Steffanie Rivers

*When I left my first career job eighteen years ago I rolled over my company 401(k) into an independent retirement account. And that’s where it has sat mostly untouched ever since.

A decade ago I was smart enough to invest some of the money in oil stocks. So even though I pay more as a consumer, as an investor I make a profit when the price of heating oil and gasoline go up.

But oil stocks aren’t cheap. If I had enough money to buy enough oil stocks to get rich I’d be rich already. And that’s not the case.

So here I am holding an IRA that’s not growing faster than I’m getting older.

It’s funny how the closer I get to “old age” the younger “old age” looks. And with each passing year my retirement fund is getting closer to becoming my income.

Never one to turn a deaf ear to lessons on income diversification, I recently learned that I can purchase real estate and precious metals in a self-directed IRA instead of watching stocks like PSInet go from hero to zero worth in my portfolio.

I’ve always understood that real estate is a great asset if it’s a rental property that provides positive cash flow for the owner. So when I heard that I legally can use the cash in a self-directed IRA to purchase real estate I got excited. And I don’t get excited easily, just ask my mother.

Most people who have IRAs or company 401(k)s are forced to invest in the small selection of stocks and mutual funds offered by their fund managers. That’s because fund managers get paid off the buy and sell fees generated through those transactions. The more transactions fund managers oversee the more money they make regardless of the profit or loss of the investor.

Yet in a self-directed IRA the investor has a better chance to profit because of the kinds of investments available to her. Sure those self-directed fund managers make money too. But there’s more money to be made with millions of people buying and selling stocks and mutual funds than on the purchase of a few pieces of real estate in the same period of time. It’s in my best interest to know who’s working in my best interest. And that’s what led me to learn more about precious metals too.

It’s not by chance that $1 doesn’t have the same purchasing power that it did a decade ago. And while many people have their own theories as to why, most people agree that the value of precious metals is going up. Why do you think there are so many gold parties these days? Somebody somewhere knows that gold is better to have than cash.

Although this might not be news to some people, millions of others have cash sitting in a supposedly untouchable retirement account that is losing value when it could be doing just the opposite. I’m not afraid to admit that I don’t know all the answers. But if I don’t’ plan for my future someone else will and chances are it won’t be in my best interest.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send questions, comments or requests for speaking engagements to Steffanie at [email protected]. And see the video version of her journal at