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The oldest rule for thinking about how to start investing money is also the simplest: “Buy low, sell high.” While it seems blindingly obvious and begs the question of why anyone would want to do anything else when investing, you might be surprised how hard it is to put into practice.

Investing is a discipline which plays not only on astute analysis and remarkable luck but also on people’s behavioral responses. Holding onto your stocks during periods of intense stock market volatility takes a lot of courage and isn’t what the human brain is wired to withstand.

But how do you approach investing if you don’t have a background in it? Without much prior experience, it’s tough to say how to invest your money. There’s an ocean of information out there and sorting through it requires deliberate, thoughtful reflection when piecing together what you’ve read.

woman looking out at sea

When it comes to growing your wealth and working toward financial independence, investing is an important tool.

Through investing, you can buy assets which, hopefully, grow in value, whether it is real estate like your home, a tax-advantaged investment (e.g., retirement account, health savings account), stocks, bonds or alternative investments.

All of these, when balanced appropriately and included in an investment portfolio, represent the best investments for young adults.

Let’s walk through some simple steps on how to begin to invest your money.

First, Invest in Yourself

looking at statistical graphs, loan review check, financial balance, stock footage

Recently, I attended a wedding with my wife and her family where my brother-in-law approached me with a conversation about how to invest money.

He wanted to know how he could replicate the performance seen by the world’s greatest investors and learn how to start investing with little money. Specifically, he yearned to turn a small sum of money into an account balance with two commas in quick fashion.

Boy, if only I knew the sure-fire way to make that path my own reality, we wouldn’t have driven to the wedding in a rented mid-tier subcompact.

I cautioned him that those investors are truly gifted and the exception to the norm. While it is important for him to know how to start investing young, I told him the common trait these legendary financiers share: following a systematic and disciplined approach to investing.

Further, they learned how to invest in yourself and gained a true appreciation for studying the stock market and the players working in it. These high income skills have yielded them significant returns over time.

I followed this with saying regardless of investing style, time frame, or philosophy, these great investors all have discipline, transact based on logical, informed thinking and do not let emotions drive their decision-making. 

These are the most important elements required for investing success.

The investing styles are merely a means to an end and are developed later. Any investor starting out should focus on these core principles and learn to stick to them during times of good and bad.

How to Start Investing Your Money: Develop Your Investing Approach

pros and cons of teen debit cards

As I explained this to my brother-in-law, I could see his disappointment in my not knowing any shortcuts to overnight investing success.

However, we launched into a discussion around how he could develop his own disciplined investing approach by first becoming a student of markets.

Knowing that this discussion could become overly cumbersome in just one conversation, I decided to share only introductory steps, which I outline below.

Investing isn’t easy but, at the same time, it shouldn’t be seen as a frightening endeavor. If done wisely and consistently, investing can separate you from retiring comfortably at a reasonable age and working into your golden years out of necessity.

We all want a comfortable retirement, so why shouldn’t we make smart decisions to get there?

With that thinking, I will do the same here. Short of a formal education in finance, my five high-level steps for gaining familiarity with investing in the stock market are as follows:

1. Read a Lot About the Stock Market

young man checking laptop cafe

Sounds logical, right? You may be surprised by how many people I’ve heard say they got into a stock simply because so-and-so recommended it.

This person winds up not doing a lick of due diligence before investing and often doesn’t know what was happening in the stock market, nor anything about the company.

To counteract this, I suggest first beginning by reading reputable stock market investment websites that discuss markets (e.g., stock news publications).

As you read more, I really suggest approaching every article with a heavy dose of skepticism.

This will make you more likely to piece together content from multiple sources and form your own thinking about markets and the companies in them.

