Phrases like “earnings movers” and “intraday highs” don’t mean much to the average investor, and in many cases, they shouldn’t. If you’re in it for the long term — with, say, a portfolio of mutual funds geared toward retirement — you don’t need to worry about what these words mean, or about the flashes of red or green that cross the bottom of your TV screen. You can get by just fine without understanding the stock market much at all.
This education really ought to include one of the daily papers that covers the movements on the stock exchange (information here) in detail, such as the Financial Times or Wall Street Journal. Remember, the investment bankers that you are competing against have Bloomberg terminals and Reuters subscriptions, while everyone else is watching CNN and MSNBC. Since everyone is reading the same things on the same days, these might not be the best places to pick up your share market tips...
A market index tracks the performance of a group of stocks, which either represents the market as a whole or a specific sector of the market, like technology or retail companies. You’re likely to hear most about the S&P 500, the Nasdaq composite and the Dow Jones Industrial Average; they are often used as proxies for the performance of the overall market.
But this isn’t your typical market, and you can’t show up and pick your shares off a shelf the way you select produce at the grocery store. Individual traders are typically represented by brokers — these days, that’s often an online broker. You place your stock trades through the broker, which then deals with the exchange on your behalf. (Need a broker? See our analysis of the best stockbrokers for beginners.)
History shows that investing in stocks is one of the most efficient ways to build wealth over time. Nearly every member of the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans got there because they own a large block of shares in a public or private corporation. Learning to invest wisely and with patience over a lifetime can yield a portfolio far outpacing the most modest income.
But building a diversified portfolio of individual stocks takes a lot of time, patience and research. The alternative is a mutual fund, the aforementioned ETF or an index fund. These hold a basket of investments, so you’re automatically diversified. An S&P 500 ETF, for example, would aim to mirror the performance of the S&P 500 by investing in the 500 companies in that index.
You can buy stock directly using a brokerage account or one of the many available investment apps. These platforms give you the option to buy, sell, and store your purchased stocks, and the differences between them are mostly in fees and available resources. While traditional brokerage companies—like Fidelity, E-Trade, and TD Ameritrade—charge a commission fee per trade, newer companies like Robinhood and WeBull offer zero-commission trades.
What would make me sell: Sometimes there are good reasons to split up. For this part of your journal, compose an investing prenup that spells out what would drive you to sell the stock. We’re not talking about stock price movement, especially not short term, but fundamental changes to the business that affect its ability to grow over the long term. Some examples: The company loses a major customer, the CEO’s successor starts taking the business in a different direction, a major viable competitor emerges, or your investing thesis doesn’t pan out after a reasonable period of time.