Although I’ve been investing for over a decade, I’m still a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to the stock market. I often feel like I’ll never know as much as I should, I’m paralyzed by all the options for investing, and there’s the inherent risk that comes with buying stocks. But despite my anxiety, I do it anyway.
Here’s how I learned to work past my qualms about investing:
Besides opening a Roth IRA through my credit union and saving a grand total of a few hundred bucks in college, I really didn’t get interested in investing until my early 20s. Note this was over a decade ago, before the surge of investing platforms and terms like “robo-advisors” and “fintech” seeped into everyday talk of money nerds such as myself.
Back then it was little tougher to do the DIY investing route. Yes, there were discount brokerages, but there were fewer websites and services to help you get started. And while there was a lot I needed to learn about investing, one thing I did know was that it was important to grow my money.
So I read what I could on the internet and tried my hand at both individual stocks and ETFs. While I didn’t have much of a clue as to what I was doing, I made a point to invest a little bit at a time. Throughout the years I’ve gained some and lost some, and I learned along the way how the stock market worked – and how I react and feel when the stock market takes a tumble. (For the most part, neutral – more on that in a bit.)
Start small and start now
I used to think that to invest, you needed thousands of dollars to get started. Back in the day I stumbled upon an article on investing with just $100 a month. The strategy involves buying $100 worth of an ETF – which is basically a bundle of stocks – then buying a different ETF the next month, until you had a solid mix of ETFs that pretty much represented the entire stock market.
And although I made some money with that strategy, I’ve somewhat abandoned it in lieu of different strategies and apps. The important thing was to get the ball rolling, and to funnel some of my savings toward investing , and not toward just everyday expenses.
While I tend to remain calm with investing, I did have one particular freakout. It was during the height of the Recession when my retirement fund lost 30 percent of its value. I remember texting my friend and letting him know exactly how much I lost. He replied: “Wow. That’s a lot of money. But you’re just losing the value of the stock, right? Not the actual stock itself.” He had a point. And over time, my retirement fund went back up in value.
Because I’m in it for the long haul — we’re talking 30 plus years here — and only check on the performance of my investments every so often, I know that it’s best to take the long view. That means not making any decisions based on knee-jerk reactions, not freaking out if the stock market takes a tumble, and not having to check on the performance of my investments at the top of the hour.
Check out investing apps
There’s a ton of investing apps , and the options can be paralyzing. After doing some research, I chose to open accounts with some of the more popular investment apps. They’re easy, relatively low-cost, and for the most part I can set things on cruise control.
Because I take the easy route and usually choose a target date fund for my investments, investing apps are the way to go. I’m really impressed by those who do a deep dive about a company’s performance, but that’s just not me.
Be cool with the knowledge gap
While I have dozens of investing articles saved, and a copy of John Bogle’s Common Sense on Mutual Funds sat on my coffee table, untouched, for an entire summer, the truth is I’ll probably never get around to learning all I want to about investing. In the same way personal goals like being fluent in German and learning the Radiohead discography on guitar tend to fall by the wayside, getting deep in the weeds on mutual funds is something Ideal Me wants to do. But Real Me is plain lazy.
And while I do have a basic understanding of asset allocation and mutual funds, and can get my head around management fees, I’ll never have as in-depth an understanding of the stock market as I would like. And I’ve learned to be okay with that (plus, that’s what professionals are for ).
Despite these unsettled feelings about investing, I do it anyway. Why? Because I know it’s good for my finances. I know that if I stick to investing, despite it feeling scary AF, if I ride out the highs and lows, I’ll come out on top. And that’s one solid way I can work toward growing my money. And even though I’ll never feel like a confident investor, that’s quite alright.