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Smart Buying

Steal These Deals: Saving in Investing

We all want to make money. See how both save and make money with these tips.

Low-Cost Mutual Funds

Fees are cheap, and you don’t need a lot of money to get started.

Index funds are supposed to be inexpensive because they merely track a benchmark. Schwab’s index funds combine superlow fees with a rock-bottom initial minimum -- $100. The annual fee is just 0.09% for both Schwab S&P 500 Index (symbol SWPPX) and Schwab Total Stock Market Index (SWTSX), which tracks the Wilshire 5000 index.

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Among actively managed funds, a good choice is Homestead Value (HOVLX), which requires $500 to start. Over the past ten years, the fund, which invests in large and midsize companies, beat Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index by an average of three percentage points per year. Annual expenses are 0.70%. Pax World Balanced (PAXWX) is a socially screened fund that owns stocks and bonds. Its expense ratio is 0.95%, and its minimum is just $250. The fund, which invests in growth stocks, beat the S&P 500 by an average of four points per year over the past decade.

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Battered (But Healthy) Stocks

The prospect of health-care reform has led to enticing bargains.

President Obama’s promise to tame medical costs has pummeled health-care stocks. Not coincidentally, that sector is where we found three firms cheap enough to be good buys no matter what remedy Congress ultimately imposes. The first is drug giant Pfizer (PFE), which has been disappointing investors since its shares peaked at $50 in April 1999. The latest blow: The company slashed its dividend in half, ending 41 straight years of rising payouts. At $15, the shares trade for just seven times expected 2009 profits of $1.95 a share. But Pfizer has more than 100 drugs in its pipeline, $35 billion in cash and other advantages of scale that will only grow when its proposed merger with Wyeth closes later this year. With a 64-cent annual dividend, the stock still yields a healthy 4.3%.

IMS Health (RX) has a database of drug-sales data on more than one million products, a valuable tool for the pharmaceutical industry. But consolidation and cost-cutting among drug companies has reduced demand for IMS's data. Still, at seven times expected earnings of $1.66 a share, we think the stock, at $12, is a bargain. Hard-pressed consumers have been cutting back on products from Weight Watchers international (WTW). But we’re pretty sure demand will return because people will always go on diets. Meanwhile, the shares trade for $27, or 11 times this year’s expected earnings of $2.57 a share. Based on a dividend of 70 cents a share, the stock yields 2.6%.

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A Fund at a Discount

Plus, it walloped the S&P 500. Closed-end funds, which issue a set number of shares and trade like stocks, often sell at sharp discounts to their net asset value. General American Investors (GAM) is one such bargain. At its June 5 closing price of $19, the fund sold at a 17% discount to NAV. Veteran manager Spencer Davidson invests mainly in large, growing companies selling at reasonable prices. Financial, retail and energy stocks recently accounted for half of the fund's assets. Over the past ten years, the fund returned an annualized 3.9% on its assets. That beat the S&P 500 by an average of nearly six percentage points per year.

A Bargain Bond

We found a safe, 6.5% yield. Despite being pressured to convert to a bank holding company, Goldman Sachs has weathered the financial crisis with barely a scratch. Yet a new issue of its bonds, maturing in June 2019 and rated single-A by S&P, yielded 6.5% to maturity in early June. That’s a lot more than bonds with similar maturities issued by financial firms of similar quality. What’s more, Goldman can now turn to the Federal Reserve for funds in a pinch.

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Natural Gas Glut

Profit from the surplus with an etf. Natural gas doesn’t get much respect. In early June, domestic gas traded at $3.74 per million cubic feet, near its six-year low. Meanwhile, traders had pushed the price of oil to $69 a barrel, up from its recent low of $33 in December. In terms of the two carbon-based commodities’ energy-equivalent prices, oil is now some three times costlier than gas. In an age of environmental awareness, that doesn’t make sense: Gas is cleaner; it has a future as a fuel for buses, cars and trucks; and its’ popular in heavy industry and for power generation. Right now, there’s a glut of gas in storage, but energy surpluses have a habit of vanishing quickly. The easiest way to bet on the price of gas is exchange-traded United States Natural Gas fund (UNG), which tracks changes in the price of gas by buying futures contracts. Note, however, that the fund is set up as a limited partnership, so you may face tax hassles.

Penny-Pinching Brokers

We pick firms for two kinds of investors.

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Best For Traders: Just2Trade If low-cost trades are what you’re after, look no further than Just2Trade (www.just2trade.com). It charges just $2.50 for stock, Exchange-traded-fund and mutual fund transactions on trades of any size. But don’t expect many frills or access to outside research -- this broker is bare-bones. You can open an account with $2,500, and you won’t pay account-maintenance or inactivity fees. The site courts market-savvy types, so it requires that new customers have at least two years’ experience using another online broker.

Best For Average Investors: Fidelity Fidelity (www.fidelity.com) boasts reasonable commissions and no maintenance fees, plus a world of user-friendly extras. Stock commissions range from $8 per trade to $19.95 per transaction for up to 1,000 shares, depending on your account’s size and how often you trade. You can invest in 1,400 funds without paying sales or transaction fees, although you’ll get hit with a stiff $75 commission for straying from this list. But you also get access to stock research from 18 different firms and useful asset-allocation and retirement-planning tools.