It may seem as though you have to be an expert to invest your money in a meaningful way. Numerous studies show that individual investors aren't very good at managing money on their own: many of us make investment decisions based on emotions, and we fail to hold investments for long enough.
And when an investor fails, it's usually because of a lack of preparation. A 2019 study conducted by the FINRA Foundation showed that only 34% of participants could answer 4 out of 5 basic questions about financial literacy. That same study showed that 54% of people hadn't given any thought about how much money they would need to retire.
While these findings highlight that a large number of Americans likely aren't investing in a meaningful way, many investors are still managing their finances wisely, and living well as a result.
In order to succeed as an investor, you may need to change your habits. These four steps are some of the key financial habits that successful investors have in common.
1. They have an investment plan
Whether it's planning for retirement or for a child's education, successful investors have an endpoint in mind, and they create a plan to reach that goal.
To build your own investment plan, start by writing down your goals and see how much you'd need to budget each month or each year to save enough for that goal. From there, consider where you're saving your money: it can be useful to research asset allocation models to determine your ideal mix of stocks, bonds, and cash savings. You can use these models to calculate expected average rates of return, and to assess your portfolio's performance.
2. They're informed
Warren Buffett is famously quoted as saying, "Never invest in a business you cannot understand." Successful investors aren't necessarily experts in every stock they hold, but they take educating themselves about investing very seriously. What's more, successful investors are careful about where they get their investment advice.
You can educate yourself about stock market sectors that interests you by keeping up to date with news articles or industry-specific podcasts. Of course, you can also learn a great deal about an individual company by visiting their investor relations website. For a deeper dive, you can view the company's financial statements to learn more about the financial health of the company.
3. They prioritize investing
For many people, investing can become a last priority, in lieu of everything else pulling at their bank accounts. Successful investors make investing a priority throughout their lives. Not everyone starts off with a lot of money to invest, but it's smart to make investing a part of your routine early on -- even if that's just investing in a company 401k.
Over time, consistent investing can provide you with a huge edge in accumulating wealth. For example, a person who is able to save $2,500 a year for 25 years, earning 10% interest, will grow their account to over $270,000 over that period. But if another person saves the same amount of money each year and earns the same level of interest but starts 5 years later will only grow their account to about $157,000.
4. They adjust when needed
As your life changes, your goals may change. When those changes happen, it's important to revisit your investment plan to make sure that it still works for your new situation. Successful investors don't just set their plans and let them go. Instead, they make sure to revisit their plans at least once a year to assess how their plan is performing. They also make sure to update their plans when they have a significant life event -- like a raise, an inheritance, a new baby, or a home purchase -- to see how that event will alter their plan.