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How to Invest 1,000 Dollars at Age 18

A while back, I had a conversation with a former student of mine who is looking to invest in the stock market. He was in college and had some money sitting around that he didn’t need for school. He wanted to know how to invest 1,000 dollars and whether it was realistic or not at this time of his life.

how to invest 1,000 dollarsHis situation was similar to what many 18-year-olds face. They’ve worked full-time summer jobs since they were 16 and maybe even part-time ones during the school year. Their college expenses are taken care of either through scholarships or the bank of mom and dad. The money they have earned is just sitting in their savings account drawing little to no interest. Does it make sense for them to do something else with it, like beginning to invest?

The answer is “YES…it absolutely makes sense” but with a very big “BUT…”.

Before I get to the “BUT…” though, lets look at some assumptions about 18-year-olds that are going to impact how they invest and where they put their money.

Assumptions About 18-Year-Olds

While not true for all, these generalizations pretty much highlight what most 18-year-olds are going through:

  1. They are looking towards college or vocational school (immediately or at some point). More education or training is the next step for most 18-year-olds. They know completion of some kind of advanced degree will offer them the chance at securing better employment. Until they get it, they will be locked into common laborer type jobs, which are not all bad but probably not what they anticipate doing long-term.
  1. They are emotional. We are all emotional at some level but youth are more so. In fact, their emotions often drive their decisions more than their intellect. This leads to many unwise choices that have varying levels of consequence.
  1. They lack life experience. It’s not their fault they lack experience. They just haven’t lived enough life yet. Experience is a great teacher and an 18-year-old has less of it to benefit from.
  1. They want a better financial life and have heard investing is a way to make money. I’ve only met a few seniors in high school who truly understood investing. Most have a casual notion what it means from news items they’ve picked up or from hearing their parents discuss it around the dinner table. They probably don’t know how to invest 1,000 dollars and may even be turned off or discouraged from even trying based on how they’ve heard other people lament their investing misfortunes.

Related Content: High Risk Investing: When I Turned 1,000 Into…

  1. They have other things on their mind. Although making money might be important, they have so many other things that dominate their thought life such as college classes, events and parties, experiencing life and maintaining relationships.

All of these generalizations about what life is like for an 18-year-old will have an impact if they choose to invest. Their investing success hinges on by decisions made out of emotion, lack of experience, and a desire to focus on college and other things.

Why Should I Invest at 18?

This is the big question young people ask. They think, “What’s the point of me learning how to invest 1,000 dollars a year right now? Won’t there be plenty of time to invest once I graduate from college and start my new career? I’ll be making more money then and have more to invest.”

What you don’t see now is that life will be more expensive after college. There may be loans to pay back. You might get married, need healthcare, have a kid, buy a house or move to an expensive city. The expenses can quickly get out of hand. The money that was supposed to be available to invest because of that cushy new job is going to many other places.

Related Content: 5 Life Changing Moments that Lead to Lifestyle Inflation

This points to the biggest reason you should invest at a young age – time. Time is the biggest part of the equation when it comes to investing. An 18-year-old has more time to invest than a 25 or 30-year-old. Waiting seven or 12 years to invest can have a dramatic impact as seen in the following math problem:

Lets say “Person A” begins investing at 19, just one year out of high school. She contributes $150 per month ($1,800 per year) for 8 years, until the age of 26. The total amount of money she invested equals $14,400. If that money were to average 12% return per year, by age 65 that investment would have grown to $2,264,026. Keep in mind that is without investing another dollar after the age of 26.

Then we have “Person B” who waits to begin investing until age 27. He contributes $150 per month ($1,800 per year) for 39 years, until the age of 65. The total amount of money he invested equals $70,200. If his investments were to average the same 12% return, he would have only amassed $1,580,051 by age 65. Person B invested $55,800 more actual dollars over the investment period yet fell $683,975 short of the mark achieved by Person A.

What a difference time can make. (To play with your own figures, use the investing calculator here. You’ll find the same scenario no matter what dollar amount or rate of return you plug in. All other things being equal, starting earlier always wins. )

So yes, you should begin investing at an early age. However, and here comes the “BUT…”, only if you don’t need the money in the next five years. There are two big reasons why this is important:

1) Stock Market Corrections. Stock prices go up and down on a daily basis. Sometimes those daily price fluctuations are sustained, meaning they go in one direction (up or down) for an extended number of days. A negative market correction can easily eat into the principal amount you invested. So you could see your $1,000 investment split in half in less than a year if the market is in a tailspin.

The good news is that the stock market doesn’t always go (or stay) down. It rebounds from its lows but it always takes time. A five-year window gives you time for stock prices to go back up.

