The best money advice you never got.


Some people have serious financial problems, but that's not you. You've got a savings account, have cleaned up your interest-bearing debt and all-around are in pretty good financial shape. So where do you go from here? What's the next step for those of us who know the basics but want to put our cash to better work?

Facebook's IPO got a lot of people excited about investing in companies (though the subsequent tanking of their stocks post-IPO may have made many of the same people gun shy). Still, you may be wondering how you can—or if you should—get in on some of that action. Unfortunately, the depths of the market are largely off-limits to individuals with a few bucks here or there to invest, but you can boost your personal portfolio in a number of ways after you've exhausted the basics of investing. That's what this post is all about.

Don't Jump The Gun: Make Sure Your Money Isn't Better Spent Elsewhere

Before you jump head-first into riskier financial waters, we need to make absolutely sure that you're really at the point financially where you have money to invest. Before you start looking for new ways to invest your money, make sure you have the basics covered—and we don't just mean a positive balance in your checking account, and a $0 credit card balance. 

Before you venture beyond the basics, make sure you've hit all of the areas on this checklist first:

  • You have a budget. This may sound obvious, but it's important. Make sure that you have a budget and you're sticking to it, so you know at all times where your money is going, including this cash you want to save or invest.
  • You've paid off your debt. We're not just talking about credit cards here. Your money isn't really yours until you've paid off your other debt. Student loans, car loans, mortgages, even if it's "good debt," your extra cash is better spent towards getting your net worth in the black before anything else.
  • You have an emergency fund. Usually 3-6 months of expenses saved up and stashed away, just in case. If you don't have one, here's how to start one.
  • You know how to save for life events and desired purchases. This means you know how to budget well enough to save for that new laptop you want, for your wedding, or for that dream vacation you've always wanted, without wrecking your budget or plunging into credit card debt to make it happen.

If you've hit all of the points above, you're ready to start thinking about intermediate savings, or taking that extra cash and putting it aside for other things. If you're not out of debt, or don't have a fully-financed emergency fund, you're better off putting your money there instead.

That can be daunting for a lot of people, because it implies you're better off paying off your home or your student loans before you start playing the investment game, or saving for luxury purchases. Of course, we've discussed how you can pay down your debt and invest at the same time, so you have options. Just choose your path wisely.