Investing intimidated me for a long time because I thought you needed to spend hours researching stocks in order to do it well. I didn't have the time -- nor the interest, frankly -- to do that when I was younger, so I largely stayed away from investing.
Fortunately, I gradually learned tricks that helped me begin investing without spending hours trying to decipher confusing stock charts. Here are a few of my best recommendations.
1. Invest in an index fund
Index funds are a great investment for those without the knowledge or time to choose their own stocks. They're a collection of stocks you purchase together and they're composed of all the same stocks as the index they're designed to mimic. For example, S&P 500 index funds contain stocks of all 500 companies in the S&P 500.
They're a great choice for many investors because they enable you to quickly and affordably diversify your portfolio. You instantly get a small stake in hundreds of different companies in different sectors, so no single stock affects your portfolio too much. Fees are usually pretty low too. The best S&P 500 index funds only charge you $3 per year for every $10,000 you have invested in the fund.
It's impossible to predict the exact return you'll get from any investment, but S&P 500 index funds typically produce returns that are very close to the S&P 500 itself.
Over the past 30 years, the S&P 500 has had a compound average annual growth rate of 10.7%. If you'd invested $50,000 in an S&P 500 index fund at the start of 1991, you'd have ended up with over $1 million by the end of 2020. With that kind of earnings potential, you can definitely reach your long-term goals with just an index fund alone.
2. Consider a robo-advisor
Robo-advisors are a newer option for busy investors. You choose the one you want to work with, create your account, and answer a series of questions about your investing goals and risk tolerance. Then, the robo-advisor will take this information and create an investing portfolio for you.
It's a simple, automated way to start investing, but there are a few drawbacks to it too. You could end up paying more in fees than you would if you were choosing your own investments because you'll owe an advisory fee on top of your investment fees. When comparing robo-advisors, pay attention to these costs as well as their investment offerings to decide which is right for you.
Robo-advisor-created portfolios are also cookie-cutter and may not provide you with the same returns as a portfolio tailored specifically for you. These portfolios don't automatically adjust your asset allocation over time, so you must remember to go in and redo the robo-advisor questionnaire or manually adjust your asset allocation yourself.
That doesn't mean you can't successfully invest with a robo-advisor, but you need to be aware of these shortcomings, so you can decide if it's the right choice for you.
3. Automate your contributions
Whether you use a robo-advisor, invest in an index fund, or try your hand at choosing your own stocks, it can help to automate your contributions. Many brokers now enable you to link your bank account to allow automatic transfers to your investment account. You can choose when and how much money you'd like to invest, and you can adjust your automated contributions as often as you'd like.
If you want to make sure this strategy works for you, you have to make sure your bank account always has sufficient funds. Consider making your contributions after you get paid every month to ensure you don't run into any hiccups.
You can do this with a robo-advisor, a taxable brokerage account, or a retirement account. Think about which account makes the most sense for you to contribute to and then put the tips above into practice. If you're investing for the long term, you shouldn't have to look at your portfolio more than once or twice per year, and you can still see some impressive returns.