In terms of the beginning investor, the mutual fund fees are actually an advantage relative to the commissions on stocks. The reason for this is that the fees are the same, regardless of the amount you invest. Therefore, as long as you meet the minimum requirement to open an account, you can invest as little as $50 or $100 per month in a mutual fund. The term for this is called dollar cost averaging (DCA), and it can be a great way to start investing.
Before deciding where to allocate your investments, it’s critical to think about your long-term and short-term goals. It’s important to know how much risk you are willing to accept. As you approach retirement, fixed-income securities, such as highly-rated bonds and money market accounts, offer a greater level of safety. But a younger investor might want a more high-risk, high-reward strategy for at least part of their investments to maximize returns over a long period of time.
That’s because there are plenty of tools available to help you. One of the best is stock mutual funds, which are an easy and low-cost way for beginners to invest in the stock market. These funds are available within your 401(k), IRA or any taxable brokerage account. An S&P 500 fund, which effectively buys you small pieces of ownership in 500 of the largest U.S. companies, is a good place to start.
Combat fear – Yesterday was a bad day, you lost over $1,500 and the fear is now kicking in, you’re being hesitant. That hesitation will cost you money, and as we mentioned above, you should embrace losses. When your confidence has had a knock, a useful tip is to remind yourself to stick religiously to your risk rules. If you have an effective risk management strategy you’ll never lose more than you can afford.
Use stop-loss orders: Possibly the single most important tactic for investing well in penny stocks is to use stop-loss orders. Basically, you commit early on to immediately sell your shares if the price dips to a certain point. If you stick to this self-imposed rule, you limit your downside, but at the same time you remain open to the tremendous upside that penny stocks could provide. You may see better overall trading results by selling your losing positions very early and letting your gains run.
Before making your first investment, take the time to learn the basics about the stock market and the individual securities composing the market. There is an old adage: It is not a stock market, but a market of stocks. Unless you are purchasing an exchange traded fund (ETF), your focus will be upon individual securities, rather than the market as a whole. There are few times when every stock moves in the same direction; even when the averages fall by 100 points or more, the securities of some companies will go higher in price.
If investing in single stocks may be too risky for you, consider investing in good growth stock mutual funds. Mutual funds are a simple, even boring, investment plan, yet they work well for most people. Of course, all investing requires a degree of risk; there really is no sure thing. But mutual funds are a great balance of reasonable risk and excellent returns. They have built-in diversification that will keep you from putting all your eggs in one basket.
A $50 stock can be more expensive than an $800 stock because the share price means nothing on its own. The relationship of price-to-earnings and net assets is what determines if a stock is over- or under-valued. Companies can keep prices artificially high by never conducting a stock split, yet without having the underlying foundational support. Make no assumptions based on price alone.
Depending on your goals, investing in individual stocks may be more trouble than it’s worth. Choosing index funds in a specific sector can provide your portfolio with the tilt you want, but with fewer dramatic swings. There are three criteria that can be leveraged to help guide fund choice. The most discussed is “expense ratio,” where lower means fewer fees to you. The second is the number of stocks in the fund. The higher the number, the more diverse the fund. Just as important is “total assets” under management. The more assets, the more other people also agree this is a great fund. When comparing two mutual funds, I’ll line up these three criteria for funds in the same category to make an informed decision.
A stop-loss order is designed to limit losses on a position in a security. For long positions, a stop loss can be placed below a recent low, or for short positions, above a recent high. It can also be based on volatility. For example, if a stock price is moving about $0.05 a minute, then you may place a stop loss $0.15 away from your entry to give the price some space to fluctuate before it moves in your anticipated direction.
Rarely is short-term noise (blaring headlines, temporary price fluctuations) relevant to how a well-chosen company performs over the long term. It’s how investors react to the noise that really matters. Here’s where that rational voice from calmer times — your investing journal — can serve as a guide to sticking it out during the inevitable ups and downs that come with investing in stocks.