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 »
The least demanding way to invest in the stock market is to invest through a fund. There are two types of funds. First is the actively managed mutual funds which have higher fees—92% of these funds fail to beat the underlying index over any three-year period. The second type is the index tracking fund, which typically has lower costs and is more effective in matching the growth of the stock market. This means they are growing in popularity because of the higher return on investment you receive. You should also use the most tax efficient way to invest: using your Investment Retirement Account (IRA) first. It’s best to invest in a low-cost, index-tracking fund through your tax-free IRA.
A stock's market capitalization (cap) is its true value, the sum of the total shares multiplied by price. It has more meaning than the share price because it allows you to evaluate a company in the context of others of the same size in its industry. You can use a market cap as a filter to screen for companies to balance your portfolio. A small-cap company with stock capitalization of $250 million to $2 billion shouldn't be compared to a large cap, which ranges from $10 billion to $100 billion. Market capitalization influences your investment returns.
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.
History shows that investing in stocks is one of the most profitable ways to build wealth over the long term. Nearly every member of the Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans got there because they own a large block of shares in a public or private corporation. Learning to invest wisely and with patience over a lifetime can yield a portfolio far outpacing the most modest income.
This education really ought to include one of the daily papers that covers the movements on the stock exchange (information here) in detail, such as the Financial Times or Wall Street Journal. Remember, the investment bankers that you are competing against have Bloomberg terminals and Reuters subscriptions, while everyone else is watching CNN and MSNBC. Since everyone is reading the same things on the same days, these might not be the best places to pick up your share market tips...
Dollar-cost average: This sounds complicated, but it’s not. Dollar-cost averaging means investing a set amount of money at regular intervals, such as once per week or month. That set amount buys more shares when the stock price goes down and fewer shares when it rises, but overall, it evens out the average price you pay. Some online brokerage firms let investors set up an automated investing schedule.