I invested in gold for the first time. Here’s how.

I bought gold for the first time this year. Not a gold ETF like GLD or a gold miner stock like Barrick (ABX), but actual physical gold. I had a limited budget, but wanted it as a diversification and a small hedge against the coming zombie apocalypse or market crash, take your pick.

Jim Rickards, noted gold bug and author of numerous books on gold, including “The New Case for Gold,” recommended I buy American Eagle Gold Bullion Coins. He likes Eagles because they come directly from the U.S. Mint, so there is good quality control and they are sold at a nice price point at just over $1,200 versus around $45,000 for a 1-kilo bar. Plus, Rickards notes they are “easier to spend or negotiate in a monetary crisis or social unrest emergency.” I was convinced.

Now even though American Eagle coins are minted by the U.S. government, you don’t want to buy them through the U.S. Mint if you want the best price. It’s counter-intuitive, but the U.S. Mint is for collectors buying proof sets in nice boxes not for investors looking for a safe store of value. To buy your basic, uncirculated bullion coin, you want a gold dealer.

Rickards referred me to Chris Blasi at Neptune Global, but you can find a list of dealers near you on USMint.gov. As the saying goes (sort of, I’m paraphrasing), “If you don’t know gold, you better know your gold dealer,” so ask around for references.

To work with Neptune Global, I needed to open an account and fund it through a bank transfer. While Blasi says a few dealers take credit cards, the margins on gold are so slim that credit card transaction fees tend to be avoided. In fact, Blasi says a good way to make sure you are at a reputable dealer is to make sure you never pay more than 10% over the spot price of gold, which you can find easily online.

Then I placed my order. Blasi recommends paying a small percentage (one half of one percent) to have the gold stored and insured, but I wanted to feel it in my hands, so the coins were overnighted to my house. The coins tightly packed in a plastic tube with lots of padding.

Blasi’s advice for owning gold coins: Get a safe, have it secured to the ground and then put the coins away. As tempting as it may be, he doesn’t recommend handling the coins.

Both Blasi and Rickards are insistent that if you are looking to buy gold as an investment, stay away from numismatic, rare collector coins which cost more than the value of the underlying metal — and also steer clear of collector sets sold on late night TV. Remember, you’re an investor, not a collector.

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