Investing creates wealth, and investing in stocks has helped many investors achieve their financial dreams. But many people don't know how to invest, and that leaves them vulnerable to questionable investment strategies that haven't stood the test of time and in some cases have cost people huge amounts of their savings. Below, you'll learn about how to invest in a simple way that has proven itself time and time again.

How to start investing: A simple philosophy
Before you begin investing, you need an overall framework for understanding the stock market. Ours is simple: We believe that the best way to invest your money in stocks is to buy great companies and hold them for the long term. The best investments don't need you to check on them daily because they are solid companies with competitive advantages and strong leadership. Patience is the secret to investing and making money grow.

What's surprising to many investors is that this simple philosophy actually works better than alternatives. Many people believe that frequent trading is the key to making money in the stock market, and day-trading techniques purport to show people how to get rich quickly by counting on buying and selling shares quickly at small profits that add up over time. However, the vast majority of frequent traders lose money over any given year, and one research report found that fewer than 1% of day traders find ways to make money consistently on a regular basis.

There are several reasons for this. First, transaction costs like commissions and taxes eat into profits and can exacerbate overall losses. Second, the short-term randomness of share-price movements makes day trading like gambling, and it's tough to maintain emotional detachment in that setting, leaving you open to mistakes that can cause massive losses.

Most importantly, though, frequent trading takes your eye off the fundamental connection between a company and its stock. Over long periods of time, share prices tend to track the success of the underlying business, and growing companies usually see their stocks grow with them. Taking the time to search out the companies you'd be comfortable owning can pay off with years or even decades of market-beating performance that will make it easier for you to achieve your financial goals.

How to pick stocks
If you're going to invest in stocks, you have a couple of choices. The easier method is to buy a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund that owns all of the stocks in a popular index like the Dow Jones Industrials or S&P 500. By doing so, you're essentially buying the whole universe of stocks within the index you choose, participating in the general growth of the entire market.

However, the other option is to buy individual stocks, and that brings both more risk and more potential reward. If you pick a great stock, it can soar over time and produce immense returns. If you choose the wrong stock, you can lose your entire investment. That's why building a diversified portfolio with multiple stocks is a must in order to protect against an unforeseen event that could hit one of your stocks hard.

In picking those individual stocks, there are many different yet equally promising strategies you can follow. Some investors concentrate on dividend-paying stocks to provide them with relative safety and security from their stock portfolio, along with regular income that they can use either to cover cash needs or to reinvest into buying additional shares of stock. Value investing involves finding underappreciated stocks whose prices are at a discount to the true intrinsic value of the underlying business, and well-known investors like Warren Buffett have used value-investing tenets to produce strong returns.

At the other end of the spectrum, higher-risk companies can offer even bigger rewards for those who can find the best prospects. If you look at smaller companies' stocks, you can make discoveries early in a company's existence that can result in much higher returns than if you wait until a company is large enough to hit the radar screens of those in the mainstream investment community. Often, the stocks with the highest growth potential won't fit neatly into any one category, but even once the investing public starts to notice them and bids up their shares to what can appear to be extremely expensive levels, choosing the right stocks can leave you with opportunities for future gains.

How you implement these strategies depends on your personal preferences and appetite for risk. Some investors prefer one strategy and concentrate on finding a diverse set of stocks all of which embrace that particular philosophy. Others instead choose to use multiple strategies in their efforts to diversify their portfolios, and that can involve owning several different kinds of stocks. Either method can produce the long-term results you want as long as you're comfortable with the overall investing plan you choose and stick with it.

Get the help you need
Here at the Fool, you'll find plenty of help to get you moving in the right direction. Our 13 Steps to Investing Foolishly offers a step-by-step plan you can follow to develop your investing skills and become more successful. In addition, to find the partners you'll need in order to start buying stocks, the Fool's Broker Center has a list of trusted financial institutions that can pave the way for you to build your own stock portfolio.

Not knowing how to invest stops many people from ever taking the first step toward financial freedom. By learning how to invest, you can avoid that fate and put yourself in a much better position to make all your dreams come true.