When it comes to buying and selling stocks, the tough part is identifying those companies whose future prospects you like but that, for whatever reason, Mr. Market is selling at a discount. Once you've done that due diligence, actually buying shares of the companies is -- as an old geometry teacher I knew used to say -- "easy-peasy": You call your broker -- or, better yet, head to your favorite discount brokerage's website -- and simply place the order. No muss, no fuss -- though, of course, you will have to pony up that pesky brokerage commission.

As with stocks, investing in mutual funds also requires plenty of due diligence, and that's exactly what we provide to our subscribers each and every month in the pages of Champion Funds, the newsletter designed to prove that, yes, Virginia, you can beat the market with funds. (And we're doing it, too. Click here for a risk-free trial to see how.)

Beyond that, though, the nuts and bolts of buying shares of funds are just a tad more involved than buying stocks. For starters, not every fund is available at every brokerage. And what's more, if the fund you want is available, it may not be on your brokerage's NTF (i.e., "no transaction fee") list. If that's the case, you'll have to pay up to invest in the fund through your brokerage.

The good news
On the other hand -- and this would be the one with the good news -- it won't cost you a dime if a fund is on the house's NTF list. As it happens, many brokerages offer plenty of funds on an NTF basis, and beyond that, you can always count on getting into a shop's own funds without taking a transaction-fee hit.

That's especially good news for folks who want to invest in such popular (and dirt-cheap) picks as Vanguard 500 Index (FUND:VFINX), Vanguard Total Stock Market (FUND:VTSMX), Fidelity Spartan 500 Index (FUND:FSMKX), and Fidelity Spartan Total Market Index (FUND:FSTMX). When it comes to those funds, if you have an account at Vanguard or Fidelity, you are golden.

Get active
All of the above are index picks, but there are oodles of top-shelf actively managed funds -- which are the kind I zero in on in Champion Funds -- available at major brokerages, too. In the most recent issue of the newsletter, I identify an active pick that has delivered outsized gains since it opened for business back in the 1990s. The manager has been on board since day one, and the thing sports an expense ratio that falls well below that of its typical rival. Indeed, its price tag weighs in at less than 1%.

Another recent Champion Funds recommendation targets big boys such as Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO), Liberty Media (NYSE:L), and Freddie Mac (NYSE:FRE). Since its inception in 1992 through the end of July, this fund has treated shareholders to a market-beating total return of nearly 280%. Not too shabby, eh? And the further good news is that both of these picks are also widely available, with plenty of brokerage houses offering them for sale, so to speak, on their shelves.

The price you pay
But will you have to pay a transaction fee to invest in them?

Ah, there's the rub. Depending on which brokerage you go through, you may very well have to. But remember: You can always avoid transaction fees by going directly through the fund company itself. And these days, even the fund industry's smaller "boutique" players have made it increasingly simple to invest directly through them. Applications are typically available online, and frequently you can even place your orders through the company's site.

It's true, of course, that going direct means you'll surrender the convenience of consolidated quarterly statements, the chief advantage of going through a single brokerage for all your fund investments. Then again, you'll always be able to get the fund you want without paying a transaction fee -- and the process of doing so is becoming exceedingly simple.

Indeed, you might even call it easy-peasy.

Shannon Zimmerman, lead analyst for Champion Funds, owns shares of Vanguard Total Stock Market and Fidelity Spartan Total Market Index. The Fool has a strict disclosure policy. You can read all about it by clicking right here.