Investing in stocks is one of the best things you can do to set yourself up financially. It’s a great way to earn a passive income and essential for any inflation-beating retirement plan, in my opinion.
But here’s the catch:
You actually need to understand how to invest in stocks in order to make money. If you don’t approach it with a bit of knowledge and a decent strategy, then you might as well save your money for Vegas.
Now let’s get into it:
The stock market can be incredibly confusing to the uninitiated, and for many would-be investors, that confusion is enough to scare them away from investing. Those who choose to stay away typically figure out how to invest their money in other places and never give stock strategies a chance.
But, the benefits of investing far outweigh the time and effort it takes to learn how to invest in stocks. And, with the right information available, the stock market need not be confusing at all.
Considering you’re reading this, I think you’re up for the challenge.
If you’re ready to learn how to invest in stocks, you better bookmark this page, because I’m about to explain everything you need to know about stocks from how to find stocks to how to buy stocks.
Consider this guide a crash course in investing that will provide you with a workable understanding of the stock market and investing in no time at all. While even the most knowledgeable investors never truly stop learning, the information outlined below will provide you with a great foundation to wade into the wonderful world of investing.
Now let’s get started!
Investing In Stocks 101
To learn how to invest in stocks, you should start with the fundamentals. Let’s get a few things straight…
How Does Investing In Stocks Work?
When a company makes the decision to go public, shares of that company become available for purchase, allowing anyone to purchase a stake in the company. Each share is a stock. Investors are able to buy and sell shares in any public company at any time.
Of course, as with any form of business, the goal is to buy a company’s stock when it’s “on sale” or undervalued relative to its actual value, and to sell that stock when it’s fully valued in order to make a profit.
A simplified look at a successful investment is one where an investor buys a company for X amount of dollars, holds on to the company for an extended period of time until its value has grown to the point that they feel comfortable selling it, and then sells it for 2X, 3X, or even 10X. If the company offers dividends, investors may also accumulate profits along the way without having to sell any of their shares.
How Are Stock Prices Determined?
When a company decides to go public, an investment bank helps determine what the price of the company’s stock should be at their Initial Public Offering (IPO), when they become available to purchase on the stock exchange. They determine the initial price based on the value of the company and early interest from investors before the stock is available to the public.
After the company goes public, what causes these prices to change? Well, then, the stock price is based on supply and demand. When the demand for a stock goes up, its price goes up.
The demand can increase if the company is doing extremely well and its value is increasing, or it can increase simply because of excitement from other investors.
Don’t get the “value of the company” confused with the “price of the stock.” The market can be incredibly emotional and price a great company way under their true value and vice versa. Ultimately, the stock price is determined by greed when the stock price is going up and fear when the stock price is going down.
How Does Investing In Stocks Make You Money?
For investors, the benefits of buying shares in a public company, or the ways to make money from stocks, are two-fold.
For one, investors hope that the value of the company they are buying will increase over time, allowing them to sell their shares at a later date for a nice profit. In addition to this, any profits that the company makes along the way that are not reinvested back into the company are distributed to the shareholders in some form or another.
These profits may be distributed as dividends, which are quarterly payments made to the shareholders, they may be distributed in the form of share repurchases, which help drive up the price of the stock, making the shareholders money, or they may be set aside in order to be used at a later date to grow the company and increase the value of the shareholders’ stock.
Not all companies pay dividends to their shareholders, but this doesn’t mean they aren’t using their profit to make their shareholders money. Instead, it may simply mean that they are using their profit to buy back shares and/or grow the value of the company.
One factor that is the key to investing success and how investors are able to make immense returns on their investment over time is the principle of compounding interest.
When your stock brings in a profit from increasing in value or paying dividends, you can use those earnings to buy more stocks. Ideally, those investments will end up making you even more money, which can then be invested back into the stock market again and again in an ongoing process. If you make good investments, the result will be that your money grows exponentially over time.
This is the principle that investors such as Warren Buffet have used to turn just a few thousand dollars into billions of dollars.
How To Invest In Stocks
Now that you understand the basics of how to invest in stocks and how they can make you money, let’s get into my step-by-step guide for the best way to invest in stocks to ensure a great return.
Before we jump in, It’s important to realize that buying stocks is not something that should be taken lightly. Selecting which companies to buy can make or break you as an investor. Before you buy shares in a company, it is essential to thoroughly investigate that company’s mission, management, goals, outlook, fundamentals, and more.
Think of it this way: you would never buy 100% of a company without thorough due diligence, and, likewise, you shouldn’t buy a small percentage of a company without the same.
