The Motley Fool: Every Sunday, useful tips on investing
Renters insurance; saving for retirement; my dumbest investment, and taking stock in McDonald's.
Ask the Fool
Q: Is renters insurance worth it?
A: Very often, yes.
The value of your belongings is probably higher than you think, and renters insurance can protect you against theft or damage, offer some personal liability protection, and maybe even pay for temporary housing if your apartment is damaged.
When signing up, you decide the total dollar value of property you want to insure.
Some policies will pay you enough to cover the depreciated value of various items at the time of loss, while others will cover replacement costs. The latter is much better.
Renters insurance can cost very little.
Compared with the losses you might incur, it's often well worth it. Learn more at Insurance Information Institute's website at iii.org.
Are you saving enough?
Fail to plan for your financial future, and you could end up in hot water.
According to the 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey, more than half of American workers have saved less than $25,000 for retirement.
Fortunately, it's not too late for most of us. We can, and should, ramp up our saving and investing. Here are some suggestions:
• Make the most of retirement plans available at work. Many employers offer matching funds to those who contribute — that's free money!
• Tighten your budget. You can live well while you save and invest. • You can also make a big difference by working a few more years, if you need to.
My dumbest investment
Only lost 75 percent
Dear Fool: I bought stock in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac after believing a high-ranking official that they were in great financial shape.
I could have doubled my profit in two weeks, but I was not planning to speculate. I just wanted investments that would pay decent and reliable dividends.
Then the stocks collapsed. I ended up selling at a 75 percent loss — which was still a good move, since they later fell even more. I learned not to trust "experts."
The Fool responds: You can get useful insights and ideas from experts, but no expert is perfect, and some don't even have strong track records. Always try to make your own decisions, assessing an investment's strengths, risks and potential.
Stocks that have plunged may seem like bargains, but remember that they can keep falling, sometimes to zero. And as a dividend-paying stock falls, its dividend yield rises.
The high yield might attract you, but do your due diligence first. Some fallen stocks are indeed bargains facing short-term challenges, but others are in deep and lasting trouble.
The Motley Fool take
McDonald's is golden
The Dow's top performer in 2011, McDonald's (NYSE: MCD) recently posted disappointing February sales and has a new CEO on the way.
Incoming CEO Don Thompson has spent 22 years with McDonald's, recently overseeing more than 14,000 U.S. stores and the rollout of the profitable McCafe beverage line.
Between 2002 and 2011, McDonald's increased average annual sales by 6.4 percent and more than doubled its operating profit margins. The company boasts a five-year average operating margin of 27.4 percent, trouncing that of its closest competitor.
McDonald's has paid uninterrupted dividends since 1976, with an impressive recent yield of 2.9 percent and a remarkable average annual dividend growth rate of 20 percent over the past five years.
An oft-overlooked aspect of Mickey D's is its value as a real-estate play, as it owns thousands of prime commercial properties throughout the world.
While McDonald's still faces some near-term headwinds from commodity cost increases and a strengthening dollar, it's likely to overcome them with its unrivaled marketing budget, aggressive expansion abroad and responsiveness to changing consumer demands. This top dog in fast food continues to be one of the best defensive dividend-paying stocks you can buy today.