How To Invest: The Smart Way To Make Your Money Grow

How To Invest

If you want a shot at becoming wealthy, you need to do more than simply earn money. Most importantly, you need to hold onto the money you earn. And then, you need to grow your money. In order to grow your money, you need to learn how to invest.

When you become an investor, you’ll be using your money to acquire things that offer the potential for profitable returns through one or more of the following:

Interest and dividends from savings or dividend-paying stocks and bonds
Cash flow from businesses or real estate
Appreciation of value from a stock portfolio, real estate, or other assets
As you learn to become an investor, you will begin to devote your limited resources to the things with the largest potential for returns. That may be paying down debt, going back to school, or fixing up a two-family house.

Of course, it may also mean buying stocks and bonds, or at least mutual funds or exchange-traded funds.

Thanks to advances in technology, you can start to invest with as little as $5 a month and a smartphone. It’s our job to help you filter out the noise, learn the basics, and make good investment decisions from the start.

So here are the basics of how to invest—wisely.

Table of contents
Why invest?
When should you invest?
Investing for the first time
Risk vs reward
What do you invest in?
Our philosophy is to keep investing as simple as possible
Mutual funds
Retirement accounts
Advanced investing strategies
Bottom-line advice
Should you DIY or get help with your investments?
Online stock brokers
Next steps
Need a financial advisor?
Why invest?

Investing allows you to significantly grow your money over time thanks to the power of compound returns.

Compounding can be called the Eight Wonder of the World. Thanks to the power of compounding, a single penny could grow into millions of dollars, given enough time. You may not live that long, but consider the following examples.

Say you start investing when you’re 16…
As unrealistic as it may sound to start investing that young, say you got a small inheritance and you decided to invest it—if you put $5,000 in an account with an interest rate of seven percent and contribute an extra $200 a month, after 30 years you’ll have a little over $264,000.

Using a more realistic example, say you start investing when you’re 22, right after graduation…
You start out just putting $50 a month into your 401k, with a 50 percent company match.

If you raise contributions by the same amount as any pay raises, you’ll have more than $1 million by age 65. That assumes annual raises of 3.5 percent and an 8.5 percent return on 401(k) investments.

While there are many factors to consider—a simple example like this demonstrates the power of compound interest if everything goes right.

So if you want to start saving now, you could even have a whole year’s salary saved by the time you’re 30…Take a look at the chart below to see how.

How To Save A Year’s Worth Of Salary In Your 401(k) By Age 30
Age Salary Your 6% Contribution 3% Employer Match Total Contributions Year-End 401(k) Balance
22 $30,000 $1,800 $900 $2,700 $2,889.00
23 $30,900 $1,854 $927 $2,781 $6,123.60
24 $31,827 $1,910 $955 $2,864 $9,707.07
25 $32,781 $1,967 $983 $2,950 $13,670.03
26 $33,765 $2,026 $1,013 $3,039 $18,045.62
27 $34,778 $2,087 $1,043 $3,130 $22,869.71
28 $35,822 $2,149 $1,075 $3,224 $28,181.14
29 $36,896 $2,214 $1,107 $3,321 $34,021.95
30 $38,003 $2,280 $1,140 $3,420 $40,437.60
When should you invest?
Now that you know why you should invest, how about when to invest?

The answer to that is pretty simple. The right time is now.

Investing sounds more intimidating that it is. Yes, there’s always a potential risk for loss, but there’s an even bigger potential for serious gain.

Doing anything for the first time can be terrifying, especially when it involves your hard earned cash. But here’s some advice for first time investors.

Investing for the first time
Investing is like religion—people have some strong opinions and may even belong to one of many sects or schools of thought. Here are a few that come to mind: (add a graphic depicting these three different groups)

The Doomsday Preppers – these people are convinced our financial system will collapse, so they stick all their money in gold and real estate.
The Gambling Day-Traders – these are most often the people you see in movies, with their desks or walls covered in monitors and TVs, watching every second of the day and seeing how the stock market changes.
The Indexers – these are people who simply invest in everything in order to take advantage of the slow and steady increase in the overall value of the markets.
If you already belong strongly to one of the above camps, you may not find the investing resources on Money Under 30 useful. If, however, you have an open mind and are interested in learning simple strategies for successful lifelong investing—without any gimmicks—then read on.