Here’s how to go about it the Rule #1 way.
Step 1: Pick Stocks of Companies You Understand
As a beginner investor, It’s easier to avoid investing mistakes by buying into companies you are already familiar with and that have meaning to you.
For example, if you work in the tech industry, it’s going to be much easier for you to understand the goals of a tech company as well as their potential to reach those goals than it is going to be for you to evaluate a company in the pharmaceutical industry.
Consider your personal passions, talents, and spending habits. Better yet, map them out using a venn diagram, placing passions in one circle, talents in another, and spending habits in another. Where these three areas overlap is your “Circle of Competence”. This circle reflects the industries and sectors you have the most knowledge of and where you should start your search for companies to invest in.
Over time, you can begin to research companies across various sectors and expand your knowledge-base and comfort zone, but investing within your Circle of Competence is the best place to start.
Step 2: Research and Build a Watchlist
Once you have a list of companies that fall into your Circle of Competence, it’s time to evaluate them to determine whether or not they’re worth investing in. This step is critical to know how to invest in stocks the right way and reducing your risk.
In Rule #1 investing, we have a process of evaluating a company called the 4M’s. This process can be used for any company in any industry and is extremely helpful for finding companies that have a high probability of growing in value over time.
The 4M’s of Rule #1 investing are:
One of the easier parts of evaluating if a company is worth investing in is determining its meaning. Do you know the company’s values and do they align with your own? If you don’t believe in the company’s mission, you shouldn’t want to invest in it. Do you use the product or service it provides and/or love what it stands for? Again, if the answer is no, you shouldn’t invest in the business.
Beyond that, you should have a very clear understanding of the meaning behind the actual business – what it does and how it operates. In order to be able to make accurate predictions about the company’s value, opportunities, and possible obstacles, you need to understand it inside and out.
If a company has a meaning you understand, you are going to be more motivated to research them, and thus more likely to make wise decisions about when they should be bought and sold.
In the end, meaning is often the factor that differentiates between truly investing in a company with confidence and simply gambling on whether or not they will grow in value.
In addition to having a meaning you understand, any company you invest in needs to have a moat. That is, they need to have something that prevents their competition from coming in and stealing away the control they have over their market.
For example, Coca-Cola is a company with a great moat. Anyone can make soft drinks, but Coca-Cola has entrenched itself in the market thanks to its powerful brand image. No new soft drink company is going to be stealing away their customers anytime soon. Other examples of moats include having patented technology, majority control over the market, or a product or service customers would never switch from.
By investing in a company with a moat, you can ensure that you don’t lose your investment due to that company being watered down by competition.
The next M is for Management. Like a fighter jet without a pilot, every company is only as good as the people who are leading it. Before you invest in a company, you need to make sure that company is led by people with competence and integrity. Far too often, companies are sunk due to dishonest or poor management.
How do you know if a company has good management? Take your time to research the people who are leading a company and make sure they have a track record of integrity and success with their prior decisions. A good way to go about your research is reading the shareholder reports, news reports, and annual letters from management.
4. Margin of Safety
Finally, and importantly, you need to invest in a company at a price that gives you a margin of safety. When you buy a business, there is no guarantee that it will increase in value over time or that it won’t experience problems along the way. This is why I stress buying companies “on sale”.
When a company is on sale, it’s stock price is undervalued. If you buy a company’s stock at a low or undervalued price, you give yourself room to experience gains even if problems arise. That room is the Margin of Safety.
To understand the margin of safety a bit better, let’s take a look at the example of buying a brand new car worth $10,000 for $2,000. Now, that car may have problems down the road that you couldn’t have foreseen, or it’s value may not be quite what you thought it was when you bought it, but because you got it for such a low price you are almost guaranteed to have made a good investment.
As Rule #1 investors, we like to buy companies with a margin of safety that all but guarantees a 15% annual return over the next ten year period so that your money will double every ten years. As you evaluate the companies you are interested in, ask yourself if you can buy each company with a margin of safety based on its true value.
I’ve developed a calculator to help you calculate the margin of safety for any company that you are considering, but you can also think of a price with a good margin of safety as 50% off the intrinsic value.
Go through the 4 Ms for each company you are considering owning. If a company passes the 4M test, you can add it to your “watchlist” and move onto the next step.
Step 3: Evaluate Their Financial Metric
How to know what stocks to invest in starts with the 4Ms, but the evaluation doesn’t stop there. Next, you need to evaluate each company’s financial metric in order to understand its true value. These 5 numbers will help you determine the margin of safety and whether a business can provide at least a 15% return on your investment each year.
