If you’ve never invested your money, you might wonder how to get started. The good news is that investing isn’t only for the rich. Anyone can invest as long as they have the right plan in place.
In fact, there are plenty of options available out there, whether you have tens, hundreds, or thousands of dollars to invest.
How and where to invest your money will depend on your financial situation and goals. To help you get started, we’ve outlined a few ways you can begin.
The Benefits to Investing
Investing is important because it helps you with your long-term financial goals, such as retirement. Even if the country you live in offers government benefits such as pensions or Social Security payments, it may not be enough to fund your lifestyle.
Some aspects of your life can get expensive—think healthcare in the U.S.—and to live comfortably, it’s important to have a sizable nest egg.
Plus, inflation will eventually lower the value of money as time goes on. In other words, a dollar today will be worth less in the future. Investing your money helps you to earn interest on your hard-earned money, helping you to combat inflation.
An added benefit of investing is that it doesn’t matter how much you start with. Starting with a small amount—like just $100—allows you to grow your skill-set, learning what works best for you in the short term. Then you can apply those learnings to larger amounts as you gain momentum in your investing.
You Can Invest, Too
You’re not alone in feeling intimidated by investing. For one, there is a lot of jargon associated with investing that can make it difficult to understand. In other words, it can feel like a major learning curve.
Sandy Yong, author of The Money Master: Inside Secrets on How to Make Your Money Grow and Stay Safe, agrees. She says that hearing about investing advice from multiple sources can add to the confusion.
“People also get investing tips from friends, colleagues, and other resources, and it’s hard to decipher between good versus bad advice,” she says. “This is overwhelming, and it’s natural to want to procrastinate instead of tackling their financial goals head-on.”
Another challenge is that if you are someone who identifies as an English as a Second Language learner, the additional barrier makes it even more taxing.
Andrew Wang, the managing partner at Runnymede Capital Management, understands that the financial services industry tends to create complex products that may be difficult to understand.
“For many, the basic principles of investing are often not taught alongside math and history, adding to the challenge,” he says.
If you feel overwhelmed, there are resources available out there to help you. Start by taking small steps and know that if you need to change your tactics down the line, you can.
“Investors can always choose one option and several years later decide to switch to another path,” Yong says.
Resources about Investment
There are many reputable books about investing for beginners. Ask for personal recommendations or read online reviews to get a better sense of whether a book fits your needs. For example, some are written with certain demographics in mind, while others may focus specifically on getting out of debt or saving for retirement.
While this list is certainly not exhaustive, these titles are well-reviewed and may represent a good starting place for your research:
- Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together
- The Intelligent Investor
- The Elements of Investing
- Investing (All in One) for Dummies
In addition to books, you’ll find many investment apps designed for beginners. Again, while this is not an exhaustive list, these apps represent popular options with generally strong reviews:
What to Do Before You’re Ready to Invest
Before you get started, make sure your regular expenses are taken care of and that you have enough money set aside to handle unexpected events.
Wang suggests establishing an emergency fund so that if you need quick access to a large amount of cash, you have it. This emergency fund should ideally be set aside in another savings account and only used when you really need it.
Once you have that in place, look at your budget to see how much you can afford to invest. Doing so will help you narrow down your options, as most investing platforms will have minimum amounts.
For example, consider these requirements at the time of this writing. Charles Schwab robo-advisor driven Intelligent Portfolio requires a minimum of $5000 to initiate the service, while Acorns investing app has no minimum requirement but instead has a monthly subscription fee structure of $1 to $5 depending on which option you choose.
Robinhood, on the other hand, has a $0 required minimum to open a brokerage account and a Robinhood Gold account, but adheres to a regulatory minimum of $2000 to open a margin account.
All in all, be sure to pay close attention to the account minimum and associated fees.
Determine Your Investing Goals
As you’re looking through the types of products and services you may be interested in, keep your financial goals at the forefront.
