This Investing Guide for Beginners will walk you through the basics, how to get started and how to make your money work for you. If you want a better financial future and long-lasting wealth, you need to consider investing. Period.
Investing can be scary, confusing and risky. It’s something that only other people do, right? People who are wealthy, successful and privileged. At least that’s how I used to think of it, but I was wrong.
The simple truth is that ANYONE can invest. This guide will show you how it can be easy, quick and one of the most powerful tools available to boost your financial fitness. A solid financial foundation will empower you to live your best life.
We’ll be taking a look at why investing is so important, giving you the ‘5 Golden Guidelines’ of investing and finding out how to get started even if you can only spare a few quid a month. By the end of this post, you’ll be ready to start your investing adventure. So, let’s go.
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Introduction: investing is for everyone
The following weekend I was getting in some quality dad time with my daughter at the park. She would literally have me pushing that swing for hours at a time. If the swing had stopped, I’d never hear the end of it.
Next to us were two fellow fathers pushing their children, feverishly making sure those swings never stopped, God forbid.
They were discussing the recent shock events and the resulting chasm the FTSE100 now found itself in. But to them, it didn’t matter because, in their words: ‘ it only affects investors, not normal bloke’s like you and me‘.
Their words struck me like a thunderbolt because that’s how I used to think, too.
You’re probably already an investor
Those dads thought investing was just something that other people did. What they may not have realised, is that it did affect them. It affected all of us. Me and you, those two fathers in the park and every other ‘normal’ person. Because the reality is, the vast majority of us are already investors, we just may not know it.
- Have a work-based pension? You’re already an investor in the stock market through your company’s pension provider.
- Own a house? Then you’re already an investor in the property market.
So if we’re already investors in some way, why should we let other people control our money and dictate our future financial security?
We hear people’s worries about investing all the time:
- “It sounds complicated…I don’t understand it”
- “I’m might lose my money…”
- “I don’t have money to invest anyway…”
- “There are other priorities for my money…”
- “I don’t have time…”
This guide will show you that none of this needs to be true and if anything, it should be one of your top priorities. In fact, you might be losing money by NOT investing.
Investing for financial peace, choice and freedom
By taking control, putting in a little time to understand the basics (with the help of guides like this) and committing to a plan, you too can join the many others who enjoy the benefits of long-term investing:
- greater financial security
- potential to generate passive income
- wealth to pass on to loved-ones
- more life opportunities and freedom
- the peace of mind that comes from taking control of your finances
Investing is for everyone and anyone can do it. You don’t have to be knowledgeable and you don’t have to be rich.
By following the points in this guide, you stand a good chance of becoming those things. So let’s crack on and take a closer look at investing.
What is investing?
Investing is where you put your money into a financial scheme, such as the stock market, property or even crowdfunding, hoping to make a profit. That means you want to end up with more money than you started with.
Seems obvious, right? Sure, but investing still feels confusing for a lot of people.
For this article, we are going to focus on investing in the stock market.
You’re already an investor
If you own a house or put money into a pension scheme (highly likely if you’re employed as this is now an employers’ responsibility), then you are already invested.
Owning a house
A house is usually the biggest financial investment most people will make. The UK culture embodies the ambition to own your own house and get on the property ladder as soon as you can. You put down your deposit and hope to pay off your mortgage over the next couple of decades. In principle, all fairly straight forward.
In reality, owning a house is investing in the property market, because your house could go up in value or it could go down.
There is risk in owning a house. In the late 80s, the UK was plunged into a recession. House prices fell in the South-East of England by up to 47%. By 1993 it was estimated that 1.6m homes were in negative equity (which means they were valued at less than the outstanding mortgage balance).
How would you feel if this happened again? Regulation should help reduce the chance of this in future, and generally speaking, property prices increase in the long term, but over anything less, they shouldn’t always be considered a “safe” investment.
If you put money into a pension, you are investing your money. Under the new Auto-Enrollment rules, the total minimum contribution between the employer and employee is least 8% of their salary. This is made up of a 5% contribution from the employee and 3% “top-up” from the employer.
