Finally, the other factor: risk tolerance. The stock market goes up and down, and if you’re prone to panicking when it does the latter, you’re better off investing slightly more conservatively, with a lighter allocation to stocks. Not sure? We have a risk tolerance quiz — and more information about how to make this decision — in our article about what to invest in.
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.
Cost advantages -- A business can have a few different types of cost advantages. For example, an efficient distribution network can make it cheaper for a company to get its product around the country. A well-known brand name can give a company the ability to charge more than rivals. Or a proprietary manufacturing process can make it cheaper to produce a product. Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) is a great example. Not only does the company have a massive and efficient distribution network, it has one of the most recognizable and valuable brand names in the world.
Nerd tip: If you're tempted to open a brokerage account but need more advice on choosing the right one, see our 2019 roundup of the best brokers for stock investors. It compares today's top online brokerages across all the metrics that matter most to investors: fees, investment selection, minimum balances to open and investor tools and resources. Read: Best online brokers for stock investors »
Once you've decided that you want to buy stocks, the next step is to open a brokerage account, fund the account, and buy the shares. After you've done that, it's important to keep a long-term mentality -- if your stocks go down, for example, it can be very tempting to panic and sell. Remember how carefully you chose your stocks, and avoid selling your stocks without fully exploring the company's situation.
In the professional world, one of the key concepts is diversification. Harry Markowitz is a Nobel prize winning economist and one of his major discoveries was that adding new asset classes can dramatically alter the overall risk profile of a portfolio. His finding was that a portfolio that contained very low risk assets would normally benefit from lower volatility and higher returns if a higher risk asset was added. This is due to the likely lack of correlation between high and low risk asset classes.

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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?
There are many fees an investor will incur when investing in mutual funds. One of the most important fees to consider is the management expense ratio (MER), which is charged by the management team each year, based on the number of assets in the fund. The MER ranges from 0.05% to 0.7% annually and varies depending on the type of fund. But the higher the MER, the more it impacts the fund's overall returns.

Cost advantages -- A business can have a few different types of cost advantages. For example, an efficient distribution network can make it cheaper for a company to get its product around the country. A well-known brand name can give a company the ability to charge more than rivals. Or a proprietary manufacturing process can make it cheaper to produce a product. Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO) is a great example. Not only does the company have a massive and efficient distribution network, it has one of the most recognizable and valuable brand names in the world.

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.
One of the most common mistakes in stock market investing is trying to time the market. Time the market, or “market timing,” means trying to figure out the best time to get in the market, or invest. It also means the best time to get out of the market, or sell. It’s not easy to be right on both ends. It can be unsettling to experience market volatility, so that’s why it’s important to understand the difference between savings (which are more stable) and investments (which can be more volatile). It’s the time in the market that is more important, not necessarily timing the market.
Understand blockchain – Whilst you don’t need a thorough understanding of the technical makeup of cryptocurrencies, understanding how blockchain works will only prove useful. Once you understand how they secure transactions (blocks) publicly and securely, you’ll be in a better position to gauge the market’s response to big news events. Such as a huge company incorporating blockchain technology into their everyday business operations.
"I know stocks can be a great investment, but I'd like someone to manage the process for me." You may be a good candidate for a robo-advisor, a service that offers low-cost investment management. Virtually all of the major brokerage firms offer these services, which invest your money for you based on your specific goals. See our top picks for robo-advisors.
Why I’m buying: Spell out what you find attractive about the company and the opportunity you see for the future. What are your expectations? What metrics matter most and what milestones will you use to judge the company’s progress? Catalog the potential pitfalls and mark which ones would be game-changers and which would be signs of a temporary setback.
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