Elsie Scheer thought a "portfolio" was a nice set of stationery and writing supplies when she joined an investment club in 1983.

That was many years and many dollars ago. Since then, Scheer has made it a point to learn a great deal about investments and she's one of 14 members of the famous "Beardstown Ladies" who have profited handsomely from the stock market and written four best-selling books.Scheer, who described herself as "in her 80s," and three other members of the investment club spoke at the Salt Palace on Wednesday. They underscored the idea that it doesn't matter if you aren't rich, if you come from a small town or if you're getting on in years - it's always possible to take charge of your finances.

"It's just like learning cooking and sewing. If you put your mind to it, you can readily do it," said Scheer.

The visit by the four Beardstown Ladies was to benefit "People Helping People," a nonprofit organization that helps economically disadvantaged women, especially those making the transition from welfare to work. The event was underwritten by First Security Bank Women's Financial Services, which donated $11,000 to People Helping People to match women with mentors in the workplace.

The Beardstown Ladies were quite a draw - 950 people showed up to tap into these women's marketing savvy, which is liberally mixed with homespun advice and common sense.

Their books - all of which have made the New York Times best-seller list - address investments, money management and how-to-save techniques. A fifth book is in the works.

Originally, a group of women from Beardstown, Ill., formed an investment club for three years as an educational experience. "We ended up with 36 ladies having different amounts of money and different opinions on how to invest," said Betty Sinnock, a founding member. "That was not the best scenario."

That club disbanded even though it made a profit. However, Sinnock sought out others who shared her investment philosophy to organize the next club: the Beardstown Business and Professional Women's Investment Club (later dubbed "The Beardstown Ladies" by the media).

"Our goals were education first because we wanted to learn as much as we could about investments, enjoyment and then enrichment," Sinnock said.

Among the things they learned: do your homework about investments, diversify and keep abreast of what is happening in entire industries as well as individual companies. They also recommend buying stocks regularly, reinvesting your dividends, and investing in well-managed firms with a five-year history of sales and profit gains of 15 percent or better.

Individuals also should learn to save money as well as how to handle it.

Club member Carnell Korsmeyer said one of the things the women discovered as they toured to promote their first book was that many Americans simply don't save at all. "We found so many people making fantastic salaries and they weren't saving a cent," she said.

Another club member, Maxine Thomas, 77, said one of the greatest benefits of joining the group has been the education she's gained about how to handle finances. She recalled working in a bank in the 1960s.

"I would see widows coming in in tears. Remember this was the '60s and many, many of them didn't know how to write a check," Thomas said. "I thought, `Oh my, I don't want to have that ever, ever happen to me.' "