Risk vs reward
It’s true: Investing involves risk. We’ve all heard stories about investors who lost half of their fortunes in the Great Depression or even more recently in the Great Recession. We’ve heard about the Bernie Madoff’s of the world and investors who lost everything to a scam. Although you can never eliminate risk entirely, you can significantly reduce risk if you invest wisely.

The great thing about investing young, is you’re likely investing in longer-term investments—like your retirement account. These investments are less risky than quick-fix stock trading by people who really don’t understand what they’re doing.

While investing can be risky, it’s best to just deal with that risk, because not investing can cost you a lot more money than losing a little of money on a bad investment.

We talked about compound interest above, and the key rule to that is—the sooner you start to save the more your money will earn over time. Take a look here to see the big difference between someone who started investing at 25 versus 35. You could be missing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars if you start saving later.

What do you invest in?
Our philosophy is to keep investing as simple as possible
Create broad diversification through a mix of low-cost mutual funds and ETFs, while keeping it fun by holding individual stocks with up to 10 percent of your assets.

The most important factor in being a successful investor is not the stocks and funds you pick. Successful investing depends on:

Choosing proper asset allocation – the overall mix of bonds, stocks, and cash you hold in your portfolio.
Making and sticking with an automatic investment plan – this way you avoid making terrible, emotionally-charged decisions—like selling at the bottom of a market crash.
The investing information on Money Under 30 barely scratches the surface of all the knowledge out there about investing, but that’s OK. We’re not trying to train the next class of hedge fund generations so much as give the average person enough knowledge and confidence to begin investing on your own.

Mutual funds
A mutual fund is a type of professionally managed investment that pools your money with other investors. The fund’s managers then use the pooled money to buy securities for the group.

It’s best to start out investing in mutual funds or exchange-trade funds rather than individual stocks and bonds until you get your feet wet. These types of funds enable you to invest in a broad portfolio of stocks and bonds in one transaction rather than trading them all yourself.

They’re not only safer investments (because they’re diversified), but it’s often far less expensive to invest this way. You’ll either pay just one trading commission or nothing at all (in the event you buy a mutual fund directly from the fund company), as opposed to paying trading commissions to buy a dozen or more different stocks.

Although mutual funds can be purchased through any brokerage account, you’ll save money on trade commissions by buying funds direct through a mutual fund company like Fidelity or Charles Schwab.

Retirement accounts
An IRA provides certain tax advantages as an incentive to save for retirement. The downside is there are limits on how much you can contribute to the account each year and when you can withdraw the money.

Traditional IRA
With this type of account, your contributions may qualify for a deduction on your tax return. In addition, there’s the potential that your earnings can grow tax-deferred until the time you need to withdraw them at retirement age. The primary argument with a Traditional IRA (vs. a Roth IRA) is that most feel they’ll be in a lower tax bracket when they retire, so paying taxes on this money at stage will be cheaper than paying them when they’re earned (considering the up-front deduction).

Roth IRA
With a Roth IRA, your contributions are after-tax and the money can potentially grow tax-free while you save. The big benefit here is that withdrawals at retirement time are tax-free, assuming you meet the required conditions. This is my number-one recommended retirement account for most people.

Rollover IRA
This is an account that’s created by rolling over another account, such as a company-sponsored 401(k). For example, if you have a 401(k) with an employer who you leave, you can roll that money over into a Rollover IRA.

If you’re new to investing and want to begin putting money to work for the long-term, an IRA is where to start. Read more about the best places to open an IRA here.

