One of the common stories from the recent recession is how shell shocked younger investors are . I’m not surprised because it seems like there is bad news every week and the market makes one hundred and two hundred points moves like it was nothing. When you combine that with a lowered confidence in the economy, with people afraid they’ll join the ranks of the unemployed, it’s obvious why younger investors feel this way. It’s not much different than the frugality that came out of the Great Depression – we are a product of our times.
Despite these fears, the stock market is the easiest way for someone to invest their savings. When stock trades are only a few dollars and there’s a very liquid market, it simply can’t be beat. The question is whether you even want to play the game and I argue you should dip your toe in… and here’s how.
Contribute to 401(k)
No matter how scared you are, the one thing that most young people are comfortable with is investing through a 401(k). First, you get the tax benefits. Every dollar you contribute is tax deductible and you won’t pay taxes on it until you start taking disbursements in retirement. Depending on your tax bracket , that reduces how much it “costs” for you to invest and your initial investment is that much larger. Next, there’s the company match, if your company offers one. It’s like giving yourself a mini-raise.
Finally, and what I consider the biggest reason most people are comfortable, you can’t touch it for a long long time. This is money you’ve put away in a time capsule. It’s not part of your immediate financial plans and so you know that you can let time work for you. So when you see that the market has dropped, you aren’t as concerned because it’s not as immediate.
Be OK With Saving Later
We’ve all seen the charts – save now and the compounded returns will make you rich in a few decades. That’s true but the rate of return from the stock market isn’t a nice smooth upward trending line. It’s jagged with lots of ups and downs and while your investments will probably appreciate over several decades, it’ll do a lot of winning and losing in those intervening years. While you’re younger, chances are you will need that money more often and so it doesn’t make sense to start investing with money you might need to buy a house or a car. So despite the fantastic charts, it’s OK to wait a few years before getting more involved than through a 401(k).
Invest in Dividends
If you do eventually want to dip into stocks, I recommend checking out some dividend stocks. These are usually at older blue chip companies with low betas  (a measurement of volatility compared to the overall market), so they don’t gyrate as much, and the dividend offers you some income and insurance against the gyrations of the market. I personally like starting with the Dividend Aristocrats , though I recommend reading about dividend investing in greater detail before you start picking stocks.
It’s important that you do whatever will let you sleep at night. For some, it’s avoiding the stock market entirely and knowing that their money is in a certificate of deposit  that will not lose value. For others, it’s owning a few hundred dollars of a dividend company or maybe a hot new startup. Whatever it is, it’s important that you make a decision that you’re comfortable with. Your capital should be working for you, not keeping you up worrying about it.
(Photo: epicharmus )