A mutual fund is an investment vehicle in which multiple investors pool their money into one account to be managed by a professional investor. From a money making standpoint, the benefits of using a mutual fund are pretty clear. For one, if you've got extra cash lying around but don't know how to invest it, it pays to hand your money to someone who knows what they're doing. Secondly, mutual funds are heavily regulated by the government, so it's definitely a more secure way to invest. Finally, the primary benefit of investing a mutual fund is the diversification. Mutual funds typically hold many different securities and this diversification is a great way to mitigate risk. It isn't all sunshine and rainbows, however. Investors in a mutual fund have to pay various fees and expenses, and since they're part of group, each investor must sacrifice his/her ability to invest individually.

How do they work?

From a functional standpoint, mutual funds are simultaneously an investment portfolio and, because of their size, a full fledged company. A mutual fund, day-to-day, works much like any other company. A fund manager is elected by the board of directors and is legally obligated to make decisions that benefit the fund's shareholders. Most mutual funds exist as part of a larger investment corporation, with some companies containing hundreds of funds.

Mutual funds invest in multiple securities at once in order to hedge their bets.

What's the difference between a mutual fund and a hedge fund?

Mutual funds are not to be confused with their risk-taking, coke-addled cousin, the hedge fund. The fundamental difference between the two is that a hedge fund's leverages (bets made with borrowed cash or prospective earnings) aren't regulated. While both mutual funds and hedge funds lack a certain level of transparency, investors in a mutual fund can rest a little easier, knowing that the company they're invested is relatively safe (in theory). While the SEC doesn't have the jurisdiction to supervise a mutual fund's investments, it does require these funds to publicly report their earnings. The biggest safety net in the world of hedge funds is its barriers to entry. You must have a net worth of at least $1 million to ride that ride. That said, if you're trying to bet the minimum, you might be better off at a casino.

Are there different types of mutual funds?

Since there are different types of securities (bonds, stocks, derivatives etc.), naturally there are different types of mutual funds. One of the more prominent types is based on fixed income and the collecting of government and corporate bonds. Fixed income funds generate their income via interest. Another type of fund is based around market indexes. These funds are predicated on the belief that the stock market is too hard to judge. Instead of trying to beat the market, investors buy into specific indexes (i.e. Dow Jones, S&P, NASDAQ). The advantage of these funds is twofold. Investing this way is extremely risk averse and feels significantly safer than the other mutual funds out there. On top of this, betting on an index isn't rocket science, so there are way less fees involved with this type of fund. Another relatively secure option is a money market fund, in which the objective is to keep the fund's share price at $1 and to turn a profit on short term investments. These funds move quickly but are a comparatively safe way to invest one's money. There's also no fee associated with entering and exiting a money market fund. There are also sector funds (funds based on specific industries), balanced funds (funds that hold both stocks and bonds), and too many other variants and combinations to mention here. This is the 101 course for God's sake. If you've read this and thought "gee, I didn't know what mutual funds were, but now I'm itching to get involved," I recommend talking to a financial advisor.

Index Funds are the safest way to play

Aren't all funds just scams?

Yes. Invest in real estate you idiot. Sorry, I got ahead of myself there. What I meant to say was:

Yes and no. Where mutual funds come up short, is in the idea that picking a company with a star investor or manager is going to to yield better results. An investor's success rate is not predictive of future success. According Henry Blodget and David Swensen the only thing that's predictive of a mutual fund's success is the cost it takes to run it. This is why index funds, with their lower operating costs, always seem to beat out other funds in revenue. So yes, funds that claim to have "inside knowledge" about the stock market and investing, are lying to you. Investing at that level tends to be little more than educated guessing. That said, these funds exist and have been legitimized in the American financial space. The amount of money tied up in US-based mutual funds is about the same as our GDP. So, if you have the money, and are looking to bet it, a mutual fund is closer to blackjack than roulette. Still, unless you're counting cards (or insider trading) it's pretty much all luck.
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Home garden and porch

As anyone who has ever sold a house will tell you, you must prioritize curb appeal. Before a potential buyer even considers looking inside your house, they notice the outside first. Does it attract the right kind of attention? Does it take away from the feel you're going for? If you plan to sell sometime soon, you must think about these things. Here are some landscaping options to increase your home's curb appeal, so you can get the best price on your home.

Extensive Plants and Greenery

A barren front yard won't get you the price you want on your home. So, invest in at least a little bit of greenery to keep the surrounding area from looking too dead. Shrubs and bushes tie the house to the lawn that precedes it, and flower beds bring a pop of color to an otherwise drab structure. You can also strategically plant some trees to improve the overall feel of your home's exterior.

Lawn Care

As we mentioned, your lawn is one of the most prominent features of your home's exterior. A patchy, dried-up lawn will quickly drive your home's price way down. Some of the best landscaping options for your home's curb appeal involve improving your lawn for the next inhabitant. Overall fertilization, ground aeration, underbrush removal, proper mowing—all of these lawn care tasks contribute to a greener and more lively area that invites people to see your house, rather than stay away from it.

