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In the sixth episode of The College Student's Guide To Money, Chelsea covers everything you need to know about the basics of investing, from the different types of retirement accounts you can open to what you need to know about diversification.

What is investing?

Why start now?



Retirement account basics:

Building a portfolio:

Index funds:


Robo advisors:

The Financial Diet site:

Hello, everyone, and welcome back to what may be the most scary, intimidating, "I want to avoid it but know that I shouldn't" episode of our "Guide to Getting Good With Money for College Students," and that is the episode all about investing.

And I promise, although this topic may feel very intimidating, that once you learn a few basics, it's actually quite easy to understand. And understanding investing and how to use it to your advantage is one of the most powerful things that you can do to transform your own financial future.

So many people stay out of the game simply because they don't understand it and leave it to a few rich folks to get all the spoils. Time for us to get in the investing game. But first, we have to understand what investing actually is and what is the difference between savings and investing.

Well, the difference is pretty simple. According to Wells Fargo, the difference is in how you plan to grow the amount. Saving is something you do yourself.

You add money to an account over time or purchase a certificate of deposit. You may try for a high-interest savings account, but generally, there's no risk or volatility when you're saving. What you put into it is about what you get out of it, with maybe a small percentage increase if you're really savvy.

Investing, on the other hand, introduces risk. It's possible that the amount of money you put in can decrease, but it's also possible that a small investment can grow into a huge one with patience and a bit of luck. So we understand that investing is different from savings in the sense that it represents a greater level of risk, but a greater level of potential reward with your money.

But why is it important for a college student to know about investing, or more importantly, to start investing? Well, provided you have a solid emergency fund, which you can learn more about in our episode on savings, which should always be the first place that you're directing your savings, experts are a broken record about the fact that the sooner you start investing, the better. In investing, there is a concept called the investment horizon, which is basically the length of time that you give an investment to mature.

And since most investments deal in compounding interest, the longer time your investment has to grow, the more work it will do for you and the more interest it will yield. Longer periods of time also allow you to ride out eventual dips in the market. We all essentially know that the longer time you give yourself to invest, the better it will be for you.

But this often isn't played out in practice. Only 39% of adults started investing in their 20s, according to a report from Morning Consult, although 50% of respondents said they should have started in their 20s. In other words, by starting as early as possible, you're maximizing your ability to save and grow your investments.

Before we get into all of the different types of investments that you should be taking advantage of through your financial life, though, it's important to understand what we're talking about when we talk about the concept of investing. Now, obviously, there are a lot of ways to think about investing in your life. If you're in college right now, you're making an investment in yourself.

And hopefully, depending on what you're studying and how you're studying it, it's a good investment. But when we talk about investing in financial markets, that's a very specific concept. And it's important to understand, when people talk about those mystical stocks and bonds, what that actually means.

Generally speaking, stocks can be thought of as a tiny piece of ownership-- and I mean infinitesimally tiny, in most cases, piece of ownership-- of a given company. Bonds you can think of like a loan, often held by a company or a government or another entity, for which you become a tiny, tiny piece of the creditor or the debt holder. Generally, stocks are more volatile, bonds less so.

But what's important to remember is that when it comes to investing, a healthy investing strategy is not based on individual stock picking-- i.e. When people talk about, like, well, I'm going to buy X amount of Nike or Apple. Not only is that one of the most risky ways to invest, because your investing is not very diversified-- i.e. containing lots of different investments to offset overall risk-- it also depends on you being able to accurately predict the market, which is very, very unlikely.

In fact, even professional brokers and traders are often not very good at predicting the market. One of my favorite studies on the matter tested the ability of brokers to predict the market versus a litter of kittens, where they had a bunch of different stocks laid out on the floor on pieces of paper, the names written on them. And they had kittens choose the stocks by walking on the pieces of paper they wanted to pick.

The kittens outperformed the brokers. So the more you can start to think about investing as a much more generalized participation in the market, where the accounts that you're using are just like big, big baskets of stocks and bonds, all different types from all over the market, and not so much focusing in on one specific stock, the more you can start to understand the overall concept. One of the most common types of investments that most of us are likely to encounter in our lives are retirement accounts.

I mentioned earlier in our video about savings that retirement is one of the most important savings goals that you should be working toward, including in your early 20s, or even in college. But what are the specific account types that these retirement accounts actually entail? For most of us, most of the retirement accounts that we're going to be utilizing are types of investments.

They're just special types of investments that are meant to be tapped into at retirement, which for most of us tends to be around the age 65. You may try to save more aggressively to retire earlier, but for many of us, 65 is a good benchmark and gives us about 40 years for our investments to grow if we started investing in our mid-20s, which is a great investment horizon. But let's talk about some of those specific retirement accounts that you're likely to come across in your lifetime.

The first type of account is called a 401(k), which many of us will often be offered through our employer. When you invest in a 401(k), you're investing in a pre-set portfolio. You're diverting part of your income into investments, like stocks and bonds.

