Are you ready to start investing in stocks? Congratulations. Before you get going, however, there are a few essential concepts you should understand first.
Once you understand the potential risks, rewards, and how to balance your choices in the market, you’ll have the right foundation to continue your education and pick stocks for your portfolio.
Balancing Risk and Reward
Whenever you invest, you expose your money to some level of risk. You might not think about it, but there is risk involved no matter what you do with your money. Most people recognize that stashing their life savings under a mattress or in a cookie jar comes with the risk that their money could be stolen (where do you think burglars look first when they rob a house?) or destroyed (you might be able to find a fire-proof cookie jar, but your bed is definitely not safe in that department).
Investing in the stock market has its own kinds of risks. A stock you purchase might go up or down in price (what’s known as "fluctuation"). Stocks are volatile by their very nature, and that’s part of the inherent risk of investing in stocks.
In the worst case, a stock could even become worthless and cause you to lose 100% of your investment. However, it’s important to recognize that there are different kinds of stocks, and some stocks are riskier than others. You can’t ever eliminate the risk associated with investing in stocks -but you can certainly tame it and even put some of those volatile tendencies to work for your benefit.
Not Being Afraid of Risk
Whenever you seek higher returns, you must accept higher risk. The key is to balance the amount of risk appropriate for your circumstances (what experts call your risk tolerance) with the amount of reward you want to achieve. Every person has a different tolerance for risk, and it’s up to you to decide for yourself how to build a portfolio that will serve you best.
Historically, investing in stocks has offered the chance to earn higher returns than investing in bonds or keeping your money in the bank, but that opportunity comes with higher risk. The essence of successful investing, though, is understanding and accepting the fact that risk is unavoidable — and managing that risk so you can still sleep soundly at night.
Investing, Dollar by Dollar
An important concept that you can put to work when you use ShareBuilder to invest in stocks is dollar-cost averaging. While this may sound like some complicated strategy, it’s really not so difficult to understand. When you use dollar-cost averaging, you automatically invest a fixed amount each week or month in the purchase of a selected security. That’s all there is to it!
Why is dollar-cost averaging such a popular long-term strategy? Stock prices can be volatile, rising and falling from week to week and month to month. When you make a weekly or monthly purchase, the price of the stock may be higher or lower than it was the month before. If you invest $100 a month, for example, then your $100 will buy fewer shares when the price is high and more shares when the price is low — automatically.
While dollar-cost averaging doesn’t assure a profit, history shows that over time the average cost of your shares will generally tend to be lower than if you had made a single one-time investment of the same amount. Of course, you’ll need to consider your financial ability to continue investing in periods of declining markets.
You might be using dollar-cost averaging right now without even knowing it. If you invest in a 401(k) or other retirement plan at work, you contribute a fixed amount each pay period to your account, which is then used to buy shares in one or more mutual funds. Over time, your regular purchases may reduce the average cost you pay for all your shares — and that can help increase your returns.
You should recognize that dollar-cost averaging doesn’t protect you from investment losses. And a stock can decline until it’s worthless — so don’t count on dollar-cost averaging to protect you from the damage caused by buying a bad stock.
ShareBuilder is designed to make dollar-cost averaging easy by allowing you to buy in dollar amounts – dollar-based investing. When you buy stocks at a typical brokerage, you can only buy whole shares. If your chosen stock sells for $70 a share, and you have $200 to invest, then you can only buy two shares for $140 (plus commissions). The remaining $60 has to sit on the sidelines until the next month (which means it can’t be working for you in your portfolio).
If you have $50 a month to invest at a typical brokerage, and the stock you’ve selected currently sells for $85 a share, what do you do? Either you wait until you scrape together the remaining $35 (and hope the price doesn’t go higher), or you find another stock.
With ShareBuilder, dollar-based investing means you can purchase fractional shares with the entire amount of your investment dollars. Your $200 will buy you 2.857 shares of your $70 stock (without transaction fee). Or your $50 will buy you 0.588 shares of your $85 stock, so you don’t have to put off investing until tomorrow.
Putting It All Together
Understanding these three basic concepts is key to becoming a successful investor.
- You must be aware of the risks of investing.
- Understand how you can use strategies like dollar- cost averaging to invest in stocks.
- If you invest with your eye on the long-term, you can often ride out bumpy times in the market.
© 2008 ShareBuilder Corporation. ShareBuilder is offered through ShareBuilder Securities Corporation, and a registered broker-dealer and member NASD/SIPC, and a subsidiary of ShareBuilder Corporation. ShareBuilder is not affiliated with Young Money. Call (800) 215-4679 with questions about ShareBuilder.