As an exercise, take a moment to read this 2018 U.S.-China trade war article about the earnings estimates for public companies. After you’ve read it, what were the main, salient points that stood out to you? I found the following to be most important:

  • Many investors seem to think lackluster stock market movement during this quarter’s earnings announcements indicates peaking corporate profits. When companies announce record earnings and the stock market barely moves, it must mean expectations were high and future earnings don’t look to get any better.
  • Analysts, or those people who follow stocks and publish opinions on them, seem to disagree and are increasing their profit projections at the largest rate in 6 years. This is where the skepticism should come into play. This conflict means someone is wrong, but who? Perhaps both are right and yet both are wrong. The truth likely lies somewhere in between.
  • A growing economy and corporate tax reform have benefited companies but trade war activity makes for an uncertain outlook. To illustrate uncertainty, reporting companies have seen the most volatile trading in two years immediately after announcing earnings results. However, it appears this trading reaction could be the result of poor understanding of the effects of the recent tax reform legislation and clouds the visibility for accurately forecasting future earnings. So the volatility merely highlights poor forecasting abilities, not necessarily anything indicative of market direction.
  • A lot of positive developments exist to push the stock market higher but looming risks serve to temper optimism usually present with such strong earnings growth.
  • Bottom line: there doesn’t appear to be a strong case for a plummeting stock market but neither for a sustained rally.

As you read more pieces like this, reflect after each one and begin to piece together content from what you’ve read. Building this understanding won’t happen overnight.

2. Start Looking into Individual Companies

Stock market graphs and charts

Naturally, you will come across individual companies. You should identify companies consistently performing well or making strides to improve.

I recommend starting by researching five companies you admire (preferably in different industries) and cultivating ideas about the strategies of each firm, their competitive advantages, and the core value they provide.

If you don’t believe any of these items to be durable over time, I would suggest moving on. You should recognize:

  • what sets these companies apart from their peers,
  • the prospects for the markets in which they operate (e.g., growing market vs. declining market), and
  • how the stock market values them

The last item remains particularly important as the asset doesn’t so much matter but the price paid for it does. You can buy the most dogged companies for a fantastic price and earn a positive return while you can buy the most overpriced fantastic companies and lose money.

The point is you should pay considerable attention to the price companies trade for as this will be the greatest predictor of your potential returns: pay too much and risk losing money or pay too little and extract some value the stock market didn’t assign the stock.

As far as the underlying businesses themselves, you should cast aside companies if you uncover something you don’t like. Don’t let sunk costs guide your thinking.

Ultimately, a stock represents a piece of a company, so sustainable profitability is an important factor.

Companies who continually produce losses, by definition, cannot survive without endless investor appetite for losses (a rare occurrence as long-term investors are in the business of buying profitable companies).

You really want to assess how profitable these companies can be, because before you decide how much to pay for a stock, you need to understand how much money that company makes.

If the company makes a lot of money consistently, you will likely have to pay more to acquire the stock.

How to Find Individual Companies Worth Buying

The best stock picking services consider all of the variables discussed above when making their selections to subscribers. Have a look at two Motley Fool stock research services subscribed to by millions of investors.

Either subscription makes for a great short-listing system to find good stocks worth investigating yourself—and possibly even buying for your portfolio for the long-term. Both services recommend buying and holding for no less than five years, departing with some of the other swing trade alerts services people use to find short-term profit potential in the stock market.

You can also get them, and two other Motley Fool services, as part of Motley Fool’s Epic Bundle.

Motley Fool Rule Breakers: Best for Long-Term Investors Looking for Growth Stocks

motley fool rule breakers sign up

  • Available: Sign up here
  • Best for: Buy-and-hold growth investors
  • Price: Discounted rate for the first year

Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommends stocks that the Rule Breakers team believes have massive growth potential. In some cases, these companies are at the forefront of emerging industries—in others, they’re disrupting the status quo in long-established industries.

This stock subscription service doesn’t fixate on what’s currently popular, but instead always looks for the next big stock ahead. That means these Motley Fool picks have the potential to be nauseatingly volatile … but also the potential to rocket higher exponentially.

Rule Breakers’ team has six rules it follows before making stock recommendations to subscribers:

  1. Only invest in “top dog” companies in an emerging industry. As Motley Fool puts it: “It doesn’t matter if you’re the big player in floppy drives—the industry is falling apart.”
  2. The company must have a sustainable advantage.
  3. The company must have strong past price appreciation.
  4. The company needs to have strong and competent management.
  5. There must be strong consumer appeal.
  6. Financial media must overvalue the company.

