Whether you save for retirement with a 401(k) or similar employer-sponsored plan, in a traditional or Roth IRA, or as an individual investor with a brokerage account, you choose what to invest in. It’s important to understand each instrument and how much risk it carries. Also, remember that you don’t need to have saved thousands to begin investing — even $500 can get you started.
When Should You Invest in Stocks? – Obviously, the stock market rises and falls. However, as noted above, it will almost certainly provide you with higher returns over time than other investments. Consequently, you should normally be invested in stocks. Trying to time when the best moment is to enter or exit the market is nearly impossible, even for professional investors. Therefore, the best time to invest in stocks is generally today.
Something that might be confusing for new investors is that real estate can also be traded like a stock. Usually, this happens through a corporation that qualifies as a real estate investment trust, or REIT. For example, you can invest in hotel REITs and collect your share of the revenue from guests checking into the hotels and resorts that make up the company's portfolio. There are many different kinds of REITs; apartment complex REITs, office building REITs, storage unit REITs, REITs that specialize in senior housing, and even parking garage REITs.
Discounted cash flow (DCF) model: the value of a stock is the present value of all its future cash flows. Thus, DCF = CF1/(1+r)^1 + CF2/(1+r)^2 + ... + CFn/(1+r)^n, where CFn = cash flow for a given time period n, r = discount rate. A typical DCF calculation projects a growth rate for annual free cash flow (operating cash flow less capital expenditures) for the next 10 years to calculate a growth value and estimate a terminal growth rate thereafter to calculate a terminal value, then sum up the two to arrive at the DCF value of the stock. For example, if Company A's current FCF is $2/share, estimated FCF growth is 7% for the next 10 years and 4% thereafter, using a discount rate of 12%, the stock has a growth value of $15.69 and a terminal value of $16.46 and is worth $32.15 a share.
If you wanted a single investment that has you covered from a performance and diversity standpoint you could always go with something like a Vanguard Lifecycle fund and pay as low as 0.15% in fees and that’s it. On a side note, we have a list of our favorite Vanguard funds and investments for beginners that you should probably check out if you know what’s good for you.
Another key metric to look at is return on equity, which measures a company's ability to turn capital into profits. Return on equity is calculated by taking a year's worth of earnings and dividing that figure by the average shareholder equity for that year. If that number is 15%, for instance, then 15 cents worth of assets are generated for every dollar investors put in. Again, you'll want to compare that number to other companies in the industry to see how it stacks up.
The rarer way to make an index is to use an equal weight distribution, where you invest in all companies in the index equally. This gives the index a value-tilt, meaning that as shares of a company drop in price, the index fund buys more of them in order to keep the balance, and sells shares if they increase in price. The downside is that these funds are a bit more expensive, and they’re not available for all types of indices.
Brokers are either full-service or "discount." Full-service brokers, as the name implies, give the full range of traditional brokerage services, including financial advice for retirement, healthcare and everything related to money. They usually only deal with higher net-worth clients, and they can charge substantial fees, including a percent of your transactions, a percent of your assets they manage and a yearly membership fee. It's common to see minimum account sizes of $25,000 and up at full-service brokerages.