The oldest rule for thinking about how to start investing money is also the simplest: “Buy low, sell high.” While it seems blindingly obvious and begs the question of why anyone would want to do anything else when investing, you might be surprised how hard it is to put into practice.
Investing is a discipline which plays not only on astute analysis and remarkable luck but also on people’s behavioral responses. Holding onto your stocks during periods of intense market volatility takes a lot of courage and isn’t what the human brain is wired to withstand.
But how do you approach investing if you don’t have a background in it? Without much prior experience, it’s tough to say. There’s an ocean of information out there and sorting through it requires deliberate, thoughtful reflection when piecing together what you’ve read.
When it comes to growing your wealth and working toward financial independence, investing is an important tool. Through investing, you can buy assets which, hopefully, grow in value, whether it is a home, a tax-advantaged investment (e.g., retirement account, health savings account), stocks, bonds or alternative investments.
All of these, when balanced appropriately and included in an investment portfolio, represent the best investments for young adults.
Let’s walk through some simple steps on how to begin investing money.
First, Invest in Yourself
Recently, I attended a wedding with my wife and her family where my brother-in-law approached me with a conversation about investing.
He wanted to know how he could replicate the performance seen by the world’s greatest investors and learn how to start investing with little money. Specifically, he yearned to turn a small sum of money into an account balance with two commas in quick fashion.
Boy, if only I knew the sure-fire way to make that path my own reality, we wouldn’t have driven to the wedding in a rented subcompact.
I cautioned him that those investors are truly gifted and the exception to the norm. While it is important for him to know how to start investing young, I told him the common trait these legendary financiers share: following a systematic and disciplined approach to investing.
Further, they learned how to invest in yourself and gained a true appreciation for studying markets and the players working in them. These high income skills have yielded them significant returns over time.
I followed this with saying regardless of investing style, time frame, or philosophy, these great investors all have discipline, transact based on logical, informed thinking and do not let emotions drive their decision-making. These are the most important elements required for investing success.
The investing styles are merely a means to an end and are developed later. Any investor starting out should focus on these core principles and learn to stick to them during times of good and bad.
How to Begin Investing Money: Develop Your Investing Approach
As I explained this to my brother-in-law, I could see his disappointment in my not knowing any shortcuts to overnight investing success. However, we launched into a discussion around how he could develop his own disciplined investing approach by first becoming a student of markets.
Knowing that this discussion could become overly cumbersome in just one conversation, I decided to share only introductory steps, which I outline below.
Investing isn’t easy but, at the same time, it shouldn’t be seen as a frightening endeavor. If done wisely and consistently, investing can separate you from retiring comfortably at a reasonable age and working into your golden years out of necessity. We all want a comfortable retirement, so why shouldn’t we make smart decisions to get there?
With that thinking, I will do the same here. Short of a formal education in finance, my five high-level steps for gaining familiarity with investing in the market are as follows:
1. Read a Lot About the Market
Sounds logical, right? You may be surprised by how many people I’ve heard say they got into a stock simply because so-and-so recommended it.
This person winds up not doing a lick of due diligence before investing and often doesn’t what was happening in the market, nor anything about the company.
To counteract this, I suggest first beginning by reading reputable stock market investment websites that discuss markets (e.g., MarketWatch, Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, among many others). As you read more, I really suggest approaching every article with a heavy dose of skepticism.
This will make you more likely to piece together content from multiple sources and form your own thinking about markets and the companies in them.
As an exercise, take a moment to read this 2018 U.S.-China trade war article about the earnings estimates for public companies. After you’ve read it, what were the main, salient points that stood out to you? I found the following to be most important:
- Many investors seem to think lackluster stock market movement during this quarter’s earnings announcements indicates peaking corporate profits. When companies announce record earnings and markets barely move, it must mean expectations were high and future earnings don’t look to get any better.
- Analysts, or those people who follow stocks and publish opinions on them, seem to disagree and are increasing their profit projections at the largest rate in 6 years. This is where the skepticism should come into play. This conflict means someone is wrong, but who? Perhaps both are right and yet both are wrong. The truth likely lies somewhere in between.
- A growing economy and corporate tax reform have benefited companies but trade war activity makes for an uncertain outlook. To illustrate uncertainty, reporting companies have seen the most volatile trading in two years immediately after announcing earnings results. However, it appears this trading reaction could be the result of poor understanding of the effects of the recent tax reform legislation and clouds the visibility for accurately forecasting future earnings. So the volatility merely highlights poor forecasting abilities, not necessarily anything indicative of market direction.
