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I am young, just started my career, and looking to begin investing so I can make my money work for me. I'm still living like I did in college (occasional purchase on myself, but most of it goes into savings) and I would like to take the extra money and invest it.

What would you suggest are the best options for me to begin? I was considering getting a personal investor [a financial advisor] for perhaps a year or so, but I've heard that they really are not worth the money. I wanted to get the input of the great minds here.

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To help you, it is first important to understand your investment goals. That is, why are you investing (Retirement, college for you or kids, buy a house, rainy-day fund, wedding expenses, etc.)? This will define your time horizon and in turn what investment options are appropriate. If you can add that detail to your question I'll take a shot at giving an answer. –  JohnFx May 13 '10 at 13:02
    
Hi Chris. By personal investor I mean someone to assist me in getting started. My friend suggested a guy that he used to help him with advice and just kind of start everything. Basically a personal reference. –  Eric U. May 14 '10 at 4:22
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@JohnFx I would like to begin investing in order to make the money sitting in my savings account get better interest than the %1 or 2% that it currently gets. I'm young so I think I can afford some risk. Ultimately this will lead to a down payment on a house and possibly purchasing a car. –  Eric U. May 14 '10 at 4:23
    
so that I can make my money work for me -- remember: money doesn't work. –  Frerich Raabe Feb 6 at 9:54

11 Answers 11

up vote 59 down vote accepted

First off, I highly recommend the book Get a Financial Life. The basics of personal finance and money management are pretty straightforward, and this book does a great job with it. It is very light reading, and it really geared for the young person starting their career. It isn't the most current book (pre real-estate boom), but the recommendations in the book are still sound. (update 8/28/2012: New edition of the book came out.)


Now, with that out of the way, there's really two kinds of "investing" to think about:

  1. Retirement (401k, IRA, SIMPLE, etc)
  2. Non-Retirement (Brokerage account, investing in individual stocks, day trading, etc)

For most individuals, it is best to take care of #1 first. Most people shouldn't even think about #2 until they have fully funded their retirement accounts, established an emergency fund, and gotten their debt under control.

There are lots of financial incentives for retirement investing, both from your employer, and the government. All the more reason to take care of #1 before #2!

Your employer probably offers some kind of 401k (or equivalent, like a 403b) with a company-provided match. This is a potential 100% return on your investment after the vesting period. No investment you make on your own will ever match that. Additionally, there are tax advantages to contributing to the 401k. (The money you contribute doesn't count as taxable income.)

The best way to start investing is to learn about your employer's retirement plan, and contribute enough to fully utilize the employer matching.

Beyond this, there are also Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) you can open to contribute money to on your own. You should open one of these and start contributing, but only after you have fully utilized the employer matching with the 401k. The IRA won't give you that 100% ROI that the 401k will.

Keep in mind that retirement investments are pretty much "walled off" from your day-to-day financial life. Money that goes into a retirement account generally can't be touched until retirement age, unless you want to pay lots of taxes and penalties. You generally don't want to put the money for your house down payment into a retirement account.

One other thing to note: Your 401K and your IRA is an account that you put money into. Just because the money is sitting in the account doesn't necessarily mean it is invested. You put the money into this account, and then you use this money for investments. How you invest the retirement money is a topic unto itself. Here is a good starting point. If you want to ask questions about retirement portfolios, it is probably worth posting a new question.

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For $4 + free Amazon prime shipping, I cannot pass up that book. Thanks for mentioning it! –  Bryan Denny Aug 13 '10 at 0:05
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I'm from India, Does the book you suggested suits me too? I'm looking for a book that teaches me a,b,cs of stock markets , buying & selling shares. –  claws Jan 24 '11 at 21:10
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@msemack Just wanted to thank for the suggestion of Get a Financial Life. I've started reading it this week and I can not put it down. So much helpful advice! There is some out dated material but I still find the information on investing and evaluating rent vs buy very helpful. Thanks again. –  Eric U. Jul 26 '11 at 3:30
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A new version has been released - amazon.com/Get-a-Financial-Life-ebook/dp/B001UP63MS/… –  Eric U. Aug 27 '12 at 18:02
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First, congratulations on even thinking about investing while you are still young! Before you start investing, I'd suggest you pay off your cc balance if you have any. The logic is simple: if you invest and make say 8% in the market but keep paying 14% on your cc balance, you aren't really saving.

Have a good supply of emergency fund that is liquid (high yielding savings bank like a credit union. I can recommend Alliant).

Start small with investing. Educate yourself on the markets before getting in. Ignorance can be expensive.

Learn about IRA (opening an IRA and investing in the markets have (good)tax implications. I didn't do this when I was young and I regret that now)

Learn what is 'wash sales' and 'tax loss harvesting' before putting money in the market.

Don't start out by investing in individual stocks. Learn about indexing.

What I've give you are pointers. Google (shameless plug: you can read my blog, where I do touch upon most of these topics) for the terms I've mentioned. That'll steer you in the right direction.

