It is also important to know what you want to accomplish with your investments before you actually invest. For example, you might want to purchase a home, fund a child’s college education, or build an adequate retirement nest egg. If you set financial goals at the outset—and match your investments to achieve those goals—you are more likely to reach them.
But building a diversified portfolio of individual stocks takes a lot of time, patience and research. The alternative is a mutual fund, the aforementioned ETF or an index fund. These hold a basket of investments, so you’re automatically diversified. An S&P 500 ETF, for example, would aim to mirror the performance of the S&P 500 by investing in the 500 companies in that index.
Dividend investing refers to portfolios containing stocks that consistently issue dividend payments year-in and year-out. These stocks produce a reliable passive income that can be especially helpful in retirement. Dividend reinvestment is a way to accelerate portfolio growth. Still, you can't judge a stock by its dividend price alone. Sometimes companies will increase dividends as a way to attract investors when the underlying company is in trouble. Dividends are taxable.
It can be helpful to start with paper trading, or simulated trading that allows you to practice without risking actual money. By keeping track of pretend money, and making imaginary trades, you'll learn what tactics work and what sorts of penny stocks provide you with the greatest profits. If you lose on your trades, you don't lose cash in real life, and ideally, you'll learn some things that you might be doing wrong.
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?
The use of borrowed money “levers” or exaggerates the result of price movement. Suppose the stock moves to $200 a share and you sell it. If you had used your own money exclusively, your return would be 100% on your investment [($20,000 -$10,000)/$10,000]. If you had borrowed $5,000 to buy the stock and sold at $200 per share, your return would be 300 % [(20,000-$5,000)/$5,000] after repaying the $5,000 loan and excluding the cost of interest paid to the broker.

Most Wall Street pundits will tell you it's impossible to time the stock market. While it's unrealistic to think you'll get in at the very bottom and out at the very top of a market cycle, there are ways to spot major changes in market trends as they emerge. And by spotting those changes, you can position yourself to capture solid profits in a new market uptrend and keep the bulk of those gains when the market eventually enters a downturn.

His book is a big beast at more than 600 pages and will need to be committed to, but it offers some fantastic insights into how to invest safely and profitably for the long-term and how to make your money work harder. Having interviewed all these legendary traders and investors, the book contains some excellent insights into asset allocation and portfolio planning that almost everyone should gain some benefit from reading.
ECN/Level 2 quotes: ECNs, or electronic communication networks, are computer-based systems that display the best available bid and ask quotes from multiple market participants and then automatically match and execute orders. Level 2 is a subscription-based service that provides real-time access to the Nasdaq order book composed of price quotes from market makers registering every Nasdaq-listed and OTC Bulletin Board security. Together, they can give you a sense of orders being executed in real time.

Investment ideas can come from many places. Ask your family members what products and services they are most interested in—and why. Look at trends in the world and companies that are in a position to benefit from them. Stroll the aisles of your grocery store with an eye for what is emerging. You can also seek guidance from professional research services such as Standard & Poor's and ValueLine. Many online sources also exist for investment ideas.
A market index tracks the performance of a group of stocks, which either represents the market as a whole or a specific sector of the market, like technology or retail companies. You’re likely to hear most about the S&P 500, the Nasdaq composite and the Dow Jones Industrial Average; they are often used as proxies for the performance of the overall market.
Understand the risks associated with the stocks you are investing in. In the company’s 10-K, there is an extensive section that talks about the company’s risks. You also need to understand your own tolerance for risk. If you invest in a stock that is highly volatile and you are not comfortable with market fluctuation, owning the investment will make you anxious and more likely to sell when it does not make sense strategically.

By knowing how much capital you will need and the future point in time when you will need it, you can calculate how much you should invest and what kind of return on your investment will be needed to produce the desired result. To estimate how much capital you are likely to need for retirement or future college expenses, use one of the free financial calculators available over the Internet.