Consider this; your mortgage and pension deductions probably consume the largest part of your income. You are already investing a significant chunk of this across stocks (via your employer and their pension fund provider) and property.
Unless you take action to create additional income revenues such as through investing, the success of your housing and pension investments will have the biggest impact on your future financial success. Neither is guaranteed.
Why you should care about investing
Currently, anyone trying to save money in a typical saving account from a high street bank is struggling to get a decent return. Interest rates have been at near to rock bottom for over a decade now. Good for borrowers, but bad for savers.
Decent savings rates are usually either limited by how much you can put in or the time period the rate is offered for. The more you put in for longer, the better the rate. But even the best rate out there is floundering.
It gets worse. Over time, the value of your money is gradually eroded by inflation. For example, if you remember the year 2000, a time when Oasis had fallen from the shoulders of giants (despite the impending album), then you’ll know back then a Mars bar cost 26p. Nowadays, they’re 60p and a quarter smaller! Today, that 30p would struggle to get you a….a…..to be honest I can’t think of anything.
According to the Office for National Statistics the current rate of inflation is 2% (as of April 2019). That means each year, everyday items cost on average 2% more than they did the year before.
Put simply, your money needs to be continually growing by more than the rate of inflation to have the same spending power as it did when you first saved it.
But that is really difficult to do right now. Take Marcus Bank, for example. It has one of the best instant-access savings accounts available and offers just 1.5% annual interest. This means that even if you are getting one of the best savings rates out there, the buying power of your cash is actually still being reduced. You are effectively losing money.
On the other hand, however, the stock market has consistently provided greater returns over the long term. The emphasis is on the ‘long term’ part, as this is one of the fundamentals of investing. At the very least, it should be considered a five-year plan, minimum.
“But the stock market can still be risky. At least savings accounts are safe, right?” Well yes, they are, but if they’re decreasing in value in real terms, how relevant is this?
“Investing is too risky for me”
Many people, even those good at saving money, are put off by the risk associated with investing. There’s no sugar-coating this – Investing IS riskier than a cash savings account.
But we now know the buying power of money in a savings account is degrading over time.
Pension companies don’t keep your money in savings accounts. They invest it in the stock market. They put your money into funds consisting of financial products like stocks and bonds. When you put money into a pension, your money is being invested on your behalf.
Most people don’t consider their pension a risky investment. However, it is probably the largest and most important financial product you will ever have. When managed poorly and in the wrong hands, you can lose your entire pension fund through no fault of your own.
High-profile stories highlighting such risks are easily found. For example, take the recent Arcadia Group, owned by Sir Phillip Green, which had a £300m pension deficit in 2017 leaving thousands of employees’ pension schemes in tatters.
It’s a question of perspective
It is well understood that any data can be manipulated and presented in a way to suit the person or organisation presenting it and their argument.
It’s therefore important to beware the impression the media is giving about the stock market at any one-time. Below is the chart we saw earlier from the top of this article, highlighting the “huge” impact the Brexit vote had on the FTSE 100:
At first glance, it looks pretty horrific. However, on closer inspection, the timeline the chart covers is very narrow – just 48 hours. Le’ts zoom out a bit and look at the whole of June 2019:
Now, we get a better perspective. In fact, if we had invested at any time during June, we would have ended up better off by the end of the month.
Why do pension companies invest your money?
Pension companies invest your money because, over the long term, they understand that the stock market has provided the best returns. By this we mean it has shown the greatest potential to grow your money. They are of course concerned about risk, so they create an investment profile they feel is proven to provide the greatest balance.
This a very simple overview of pensions. For a deeper dive, check out the Pensions Advisory Service.
Do you know what happens when you put money into a savings account? That’s right, banks invest that money too. They take your cash, invest it across a whole range of assets including lending it to other customers, and then give you a small slice of the profits.
“I don’t want to lose my money”
When talking about investments, most people are referring to investing in the stock market. The media often paint the picture that investing is overly-complicated and full of risk. It can be but doesn’t have to be. The last financial crisis has been emblazoned into the psyche of most adults thanks to the media hype.