- A lot of positive developments exist to push markets higher but looming risks serve to temper optimism usually present with such strong earnings growth. Bottom line: there doesn’t appear to be a strong case for a plummeting market but neither for a sustained rally.
As you read more pieces like this, reflect after each one and begin to piece together content from what you’ve read. Building this understanding won’t happen overnight. Consider consulting these stock news apps to guide your thinking further.
2. Start Looking into Individual Companies
Naturally, you will come across individual companies. You should identify companies consistently performing well or making strides to improve. I recommend starting by researching five companies you admire (preferably in different industries) and cultivating ideas about the strategies of each firm, their competitive advantages, and the core value they provide.
If you don’t believe any of these items to be durable over time, I would suggest moving on. You should recognize:
- what sets these companies apart from their peers,
- the prospects for the markets in which they operate (e.g., growing market vs. declining market), and
- how the market values them
The last item remains particularly important as the asset doesn’t so much matter but the price paid for it does. You can buy the most dogged companies for a fantastic price and earn a positive return while you can buy the most overpriced fantastic companies and lose money. The point is you should pay considerable attention to the price companies trade for as this will be the greatest predictor of you potential returns: pay too much and risk losing money or paying too little and extracting some value the market didn’t assign the stock.
As far as the underlying businesses themselves, you should cast aside companies if you uncover something you don’t like. Don’t let sunk costs guide your thinking.
Ultimately, a stock represents a piece of a company, so sustainable profitability is an important factor. Companies who continually produce losses, by definition, cannot survive without endless investor appetite for losses (a rare occurrence as long-term investors are in the business of buying profitable companies).
You really want to assess how profitable these companies can be, because before you decide how much to pay for a stock, you need to understand how much money that company makes. If the company makes a lot of money consistently, you will likely have to pay more to acquire the stock.
The best stock picking services consider all of these variables when making their selections to subscribers.
3. Consider Investing in Index Funds
Investing is hard. It’s more art than exact science. By writing this investing step-by-step guide, my goal is not to simplify it. In fact, what I want to convey as clearly as possible is just how difficult it is to invest in individual stocks.
Investing is so much more than following some rules of thumb. Getting an edge is difficult so you shouldn’t develop irrational self-confidence and think you have an investing edge when you really don’t.
Usually, being humble and saying to yourself that you don’t really know can be great to steady your decision-making.
If you don’t have confidence in selecting individual companies to outperform the market, another strategy is to invest in index funds like ETFs, mutual funds or some combination of the best target date funds. My preferred investing strategy involves investing in low-cost index fund ETFs through brokerages which don’t charge trading commissions like Webull, Firstrade, or M1 Finance.
4. Take Action
Once you’ve gotten a decent handle on the overall market’s activity and analyzed a set of attractively-valued companies you think stand out from the rest, it’s your time to pull the trigger.
5. Continue Following the Companies and Markets
By doing your due diligence, you will be able to follow these companies and see if they continue to perform as you expect. If a company makes a decision you don’t agree with or think will adversely impact its value going forward, it might be a good idea to cut your losses short and move on.
Investing well can produce very rewarding experiences you share with those you love. For me, it allowed me to buy my first home and now to grow the assets necessary to purchase my next one together with my wife to start our family.
In general, developing your own disciplined investing approach based on rational, informed decision-making can lead to financial peace of mind.
Learning how to invest wisely at a young age will have you maximize your youth by allowing compounding to work to your benefit and see how to build wealth. Do yourself a favor and invest in yourself by following these 5 steps on how to start investing money.
Finishing the conversation with my brother-in-law, as I laid out this process to meet his interest in becoming a student of markets, I stressed how these are the first steps to developing a disciplined investing approach.
Taking the mindset that informed investing can lead to real gains, I saw he wanted to jump in and work toward developing his own investing approach. He may not become the next Warren Buffett but following through will allow him to have his (wedding) cake, and eat it too.
About the Author and Blog
In 2018, I was winding down a stint in investor relations and found myself newly equipped with a CPA, added insight on how investors behave in markets, and a load of free time. My job routinely required extended work hours, complex assignments, and tight deadlines. Seeking to maintain my momentum, I wanted to chase something ambitious.
I chose to start this financial independence blog as my next step, recognizing both the challenge and opportunity. I launched the site with encouragement from my wife as a means to lay out our financial independence journey to reach a Millennial retirement and connect with and help others who share the same goal.
I have not been compensated by any of the companies listed in this post at the time of this writing. Any recommendations made by me are my own. Should you choose to act on them, please see the disclaimer on my About Young and the Invested page.