1) A typical well-diversified index fund delivers returns over the long-term well over the interest charged on mortgages or car loans if you took out those loans when you have decent credit.
Buy and hold! If you buy-and-hold, you are nearly guaranteed not to loose--and if you do, it'll probably be less than a 3% loss over 20 years. Sure, you might gain 14% in 20 years (not the much touted 10% per year), but importantly you won't lose so much. Of course trying to time your investments to the market can make you 56% gains per year, or lose you 48%--and that's a lot more loss than a buy-and-hold strategy might expose you to, and a lot more likely to happen!
Yeah, the market is hard. The easy version of the market is slow.
(Yeah, credit cards do suck and you should pay those off ASAP after you get your max 401(k) match, if offered.)
My credit cards cost me less than my house. Consider $150/mo per payment, versus a one-time $80 payment and a year and some months with no interest. I do some monkey business with the cards to get that kind of thing going on (BAC has 14 month no-interest balance transfers all the time), and I frequently have exceedingly high credit card debt which costs me all of $200/year in fees and interest the worst of times. If I ever bought a $6000 motorcycle, I'd finance it with my credit cards in part, due to 6% motorcycle loans. For the most part, my cards stay high because I target other debt or stack up cash before paying them--it's a strategy that has saved me thousands of dollars.
My employer's 401(k) match is a lower immediate return than paying extra into my mortgage, which is nearly a 70% return. To make this more physical: If I put $225 in my 401(k), I get a match of $112.50. If I put $225 in my mortgage payment, I skip about $150 of interest at the moment. $150 > $112.50, even though they both end in 50.
You have not done full-scale investment. I can tell. I can tell because you obviously have not spent several 8-12 hours per day analyzing the indexes against each other (it's just division), analyzing technical metrics, analyzing news (yay Marketwatch), waking up at 4am to read the news and check the foreign markets, making trends predictions, drawing arcs and channels and other funny things on graphs, squinting hard when you see multiple indicators in conflict, trying to resolve the conflicts to work out a good guess at what the market will do, and then just gave up and cashed out on Friday so that you don't have to worry about 2 non-trading days and what might happen while you can't do anything about it, come back Monday to start again.
Have you ever seen someone who was completely sober, had gotten 2-3 hours of sleep per night for weeks, and talked reallyreallyfastliketheywereonmeth? That was me for a few weeks.
This is not a leisure job. You don't lay back, masturbate some while checking out Playboy Asia, idly click on a few things, buy, sell, mmhmm... It's not World of Warcraft. It is a vicious game of absolute timing, of completely predictable behavior that requires mountains of knowledge to actually predict, of a complete lack of those mountains of knowledge, of strife and fear and reflexes and reaction and bounds and calculations. It's chaos theory: the random element is what you don't know. Insider traders get to look at all the cards, high-level traders look at some of the cards and do card counting, and the fish are there just throwing down chips and hoping they can get a full house.
I don't care to work that hard. I got an honest job instead, and worked on minimizing my mandatory expenses and enhancing the stability of my financial position. My relative income to expenses is huge now, so very huge that I see people making oblivious statements like "yeah, you should save money, but the problem is today if you make $60k-$70k that's basically impossible", and I'm like, "Are you kidding? I was making $60k and spending $2000/mo on junk. I paid off a $3000 credit card in a month and a half on a $3500 salary, and had cash left over, then went back to buying old video games on eBay."
When you're actually better off than me, you can come back and tell me about finances. I've already heard this advice--I've given this advice and later figured out I was wrong. Been there, done that, yeah lol no.