Yes, losing money through investing is a potential risk. The market will go down as well as up. There will be corrections and crashes. These are to be expected, even welcomed, because these are the times to be investing more!
It is wise to be “Fearful when others are greedy and greedy when others are fearful.” Tweet thisWarren Buffet
But if you’re in it for the long-run and hold your nerve, you can seek to mitigate losses, take advantage of the down-turns and come out the other side smiling.
The 5 Golden Guidelines for investing
Following these simple ‘golden guidelines’ is a great place to start when beginning your investing adventure.
- Time in the market is better than timing the market – consistently investing over a long time period is often considered a stronger strategy for individuals rather than trying picking the right stock or time to buy/sell.
- Keep your fees low – fees can destroy your growth over the long term – look to lower these wherever possible and do your research.
- Don’t chase unicorns – picking the next Apple stock is tough. You’ll likely lose far more often than you win. This is why Index Trackers are now so popular.
- Only invest what you can afford – investing has risks. There will be ups and well as downs. If you need your money out during one of these lows, you may well get back less than you put in. And crucially, NEVER borrow money to invest.
- Be patient – you are not going to get rich overnight. Invest regularly, sit back, enjoy life and check back in 10 years from now.
By following these basic guidelines, you put yourself in a strong position to see positive returns. Remember though, this is your life and your money. No one will have the same vested interest in your financial future as much as you. Do your own research and seek professional advice if needed.
4 things to sort before you start investing…
Investing can be exciting. However, before you get carried away, make sure you have your financial affairs in order. There is no point in throwing money into the stock market if you have other more pressing financial obligations.
Ensure you have these things sorted before starting to invest:
- Pay off high interest/Credit Card Debt – credit cards usually carry a high-interest rate. Payday loans are even worse. It is pointless getting 5-7% average returns on the stock market when you are paying 20%+ interest on a credit card balance. Any returns are ultimately being eroded and the priority should be placed on paying these off first.
- Clear down personal loans – whilst interest rates for borrowing have been at some of their lowest levels in over a decade, an interest rate of 4% on a typical loan, for example, is still eroding any returns you may see from investing. Plus, all debt is generally bad for your mental and financial health and therefore paying this off should be prioritised above investing.
- Ensure you have an Emergency Fund – your investments should stay invested for the long term. You don’t want to be taking money out to cover an emergency, particularly when the market is low. This is what your Emergency Fund is for and having some level of emergency savings should be in place before investing. Check out the best places to store your Emergency Fund here.
- Only invest what you can afford – don’t overstretch your personal finances. Investing is best leveraged once you have a sound financial foundation in place. It also comes with risk. Ensure you have enough money to cover your expenses before you consider investing.
Starting with the right money mindset
When you invest, plan for that money to be out of your life for a long time. There is nothing worse than having to “cash-out” (sell) an investment because you need the money now – this is what an emergency fund is for.
Plan for your money to be locked away for decades. I know, I know…it’s a chunk of time. But this is the long game. Set up your direct debit, check your balance only occasionally then come back in ten years. You should be more than pleasantly surprised.
“How much money can I make from investing?”
Many investing books will quote that the stock market, on average, returns 10% growth. That would mean £100 invested today will be worth £110 in 12 months time. Often, the reality is that these figures do not include the cost of investing or the impact of inflation. Perhaps a more realistic figure is 5-7% on average.
Want to read more about realistic returns? Check out this great blog from Get Rich Slowly.
The table above compares the return that the UK stock market has made over the last 10 years versus the current ‘best buy’ savings account, offering 1.5% interest. You’ll notice that even though some in years investors lost money and some years they gained, the overall result was a return of over 8%. (Remember, these figures exclude trading costs and so should be used as an illustrative guide only).
Case study – £1,000 investment over 10 years
If you had invested £1,000 at the beginning of 2009, it would have produced a return that far exceeds a traditional saving account at 1.5%, even accounting for the negative years. Investing your cash would have more than doubled your money. A savings account would have earned you less than £200.
