Confession: I’m completely clueless when it comes to anything financial. While I understand the basic idea of living within a set budget, numbers just aren’t my favorite language. NASDAQ? 401(k)? I prefer romance languages and speaking in sample sale.
But while savings and investments won’t provide me with the instant gratification of scoring a really great pair of shoes at a good price, I do realize that they are important to understand and think about. The younger you are and the earlier you start, the more you stand to gain. Think about it–when you’re younger, you have a little bit more freedom to be both selfish and risky. Yes, it hurts to tuck away money when your paycheck can barely cover the essentials and your tax refund has the potential for so much fun, but starting to invest early allows you to be more adventurous and, potentially, reap more in rewards. With all this in mind, one of the goals I set for myself this year was to figure out the basics by investing a small amount in some fun stock.
It took some time and research, but I finally figured out how to begin and manage my tiny portfolio in a simple manner that I’m comfortable with. And, trust me, if I can do it, you can too! Fair warning though: the process I used it pretty much the furthest thing imaginable from anything seen in The Wolf of Wall Street. I doubt I’ll be rolling in Jonah Hill-esque money anytime soon, but I’m ok with that.
If living like Leo is your goal, you might want to stop reading now (and maybe check on your morals). But here’s a How To guide of process that I used and found comfortable for investing a small, budgeted amount (in this case, my tax refund) on my own:
Step 1. Google “How to invest in stock.”
The obvious disclaimer here is that you can’t trust everything you read online. But with some browsing and clicking, I was eventually able to find this article from CNN Money that was filled with tons of great, easy-to-understand information; it was the perfect compliment to Sara Hamling’s The Stock Market, published earlier this month. While I definitely recommend reading both articles, these are some of the highlights that I found to be particularly helpful:
- A smart stock portfolio will include stocks from several different industries. This way the portfolio is somewhat protected if one area of the economy takes a downturn.
- It’s smarter to think ahead and invest in purchasing stock that has the potential for long-term growth.
- There’s no set standard or magic formula for stock evaluation – different brokers will evaluate stocks based on different formulas, but the most important thing is to feel comfortable with the company’s profile and potential. Generally speaking, large companies will offer stable, but small, returns, while smaller startups offer more risk and (potentially) higher returns.
- Stock can be purchased from three different types of vendors: Full-service brokers will execute your stock orders while also offering their expert opinion, making them they most expensive option – you get what you pay for. The other two options are discount and online brokerages, which require you to do the background research on your own.
Step 2. Research online brokerages
Because I was only going to be making a petite initial investment and, partially, because I’ve always had the impression that trading stock in person involves a lot of pushing and yelling, I decided to look into using an online brokerage. I won’t lie, this was super scary. Some sites, like E*TRADE and TD Ameritrade, seem like they have great deals on the surface, but the fine print makes it clear that a substantial upfront investment (think +$10K) is required; others offer great terms and fees to their existing banking customers, but little incentive for outsiders.
Confusion regarding which site to use was definitely not something I had prepared for, so I did what I always do when feeling utterly and completely let down by the Internet/real world – I asked my friend Gina.
Gina is one of those magical people who always seems to be able to give the exact right advice (If you don’t have a Gina, I really recommend getting one ASAP. I found mine in college, but maybe try your favorite coffee place?). Fortunately for me, Gina has recently been doing some experimental investing on her own and pointed me to Sharebuilder.com. This site, which is geared toward small time investors like myself, proved to be exactly what I needed – there’s no minimum requirement to begin and each trade costs $6.95.
Step 3. Research your (potential) stocks
Once I had setup my Sharebuilder account, I need to figure out which stocks I actually wanted to purchase. Though my overall goal was to have fun throughout the process, I still wanted to try to protect my initial investment; this led me to decide on investing in a larger company, despite the fact that it would mean purchasing fewer shares.
Once this decision was made, I set about making a list of companies and brands that I happen to enjoy or find interesting. For me, this included Facebook, Twitter, Disney, Dreamworks, Time Warner, Yahoo, Netflix, and Apple. I then set about researching the stock prices and predictions, using Google and Sharebuilder’s provided tool. Ultimately, I decided to split the difference between protecting myself and taking bit of a risk, and narrowed my selection down to Disney and Yahoo.
Step 4. Place your order
Once I decided what to buy, I logged into my Sharebuilder account and placed my order; on my budget, this came to two shares of Disney, three shares of Yahoo, and, since I had a little extra, two shares of Dreamworks. Small potatoes, but it’s a start. The whole ordering process was just as easy as online shopping – which, it a sense, it is.
Step 5. Keep going
Moving forward, I plan to monitor the performance of my stocks and learn as much as I can from their performance. This includes reading up on Sharebuilder and seeking out additional articles. And, when a term is used that I don’t understand, I’ll just look it up. Ultimately, I hope that I can learn enough to expand on my earnings, reinvest profits earned, and even feel confident enough to get into some mutual funds.
Sounds pretty easy peasy, right? Here’s hoping.