Paved Pathways

There's nothing like a broken and disheveled pathway to make someone think twice about buying a property. Just as you want the entryway in your house to be welcoming, so too should the pathway leading up to the house be inviting. The pathway from the street to your front door provides plenty of real estate to get creative with. You don't have to settle for a boring concrete pathway. Consider something more eye catching, like a cobblestone path or intermittent brick patterns, as a way to better welcome potential buyers.

Usable Outdoor Furniture

Landscaping doesn't just involve the ground you walk on; also included are the items you use as extras to the overall look. Outdoor furniture is one such extra that you don't necessarily need but can look quite attractive if done correctly. Staging is important with outdoor furniture. Old, broken-down pieces will only look like more work to the potential buyer. A few comfortable chairs, a bench, or a table with an umbrella really go a long way to improving your outdoor aesthetics.

A good tip for deciding on curb appeal items is to decide what you personally would want to see as a part of a welcoming home's exterior. You don't need to go overboard, but a little bit of forethought could net you quite a lot of extra cash in the sale.

Unfortunately, giving back can sometimes go haywire. If you're ready to make a donation, first consider common mistakes made when giving back.

Many people strive to support their community by donating their time or their money. When you find a meaningful cause, you might be quick to cut a donation check. Though it's admirable to be quick to act charitably, you should be wary of several common mistakes made when giving to charity. Being mindful of these mistakes and learning tips for making informed charitable choices can help you make the most out of your generous check.

Acting Quickly Out of Emotion

Mission statements are meant to be compelling. If you're an emotionally driven individual, it's natural to pull out your wallet at the sight of a sad puppy on TV or when informed about food insecurity over the phone. Unfortunately, not all charities are as effective or official as they may seem.

Take your passion for helping others one step further by making sure your chosen charity is legit. Speaking with a representative, reviewing their website and social media accounts, and looking at testaments online can give you a better idea of whether the organization is worth your donation.

Forgetting to Keep Record of the Donation

Don't forget that you can reap some financial perks from giving back! With the proper documentation of your donation, you can acquire a better tax deductible.

If you donate more than $12,400 as a single filer or $24,800 as one of two joint filers, you're eligible to deduct that amount from your taxes. So, when a charity asks if you'd like a receipt of donation, always answer yes.

Donating Unusable Materials

Most charities can utilize a monetary donation—it's the physical donations that usually cause some issues. Providing a local nonprofit with irrelevant materials or gifting them with unusable products are surprisingly common mistakes made when giving to charity.

Always check your intended charity's website for a list of things they do and do not accept. The majority of places will provide a guideline to donating or offer contact information to clarify any questions.

Strictly Giving at Year's End

As more and more people get into the holiday spirit at the end of the year, nonprofit organizations see an influx of donations. While it's great to spread holiday cheer via a monetary donation, it's important to keep that spirit going year-round.

With regular donations, charities can more effectively allocate their annual budget. Setting up an automatic monthly donation with the charity of your choosing can maximize your impact. You can account for a monthly donation by foregoing a costly coffee every once in a while.

Knowing how much you should spend on home maintenance each year is hard to figure out and may be preventing you from buying your first home. The types of costs you'll incur depend on the house you buy and its location. The one certainty is that you should start saving now. Read on to figure out how much to start setting aside based on the home you own.

The Age of Your House

Consider several factors when budgeting for home repairs. If you've purchased a new home, your house likely won't require as much maintenance for a few years. Homes built 20 or more years ago are likely to require more maintenance, including replacing and keeping your windows clean. Further, depending on your home's location, weather can cause additional strain over time, so you may need to budget for more repairs.

The One-Percent Rule

An easy way to budget for home repairs is to follow the one-percent rule. Set aside one percent of your home's purchase price each year to cover maintenance costs. For instance, if you paid $200,000 for your home, you would set aside $2,000 each year. This plan is not foolproof. If you bought your home for a good deal during a buyer's market, your home could require more repairs than you've budgeted for.

The Square-Foot Rule

Easy to calculate, you can also budget for home maintenance by saving one dollar for every square foot of your home. This pricing method is more consistent than pricing it by how much you paid because the rate relies on the objective size of your home. Unfortunately, it does not consider inflation for the area where you live, so make sure you also budget for increased taxes and labor costs if you live in or near a city.

The Mix and Match Method

Since there is no infallible rule for how much you should spend on home maintenance, you can combine both methods to get an idea for a budget. Average your results from the square-foot rule and the one-percent rule to arrive at a budget that works for you. You should also increase your savings by 10 percent for each risk factor that affects your home, such as weather and age.

Holding on to savings is easier in theory than practice. Once you know how much you should spend on home maintenance, you'll know what to aim for and be more prepared for an emergency. If you are having trouble securing funds for home repairs, consider taking out a home equity loan, borrowing money from friends or family, or applying for funds through a home repair program through your local government for low-income individuals.