The above chart assumes we do nothing with the money for ten years. But what would happen if we added £1,000 at the beginning of each year? Check out the chart below:
As you can see, the investor has widened the gap even further, producing a return of over £4,500. This is over five times more than the measly £800 in interest received by the saver.
This might sound all sunshine and roses, but there are of course risks. Had they withdrawn after the final year, the investor would actually lose over £400, despite paying in an additional £1,000. That means they would have taken a £1,400 hair cut.
The money mindset for investing
During the 12 months of the 2008 financial crisis, the FTSE100 dropped 31%. It was the sharpest fall since the index was created in 1984. If this happened to our investor in the final year it would have resulted in around a £5,000 loss! Ouch. It’s not easy to take that on the chin and not get cold feet.
A nervous investor may at this point panic, sell their investments and move their money to a ‘safe’ cash savings account. However, the patient investor who didn’t need access to that cash and had the right money mindset would have held their nerve and kept their money in the market. As a result, they would have been rewarded with a 27% gain the next year and a further 12% gain the year after that. Investing will test your nerves.
For a great read on having the right money-mindset for investing, check out Unshakeable by Tony Robbins.
Investing is not for the faint-hearted. It can be a roller coaster and you can lose the money you invest. Savings accounts may currently offer paltry returns, but at least there is little to no risk.
So take some time to consider how you would react to the scenario above before undertaking any investments. It’s totally OK if it freaks you out a bit. Just use this feeling to guide your investments decisions and play a little cautious.
Compounding and its incredible power
Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it … he who doesn’t … pays it. Tweet thisAlbert Einstein
Compound interest should be thought of like a money snowball. It starts small, but as you roll the snowball down a hill it gets bigger and bigger, building unstoppable momentum and gathering more snow (money) as it goes.
The bigger the snowball gets, the more momentum it gathers and the more snow it collects. All that is required is getting started, then time and patience.
Investing and savings work in exactly the same way. They start small and your money earns a little extra each year. Every little bit of money helps to make your investments larger. Over time, your investments could grow large enough to generate enough income for you to live on, which is a key premise behind the concept of Financial Independence. How amazing would it be if your investments paid the equivalent of a salary without you having to get out of bed!
The more money you add to your money snowball, the quicker it can grow and so the process is accelerated. Likewise, if you take money out, then your money snowball gets smaller and so has less momentum to generate more money.
The chart above highlights the money snowball in action and how each subsequent $100k (substitute $ for £) is earned quicker than the last. This is the power of compounding and hence the saying: ‘money makes money‘.
Fees: know your enemy
Unlike a savings account, the buying, holding and selling of investments cost money. At best, fees slow your investment growth and at worse, they could wipe out any gains you have made.
There are many types of fees, but these are the main ones that most investors will encounter:
- Platform fees – the cost to hold your investments & cash, charged by the platform through which you invest. This is typically a static cost.
- Transaction fees – charges for buying and selling investments. The more active you are, the more these fees become relevant. If you plan on buying and selling regularly, you’ll want to keep these as low as possible or look for a ‘cap’.
- Fund fees – a fund charges you for investing in their product and is linked to how much you are investing with them.
Typical fund fees can be around 1.5% and platform fees 0.5%. If you then add 2% inflation to these, an investor would now need to see an annual return of at least 4% before breaking even!
Fees erode your returns
The more you have in investments, the more impact that fees will have. For example, a 2% fee on a £10k would cost you £200. But a 2% charge on a £100,000 investment pot will cost you £2,000 per year! As a result, one of the key aims of investing is to drive these fees as low as possible.
A good general rule of thumb is that when your funds are small, focus on putting more money in because charges will have a relatively low impact. Then as the fund grows larger, focus more on keeping costs low, as their effect is amplified.
To mitigate fees and costs, a popular investing strategy is to use low-cost index trackers. These typically carry fund fees of less than 0.5%. Common low-cost platform providers include Vanguard and Fidelity.
Research what you plan to buy (fund fees), the frequency you plan to invest (transaction fees) and what platform would provide the lowest cost for your requirements (platform fees).