In other words, Rule Breakers’ team considers a number of factors before it ever recommends a stock to its users. If it’s not a well-run company with a sustainable advantage over its competitors, and it’s not in an emerging industry, it probably won’t get past Rule Breakers’ velvet ropes.

How has Motley Fool Rule Breakers performed?

Their rules seem to pay off, if their results are any indication.

Since the product’s inception in 2004, Rule Breakers has more than doubled the S&P 500, beating many leading money managers on Wall Street. Their results speak for themselves and easily justify the affordable price tag.

rule breakers vs sp500 dec 7 2023
Motley Fool
What to expect from Motley Fool’s Rule Breakers

The service includes five primary items you can expect to receive when you sign up:

  1. A list of Starter Stocks—including their “essential Rule Breakers”—to begin your investing journey
  2. Top-10 rankings of timely buys from the entire Rule Breakers portfolio
  3. Two new stock picks each month
  4. Investing resources, including the stock picking service’s library of stock recommendations
  5. Access to a community of investors engaged in outperforming the market and talking shop

And of course, you’ll receive regular communications from the Rule Breakers team providing analysis and rationales behind the portfolio’s holdings.

If you’re unhappy with the service within the first 30 days, you can receive a full refund. You can also read more in our Motley Fool Rule Breakers review.

Related: 7 Best Seeking Alpha Alternatives [Competitors’ Sites to Use]

Motley Fool Stock Advisor: Best for Buy-and-Hold Investors

motley fool stock advisor signup no price

  • Available: Sign up here
  • Best for: Buy-and-hold growth investors
  • Price: Discounted rate for the first year

Motley Fool’s signature product, Stock Advisor, aims to provide investors with one thing: top picks for market-beating stocks from the site’s co-founders. And it espouses my favorite, plain-vanilla trading style: buy-and-hold.

The investment newsletter and service sends recommendations for “Steady Eddies” and potential high-flying stocks the service believes provide financially sound fundamentals.

Preferring to stick with companies that outperform steadily over time, Stock Advisor offers stock picks with investment rationales, research, and information to educate you about your investments.

How has Motley Fool Stock Advisor performed?

Stock Advisor stock picks have performed exceptionally well over the service’s 22-year existence. The service has made 175 stock recommendations that have historically delivered 100%+ returns, multiplying members’ net worth several times over.

Overall, the Motley Fool Stock Advisor stock subscription service has returned 671% through April 8, 2024, since its inception in February 2002. This number is calculated by averaging the return of all stock recommendations it has made over the past 22 years. Comparatively, the S&P 500 Index has returned 152% over that same time frame.

stock advisor vs sp500 apr 8 2024
Motley Fool
What to expect from Motley Fool’s Stock Advisor:

The Stock Advisor service provides a lot of worthwhile resources to subscribers.

  1. “Starter Stocks” recommendations to serve as a foundation to your portfolio for new and experienced investors
  2. Two new stock picks each month
  3. 10 “Best Buys Now” chosen from over 300 stocks the service watches
  4. Investing resources with the stock picking service’s library of stock recommendations
  5. Access to community of investors engaged in outperforming the market and talking shop

The service charges a discounted rate for the first year and has a 30-day membership-fee refund period. Consider signing up for Stock Advisor today.

Read more in our Motley Fool Stock Advisor review.


Motley Fool Epic Bundle

epic bundle signup

If you ever wanted to try more than one Motley Fool service, now’s the time.

Motley Fool Epic Bundle isn’t itself a stock-picking service—instead, it’s a bundled selection of four popular Motley Fool stock recommendation products:

  • Stock Advisor: Buy-and-hold stock picks designed to deliver consistent performance with less volatility.
  • Rule Breakers: Stocks that have massive growth potential, whether they’re at the forefront of emerging industries or disrupting the status quo in long-established businesses.
  • Everlasting Stocks: Long-term stock picks that follow Tom Gardner’s Everlasting philosophy of seeking outperformance by finding companies with an edge—whether that’s a superior company culture, pricing power, or leadership.
  • Millionacres: Real Estate Winners: A recommendation service that revolves around real estate investment trusts (REITs) and other real estate-related equities.

