Are you new to investing? If so, congratulations! You've already taken the first step toward a secure financial future.
However, investing can be quite intimidating at first. With that in mind, here are three pieces of advice from our experts to help you get started.
The best advice I have for beginning investors is not to take too much risk until you know what you're doing. Stay away from high-volatility growth stocks and stick with safety.
A good place to start is with the Dividend Aristocrats, a group of 25 top-tier companies that not only increase their payouts like clockwork but are relatively stable and tend to deliver excellent long-term performance. If you don't feel comfortable picking your own stocks yet, you can use broad-market index funds to build up the base of your portfolio. Once you have most of your capital in solid, stable stocks or funds, then there's nothing wrong with experimenting a little.
If this approach sounds boring to you, consider this fact. If you had invested $2,000 into a simple S&P 500 index fund 30 years ago, and added an extra $2,000 every year afterward, you would have contributed a total of $60,000 to your account. Yet based on the average annual total return of the S&P during that time period, your account would have grown to more than $450,000 by now -- and many of the Dividend Aristocrats would have beaten that total.
Doesn't sound too boring now, does it?
The advice I wish I had been given when I was just starting out? Make investing as automatic as possible.
In other words, any money you plan to invest should never hit your checking account. This is simple for your employer-sponsored retirement plan, where contributions come as payroll deductions.
It's wise to do the same thing with your savings and with other investment accounts outside your employer-sponsored plan, such as individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Odds are that your employer will let you deposit a set amount each pay period directly into a second account. I did this for the last five years I worked in a corporate job, which made it relatively easy to save a substantial amount of money.
On the investment end, many online brokers let you set up automatic monthly investments. Setting up automatic monthly buys of a low-cost index fund, such as the Vanguard S&P 500 ETF (NYSEMKT:VOO), is an amazingly simple yet effective way to get ahead in your savings and retirement goals.
It's surprising how quickly you'll adapt to having less money in your account each payday. What's even more surprising is how much those small monthly deposits and investments can accrue over 30 years or more.
My advice to beginning investors is to avoid the No. 1 thing that trips up most young people: thinking you don't have enough money to start investing. In the past, you needed thousands of dollars just to open a brokerage or mutual fund account -- and thousands more to establish a viable portfolio. But these days, many financial institutions will allow you to open accounts with as little as $50 or $100, especially if you're willing to make an ongoing commitment to add more money automatically, as Jason described.
For those with small amounts to put into the market, brokers that offer commission-free exchange-traded funds, as well as mutual fund companies that offer diversified fund options at low costs, are among the best ways to start investing. Avoiding even modest commissions is usually the best bet, as a $10 commission is still a huge bite out of your investment when you only have $50 or $100. If you really want to buy individual stocks, one thing to consider is whether a company has a direct purchase plan, which can allow you to buy shares at relatively little added cost. However you choose to invest, getting started is important even if you don't have much money up front.