Stock-picking: are you feeling lucky?
When first starting out in investing, one of the most intimidating aspects is knowing which funds and companies to invest in. It can be a complete minefield.
On top of that, there are different asset classes: equities, bonds, real estate, commodities and cryptocurrencies. The list goes on.
Whilst the detailed ins-and-outs of what to specifically look for when investing is outside the scope of this high-level guide, there are some things to consider when thinking about stocks and shares.
How to decide what to invest in
When deciding what funds and companies to invest in, many people chose a company or industry they believe in, have an interest in or buy products/services from. You may as well give your money to a company you like, rather than one you don’t. Plus, it adds an element of fun to investing.
Which brings us to another aspect – ethical investing. When you stock-pick and decide the individual companies, you are in control of who receives your money, such as those that are in line with your morals. This is becoming increasingly important to investors and is a limitation of Index-funds.
The challenges with stock picking
Stock-picking, however, is not without its challenges, not least of which is timing.
Ever heard the term ‘buy low, sell high‘? Sounds great in theory, but its incredibly hard in reality. You need to invest a significant amount of time constantly reviewing the market and watching indicators.
On top of that, you have to get the timing right not just once, but twice. You need to buy and sell at the right time. Just getting one of these right is hard enough.
Trust me, I’ve tried. I have chosen some great companies to invest in but I have also chosen some absolute stinkers! My investments into an African farming venture and the ensuing cataclysmic loses I incurred, are the source of continual ridicule among the ESM team.
Nowadays, here at ESM, we primarily invest through passive Index Funds. But we do have a small fund allocated for stock-picking. For us, it adds an element of fun. And for that reason also, we consider it ‘fun-money’ and can afford to lose the whole lot. As I have proven although that was not “fun”.
If this time investment and level of risk appeal to you, then go for it. But for most people, it’s too time-consuming, confusing and risky. For these reasons, many consider Index Funds.
Index Funds – investing made easy
The investing space is dominated by institutional investors such as hedge funds or banks. These organisations have dedicated teams of people researching and planning which stocks to buy and sell with the billions of their client’s pounds’.
It is incredibly difficult to compete with these institutions and beat the market with the financial knowledge and resources of a single person. So why try? They often lose money themselves and chances are, you will too.
In response, a popular strategy for many people is to invest in low-cost index-tracking funds. They have been around a while but were groundbreaking at the time. Their history is a whole different rabbit hole you can dive down and if you’re so inclined, check this out from Investopedia.
What are Index Funds?
Investopedia defines an Index Tracker as; “…an index fund that tracks a broad market index or a segment thereof. Tracker funds are also known as index funds. These funds seek to replicate the holdings and performance of a designated index. Tracker funds are designed to offer investors exposure to an entire index at a low cost.”
What this means is that an index tracker is a basket of stocks from across the whole stock market, that performs in a similar way to the whole market. Put simply, you are investing in a small piece of EVERY single company. Crucially, it is designed to match the market, not beat it.
The general strategy is to buy and hold a stock indefinitely. This means less trading and a result, less trading costs. Therefore, reduced fees via Index Funds should mean a higher return compared to a similar investment with higher fees and transaction costs.
This ‘buy and hold’ strategy also means there are less human decisions to go wrong. William Sharpe, the Nobel prize-winning economist, showed in his famous ‘arithmetic of active management’ in 1991, that an active fund manager would need to be right 69-91% of the time in order to outperform passively managed index funds.
The advantages of Index Trackers
Passive Index trackers spread your risk across the whole market, rather than the success of an investment relying on a single company. This means if the market, in general, is up, so are you and vice versa.
If Apple has a good day that outperforms the rest of the market, you won’t necessarily benefit from that and you could argue that gains were missed.
But on the flip side, if you were heavily invested in BP during 2010 when an oil spill saw their stock fall 51% in 40 days, then you’ll see some protection against that also.
Passive index fund investing has become popular because it’s:
- easy to understand so you don’t have to do much technical analysis or be a stock-picking guru.