The point of Epic Bundle is simple: Collectively subscribe to all four products for much less than it would cost to buy individual subscriptions of each. Historically, that has only applied to regular renewal rates; but right now, Motley Fool is offering a significant first-year discount on Epic Bundle. Now, first-year cost savings come out to about 22% vs. the first-year prices of all four products individually, then those savings expand to 52% at regular renewal rates.

Related: Best Investment Accounts for Kids

3. Consider Investing in Index Funds and Mutual Funds

Portrait of lady in glasses thoughtfully looking in laptop with pen in hand

Investing is hard. It’s more art than exact science. By writing this investing step-by-step guide, my goal is not to simplify it.

In fact, what I want to convey as clearly as possible is just how difficult it is to invest in individual stocks.

Investing is so much more than following some rules of thumb. Getting an edge is difficult, so you shouldn’t develop irrational self-confidence and think you have an investing edge when you really don’t.

Usually, being humble and saying to yourself that you don’t really know can be great to steady your decision-making.

If you don’t have confidence in selecting individual companies to outperform the market, another strategy is to invest in index funds like exchange traded funds (ETFs), mutual funds or some combination of the best target date funds.

What is an Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF)?

An ETF is a marketable instrument that tracks an index or collection of assets. ETFs function like stocks, which you can buy and sell at any time on the market.

ETF prices fluctuate based on supply and demand, just like any security. ETFs are a type of investment that can be passive or active.

Passive ETF investments automatically go to work for you by purchasing a basket of underlying assets in an index as you invest your dollars, while active ETFs give investors options with custom management and even exposure to indexes as well.

ETFs don’t need to track stock market indices—they may also invest in specific industries or sectors.

Because of the various investment options available through passive and active ETFs, holders face varying charges for having their funds managed by ETF managers.

Management, administrative, and operational costs are common expenses for the fund.

What is a Mutual Fund?

Mutual funds are a great way for investors to diversify their portfolio and receive the benefits of professional management. When many people put their money together and pool it, they can buy a common portfolio of assets to achieve the mutual fund’s objective.

A mutual fund is a collection of investments, typically stocks and bonds. Many investors come together by pooling their money to invest in this group instead of purchasing them separately or through an investment advisor, stock brokerage or other means of purchasing investments.

They can be managed by either a professional investing team or passively as an index fund. Active funds tend to have more input from the manager while passive ones have less reliance on managers’ decisions because the investments track an index.

Unlike ETFs, investors can select different mutual funds with unique features and operational fees.

Mutual funds also come in two varieties: closed-ended or open-ended.

  • Closed-ended mutual funds: Closed-ended mutual funds work in a similar manner as ETFs by issuing a fixed number of shares through an initial public offering. From there, these closed-ended mutual fund shares trade openly on the market like stocks or ETFs.
  • Open-ended mutual funds: Open-ended mutual funds differ by offering new shares to the investors who place money with the mutual fund or redeeming them from investors who sell their shares back to the mutual fund.

Are ETFs and Mutual Funds the Best Way to Invest Your Money?

Positive guy together with cheerful waitress watching funny video on website on smartphone

My preferred investing strategy involves investing in low-cost index fund ETFs or mutual funds for the long-term through brokerages which don’t charge trading commissions like M1 Finance or Public.com.

You can also choose to invest in index funds on Robinhood or many of the best Robinhood alternatives, all of which come with their strengths and weaknesses.

Index funds are the best way to invest your money if you aren’t sure of how best to invest in stocks. They allow you to invest your money in the stock market without it being extremely hard.

So, if you have little experience or confidence in your own judgement, index funds through ETFs and mutual funds are great options.

Related: Best Investments for Kids

What is Diversification?

smartphone investments

It’s also advisable to hold some of the best ETFs and mutual funds for diversification purposes.

Diversification is a way to invest your money in the stocks of multiple companies at once, reducing your direct risk or exposure to any one company’s actions or profit potential.

