How to Invest With Confidence

investingWhen it comes to investing money, women could use an ego boost. A 2015 survey showed that women tend to lack confidence in money-related decision making, and other research found that only 22 percent of us feel "well prepared" to make financial choices.

These fears are unfounded: Women tend to be excellent investors, often outperforming men.

Playing the market — or at least participating in it — isn't as daunting as it might seem. "People make investing more difficult than it needs be," says Robert R. Johnson, PhD, CFA, CAIA, president and CEO of The American College of Financial Services. "Success in investing isn't predicated on complicated strategies or frequent trading. In fact, a simple, disciplined strategy is all that one needs."

Finding this strategy may take a bit of time and research — but even those who don't consider themselves financially savvy can put together a solid investment plan. Here’s what you need to invest with confidence.

Learn the Basics
ETFs, mutual funds, compound interest, diversification: it all sounds like a different language. Having some basic knowledge about investing — and the key terms related to it — will boost your confidence and make it clear that what you’re up against isn’t insurmountable. Start with this investing primer to demystify the jargon and get a sense of different types of investments.

Map Out Your Goals
Understanding your money ambitions will also build up your investment confidence. If you know where you want to go, then you'll be able to choose an investment mix to help you get there.

Try focusing on just one or two specific financial goals, whether it's buying a second home, retiring, or sending a child to college, says investment advisor Herbert Moore, co-founder and co-CEO of WiseBanyan. "Figure out what these goals are and how much each one will cost, more or less," he says. "Don't be intimidated by a hefty price tag for those goals — many small investments over time can add up to a lot!"

Figure Out Your Risk Tolerance
One of the most important factors guiding your investment confidence is how comfortable you are taking risks with your money. "You may love the ride and are okay with volatility, or you might prefer avoiding portfolio bounce and experiencing fewer market pops in return for mitigating the impact of market drops," says Lynn Ballou, regional director of EP Wealth Advisors.

Ballou recommends online tools to help you better understand where you stand: Check out Rutgers University's Investment Risk Tolerance Quiz, developed by two personal finance professors; Vanguard's investment questionnaire; and Ameriprise Financial's risk quiz. She also suggests filling them out twice: Once when times are good, money-wise, and again when your situation is not quite so glittering. That will help ensure your responses jibe with your financial reality.  

One thing to keep in mind, no matter your risk profile, is that you’re investing for the long haul. "If you are measuring performance month-to-month or day-to-day, investing will feel like a roller coaster to you," Itkin says.

Start Small and Diversify
If you don’t have a lot to invest, that doesn’t mean you’re left out. No investment amount is too small; the important thing is that you participate in the market. However, it’s important that you don’t put every dollar in one place.

Try investing in a mix of index funds and stocks (i.e., diversify your investments) to curb against the possibility of losing big right off the bat. This protects you, Itkin says, as it’s "nearly impossible to lose your entire investment — most beginning investors' greatest fear — when you diversify your assets properly."

Play the Long Game
Stressed about picking the right time to invest? Drop that worry from your list. "The key to investment success is disciplined commitment,” Johnson says. “Time in the market is more important than timing the market.”

Making periodic deposits into an investment account no matter what the market conditions are is a systematic investment strategy that can pay off over time, according to Ballou. (You may already be doing this if you contribute a 401(k) through your employer.)

"Most investment beginners make the mistake of attempting to time the market by increasing their investments when the market has advanced and appears strong, then decreasing their commitments when market conditions are weak," Johnson says. "What ends up happening is that people 'buy high and sell low' — just the opposite of the old investment adage 'buy low and sell high.'"

Instead, this slow-and-steady-wins-the-race approach helps take the stress out of investing: You'll contribute the same amount monthly or quarterly so the risk is minimal, and there's no guesswork as far as timing the market goes.

Consider Finding Professional Help
Depending on your goals and how comfortable you feel about investing after learning the basics, you may want to work with a certified financial planner on your portfolio. A professional will be able to assess your goals and suggest the right investment account (Roth IRA, 401(k), personal investment account, etc.) to move you toward where you want to be on a realistic timeline, Moore says. Plus, a pro can help you think through the nitty gritty, like the construction of your portfolio.

Another option is a robo advisor, which brings the advisor experience right to your smartphone. This kind of platform, like Betterment or Wealthfront, is usually more ideal for people who consider themselves passive or “buy-and-hold” investors. If you plan to let your investments appreciate over the long-term with little maintenance, this can be a great route to take.

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