For many people, the word “investing” conjures up images of men in suits, monitoring the exchange of millions of dollars on a stock ticker.
I’m here to tell you: you don’t need to be the Wolf of Wall Street to start investing. It’s okay if you’re more of a mouse of Main Street. Even if you only have a few dollars to spare, your money will grow with compound interest.
The key to building wealth is developing good habits—like regularly putting money away every month and nixing your Planet Fitness membership that you haven’t used in years (that alone saves you over $100/year).
Once you have a little money to play with, you can start to invest.
Saving money and investing it are closely connected. In order to invest money, you first have to save some up. That will take a lot less time than you think, and you can do it in very small steps.
If you’ve never been a saver, you can start by putting away just $10 per week. That may not seem like a lot, but over the course of a year, it comes to over $500.
Try putting $10 into an envelope, shoebox, a small safe, or even that legendary bank of first resort, the cookie jar. Though this may sound silly, it’s often a necessary first step. Get yourself into the habit of living on a little bit less than you earn, and stash the savings away in a safe place.
The electronic equivalent of the cookie jar is the online savings account; it’s separate from your checking account. The money can be withdrawn in two business days if you need it, but it’s not linked to your debit card. Then when the stash is large enough, you can take it out and move it into some actual investment vehicles.
Read more: Best High Yield Savings Accounts Compared
2. Enroll in your employer’s retirement plan
If you’re on a tight budget, even the simple step of enrolling in your 401(k) or other employer retirement plan may seem beyond your reach. But you can begin investing in an employer-sponsored retirement plan with amounts so small you won’t even notice them.
This is one step that everybody should take!
For example, plan to invest just 1% of your salary into the employer plan.
You probably won’t even miss a contribution that small, but what makes it even easier is that the tax deduction that you’ll get for doing so will make the contribution even smaller.
Once you commit to a 1% contribution, you can increase it gradually each year. For example, in year two, you can increase your contribution to 2% of your pay. In year three, you can increase your contribution to 3% of your pay, and so on.
If you time the increases with your annual pay raise, you’ll notice the increased contribution even less. So if you get a 2% increase in pay, it will effectively be splitting the increase between your retirement plan and your checking account. And if your employer provides a matching contribution, that will make the arrangement even better.
Read more: The Best 401(k) Investment Accounts
If you’re at a complete loss, companies like Blooom offer hands-off investment management of your 401(k).
3. Open an IRA as well
Employer-sponsored 401(k)s are great, but they don’t offer the same tax benefits as other retirement accounts, which is why opening an IRA is also important.
For starters, you’ll have more control over your account, since you’re opening your own personal IRA rather than going through your employer, who determines your investments for you.
In addition, one of the very best benefits of an IRA (a Roth IRA specifically) is its ability to grow tax-free. Your account will both grow without being taxed and you’ll be able to make tax-free withdrawals starting at age 59½.
Read more: Roth IRAs For Young Adults: Why Starting Early Pays Off
4. Let a robo-advisor invest your money for you
Robo-advisors entered the investing scene about a decade ago and make investing as simple and accessible as possible. You don’t need any prior investing experience, as robo-advisors take all of the guesswork out of investing.
Robo-advisors work by asking a few simple questions to determine your goal and risk tolerance and then investing your money in a highly-diversified low-cost portfolio of stocks and bonds. Robo-advisors then use algorithms to continually rebalance your portfolio and optimize it for taxes.
There’s no easier way to get started in long-term investing. Most robo-advisors require very little cash to start investing and charge very modest fees based upon the size of your account. All offer automated investing plans to help you grow your balance.
If there’s any downside to Robo-advisors it’s cost. Robo-advisors charge an annual fee equal to a small percentage of your balance. The industry average is about 0.25%. So, if you invest $10,000, you’ll pay $25 a year. That’s not a lot of money, but it begins to add up if you amass hundreds of thousands of dollars.
It’s important to note that robo-advisors fees are on top of the fees charged by the exchange-traded funds (ETFs) that robo-advisors buy to make up your portfolio. You can avoid paying the robo-advisor fees by building your own portfolio of ETFs or mutual funds. For the vast majority of investors, however, that’s a lot of additional work and responsibility.
The bottom line? Robo-advisors are cheap and well worth it.
Read more: The Best Robo-Advisors
5. Start investing in the stock market with little money
When it comes to investing in the stock market, cost is often the barrier to entry. It takes money to make money, right?
Not anymore. The internet has made it easy for consumers to get started with very little upfront money. That means you can put a few dollars in to familiarize yourself with investing before making a bigger commitment. It’s a great way to learn about investing while putting very little money at risk.
Today, there are increasing numbers of options that have swung open doors to a new generation of investors – letting you get started with as little as $1 and charges no trade commissions.
In the past, stockbrokers charged commissions of several dollars every time you bought or sold stock. That made it cost-prohibitive to invest in even a single stock with less than hundreds or thousands of dollars. In fact, $0 commissions across comp have been so successful they’ve disrupted the entire investing industry and forced all the major brokers – from E*TRADE to Fidelity – to follow suit and drop trading commissions.
Plus the ability to invest in companies with fractional/partial shares is a complete game-changer with investing. With fractional shares, it means you can diversify your portfolio even more while saving money. Instead of investing in a full share, you can buy a fraction of a share. If you want to invest in a high-priced stock like Apple, for instance, you can do so for a few dollars instead of shelling out the price for one full share, which, as I write this, is around $370.
Read more: How To Invest In Stocks – The Beginner’s Guide To The Stock Market
6. Dip your toe in the real estate market
Believe it or not, you no longer need a lot of money (or even good credit) to invest in real estate. A new category of investment known familiarly as “real estate crowdfunding” makes it possible to own fractional shares of large commercial properties without the headache of being a landlord.
Crowdfunded real estate investments require larger minimum investments than robo-advisors (for example, $5,000 instead of $500). They’re also riskier investments because you’ll be putting that entire $5,000 into one property rather than a diversified portfolio of hundreds of individual investments.
The upside is owning a piece of a real physical asset that’s not necessarily correlated with the stock market.
As with robo-advisors, investing in real estate via a crowdfunding platform carries costs that you wouldn’t pay if you bought a building yourself. But here, the advantages are obvious: you share the cost and risk with other investors and you have no responsibility for maintaining the property (or even doing the paperwork to buy it!)
I think real estate crowdfunding can be an intriguing way to learn about commercial real estate investing and also diversify your assets. I wouldn’t lay all of my money on these platforms, but they do make an intriguing alternative investment especially in these times of unprecedented market volatility and pitiful bond yields.
Mutual funds are investment securities that allow you to invest in a portfolio of stocks and bonds with a single transaction, making them perfect for new investors.
The trouble is many mutual fund companies require initial minimum investments of between $500 and $5,000. If you’re a first-time investor with little money to invest, those minimums can be out of reach. But some mutual fund companies will waive the account minimums if you agree to automatic monthly investments of between $50 and $100.
An automatic investing arrangement is particularly convenient if you can do it through payroll savings. You can typically set up an automatic deposit situation through your payroll, in much the same way that you do with an employer-sponsored retirement plan. Just ask your human resources department how to set it up.
There are plenty of ways to start investing with little money, with many online and app-based platforms making it easier than ever. All you have to do is start somewhere. Once you do, it will get easier as time goes on, and your future self will love you for it.