As an example of diversification and how it can reduce uncertainty and come in alignment with your risk tolerance, consider investing in stocks of multiple companies versus in just one.

You could invest your money among the top 100 best companies in the market or choose to invest in 5 companies grabbing headlines.

The former is what I recommend as it provides you exposure across many more industries and makes for a diversified portfolio.

By limiting your concentration in only a handful of stocks and opting for a broader portfolio, when one company underperforms, it has less drag on your returns. As a counterpoint, if one stock outperforms, your broadly-diversified portfolio will lag behind.

On the whole, this should converge to average annual expected market returns, minimizing the volatility and hopefully orienting toward a steadier return upward in the long-term.

While no returns are guaranteed and past performance isn’t a predictor of the future, with time, choosing to invest your money in stocks should perform well in a diversified portfolio.

How to Start Investing Money

woman smartphone laptop cafe online apps

Many options exist for starting to invest money—even with small amounts—thanks to many new brokerages on the market.

Several offer fractional shares to invest your money, meaning instead of forking over $150 for a single share of Google (GOOGL), you can purchase a smaller fraction in line with the amount of money you have to invest and your desired investment.

Additionally, the best brokers and robo-advisors also avoid charging trading commissions for your investments, meaning you can contribute in increments as small as you can afford.

This is of particular importance to Millennials and Gen-Zers who may not have significant sums of money to invest all at once, but rather have small amounts of cash which come available after accounting for all of the expenses in the monthly budget.

Read below for some of the most popular financial apps for young adults or anyone looking at starting to invest your money.

1. Public.com: Best Free Stock App for Beginners to Invest Money

public signup

  • Available via desktop, Apple iOS and Android App on Google Play
  • Best For: New investors with limited capital
  • Sign up here

Public.com is a commission-free investing app that targets Millennials and Gen-Zers who have attuned their senses to social media. These age groups want to align their investing with their social preferences as well as keep good company to socialize and learn from others.

The stock investing app boasts an increasingly-common feature geared toward younger investors who may not have enough money to buy some higher cost shares at one time: fractional investing.

This product feature plays on the company’s mission of making the stock market an inclusive, educational investment opportunity which can be fun. They accomplish the latter point by allowing people to invest alongside friends and other well-regarded investors.

Much like social media platforms who provide the standard blue check mark logo to verify public figures, Public.com provides visibility into trade activity and other insights these verified investors wish to provide to the Public.com community.

Read more in our Public.com investing app review.

Related: 8 Best Fractional Share Brokerages to Buy Partial Stocks & ETFs

2. M1 Finance: Best Way to Invest Money Automatically

m1 finance sign up

  • Available: Sign up here
  • Price: Free to open account; no commissions on stock/ETF trades

For those looking to fund an investment account with on-going contributions and letting the robo-advisor handle all of the decisions, you should look at M1 Finance.

This service provides the option to invest in “pies,” or mini portfolios which have underlying stock and ETF selections to create a diversified portfolio.

The service allows you to create your own “pies” or rely on over 80 expertly-created portfolios to align your investment with your stated financial objectives.

Additionally, M1 Finance provides automatic rebalancing between funds to mitigate your asset allocation straying too far from the optimum selection.

The service does this as you contribute money, make withdrawals and over time if you do nothing. Thus makes M1 Finance one of the best investing apps for beginners, in my opinion.

Kids can even use this money app to start investing early with the help of their parents managing their investments through a custodial account. Index funds are the best investments for a teenager to learn how to start investing.

My wife and I use a robo-advisor to handle all of our individual retirement account (IRA) investments because it takes the guesswork out of deciding which stocks or index fund ETFs to buy.

This automated diversification and fee minimization aligns with our investing philosophy and allows us to focus on attention elsewhere while our money works for us in the background.

Read more in our M1 Finance review.


3. Acorns: Best Way to Invest Money through Your Spare Change

acorns signup
  • Available via Apple iOS and Google Android
  • Best For: Beginning Investors looking for a complete personal finance solution
  • Sign up here

Acorns is one of a number of robo-advisors that minors and young adults find helpful for starting to invest money with a small amount of capital. With enough time, your money should grow into a large portfolio.

