I get it, I really do. As an “elder” millennial who still hasn’t paid off all of my debt (looking at you, student loans), I’ve spent many years plugging my ears whenever financial jargon comes up in conversation.
That all changed after this year’s GameStop trading frenzy, when I decided to take the plunge and begin to educate myself about investing. I typically struggle with FOMO, so the idea that I was missing out on something big drove me to investigate further. If a bunch of people on Reddit can do it, why couldn’t I? Here are some lessons I’ve been learning as I go.
Even if you feel like you’re barely getting by financially, your money is worth more today than it is in the future, so investing a small amount—say, $50 per month—can make a huge impact on your future financial health. It may feel like a sacrifice, but one of the biggest barriers to investing is just getting started, so scrounge up a little cash, take a deep breath, and commit to making your money work for you.
Once I finally realized that my investment didn’t have to be huge, it just had to be actually invested, I was able to get over the hurdle of beginning and open my first account. While I still had student loans to repay, we’d finally been able to pay off other consumer debt, as well as save up an emergency fund of about four months’ living expenses.
With these small wins on my side, I thought it was time to branch out into more “grown-up” financial literacy and take a risk on investing. Researching online helped me dispel the myth that investing was just for people in high-powered jobs on Wall Street — I realized there were many resources available for “regular people.”
Don’t be afraid to use a middleman
If you’re like me, you may be starting off with next to nothing by way of financial savvy. There are many Robo-investors and advisors out there that can diversify your portfolio and invest for you. They can put even small amounts into money markets, CDs, bonds, and stocks, without you having to fully understand what each and every account is doing on a daily basis.
I wanted a simple way to get started, but I didn’t have the time to check stocks every morning, or even learn what the stock market app on my phone could actually do. I reached out to a friend who I knew to be financially stable and savvy for advice. Although some people can feel uncomfortable sharing thoughts about finances, I trusted my friend, and told her about my financial position and goals. She recommended an app that could help me make decisions and direct me to specific accounts based on my goals.
I have access to multiple types of investment accounts, and the app is directly connected to my bank account. Each month, it automatically deposits a small amount into various accounts, and I sit back and watch what happens without having to be an expert about all of it.
I use Betterment, but there are plenty of high-quality services that can help you figure out where to put your first bit of cash. Between the advice of a friend, and the expertise of the advisors on the app, I felt confident that I could start out strong.
Take the long view
After the Reddit-fueled investing mania that I’d been hearing about, I half expected to become a millionaire within a few months. But, like anything that sounds too good to be true, I knew that a windfall was far from likely. Anything that promises to make you rich immediately is probably a scam. I decided to start my portfolio with a conservative approach, and I am committed to waiting and watching my money grow over time.
If you’re nervous about “gambling” with your money, consider setting up a high-interest savings account to put your money in while you educate yourself about your investment options. This is the most conservative investing approach, so don’t expect to be rolling in the dough just yet.
Patience is absolutely key in investing. Once your money is invested in the market, don’t let quick dips or spikes in your stocks spook you. This is normal, and often doesn’t mean anything. As long as you’re steadily adding money to your investment products, and keeping an eye on stocks, you can expect to grow your capital over time.
Determine your comfort level with risk
For those of us without a ton of money to throw around, investing can seem scary because of the inherent risk. Some of us are comfortable taking big risks—and for those who do, there can often be big rewards. I haven’t gotten to the point of trading stocks during the day, partly because of time, but also because I’m not comfortable with that type of risk—yet.
Don’t just dive in headfirst without considering what you might do if your money moves downward, because it probably will at some point. Once you’re ready to take a bigger risk, you can determine which route to take, and how much you’re comfortable with losing—and if you wait and watch, you just might see it grow!