For instance, do you want to retire comfortably, set aside money for a child’s post-secondary education, or buy a new car? Depending on your goal, your investment strategy can be adapted.
Long-term goals, for example, can provide a higher overall return on your money, but your money may need to stay invested for a longer time. For short-term goals, you may choose to seek a lower rate of return that has a shorter required investment period.
One benefit to leaving your money in the stock market for a longer time is that you don’t have to worry about day-to-day fluctuations. You’re less likely to suffer a loss by pulling out of the market in a downswing.
You can always mix up your approach. For instance, you could choose a smaller amount to invest more aggressively, while playing it safer with a retirement fund such as a Roth IRA. Retirement funds can provide a way of diversifying your portfolio so that you’re growing with the economic market and less reliant on one stock or one company’s success.
It’s important to note that all forms of investing come with some form of risk. Since the market goes up and down (known as volatility), so will your returns. In some years, you might earn a lot, and in others, you may face losses. Understanding your risk tolerance—how much you can personally handle the volatility in the markets—will help you determine what you invest in.
How to Actually Start Investing
The best plan for beginner investors is to keep it simple. This could mean setting up regular deposits each month automatically from your savings to your brokerage account. It could also mean setting reminders to check your budget to see if you can increase the amount you invest.
Consider investigating the following options to begin investing:
Set up a 401k retirement account through your employer.
If you haven’t already, reach out directly to your HR to see if your company offers a 401k plan for retirement. They can walk you through how to get started and kick-start your investing right away.
Try a robo-advisor.
There are a number of robo-advisors that are designed to make investment easy. Popular options include SoFi, Vanguard, and Stash.
Sign up for an app designed for beginning investors.
It is easy and free to set up an account with a number of investing apps, such as those listed above in the resources section.
Once you download the app, follow the instructions to set up an account and begin investing. The most common way to invest money in these apps is through stocks. There are many to choose from, so the next step is to start researching companies you want to buy stock in.
Invest directly through your brokerage account.
A number of banks also have brokerage accounts. Charles Schwab, for example, offers a brokerage account that’s free to open with a savings account.
From there, you can transfer money directly from your savings account into your brokerage account and start buying stocks immediately.
Further reading: Where to Buy Stocks: A Guide for First-Time Investors in the U.S.
Spread Your Money Out
Both Yong and Wang suggest that you diversify your investments. In other words, make sure your money is spread out across different types of investments to reduce your risk.
Depending on your investment platform, this type of reduced risk investment diversification may happen automatically. For example, with a robo-advisor, or an app, investment diversification may be an automatic setting. If you so choose, you can read up on the default settings and adjust them.
For many investors, products like mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs) help to spread the risk. These investment products offer a bunch of stocks and bonds across industries and sectors instead of purchasing individual ones.
Should You Hire a Financial Advisor?
In many cases, it’s perfectly fine to start investing on your own. You may have an employer-sponsored program or use a product designed for newbies. However, if you feel like you want the help of a professional, start with a little research.
Yong cautions that not all advisors are created equal. Some financial planners will suggest investment products that result in them getting a higher commission, not necessarily what’s best for you. She suggests asking people you trust for suggestions and then interviewing several of them before deciding on whom to hire.
Ask about their background, investment philosophy, and experience. Perhaps most importantly, ask how they get paid, whether it’s a percentage from your investment portfolio or a flat-fee upfront.
“A good advisor should explain the risks involved with investing and not try to over-promise their performance results,” Yong says. “They will also ask you to bring proper documentation such as your investment statements, net worth, expenses, and tax return in order to offer you the best advice.”
Looking for a middle-of-the-road option? Robo-advisors are programmed to develop smart investment portfolios for you, depending on your goals and risk tolerance. They can help you learn and become familiar with the investment world.
Whatever investment route you choose, make sure you’re not investing in anything you don’t understand. If you don’t know something, ask. We were all beginners at one point.
Further Reading: Spring Cleaning with Your Finances: 3 Steps for a Fresh Start
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