we need to start investing earlier: here are tips to get started
In 1999, at Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholders meeting, Warren Buffett was asked how to make $30 billion — which was approximately his net worth at the time.
Buffett’s response: “Start [investing] early. I started building this little snowball at the top of a very long hill. The trick to having a very long hill is either starting very young or living to be very old.”
Buffett did both. At 11-years-old he made his first investment, buying three shares of Cities Service Preferred at $38 per share. The stock quickly dropped to only $27, but Buffett held on patiently until it reached $40. Buffett, now 91-years-old, is currently worth over $100 billion.
The Catch-22 of Buffett’s comments is that a significant portion of U.S. adults have delayed saving for retirement until a decade or more into their careers. Thus, not being able to take full advantage of the compounding effect.
According to a report from Morning Consult from 2019, just 39% of adults who are saving for retirement started in their 20s, despite half of respondents saying that people should start saving during those same years. Just over a quarter of Americans began saving in their 30s, 15% in their 40s, and 6% in their 50s.
That’s a problem. And for many Americans, the issue stems from our attitudes towards investing and home economics. Put simply: We need to start investing earlier.
Let’s use my own investing career as an anecdotal story.
I never really thought about investing much until after graduating college. The problem was I had tens of thousands (thankfully, not hundreds of thousands) of dollars in student debt. And I’m not alone.
According to the Education Data Initiative, the average student borrows over $30,000 to pursue a bachelor’s degree. A total of 45.3 million borrowers have student loan debt; 95% of them have federal loan debt. And 20 years after entering school, half of student borrowers still owe $20,000 each on outstanding loan balances.
One of the core tenets of investing is you must be a saver first. To be a saver, you need to bring in more money than you spend each month. If you have cash saved each month after spending money on your basic necessities such as food, water, clothing, and shelter, you are laying the foundation for a successful investing career. The next step would be to pay down any debts (credit card, student loan, etc.); then invest any remaining money left over.
Once you’ve started saving and tucking away some money each month for an emergency situation, it’s time to finally start putting some of that extra money to work in investments that will hopefully grow over time.
Because of the recent rise of the retail trader, mobile apps, and crypto, young adults (including teenagers) are gaining access and being exposed to the world of investing more than at any other time period in history.
It’s also cheaper to invest than ever before. With free apps such as Public or Robinhood, you can start investing commission-free, with as little as $5. In comparison, approximately 10 years ago, it was tough to even find a broker who would charge less than $5 per trade. You can see how this would be a hindrance to the democratization of finance.
Unfortunately, just downloading an app won’t tell you how investing works, though. You’ll need to do some basic research on the markets before investing. One of the easiest ways to understand the markets is to hire a financial advisor who can walk you through investment opportunities.
Even financial advisors sometimes have their own financial advisor to manage their investments. My financial advisor is my brother-in-law, so it makes for easy conversations about what goals we want to achieve in our investing careers. At the end of the day, you need an advisor that will fit your budget, goals, and needs. Ask your friends, family, or peers if there is a local advisor that they recommend. The National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) is also a great starting resource for finding an advisor who can fit your needs.
Before I hired a financial advisor, I tried to figure it all out on my own for 10-years straight. Luckily, there are so many resources available out there today to understand the basics of investing that the task is a little less daunting than it used to be. According to a 2019 CNBC and Acorns Invest survey, 75% of Americans manage their own money, while 17% seek the help of a financial advisor. Among older Americans, 31% use a financial advisor, but the figure is just 7% for those aged 25-34.
For those who are looking to take the plunge into investing on their own without the help of a financial advisor, sites like Investopedia are a great resource. Investopedia is a financial website that provides investment dictionaries, advice, reviews, ratings, and comparisons of financial products such as securities accounts. Investopedia has more than 32,000 articles and reaches 20 million unique monthly viewers. They also have great videos that can help with understanding the basics of market structure and terms you may hear frequently if you watch CNBC or Bloomberg.
Staying on top of your investments also requires you to stay informed about the companies you are invested in. A digital subscription to the Wall Street Journal is currently less than $5 per month. Personally, I prefer subscribing to an outlet such as the WSJ because they have consistent (and mostly unbiased) reporting on all things business.
As with anything, most investing starts by diving in head first and trying to figure it out on your own. You’ll likely make many mistakes along the way, but they can be used as learning lessons. In a previous article, I laid out some investing mistakes I’ve made in the past that you can take full advantage of today without going through the pain and suffering that I did. Specifically, starting out with tax-deferred or tax-exempt accounts.
Now that you’re either investing on your own or through a financial advisor, you still need to determine what to buy and how to allocate and diversify your portfolio based on your goals and objectives. This could involve thematic ETFs, crypto, index funds, individual stocks or array of other assets. Start small in each area and expand when you feel more comfortable.
The best time to start investing is as early as possible; the next best time is right now.
If you don’t feel comfortable investing on your own, have a lot of questions, or don’t know where to start, consider hiring a financial advisor to help you on your investing journey.
If you do feel comfortable investing on your own, there are a multitude of free resources available.
Read. Read. Read. I can’t stress this enough. The more you read about the markets, the more you will begin to understand and get a feel for how successful investments work
Never invest more than you’re willing to lose.
Don’t invest in something you don’t understand.
Note this is not financial advice, just friendly advice.