Good luck and stay prosperous!

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The only debt I have is small student loan at 6% and a mattress that I'm paying on 0% financing for 24 months. I pay my credit card off each month so no worries there. My emergency fund is about 6 months worth if I were to lose my job or have an unexpected purchase. I guess to further add to the question, what is the best way to educate myself with the market? I'll be sure to readup on your blog. Thank you! –  Eric U. May 14 '10 at 4:26
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Helpful link - moneycone.com/… –  Eric U. May 14 '10 at 4:41
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Eric, there a lot of good beginners books available. I can recommend 'The Only Guide to a Winning Investment Strategy You'll Ever Need - by Larry Swedroe'. A lot of books are hard to read, this one was very readable. –  MoneyCone May 14 '10 at 12:02
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@Kevin - there is no study that provides sufficient data to shoe people spend more on cards. There are cute studies about how college kids in contrived experiments will spend $8 in gift cards vs $5 with cash, but this hardly translates to an adult spending $5000/mo and running through a card instead of carrying wads of cash. –  JoeTaxpayer May 8 '11 at 1:42
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Am I the only one who feels like mentioning credit card debt is sort of insulting? It's quite obvious that credit card debt should be the first thing to go when you start making money... Just my thoughts. –  user606723 Aug 18 '11 at 13:38

First I'd like to echo msemack's answer. Start by maxing out your 401K and IRA contributions. Not a lot of people just starting their career have the luxury of doing much more outside of that. Here are some additional tips that I learned when I was just getting started:

  • When I was starting out with investing, I read Benjamin Graham's book "The Intelligent Investor." One of the first points he makes in the book is that there's a mutually exclusive difference between investors and speculators. Resist the temptation to become a speculator. Investors put their money in sound financial securities with good long term earning potential. Speculators buy and sell their financial securities with an eye towards the shorter term swings in performance (whether market-wide or in individual companies or industries). Investors earn money from the companies they invest in and the profits from their goods and services. Speculators earn money more from eachother... which is a zero-sum game.
  • Start by investing in a diversified mutual fund or index fund. It's better to start diversified (money spread across different instruments, industries, and company sizes) than trying to build your own diversified portfolio from scratch.
  • Don't get into buying individual stocks until you can read and comprehend a financial statement from that company. You should really understand that company's business model and prospects before committing to becoming a part owner of that company.
  • Don't be tempted to buy or sell a stock based solely on a recent rise or fall in that stock's price. Leave it to the speculators to beat eachother up trying to capitalize on short-term movements in price.
  • If you are buying a stock or other security, it should be for the purpose of holding that security for the long haul.
  • Once you buy a stock, don't look at the price of that stock... instead follow the company and make a judgement for yourself whether that company is headed in the right direction.
  • It's nearly impossible to consistently "beat the market". That would mean that you as an individual knows more than the collective whole of the market. Treat any advice that claims to allow you to beat the market with a wary eye. Along the same line, starting with an index-based fund (a fund that closely follows an index like the NASDAQ or S+P 500) is a great way to start and guarantee that your returns will not lag the market (significantly) long term.
  • Learn the power of "cost averaging" - that is investing the same amount consistently every month/quarter regardless of the current performance of the market. This has the effect of buying more shares when the market is down, without needing to predict when the "bottom" is and potentially "missing the market".
  • Invest your money in different instruments depending on the time horizon for your savings goal. For savings goals that are more imminent (e.g. for a car, boat, or house downpayment), invest in safer, more guaranteed instruments like bonds and CDs. For long term goals (retirement), get a bit riskier (stocks, mutual funds, ETFs).
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Thank you for posting advice other than "maximize retirement savings" (which is very US-specific). –  Steed May 15 '13 at 17:50
    
@Mike, you state that speculating is bad. Now, how do hedge funds make money? –  Pacerier Nov 27 '13 at 8:29
    
@Pacerier - I didn't really say that is was bad. For certain entities, it's a perfectly good way to make money in markets. In the context of the question and given that the OP isn't a finance professional, my argument is to avoid speculating. –  Mike Piche Dec 6 '13 at 20:33

I would personally suggest owning Mutual Funds or ETF's in a tax sheltered account, such as a 401k or an IRA. This lets you participate in the stock market while ensuring that you have diversified portfolio, and the money is managed by an expert.

For a great beginner's guide see Clark's Investment Guide (Easy).

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Warren Buffett answered this question very well at the 2009 Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. He said that it was important to read everything you can about investing. What you will find is that you will have a number of competing ideas in your head. You will need to think these through and find the best way to solve them that fits you.

You will mostly learn how to invest through good examples. There are fewer good examples out there than you might think, given how many books there are and how many people get paid to give advice in this area. If you want to see how professional investors actually think about specific investments, over a thousand investment examples can be found at www.valueinvestorsclub.com, just login as a guest. The site is run by Joel Greenblatt (you would benefit from reading his books also), and it will give you a sense of the work that investors put into their research.