2) Taxes. Taxes can eat into the rate of return on your investments. If you have gains on your investment (meaning the market has gone up and your shares are worth more) and you choose to sell, you will pay taxes on how much you gained. If your $1,000 investment goes to $2,500 and you sell, you’ll pay taxes on $1,500 worth of gains.

Everyone has to deal with taxes on investment gains. But if you are constantly in and out of the market you’ll have a greater chance to pay too much in taxes.

How to Invest 1,000 Dollars the Right Way

In my opinion, the best place for a beginner to get started is with an Index Fund that tracks a large section of the stock market. This could be a fund that tracks the S&P 500 (the 500 biggest companies) or the total stock market.  Your money gets diversified (spread out) because these funds are required to hold all the companies in the index they are tracking.

(Disclosure: This is the route I took when I started my 403(b) retirement account, my first real investment. 75% of the money I invested went into the Vanguard 500 Index Fund and 25% went into the Vanguard Total International Stock Index Fund.)

Index funds will help you with several things:

  1. They are low on expenses.
  1. As stated already they just track the market. Whatever the market does, they do. In that sense they help reduce some emotion that comes with stock market performance.
  1. They will allow you to focus on what’s important in other areas of life without having to worry about a bad fund manager handling your money improperly (it happens).
  1. They will give you some basic investing experience and you’ll be more prepared to invest post-college.

Index funds can be found at investing companies like Charles Schwab, Fidelity and Vanguard among others. You can simply search a company’s website to find the kinds of index funds they offer. You’ll notice that most index funds have a minimum amount of money you must invest with some being higher and others lower. So how much you have ready to invest may determine what company and what fund you choose.

You will have to open an account with your company of choice, fill out an application, select your fund(s) and then send in the money (from your bank or in the form of a check). Then you can invest it in whatever funds you want. The process really is quite easy.

Related Content: The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Investing Money the Right Way

Some Final Thoughts For the Young Investor

If you have money sitting around that you won’t need in the next five years, I’d encourage you to invest it. It’s not a complicated process to get started. The best thing is that it won’t be something you have to monitor on a daily basis. In fact, I’d discourage you from paying attention to your investment fund every day. Checking on it four or five times a year is all you need to do if you have a long-term perspective.

The sooner you can get started with investing the better. All those people who didn’t start until their 30s or 40s are regretting it to this day. Time is on your side but it won’t be if you let it slip away.

Questions for Discussion Below: When did you get started with investing? What was your first ever investment? Were you thinking about investing during college? For those who are older, what investing advice would you give to an 18-year-old? What other advice would you give on how to invest 1,000 dollars to an 18 year old?

Image at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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  1. A Representative of Gen Z says

    As an 18-year-old college student, it’s not fun to read through this comment section and find several variations of “kids these days.” Most of the students my age I know are most definitely interested in investing and long-term saving. However, many of us are just struggling to deal with day-to-day expenses such as tuition, groceries, gas, and whatever other unexpected expenses come our way. No matter how hard working the student, not everyone has the privilege of focusing on long-term savings goals at age 18. We’re all just trying our best here, and it feels demoralizing and condescending when adults act like we’re all burning our money on clothes, entertainment, and tech without any concern for the future.

    Thank you to the adults in the comment above noting that many young people are interested in investing, and simply aren’t taught about it by their parents or their teachers. I would like to point out that this is a mistake of the older generation writing our school curriculum and parenting these kids. There is quite a bit that alarms me about my generation, but we are what you’ve made us.

    To the author: thank you for the article and the advice. I enjoyed reading it and plan on implementing what you’ve suggested in my own finances!

    • Rep for Gen Z, I agree…saving and investing is really difficult through the college years. I definitely didn’t start any of that until I was done with school. Part of that was ignorance on my part though. If I had been self-aware enough and thought to begin learning about how to handle money wisely, I might have started earlier. I definitely wasted money through my 20s until I learned better.

      Don’t let the doubters demoralize you. You know who you are as a person and what you are capable of. I literally dealt with people who were older than I looking down on me well into my 30s. Stay the course and do what you know is right by your life and with your money. If you ever need help with anything money related send me an email through the “Contact” link.

  2. I remember at that age I felt really satisfied when I contributed my first $500 to an investment in a DSSP and the corresponding DRIP. They are not popular anymore but are a great no-nonsense approach to investing. The feeling I got from putting that money in there brought me so much joy and confidence. I didn’t know anyone else my age who even knew how to open a brokerage account.

    • You bring up some excellent points Scott about the joy and confidence this brings to a young person when they know they are doing the right thing. It’s neat to see kids at that age have a long-term perspective cause most don’t. They are too worried about the present.

  3. There is a minor mistake in this post and numerous other posts on the site: the S&P 500 is NOT the 500 biggest companies in the market. Its hard to listen to investment advice from someone who doesn’t understand that basic detail.