The Big 5 Numbers of Rule #1 Investing are:
1. ROIC: Return on Investment Capital
The Return on Investment Capital is a good measure of how effectively a company’s management uses the money that it invests back into operations. If they do this well, it means they are invested in the investor’s interest.
The number should be equal to or greater than 10% per year, but the real key is seeing if the ROIC number is going up over time. If it’s at the same level or going up, then it is a good indication that the business is well run.
2. SGR: Sales Growth Rate
The Sales Growth Rate shows whether the total money a company earns is increasing or decreasing over time. When you look at 10 years of sales growth rates, you will have a good idea of whether that company is performing well and growing more each year. In general we’re shooting for a SGR of 10% or higher each year.
3. EPS: Earnings Per Share Growth Rate
The EPS Growth Rate shows the trend of how much money the business is making for its shareholders over a given period of time. The EPS (earnings per share) is just the company’s net income divided by the number of outstanding shares it has. If the company is profitable, the EPS will be positive and if they lost money over that quarter or period of time it will be negative.
4. Equity Growth Rate
Equity will vary from industry to industry, which is why we look at the equity growth rate. For example, businesses with a lot of real estate and machinery, like McDonald’s, can have a huge equity relative to their value. On the other hand, businesses that make use of intellectual property, like Google, might have a small equity relative to their value.
The Equity Growth Rate tells us whether a business has enough surplus money to spend on tools to stimulate future sales from year to year.
If the equity growth rate isn’t increasing by at least 10% each year, we should be concerned that it doesn’t have the funds to spend on increasing its market share or developing new products.
5. Operating Cash Flow Growth Rate
The Operating Cash Flow Growth Rate shows if the company’s real cash is growing along with its profits. Real cash is key to a company’s ability to operate and its overall health. You want to look at the last 10 years of operating cash flow growth rates and see a rate of 10% or higher each year.
These numbers will reveal a company’s true value and help you determine the right price to buy. To help you evaluate the Big 5 for the companies on your watchlist, I’ve created easy-to-use Investment Calculators. Once you have calculated the Big 5 for all the companies you are considering, you can remove the ones that didn’t meet the numbers we’re looking for.
Step 4: Wait For An Event and Buy
Meeting the requirement of the 4Ms and the Big 5 Numbers just proves that a company is worthy of being on your watchlist, but doesn’t give you the green light to buy just yet.
As Rule #1 Investors, we want to buy wonderful companies, yes, but only when they are at the right price. That’s why the last step is to wait patiently to buy stocks when, and only when, they go on sale. Buying a stock on sale helps take the risk out of investing and makes it easier to get fantastic returns. The key to finding stocks on sale is to wait for a Rule #1 event.
What’s a Rule #1 Event? It is when something happens that affects the entire market and makes the stock price of a good company drop far below its real value. This could be a recession, a pandemic, an election, you name it.
Remember, the stock price doesn’t reflect the actual value of the company. We know that the company’s price will bounce back in time, and because we take a long-term approach to investing in stocks, we aren’t worried. During an event, when others are panicking, we can take advantage of the downturn and buy wonderful companies at a tremendous discount.
This is why it’s so important to have your watchlist of wonderful companies ready to go. When you do, you can just sit back and wait for a Rule #1 event to temporarily lower the price of the stocks on your watchlist, and then BUY. When the company recovers from the event and returns to its previous price, your investment could double.
That’s Rule #1 Investing.
Investing in Stock for Beginners
That’s it! You’ve completed your crash course in investing—congratulations!
Although you’re now equipped with the key principles of Rule #1 Investing, you may still have some questions. Don’t worry. I’ve answered a few common questions about investing in stocks below. I hope these answers will help you feel even more confident as you begin your investing journey.
How Do You Buy Stocks?
After you have found a company you would like to invest in, found it worthy, and found it on sale, the final step is to actually purchase the stock so you can start reaping the rewards. Buying shares in that company will require you to go through a broker. Brokers enable you to easily buy and sell shares in any public company, but they do charge a fee for their services.
Once you are working with a broker, though, buying shares of a company is as simple as ordering something out of a catalog or making a purchase on Amazon. Simply choose the stock you want to buy, the number of shares you want to buy, and complete your purchase.
A great option that has come available in recent years is the use of online brokers. Online brokers are a little more “self-serve” than traditional brokers, however, their fees are also much lower.
