Investing for Average Folks: A Book That Helps

"The Elements of Investing" can help folks worried about their retirement plans.

ByABC News
March 16, 2009, 6:08 PM

Jan. 12, 2010 — -- Next time you are out for dinner, look around the restaurant. Nearly everyone seated at a table will be the owner of a 401(k) or some similar retirement savings plan.

Yet few of them, if any, are interested in the learning the intricacies of investing, explains Charles Ellis. They just want to know one thing: "What do I have to do?"

A new book by Ellis and coauthor Burton Malkiel attempts to answer that question in simple but meaningful terms.

"The Elements of Investing" is a short guidebook for average folks who find themselves in charge of their own retirement portfolios but feel they lack the knowledge needed to ensure a secure future.

The new book's format is modeled after "The Elements of Style," a classic instruction manual for young writers by William Strunk Jr. -- and later updated by E.B. White -- that boils down the essentials of good writing to a few simple rules.

With "The Elements of Investing," Ellis told me, the authors set out to produce a book that could be read in less than two hours and still provide individual investors with the information they need to become successful investors.

"The idea of making it really simple and useful at a minimum of expense and time, that's the whole objective," Ellis said.

The book is broken down into five, short chapters, and then to make it even easier, it provides provide a two-page summary near the end of the book.

Though they have written the simplest of investment books, Malkiel and Ellis are no lightweights in the investing world. Both men previously wrote important investment books that articulate the difficulty of beating the market and the advantages of passive investing.

Malkiel is a longtime Princeton University economics professor and author of "A Random Walk Down Wall Street." Ellis is a longtime consultant to institutional investors, a director of the Vanguard mutual fund firm and author of "Winning the Loser's Game."

Both books helped solidify my own belief that most investors are better off sticking to low-cost index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds rather than picking individual stocks or investing in actively managed mutual funds.