a quick trip or buy myself a few new “toys” from time to time. I used to tell my daughter I was going to become a poker player when I retired. Now…I’m playin’ a different “game.”
And my mother, bless ‘er, is still taking care of her “babies” from wherever she is.
A little "coda:"
Choosing your own stocks allows you to also avoid buying into companies whose practices make you queasy.
I stick to stocks that don't keep me up worrying, like technology and media companies, and even one relatively new company that creates video games, because they made games that my daughter thought clever, and I wanted to be part of that.
I'm wary of mining and other "energy" companies, and also the very popular gold and silver companies as well. I like being able to pick and choose where the money goes, even if the little bit I'm trading is nothing to them!