Advanced investing strategies

Individual stocks
If you decide you want to venture out and buy individual stocks, we recommend you take a slow and steady approach. Don’t put more than 10 percent of your portfolio in individual stocks until you get very comfortable with what you’re doing.

A great place to start is by reading about value investing, where we focus on heavy amounts of research and a “buy-and-hold” mentality.

It’s important not to be afraid of the stock market, it really is one of the best places to grow your money.

Real estate
Real estate investing makes millionaires (just look at Donald Trump), but you don’t have to be a millionaire to start investing in real estate.

Investing in real estate is a long-term investment that investors invest in for cash flow (the money you make from rental properties every month after all expenses are paid). Cash flow will also increase over time because rents will go up with inflation while your mortgage payments stay the same.

Like any investment, though, it’s important to know the risks. And consider if you have what it takes to be a landlord.

With online investment sites like EquityMultiple and Fundrise that run on crowdfunding, you can invest with as little as $1,000.

Crowdfunding allows you to invest in real estate, and other peer-to-peer ventures. Sites like Lending Club allow everyday investors give personal loans to others. These loans go towards anything from debt consolidation to funding a wedding.

Bottom-line advice
If you’re new to investing and can afford to begin putting money away for retirement, I recommend everybody begin investing with a Roth IRA.

If you already have a retirement account or need to invest money for another goal (like buying a home or starting a business), a regular brokerage account will do. Keep in mind that your capital gains—the money you earn when you sell a security for more than you paid for it—is taxable, as will certain dividends you receive.

Should you DIY or get help with your investments?
It’s important to know when it’s best to have a financial advisor and when it’s best to opt for a different investing platform. If you’re looking for real financial advice and you have quite a bit of money to handle, a face-to-face advisor will be much better at explaining things to you than any electronic form of advisor.

Some people may choose to invest with a financial advisor because they want face-to-face interaction, professional advice, and don’t mind paying a premium for someone handling their money. Oftentimes, people with large sums of money to invest will hand it over to a financial advisor so they don’t have to do the work.

We’ll talk more in depth about choosing a financial advisor in a minute.

So how do you find a financial advisor? It’s relatively easy to do as long as you know the right questions to ask. If you’re a Millennial and are looking for a financial advisor (although, make sure you really need one), here’s a roadmap of the best advisors for you.

Online stock brokers
These are brokers that are available online. You can typically do everything without ever having to speak to a person, which is nice for some people. Online brokers are also often much cheaper than a traditional brick and mortar broker where you’d meet face-to-face with a person.

Ally Invest is an example of an one of the best online brokers for new investors. Ally offers $4.95 stock trades – about the cheapest around – and there’s a low $500 minimum funding requirement to open an account. Other options include Fidelity, TD Ameritrade, E*Trade, and Merrill Edge. If you’re interested in opening a brokerage account, you can research them with the excellent comparison tools at

So-called robo-advisors like Betterment and Wealthfront offer the benefits of a financial advisor with the ease of using an online broker. Robo-advisors are growing in popularity and take the stress out of knowing how (and when) to invest, as well as having to meet with someone in-person. With robo-advisors, you’re instantly diversified in a plethora of stocks and bonds, and your allocations will automatically adjust for you based on your goals.

You may want complete ease and automation, as well as the ability to to a) not have to talk to anyone in person, and b) not have to sit down at a compute to do any research. Using an investment app like Stash, you can invest as little as $5 right from your phone (and get $5 just for signing up!).

Next steps
These are the basics of investing—there’s plenty of directions you can take now that you know what you’re doing.

Setting up an automatic investing system
Here’s a guide to investing in a socially responsible way
Here’s how to know when it’s time to sell your investments
Want others to experience the excitement of investing—here’s how to give investments as gifts
Maxed out your 401k? Here’s what to do next
Need a financial advisor?
The above investment accounts are all great for do-it-yourself investors. However, if you find yourself wondering if it’s time to get professional help making a financial plan, it may be time to work one-on-one with a financial advisor. You can learn more about how to find a qualified financial advisor to help with your investment goals here

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