    • So, you pick out a minor mistake in grammar and that discounts the whole post. Nice. If I put in the words “some of” you don’t even leave a comment. The overall advice is still sound.

      • Its not grammar. Its the definition of the investment you are promoting. Minor, yes, but it threw up a red flag for me. You like to reference Dave Ramsey who frequently says “don’t invest in what you don’t understand” which I think applies here. Anyway, I wasn’t looking to offend you but rather point out an area for improvement.

  4. Yes, I couldn’t agree more that starting early really pays off! The magic of compounding interest. Amazing!
    I would love to be getting 12% returns…do you find this to be realistic or were you just using it for example? If you do find it realistic, what am I doing wrong?

  5. I totally agree with what you’ve written with one addition. I tell my kids (18 to 21) to keep in mind after college expenses. Must likely they’ll need a car, first month’s rent, etc. They don’t want to invest ALL their spare cash in stocks only to graduate in a down market and find themselves with less than they expected. Diversification even at 18 is important. As they get to graduation day I recommend moving what they need for “getting started expenses” into cash and short term bonds.

  6. Jayson @ Monster Piggy Bank says

    Brian, this proves that age does matter in investment. If I were at the age of 18 years and had some extra, I would definitely make investment a priority while still focusing on other things what college students do. It’ a matter of “balance”.

  7. Dane Hinson says

    Huge fan of index funds and utilizing the most powerful tool in finance…Time! Any teenagers that ask for investment advice, I immediately point them in the direction of an index fund. Keep the costs low and ride the market and they will undoubtedly see the power of compound returns.

    • Index funds aren’t the end-all of investing but they are a great place to start. They act as a base on which to build the rest of one’s portfolio on. Simple to understand and hassle free.

  8. I like the thought of this….in fact, what a great graduation gift to give a high school graduate – $1000 invested in *something*. The caveat is that they cannot touch it. Watch it grow over the next 40 years!

  9. I agree. Start investing early. I would recommend opening a Vanguard account, initial $3000 investment, and depositing $25 a month to establish the habit of investing.

  10. I wish I had started investing at 18 because I think investing is best started when you aren’t risk averse. If you start once you have kids and a home and tons of financial obligations, it’s a much scarier event. So, no, I don’t think 18 year olds should be investing tons of money, but this is a great learning experience. There’s no harm in it, as long as they really do have the money “free and clear” to start. Then they have decades ahead of them to finesse their investment strategies and learn more about what they are doing.

    In the back of my mind, I’ve been considering how to get my girls involved in investing as they get older. Hopefully, they can start well before 18!

    • Investing does feel riskier the more financial obligations you have. You always keep thinking about what might come down the road that you’d need the money for. I try not to worry about what those things might be because if I got wrapped up in that I’d end up hoarding my money in a savings account and never invest. That would not help me grow my money at all.

  11. That’s cool to hear that an 18 year-old is actively interested in investing. There’s hope for the future yet! My parents actually had me open a Roth IRA at 18 years-old when I got a job as a senior in high school. Unfortunately, they weren’t all that savvy themselves and the financial advisor we used put me in a high expense fund with huge front end load fees. I am still grateful to them for having me take that route because it planted the seed in my mind even if the initial investment was a rip off!

    • With a little education you don’t really need a financial adviser to get things started. This kind of investing is simple enough and you don’t have to run the risk of having an adviser with an agenda (like making money for him/herself) putting you in the wrong investments.

  12. While investing isn’t on the minds of a lot of young adults, I have seen more people in the 16-22 age bracket seeking advice about what to do with their money on places such as the personal finance subreddit. So I believe things are starting to change. We really need more personal finance education in high schools to get students started on the right path.

    • High school is where it needs to start at the latest. Their minds are really open to it and they can easily understand the basics of it. When I taught Dave Ramsey’s high school curriculum the kids really enjoyed it.

  13. Almost everyone I have ever worked with has regretted not investing sooner, even those who did start relatively young! People don’t realize how much affect time has on their investment growth. When I talk to young people I am always so surprised and pleased to see how eager they are to learn about investing, especially when they start to understand how it can help them create wealth.

    • They really do light up when you start running the numbers for them. Most don’t think they’d ever be able to retire a millionaire. Start investing early enough and stay consistent with it and it’s certainly achievable.

  14. I think the biggest problem for 18 year olds investing is that it’s not on their radar unless their parents teach them for it to be. I am going to speak to high school classes soon, and this is definitely a topic I want to bring up in hopes of influencing students who don’t have those influences at home.

    • “…it’s not on their radar…” I agree with that Natalie. When I taught personal finance class in high school most juniors and seniors didn’t know anything about investing. They were very interested in learning about it though, especially when you start running some numbers for them that show how they can reach millionaire status if they start early.

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