The stock market can be a scary place for casual investors. It’s natural to worry about losing money when investing in the stock market, especially after seeing so many news stories about steep drops in share prices. However, the stock market can be a great place to grow your savings over time. The stock market is a collection of markets dedicated to different types of company investments. Each of these markets has its ups and downs based on the economic climate and company performance. For example, the stock index for large American companies generally falls when interest rates are expected to increase. It’s important to diversify your stock market investments across different types of stocks and markets. This will help you weather the ups and downs of any one market. In addition, keep an eye on company performance. Some investments may be stocks, but others may be mutual funds or exchange-traded funds. Mutual funds and ETFs also have their ups and downs. Stay diversified and keep an eye on performance to make sure you’re holding the right investments for your goals. The two main types are general stock markets and sub-index markets. General stock markets include broad indexes like the Nasdaq Composite, S&P 500, and Russell 2000. Sub-index markets are smaller indexes that track specific segments of the larger general indexes listed above. Examples include biotechnology stocks (like the Bio-Explorer), communications services stocks (like the Communication Industry Index), and healthcare services stocks (like the Healthcare Index).
An index fund is a type of mutual fund that tracks a specific stock market index (like the S&P 500). Unlike actively managed stock funds, index funds don’t attempt to “beat the market” by actively buying and selling stocks based on the manager’s predictions. Instead, they merely try to match the performance of the benchmark index they are tracking. An index fund is the best way to invest in the stock market for most casual investors. The main advantage of investing in the stock market via an index fund is that it lets you own a piece of the broader stock market without needing to actively buy and sell stocks every time you want to change your holdings. Index funds are available for every major stock market index around the world, including major national and global indexes like the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average (DIA), Nasdaq 100, and MSCI EAFE.
Investing in the stock market via an index fund is the simplest way to participate in broader stock market movements. Index funds buy shares in a representative sampling of companies, rather than choosing individual stocks. As a result, they have lower upfront costs, and there’s no need to monitor their progress. Index funds are passively managed, which means they track a predetermined set of rules to determine which companies to buy and sell.
Index funds can be a great way to diversify your portfolio and get exposure to the stock market with low maintenance costs. For many investors, index funds make the most sense as a long-term investment. Due to the nature of passive investing, these funds can experience pronounced ups and downs throughout the year. To do so, you only need to select an index fund that tracks the index you are most interested in. For example, if you want to invest in healthcare companies, you can buy shares in a healthcare index fund. If you want to invest in computer companies, you can buy shares in a technology index fund. Etc. If you want to invest in the S&P 500, you can buy shares in the SPY exchange-traded fund (ETF), which is a “tracking fund” that holds a portfolio of stocks matching the S&P 500. If you want to invest in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DIA), you can buy shares in the DIA ETF which holds a portfolio of 30 large American companies.
Investing in the stock market via an index fund gives you broad exposure to the stock market without needing to constantly buy and sell individual stocks. Index funds are passively managed, which means they are not actively trying to beat the market. They essentially give you a slice of the market, which has historically delivered positive returns. Over the long term (approximately 20 years), the stock market has averaged around 10% returns. Index funds are a great way to get into the market with very low maintenance. Keep in mind that there are expenses associated with index funds, but they are much lower than actively managed funds. This makes your investment process as simple as buying one index fund and letting it sit in your investment account for years or decades at a time. You also don’t need to pay any additional money to invest in index funds. Most stock brokers and online investment platforms offer index funds for free. You can also choose an index fund that tracks an index you are interested in following. For example, the S&P 500 tracks the 500 largest American companies. There are also smaller indexes that track specific sub-segments of the larger stocks in the index.
The biggest drawback of investing in the stock market via an index fund is that you don’t actively buy and sell stocks yourself. This means you rely on the broad market movements of the index fund to make money for you. If the index falls in value, you may lose money. If you have a specific investment goal in mind, you may be better off choosing a specific index fund that tracks a sub-index of stocks related to your goal. If you want to invest in biotech stocks, for example, you can invest in a biotech index fund. If you want to invest in solar energy stocks, you can invest in an alternative energy index fund. However, you should keep in mind that index funds track the broader stock market movements. This means they tend to be less volatile than investing in a specific index fund. If you want to “beat the market” and potentially make more money in the long run, choosing a specific sub-index fund may be a better option. Sub-index funds mirror the composition of a larger basket of stocks, but they focus on a particular sector. For example, let’s say that you want to invest $10,000 in the stock market. You could pick a total market index fund or a large-cap fund and receive average returns. Alternatively, you could choose a health care sub-index fund and receive above-average returns. In the long run, you could receive even higher returns than an index fund because sub-index funds are less popular and therefore have less investor demand.
You can invest in the stock market using an index fund by first opening an investment account with a broker. Once your account is open, you can select a fund by choosing an index that interests you. You can find index funds for every major stock market index at websites like FinViz and Morningstar. Once you have selected the fund, you can make your initial investment. After that, you can forget about the fund and let it sit in your account for years or decades. Once you hit your investment goal, you can either withdraw the money or reinvest it in another index fund.
The stock market can be a scary place for casual investors, but it can also be a great place to grow your savings over time. Investing in the stock market via an index fund is the simplest way to participate in broader stock market movements. Index funds are passively managed, which means they are benchmarked against a particular index, such as the S&P 500. They don’t try to outperform the market, they simply try to match the market’s performance.
Index funds are extremely low maintenance compared to actively managed funds. There is no need to try to predict which stocks will outperform the market, which is a difficult and often inaccurate strategy.
The other major benefit of index funds is that they are very cheap. Most index funds charge an annual expense fee of less than 1%. In comparison, actively managed funds charge expenses of up to 5%. Index funds are the best way to invest in the stock market for most people. The best way to invest in the stock market for most casual investors is via an index fund, which gives you broad exposure to the stock market without needing to constantly buy and sell individual stocks.