Many 401(k)'s put money into targeted funds that are expected to grow and peak at the year you plan to retire, such as a Vanguard Target Retirement Fund. They utilize index funds, which is a collection or portfolio of stocks and bonds carefully selected by financial experts. These retirement accounts are essentially hands-off investing that you contribute to monthly.

Most 401(k)'s are tied to stocks and bonds, so they typically grow in value beyond the raw money you put in. That's why starting early gets you the best results. Another common type of retirement account is an IRA.

IRA stands for Individual Retirement Account, because it isn't tied to your job, and you make direct contributions to it. There are multiple types of IRA, too. One popular one is a Roth IRA, which is a portfolio similar to a 401(k).

It could be preset, but you could also build the portfolio yourself via stocks, bonds, ETFs, and mutual funds. And do remember, as I mentioned in our savings video, that what makes retirement accounts so unique is that they tend to be tax advantaged. And you can learn more about how they can have those tax benefits for you and save you money by checking out our video on savings.

So beyond retirement, which is how many of us will most aggressively utilize investing, there are tons of really good ways to make your money work harder for you by utilizing investment for longer term savings. As we talked about in the savings video, once your goals get beyond the 5 to 10 year mark, investing in the market can be a great way to have higher returns if you're able to ride out that timing risk. Because imagine you have to pull that money out at a time when the market is really taking a dip.

That could be a bad situation. But if you have some flexibility on the timing and the savings goal is longer term, investment can be awesome. And many people use it to their advantage outside of just retirement.

And when it comes to investing, you'll often hear people talk about something called a portfolio, which is, basically put, just a collection of your different investments. That can include things like your 401(k) or an IRA, but it can also include other non-retirement investment funds. Your portfolio is going to include a mix of stocks, bonds, and cash.

And the degree to which those things are mixed and the proportion you have in a given portfolio is going to be reflective of how risky a portfolio is. As I mentioned earlier, stocks tend to be the most risky, the most volatile, but can potentially offer the highest reward. Another reason why starting to invest younger can be advantageous, as I mentioned, is that with a longer time horizon to allow your investment to mature, you don't just give time for interest to accrue.

You also allow yourself to ride out big potential market downturns. When it comes to building your portfolio, there are a few ways to go about it, from relying on an expert to assemble one for you to buying into something called an index fund, which is a type of mutual fund with a portfolio constructed to match or track the components of a financial market index, such as the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, or S&P 500, which you've probably heard of. Index funds track the general movement of the market, while assembled portfolios actively select stocks that they hope will beat the general market.

An active fund portfolio manager will track the stock market and advise on when to buy shares in specific stocks based on trends. It can be a much faster growth in your money when the trends are accurately predicted. But as I mentioned earlier, there's no guarantee that the predictions are going to be accurate.

And it can mean a lot more cost to you, because you are having to pay that financial advisor. But there's also been a development in between, something you may have heard of called robo-advising, which is a relatively recent development in investment, and it's targeted primarily at new investors. Robo-advisors are a low-cost alternative to a broker.

And a broker is a person who will buy your assets-- in this case, stocks-- for someone else. They'll usually charge a fee per trade, and robo-advising charges only a flat monthly fee or a small percentage. You get less customized insight and attention, but it's also much less hands-on and expensive than most traditional brokerages.

Robo-advisors include apps like acorns, Betterment, Wealthsimple, robinhood, et cetera. And they can be a good way to get into the investment mindset without investing too much time or money. But the most important thing to keep in mind with all of your investments is to keep at it and to not allow small market downturns to discourage you.

One of the biggest problems that inexperienced investors face is getting freaked out the first time they log on to check their portfolio and see that it's taken a huge dip because the market's having a really rough time. It is almost inevitable that this will happen many times over the course of your investment horizon. And if you take out your money at a time when the market has taken a huge downturn, you're doing the worst possible thing you can do with your money, which is referred to as locking in your losses.

Until you actually take your money out of the market, those losses, that downturn in the value of your portfolio, is only really theoretical. But once you take that money out, you make it real, and you ensure that you are getting all of the hit of that money's loss. You have to learn to be patient.

Many of us, myself included, don't look at our portfolios when we know it's going to be really ugly, because it's just going to give us unnecessary anxiety. You have to be consistent. Keep on a strategy based on what you can afford and what your goals are, and don't really allow yourself to be too influenced by the noise of what's happening in the market today.

This is obviously just a very basic overview of the concept of investing and how you can start getting involved in it yourself. But I do encourage you to learn more about investing. Our friend Erin Lowry at Broke Millennial has a fantastic book, her guide to investing, that will explain everything you need to know.

But first, informing yourself on how it works and, second, getting a patient and long-term strategy in place that you can stick to are the two keys to taking advantage of everything the market has to offer. Investing is not just for old, rich people, unless you leave it to them to take all of the spoils. Don't forget to check out the next episode in our "Guide to Getting Good With Money for College Students." And for all things talking about money, don't forget to check out The Financial Diet here on YouTube or all around the internet.