- less time consuming than typical stock picking, hence being known as ‘passive investing’. Set up your direct debit, go do whatever makes you happy in life then come back in ten or twenty years.
- lower cost typically, which means your investments are not getting eaten into by fees.
A popular source of low-cost index tracker funds is Vanguard. Check out our review and guide.
In the UK, we pay tax on the interest from savings and profit from investments over a certain ‘personal limit’. It can also be a pain in the neck to calculate and fill in tax return forms.
Therefore, most investors will make their investments through a Stocks and Shares ISA. This means that any returns you make are tax-free, so more money and less hassle. Nice.
Using a Stocks and Shares ISA ensures you do not have to worry about any gains on your investments incurring tax or having to fill out any additional information if you are required to complete a personal tax assessment.
Most popular platforms will allow you to quickly and easily open a Stocks and Shares ISA online as part of opening your investment account. It’s incredibly quick and simple these days.
How to invest with little money
In today’s world, you can take advantage of an ever-growing number of ‘do-it-for-you’ platforms. They’ll even set up your Stocks and Shares ISA up online or via an app in only 5 minutes.
You don’t need wads of cash or be on the Rich List to get into investing, either. It can literally start with a few quid a week or month.
We started investing with MoneyBox. It’s a great app that allows you to invest a little bit of money on a regular basis. It encourages saving by rounding up the money you spend. If you pay £2.50 for your morning caramel latte, Moneybox will round up to £3.00. It then takes this extra 50p and invests it for you. It’s a great tool to easily and simply get into investing.
Our Moneybox Review covers off everything you need to know to get started. One of our team had invested £1,500 in 18 months without really noticing. There are other similar apps out there but this was our first love!
Moneybox is great to start with and getting you into the habit and mindset of investing. BUT, the fees are quite significant (unless you are maxing out your Stocks and Shares ISA limit at £20,000 a year) and it’s comparatively expensive. We now invest with Vanguard and Hargreaves Lansdown.
Vanguard provides not only a low-cost investment platform but a selection of low-cost index trackers. But the rub is that they are only Vanguard funds.
Hargreaves Lansdown, on the other hand, provides access to all stocks & funds, plus they have a great intuitive app.
What do we do?
At Eat.Sleep.Money, we don’t claim to be stock market experts and we don’t have the time to research every company on the stock market. Life is hectic enough as it is.
We started off investing through Money Box. Nowadays we invest primarily in low-cost index trackers like Vanguard. We don’t aim to beat the market, just to keep up with it. For us, it’s a good balance between time, risk and returns.
We understand there will be times when the market is down and that we may lose the money we have invested. But that’s OK because this is our long-game and so far, it’s a strategy that has worked for us.
To minimise our tax exposure, our investments are wrapped in low-cost Stocks & Shares ISAs with monthly direct debits. We ‘set and forget’ then get on with the important job of having a life.
On the side, however, we do have our ‘fun money’ investments. This is a relatively small account where we do have some fun with stock picking. We may also want to specifically invest in a company we particularly like or believe in.
Money mindset – is investing for you?
Investing can be both exciting and boring. Getting started, doing all the research and picking your investments, knowing you’re taking an important step in securing your financial future is exhilarating and empowering.
But once that’s over, your direct debit is set up and your using Index Trackers, it’s kinda…boring. But that’s also the point. It’s great to be interested, but there’s also a whole world out there to go and enjoy.
Crucially though, it is important to know what you are getting into and treat investing as a long term strategy that has a degree of risk.
Investing to “get rich quick” rarely works and even the best investors can fall from their pedestal. If you choose to invest, be prepared for the inevitable ups and downs and never invest more than you can afford.
Stay the course and approach it with the right mindset, however, and you can build the financial security that will allow you the potential to do what you want, when you want and with whoever you want.
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EatSleepMoney.co.uk does not offer financial advice and is intended for reference/information only. Remember, you should always carry out your own research and/or take specific professional advice before choosing any financial products or services or undertaking any business or financial venture. Investments may go up as well as down and you may get back less than you put in.