Hence the name, Acorns, and the company’s goal of maturing from an acorn into a mighty oak tree. The service doesn’t charge money to make trades on your behalf, but it does charge an account fee depending on the services you select for your account.

When you set up an account, you answer questions related to your risk tolerance, financial goals and how much money you have to invest in stocks and bonds in your Acorns brokerage account. Consider these questions akin to what a financial advisor might ask when setting up an account to manage. Based on your answers, it makes recommendations for investment vehicles like stocks, bonds and real estate to create a diversified investment portfolio.

Currently, the service has three offerings: Acorns Personal ($3 per month), Acorns Personal Plus ($5 per month), and Acorns Premium ($9 per month). These subscriptions provide various products which fit well for goals of young adults, making Acorns one of the best money apps for kids. Their plans are as follows:

  • Acorns Personal ($3 per month): Includes an Acorns Invest investment account, as well as Acorns Later for tax-advantaged investment options such as Roth IRAs. Also includes Acorns Checking, a bank account that has no account fees, lets you withdraw fee-free from more than 55,000 ATMs nationwide, and Smart Deposit, which allows you to automatically invest a bit of each paycheck into your Acorns accounts.
  • Acorns Personal Plus ($5 per month): Everything in Acorns Personal (Acorns Invest, Later, and Checking), plus Premium Education, which are live onboarding sessions covering account setup, Round-Ups, setting up recurring investments, and more; Emergency Fund; and a 25% bonus on Acorns Earn rewards (up to $200 per month).
  • Acorns Premium ($9 per month): Everything in Acorns Personal Plus, plus Acorns Early, which allows you to open a custodial investment account for your child so you can begin investing for them while they’re a minor; custom portfolios that allow you to hold individual stocks; live Q&As with financial experts; a 50% match on Acorns Earn rewards (up to $200 per month); $10,000 in life insurance; even the ability to set up a will for free.

Learn more in our Acorns review.

Related: Best Acorns Alternatives: Micro-Investing Apps to Use

4. Take Action

young woman with smartphone smiling white background

Once you’ve gotten a decent handle on the overall market’s activity and analyzed a set of attractively-valued companies you think stand out from the rest, it’s your time to pull the trigger.

Alternatively, as I mentioned in step 3, consider investing in low-cost index fund exchange traded funds through a robo-advisor like M1 Finance, a self-directed broker like Public or a micro-investing app like Acorns.

5. Continue Following the Companies and the Stock Market

man investing on smartphone

By doing your due diligence, you will be able to follow these companies and see if they continue to perform as you expect. If a company makes a decision you don’t agree with or think will adversely impact its value going forward, it might be a good idea to cut your losses short and move on.

Investing well can produce very rewarding experiences you share with those you love. For me, it allowed me to buy my first home and now to grow my assets enough to purchase my next one together with my wife to start our family.

In general, developing your own disciplined investing approach based on rational, informed decision-making can lead to financial peace of mind.

Learning how to invest wisely at a young age will have you maximize your youth by allowing compounding to work to your benefit and see how to build wealth.

Do yourself a favor and invest in stocks by following these 5 steps on how to start investing money.

couple holding hands

Finishing the conversation with my brother-in-law, as I laid out this process to meet his interest in becoming a student of markets, I stressed how these are the first steps to developing a disciplined investing approach.

Taking the mindset that informed investing can lead to real gains, I saw he wanted to jump in and work toward developing his own investing approach and investment plan.

He may not become the next Warren Buffett but following through will allow him to have his (wedding) cake, and eat it too.

How to Invest in Stocks for Beginners with Little Money

Below, read more questions and answers about how to invest money in stocks, including the considerations you should make for the time to start investing in the stock market.

When Should I Start Investing in the Stock Market?

Step 1: Investing in Stocks is Long-Term; Focus First on Today’s Needs

woman investing online software platform

First, you shouldn’t save anything for the long-term if you’ve got needs that must be addressed today.