For beginner investors with small amounts of money, online brokers are the best choice because the high brokerage fees of traditional brokers have the potential to eat up any profits.
How Much Should I Invest in Stocks?
The amount of money you should invest in stocks is entirely dependent on your own personal situation. However, the more you invest now, the greater your returns will be in the future.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t invest more than you can afford to lose. Even the wisest investments sometimes turn sour, and if you aren’t going to be able to afford your mortgage payment next month if you lose the money you invest then it’s probably a better idea to keep that money in a savings account.
Another thing to keep in mind, though, is that your money won’t grow just sitting in a savings account. If you have an expendable amount of money, the stock market is a safer place for it than a savings account.
Whether you have a lot or a little, don’t be afraid to start relatively small, and invest more as you get more comfortable with the investing skills you learned here today.
Can I Start Investing in Stocks with Little Money?
Investing doesn’t require you to start off with a fortune already. In fact, some of the most successful investors in the world started out incredibly small with just a few hundred or few thousand dollars.
When you’re starting small, though, it’s especially important to choose a company or two that you have thoroughly researched and that you deeply trust. Allow that company to make you money, and reinvest that money in the same company again, and again, and you’re off to the races.
Here are our favorite small investment ideas for investors with budgets between $500 and $10,000.
Should I invest in Stocks or Mutual Funds?
Mutual funds are big buckets of stocks, bonds, and other assets put together by a money manager. While they have a reputation for being diversified and “safer” than individual stocks, when you invest in mutual funds you are giving up control of your money and paying fees to someone else to manage it.
The thing is most fund managers fail to beat the market.
You just learned everything you need to know to start investing and almost guarantee a 15% return year of year. So, why would you pay someone to do something that you could do better and for free? By investing in stocks over mutual funds, you can experience more control and better returns.
When Should I Sell My Stock?
When you’re just starting out investing, you shouldn’t even think about selling. The kind of investing you learned here today is long-term investing; it is meant to give you great returns over 5, 10, or 20 years. Warren Buffett even says that the ideal investment is one that you can hold onto forever.
The power of compound interest is that your money grows exponentially the longer it is invested. If you sell too early, you could lose out on that exponential growth.
However, there are times when you should sell your stock and it’s important to know how to tell when those occur.
For instance, if the fundamentals of the company have changed, which happens to every company, it’s important to reevaluate it and see if it’s still a great investment. Other times to consider selling are when the price of the company has reached its intrinsic value, or when you have a better opportunity and you need the cash.
Whatever you do, don’t let your emotions get the best of you. If your reason for wanting to sell a wonderful company is driven mostly by fear, take a step back and determine whether or not selling the stock is really the best path forward.
What Do You Do When You Buy a Stock and the Price Drops?
It’s natural to experience a bit of fear or regret when you see the price of your stock drop. You may even be tempted to sell.
When the price of a stock starts going down, many investors become afraid and decide to cut their losses, but this is the worst reason to sell a stock.
In fact, it’s important to take the exact opposite approach to a price drop. If you have invested in a wonderful company and bought it at half-off its true value, then a price drop means it just went on sale even further.
So, what do you do?
As long as you understand the difference between value and price, you don’t have to worry, but instead can be excited when the price of your stock drops. This is an essential part of the tried and true value investing strategy.
Stock Market Trading Course
While this guide is meant to cover everything you need to know to begin investing in stocks, fine-tuning your own system and strategies will be a process that never truly ends. Remember, even the most knowledgeable investors never truly stop learning — the more you know the more likely it is you will be successful.
By taking a stock trading course, you can learn some of the finer nuances of successful investing as well a few highly useful investing tips and secrets you won’t likely find anywhere else on the internet.
In the same way that furthering your education in any other field makes you more equipped to be successful in that field, furthering your education in investing is the best way to learn how to choose the right companies at the right time.
In the long run, this type of knowledge can pay for itself many times over.
Consider joining me at my next Virtual Investing Workshop where you can dive deeper into the strategies that myself and other Rule #1 investors have used to find great companies at bargain prices.
This is the best way for investors at every point in their journey to take the next step. Whether you’re just starting out, or you want to know how to manage your portfolio in the current climate, I’ll help you set yourself up for success.
Phil Town is an investment advisor, hedge fund manager, 3x NY Times Best-Selling Author, ex-Grand Canyon river guide, and former Lieutenant in the US Army Special Forces. He and his wife, Melissa, share a passion for horses, polo, and eventing. Phil’s goal is to help you learn how to invest and achieve financial independence.