If you’re like the average American, you’re already losing a bit of steam on your New Year’s resolutions. Rather than fret over all of the ways you’re not measuring up, though, cross an easy one off of your list, and invest a little extra money.
Investing doesn’t take a lot of time, and it pays dividends (literally). Often we’re overloaded with article headlines promising to tell us which five hot stocks are the ticket to quick riches. Or we think of it as something “only wealthy people know how to do.” Research shows that women, in particular, doubt their investing savvy, and for many, investing is a privilege. Most Americans don’t have a ton of money to throw around.
But there’s no “secret” investing knowledge that you’re lacking, no fancy strategies you need to learn first—you just need to get started. As I wrote previously:
To save effectively, you have to start small and make it consistent. You build up the habit, and it gets easier to save over time. How long will it take until it’s second nature? Well, that will depend a lot on you and your individual circumstances, of course. Live below your means, automate your savings, don’t cut corners. Look, I am bored just typing these words, but it works.
You can get started with a few bucks and a few minutes’ research. That’s easier than reading more, working out, eating better or accomplishing pretty much any of your other resolutions. Here’s how to do it.
If you are offered a 401(k) account at work, then congrats—you’re already on your way to investing. If not, you’ll open an account (either a different type of retirement account, like an IRA or a Roth, or a taxable account, depending on your financial goals) at a brokerage like Fidelity, Vanguard or TD Ameritrade. Online brokers let you manage your own investments, or you can opt for a robo-advisor, like Wealthfront or Betterment, which will make automated investing decisions for you. Chances are, though, that you won’t need to pay any extra to invest with a robo; the best strategies are simple enough that you can do them on your own.
Don’t just pick at random—not all brokers are created equal. Sites like NerdWallet have thorough reviews of each option, and you’ll want to pick the one that best aligns with your goals. Some things you’ll want to consider: Management fees (should be well under one percent), account minimums and investment choices.
Once you open your account, you’ll need to pick how you want to invest your money. (Most online brokers have fairly low minimums—if you’re not starting with a lot of money, you’ll want to make sure this is the case with the company you choose.)
Your goal with investing is to match the market, not to beat it (because guess what: no one is beating the market consistently), because historically, the market has gone up. Yes, there are setbacks, which are the headlines you’ve been reading lately. But generally, the market goes up, which means your investments will become more valuable over time. So, pick low-cost mutual or index funds that track, ahem, an index, like the S&P 500 or the Dow.
These are collections of stocks, so you’re spreading out some of the risk of investing (you don’t want to put all of your money on a single company. Chances are, if you’re sticking to your 401(k), you don’t have access to individual stocks anyway.).
You want to pick a couple of these. And you want to decide how much of your money will be invested in stocks, and how much will be in “safer” investments, like bonds or cash. The younger you are, generally, the more you should have in stocks, but it depends ultimately on your risk tolerance and your financial goals.
For some specific examples of which funds to pick, read this article:
You may have noticed I keep using the word “consistent.” That’s because one of the keys to investing, besides time, is to keep doing it. By consistently contributing to a retirement or taxable account, you’re riding out market lows, and building wealth over time. “When setting up your account, opt for an automatic trading plan, if possible, to benefit from dollar-cost averaging,” writes Anna Louise-Jackson for NerdWallet. “This is a strategy of spreading out investment purchases over time to ensure you don’t invest all your money when prices are high.”
So, once you’ve opened your account and made an initial deposit, set up automated contributions to it. Treat it like a bill you have to pay on time. How often you do this and for how much is up to you; try to do so at least monthly, if not weekly.
You’ll want to check in on your investments periodically, of course, but as long as you’ve made informed decisions upfront, your investments should be all set for some time. In many cases, you don’t need a ton of money to get started, making it the ideal resolution to cross off your list before February.