  • Behind on bills?
  • Need to eliminate costly credit card debt?
  • Have to fund an emergency savings fund to guard against backsliding into debt even further?

Don’t let these expenses get out of hand. Instead, you need to build a solid financial rock upon which you can grow.

  1. Establish an emergency fund: This entails saving a minimum of 3-6 months (or even 12) of your on-going monthly expenses. While this might sound like a lot if you’ve got nothing currently, start small with $100, then $1,000 and eventually $5,000. Make sure you’re realistic with your budget and fully fund this personal finance priority before contributing anything meaningful toward retirement.
  2. Pay off credit card debt: You’re not alone if you’ve got credit card debt that’s been piling up. Paying off your credit card debt is a must before saving for retirement because it will save you money in the long-term. The interest rates paid on credit card debt almost always outweigh what you could receive by investing for retirement in stocks and bonds. Credit cards usually charge in excess of 15% APYs, sometimes north of 20%. While stocks and bonds can have years where they return this amount, over very long periods of time, you’re more likely to encounter returns between 7-10% per year on average with a well-diversified portfolio of equities and fixed income. If you have any amount of credit card debt, make sure to pay it off as soon as possible so you can start saving for retirement without worrying about this emergency expense.
  3. Get current on bills: You might be thinking that you should save for retirement before paying off your bills, but this is a mistake. If you’re behind on your monthly bills then you need to take care of these past due expenses before saving for retirement. Getting current on all of your financial obligations is important because it will make sure that if anything were to happen in the future where you couldn’t work or had emergency expenses come up, then there would be no debt hanging over your head.

You can lower your credit card debt quicker by signing up for an app like Tally, which extends a lower cost line of credit to cover your existing credit card debt and putting an end to late payment fees.

For student loans, you may have received a reprieve from governmental orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, but payments resumed in October 2023. Now, you’ll need to resume payments but can lower the interest rate you pay by using a student loan refinancing marketplace.

The service pulls real-time quotes from several refinancing lenders in the market to give you a sense of the best refinancing option available to you.

My wife used a loan refinancing marketplace when her first round of student loans required payments to start and she dropped her rate from 8.00% to 2.85%, reducing her average rate by 515 basis points and saving us thousands in interest!

If you’re in a similar situation with high-cost student loans, consider using a student loan refinancing provider to find your best rate and lowering your cost of repayment. Depending on the savings you can receive, this guaranteed savings often makes for a wise financial decision.

Once you can get a handle on your high cost debt and student loans responsibly, you should look to invest money in your retirement accounts, like a 401(k) or IRA, and taxable brokerage accounts to grow for the long-term.

Step 2: Invest Early, Invest Often (and Diversify)

woman thinking reflecting

I’m a huge believer in working toward financial independence, or having the financial resources to make decisions not guided by money.

That means you need to have enough saved and invested. To get there faster, you’ll need to save more now.

I suggest saving more than the standard 10-15% of your income per year if you can afford. This will give you either A) a more comfortable and secure retirement at the traditional age (65-68) or B) a chance to retire earlier.

How much earlier depends on when you start saving, how much you contribute, the portfolio you choose and the investment returns you receive.

To get started, consider the following investing strategy:

  1. Pay off debt, save an emergency fund. This again? Yes. These short-term needs aren’t something you can avoid. Prioritize the now in this instance as the costs of being behind on bills, credit card debt or student loans is far greater than the upside you’d see long-term for investing from retirement. Those costs you see in your mail are certain. You can always save more if you get started a bit later on your retirement with a chance to catch up.
  2. Work your way up the retirement savings account ladder. This means starting with an order of investment accounts to capture the greatest return for yourself. It starts with an emergency fund but then quickly goes into investment accounts. If you work for an employer who offers a retirement match, or money they agree to contribute alongside yourself into a 401k, 403b or 457 plan, you should start here. Make sure the investment options provided make sense and are lower cost. If they have index funds in the employer-sponsored plan menu, you’ve found a good set of investments to hold for decades to come. If you get a match, take full advantage of it! That’s free money you can call yours risk-free. Invest up to the match at a minimum. That means if your company offers a 4% match on your contributions, invest at least 4% of your annual pay.
  3. Contribute to an IRA. Next up are individual retirement accounts, or IRAs. These accounts come in two types: traditional and Roth. Traditional IRAs allow you to deduct your contributions in the year you make them (subject to certain income limitations) and pay taxes when you withdraw money in retirement on a tax-deferred basis while Roth IRAs work the opposite: pay taxes upfront and see your investments grow tax-free. If you’d like to open an IRA, consider whether you think you’re paying higher taxes now or whether that’ll happen in retirement. If you think taxes are higher now, contribute to a traditional account. If you think they’ll be higher for you in retirement, contribute to a Roth IRA with M1 Finance or other investing companies that don’t charge commissions.
  4. Standard brokerage accounts. If you have all these bases covered and you’re hitting the maximum for all of them, consider investing in a taxable brokerage account deemed as one of the best investing apps for beginners. This after-tax money isn’t tax-efficient, but it does provide you with liquidity if you need money before retirement.

Step 3: Rinse and Repeat (and Repeat)

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Micro investing is an easy way to start investing because of the low capital commitment and minimal (if any) investment minimums. Though, for it to really make a difference for your financial needs, it can’t be the only way you save for retirement.

In fact, you’ll need to supercharge these contributions in short order to take advantage of compounding returns over time on increasingly larger sums of money.

Said differently, you want to contribute as much as you can as early as you can to allow compounding returns in diversified investments to do the heavy lifting if you want to actually live out your retirement dreams.

The great news is that the earlier you get started, the more time you have to put your money to work. That’s the power of compound growth! Here’s what that could look like for you:

Let’s say you’re 30 years old, making the average household income of around $66,000. You decide to invest $600 per month in your retirement accounts, all inclusive of any employer match you’d receive.

That amounts to just over 10% of your income every year. If you retire at age 67, you could have over $2.1 million in your retirement savings.

This assumes an average 9% annual return, which is a bit under the inflation-adjusted average annual return of the S&P 500 of the last 50 years.

In short, a realistic growth rate if you leave your funds investing in a S&P 500 index fund over multiple decades.

That sounds pretty great, right? But it gets even better. Of that total $2.1 million, your contributions only make up around $266,500.

That means 90% of that total is money provided by the market—not your wallet!

But, if you made the same decision to start investing $300 per month at age 22, you’d have $2.2 million. $600 a month? $4.4 million!

And if you really want to save and retire early, say at age 55, consider investing $1,000 per month starting at age 22. Certainly a steep contribution to start, but if you can manage it, that decision will pay off significantly: $2.4 million.

If you can manage $2,000 per month, you could retire at 50 with $3.0 million.

The lesson here: start early and invest as much as you can as early as you can.

Where Should I Keep Money Outside of the Stock Market for Short-Term Needs?

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Set aside money in an emergency fund and short-term financial goals like buying a house by opening savings accounts. This money is FDIC-insured, meaning there is low risk of your funds getting lost if the amount if below $250,000 at one bank.

You can even earn passive income from short-term interest rates paid on these savings accounts.

About the Author

Riley Adams is the Founder and CEO of WealthUp (previously Young and the Invested). He is a licensed CPA who worked at Google as a Senior Financial Analyst overseeing advertising incentive programs for the company’s largest advertising partners and agencies. Previously, he worked as a utility regulatory strategy analyst at Entergy Corporation for six years in New Orleans.

His work has appeared in major publications like Kiplinger, MarketWatch, MSN, TurboTax, Nasdaq, Yahoo! Finance, The Globe and Mail, and CNBC’s Acorns. Riley currently holds areas of expertise in investing, taxes, real estate, cryptocurrencies and personal finance where he has been cited as an authoritative source in outlets like CNBC, Time, NBC News, APM’s Marketplace, HuffPost, Business Insider, Slate, NerdWallet, Investopedia, The Balance and Fast Company.

Riley holds a Masters of Science in Applied Economics and Demography from Pennsylvania State University and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Finance from Centenary College of Louisiana.