It’s never too early to begin thinking of your financial future, whether you’re nearing retirement or just getting started. As a matter of fact, the longer you wait before you begin implementing a financial plan to reach your goals, the farther behind the curve you’ll be. It’s also very tough to catch up, and getting tougher by the day. With the value of the dollar continuing to erode, it’s obvious that it will take more of them later to do the same job that they are doing now. It’s also becoming clearer that in order to fund your retirement adequately, investing has ceased being a luxury of the well-to-do. It’s become a requirement for anyone wishing to maintain a comfortable lifestyle in their later years.

For the average person, however, the subject of investing can quite daunting. It’s a culture that has its own complete vocabulary. The stock market, the Dow Jones, the symbols and countless graphs, needless to say, can keep one hopelessly confused. But with a little time and elbow grease, you’ll become familiar with the jargon of investors. Take a few moments to familiarize yourself with some basic terms in our Investment Glossary. Then do a little studying. A good beginning overview can be found here, entitled Investing Lessons and Quizzes.

Keep in mind that you don’t have to be an expert in order to get into the game. And you don’t need a lot of money to get started. Just make sure that you’re comfortable with the amount that you’re going to invest. If you are, then you’re ready to take the first step in building your investment portfolio, which is to open a brokerage account. This account will allow you to trade stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other investments by paying professionals to buy or sell the items that you direct them to.

The fee that you pay for this service is called a commission, and can range from as low as $5 to several hundred dollars and up. The price difference arises when you choose between either a discount or traditional broker. Traditional brokerage houses provide a wider range of services, and charge accordingly. They can generally be thought of as professional money managers who can offer advice as to what investments might be right for you. Discount brokers, on the other hand, are tailored to the more self-directed investor; they don't offer counsel as to what to put your money into, leaving you to make your own financial decisions and charging you much less than traditional brokerage firms. Some companies offer both types of service, allowing their clients to choose the format that’s most comfortable for them.

When opening a new account, the minimum investment can vary, usually ranging from $500-$1,000 (although some accounts can be opened for as little as $100). Many firms allow the process to be conducted online. Once your account is open, you can begin investing. All brokerages give you the option of setting up automatic monthly deposits, which will transfer an amount that you specify each month from your savings or checking account to your brokerage account, helping you to build your equity easily and conveniently.

Begin slowly and carefully, and make a commitment to invest for the long term. With proper training, planning and experience, you can build a portfolio that will enable your financial future to be solid.


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