Occasionally friends say to me, "For the first time in my life, I have some spare cash, and I'd like to invest it in something. What do you suggest?"

I tell them that it is a mistake to ask others for hot tips. Each investor must do his own homework and learn to make his own decisions. If you're not willing to spend time studying the subject, you're better off to leave your money in the bank.

This answer seldom satisfies anybody. People don't want to spend their time reading and learning and analyzing. If you can't give them a quick answer, they'll look elsewhere for it.

For those who do see the value of learning to make independent decisions, let me recommend two excellent articles that ran in this newspaper in recent days. On page K2 on Sunday, the 27th, we published a piece by James H. Gipson that crowded a tremendous amount of good sense into just 21 inches of type. Then, on D9 in Monday's paper (the 28th), Jane Bryant Quinn warned us not to rely too much on forecasts made by "experts." A study has found that stock analysts are often badly mistaken about how a company will fare in the year ahead, and - more surprising - even the company's own officials miss not only the bullseye but the whole target.

Euclid told an Egyptian King that there is no royal road to geometry, and he would probably have given a similar answer regarding investments. To succeed, you must be willing to study.