Good luck.

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Not 100% related, but the #1 thing you need to avoid is CREDIT CARD DEBT.

Trust me on this one. I'm 31, and finally got out of credit card debt about eight months ago.

For just about my entire 20s, I racked up credit card debt and saved zero. Invested zero.

It pains me to realize that I basically wasted ten years of possible interest, and instead bought a lot of dumb things and paid 25% interest on it.

So yes, put money into your 401k and an IRA. Max them out.

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Avoid all debt. Use credit if you like, but avoid debt. –  MrChrister Apr 21 '11 at 17:21

The most important thing is to start. Don't waste months and years trying to figure out the "optimal" strategy or trying to read all the best books before you start. Pick a solid, simple choice, like investing in your company sponsored 401(k), and do it today.

This I Will Teach You To Be Rich post on barriers has some good insight on this.

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+1 for the good link. However, I think its important to spend at least some time reading to avoid bad strategies (ie. investing while having lots of high-interest/credit card debt). –  Pete Sep 2 '10 at 19:12
    
That's true. You don't want to max out your 401(k) while you have $30k in credit card debt. I was referring more to things like worrying if you should invest in a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA. The "Save More Tomorrow" plan from the book <a href="amazon.com/Nudge-Improving-Decisions-Health-Happiness/dp/…; by Thaler and Sunstein is another take on to overcome barriers to <a href="en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… savings.</a> –  John Roberts Sep 2 '10 at 21:25
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Add links with text like this [link name ](link url), so nudge and retirement savings –  Pete Sep 6 '10 at 1:16

Adding to the very good advises above - Concentrate on costs related to investment activity. Note all expenses and costs that you pay. Keep it low.

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If your employer offers a 401(k) match, definitely take advantage of it. It's free money, so take advantage of it!

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When you start to buy stock, don't buy too little of it! Stocks come at a cost (you pay a commission), and you need to maintain a deposit, you have to take these costs into account when buying to calculate your break even point for selling. Don't buy stock for less than 1.500€

Also, diversify. Buy stock from different sectors and from different geographies. Spread your risks. Start buying 'defensive' stocks (food, pharma, energy), then move to more dynamic sectors (telecom, informatics), lastly buy stock from risky sectors that are not mature markets (Internet businesses).

Lastly, look for high dividend. That's always nice at the end of the year.

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I would add the warning that buying individual stocks is risky and probably a bad idea unless you really know what you are doing. As a rule of thumb, I would say that if you are asking questions about it on internet forums, you probably shouldn't be buying individual stocks. –  Kevin Apr 21 '11 at 18:12
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+1 Kevin. "Never put all your eggs in one basket" is the golden rule for investing. –  GUI Junkie Apr 27 '11 at 16:32
    
@Kevin, you probably shouldn't be buying anything unless you really know what you are doing - that includes buying into mutual funds. –  Victor Apr 15 '13 at 22:17
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@Victor, yes this is true. You should always understand anything you are putting your money into. My main point here though, is that there is a lot more to learn about buying individual stocks than their is about mutual funds. Not to mention the amount of "maintenance" work to keep up with the individual stocks to know when to buy more, sell, etc. –  Kevin Apr 16 '13 at 14:52

This is a tough question, because it is something very specific to your situation and finances.

I personally started at a young age (17), with US$1,000 in Scottrade.

I tried the "stock market games" at first, but in retrospect they did nothing for me and turned out to be a waste of time.

I really started when I actually opened my brokerage account, so step one would be to choose your discount broker. For example, Scottrade, Ameritrade (my current broker), E-Trade, Charles Schwab, etc. Don't worry about researching them too much as they all offer what you need to start out. You can always switch later (but this can be a little of a hassle).

For me, once I opened my brokerage account I became that much more motivated to find a stock to invest in.

So the next step and the most important is research! There are many good resources on the Internet (there can also be some pretty bad ones).

Here's a few I found useful: Investopedia - They offer many useful, easy-to-understand explanations and definitions. I found myself visiting this site a lot.

CNBC - That was my choice for business news. I found them to be the most watchable while being very informative. Fox Business, seems to be more political and just annoying to watch. Bloomberg News was just ZzzzZzzzzz (boring).

On CNBC, Jim Cramer was a pretty useful resource. His show Mad Money is entertaining and really does teach you to think like an investor. I want to note though, I don't recommend buying the stocks he recommends, specially the next day after he talks about them. Instead, really pay attention to the reasons he gives for his recommendation. It will teach you to think more like an investor and give you examples of what you should be looking for when you do research.

You can also use many online news organizations like MarketWatch, The Motley Fool, Yahoo Finance (has some pretty good resources), and TheStreet. Read editorial (opinions) articles with a grain of salt, but again in each editorial they explain why they think the way they think.

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