Beginning to invest can be intimidating — you have lots of questions and are nervous about putting your hard-earned money on the line — but it doesn’t have to be. These small investment ideas will help you start building your portfolio and your confidence over time. The best way to start investing is to start with what you have now and watch it build over time.
Use Your Savings Account
While a savings account is not an exciting investment portfolio, it is a place for your money to earn a small amount of interest with no risk of loss. Use your savings account as a place to accumulate capital for later investments and as a place to keep some of your income liquid for when you need to access it quickly.
Participate in Your Employer’s Retirement Plan
If your employer offers a retirement plan like a 401(k), a 403(b), a SIMPLE IRA or any other kind of defined contribution retirement plan, contribute a portion of your salary every pay period. This is an easy way to save regularly and automatically. Many employers also offer a match of some kind — always invest enough to get the full amount of your employer’s match.
Not only is your retirement account an easy way to start investing, it also offers favorable tax situations. Depending on your employer’s plan, you can either contribute money pre-tax and pay when you withdraw (tax-deferred) or pay taxes when you contribute and not when you withdraw earnings later in life. Consider increasing your contribution by 1% each year to build your investment portfolio and your potential investment income.
Pay Off High-interest Debt First
Paying off high-interest debt is the best way to lock in an above-average and guaranteed rate of return on your money, especially if the interest rate on your debt is in the double digits. Some credit cards charge 20% interest; the US stock market has an average return of 7-10%. While past performance is not an indication of future results, 7% return is generally used as an estimate. If your interest rate is higher than the expected return, paying off at least some high-interest debt will do more for your long-term finances than purchasing investments.
Invest Regularly and Automatically
Investing a consistent amount regardless of market performance is a method called dollar cost averaging and can benefit you in the long-term. For example, say you want to invest $1,000 this year ($83 per month). When the market is doing well, your $83 investment will add a bit to your portfolio, but when the market is down that same $83 will allow you to purchase more. If you can’t make significant acquisitions to take advantage of large dips in the market, dollar cost averaging still allows you to grow your portfolio and benefit from low-cost purchasing opportunities.
There are a variety of apps that allow you to automate saving small amounts you can then invest. For example, Acorns rounds up transactions from your credit or debit card purchases and allows you to invest the change. Qapital also rounds up and saves the spare change for you to use as you wish. These apps make it easier to divert some of your money to investment-focused accounts.
Invest Your Tax Refund
Receiving your tax refund is the one time you regularly get a windfall that is not already obligated to your ongoing expenses. Setting aside a portion of the refund will allow you to begin investing with a larger lump sum, which can then be supplemented with smaller investments throughout the year.
Consider Low-cost Tools
One of the best ways to start investing is to use investment tools that don’t require large management fees or upfront costs.
Dividend reinvestment plans (DRIPs) use the dividends from stocks you have purchased in a particular company to add additional shares (or fractional shares) to your portfolio. The shares are purchased at a discount and without paying sales commission to a broker — just one share of a company’s stock can get you started. Note: a diversified portfolio with investments in a variety of companies and industries helps mitigate risk. Because DRIPs are tied to a single company, utilizing a single DRIP as your only investment is high risk.
Exchange-traded Funds (ETFs) are collections of stocks and bonds that are traded together just like an ordinary share of stock. Many require no minimum investment and utilize a passive management structure, which means lower management costs. ETF transactions do incur a fee, so consider using a discount broker that doesn’t charge a commission or plan to invest less often, perhaps making larger quarterly purchases rather than smaller monthly ones.
Mutual funds are securities that allow you to invest in a portfolio with a single transaction. They are a popular investment tool, and many have low minimum investment requirements ($0-$3,000).
While beginning your investment journey can seem intimidating, the basics are simple: Start now. Maximize the amount you save and your employer’s contribution to your retirement fund. Minimize taxes and fees you have to pay. Continue investing. Diversify your portfolio from the beginning and as you continue to grow it.
That said, as your portfolio grows, investing becomes more complicated and it will be harder for you to balance the risk of investments against their potential returns. At this point, consider speaking with a financial advisor about your long-term goals and how your investments can help you achieve them.