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Someone who happened to buy some Apple stock within the past five years is in danger of thinking that they have become a stock-picking genius. If this describes you, get ready to become your own worst enemy as an investor.

To consistently make money investing in individual stocks is extremely difficult. I was reminded of this recently as I read Phil Town's new book, "Payback Time -- Making Big Money Is the Best Revenge." It reminded me of an earlier book from 2001 by John Spooner with the catchy title, "Do You Want to Make Money or Would You Rather Fool Around."

Phil's best-selling book goes into highly readable detail with respect to investment fundamentals required to make informed and profitable decisions about buying and selling individual stocks. Beyond the fundamental ratios that are key to increasing the probability of future success, Phil also explains what he thinks we need to know about the mysteries of technical trading.

Fundamental analysis is defined as a study of the basic accounting of a business along with its rate of growth, quality of management, command of its market -- real nuts and bolts stuff. Technical trading, on the other hand, focuses only on the performance of the stock and attempts to identify some pattern of performance that will signal what can be expected to happen in the future. Technical traders are widely disparaged by fundamental analysts as being little more than readers of tea leaves.

The real value of "Payback Time" is the information that it provides regarding free online investment analysis -- valuable information just key strokes away. Most of us know about Yahoo finance, Morningstar, Value Line, Market watch, etc, but "Payback" actually walks the reader through what the steps they need to take to use that fire hose of information constructively.

If reading alone isn't enough, there's the American Association of Individual Investors.

This organization costs about $200 per year to join and it amounts to a support group of sorts for individual investors complete with regional meetings.

The group's monthly investment journal has been one of my favorite resources for years and they offer much the same stock screening mentality that Phil Town promotes.

AAII's current stock screening exercise had selected stocks that, year to date, are up over 14 percent while the market overall is flat for 2010.

Overall, their membership is currently sitting with about 30 percent of their money in cash.

Inspired by these books or organizations, one learns that it takes a lot of work to become a successful individual investor.

Thanks to the Internet, however, we have more resources available than ever before. Therefore, the odds for success are greater today than they have ever been.

However, it's a major challenge to apply the discipline that long-term success demands.

To answer Spooner's question, "Yes, we want to make money, but we're human. And we're not quitting our day job. As the case may be, we would probably rather fool around."

For those tempted to take a little money and "fool around," Phil Town's book is the stock market's equivalent to blackjack's "Beat the Dealer." It's always worthwhile to at least know what we're supposed to be doing.

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