The stock market is made up of exchanges, like the New York Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq. Stocks are listed on a specific exchange, which brings buyers and sellers together and acts as a market for the shares of those stocks. The exchange tracks the supply and demand — and directly related, the price — of each stock. (Need to back up a bit? Read our explainer about stocks.)
Every investor should try to establish what their goals and objectives are prior to investing. There isn’t necessarily a wrong objective, but it’s more important to understand your goals because that will help drive your decisions. For instance, if you plan to regularly trade in and out of stocks, you might be better off opening an IRA account so you don’t have to pay taxes on your trades. If you plan to be a long-term investor, taxes won’t be as important of a factor and you could hold your account in a taxable or tax-free account.
Bonus Stock Market Tip: Everything above is related to how best to invest actively - in other words buying and selling into companies that have been selected by you. But what if you don't have the time, money or inclination? What if the paragraphs above put you off? Perhaps you were looking for a simpler guide? The stock market for dummies perhaps?
Use limit orders: Always use limit orders rather than market orders, when trading penny stocks. The very act of buying or selling shares in a company that is thinly traded can result in the price moving due to your trade. In other words, your buy might cause the shares to temporarily and artificially increase, then drop back down as soon as your purchase has been filled.
Most of these services offer some form of free portfolio tracking - this enables you to create a portfolio and track it properly to see how you do with no money on the line. This used to be known as paper trading in the 'good old days' before 2001. This kind of exercise can be a good way to learn and play around with things without being either serious or costly.
The OTC Markets Group (POTCQX, OTCQB, OTC Pink): Formerly known as The Pink Sheets, these markets are considered very risky for penny stock investors. Since they have such a low standard to get started, and almost non-existent fees, just about any company can be publicly traded on them. By avoiding penny stocks trading on these markets, you can reduce the vast majority of downside risks of investing in low-priced shares.
This is an excellent learning experience and one that is vital to the long-term profitability of anyone in the stock market. To get the real experience, purchase some graph paper and chart the stock price movements each day by hand. Learn to compare this with the overall movements of the equity market or index and a whole new world of investment and money will begin to open up to you!