Beginners taking their first steps towards learning the basics of stock trading should have access to multiple sources of quality education. Just like riding a bike, trial and error, coupled with the ability to keep pressing forth, will eventually lead to success.
One great advantage of stock trading lies in the fact that the game itself lasts a lifetime. Investors have years to develop and hone their skills. Strategies used twenty years ago are still utilized today.
When I made my first stock trade and purchased shares of stock, I was only 14 years old. Over 1,000 stock trades later, I am now 33 years old and still learning new lessons.
What is Stock Trading?
First things first, let’s quickly define stock trading. Stock trading is buying and selling shares of publicly traded companies. Popular stocks most Americans know include Apple (AAPL), Facebook (FB), Disney (DIS), Microsoft (MSFT), Amazon (AMZN), Google (GOOGL), Netflix (NFLX), and more recently listed companies such as Uber (UBER) and Pinterest (PINS).
In the stock market, for every buyer, there is a seller. When you buy 100 shares of stock, someone is selling 100 shares to you. Similarly, when you go to sell your shares of stock, someone has to buy them. If there are more buyers than sellers (demand), then the stock price will go up. Conversely, if there are more sellers than buyers (too much supply), the price will fall.
10 Great Ways to Learn Stock Trading as a Beginner
For beginners who want to learn how to trade stocks, here are ten great answers to the simple question, “How do I get started?”.
1. Open a stock broker account
Find a good online stock broker and open an account. Become familiarized with the layout and to take advantage of the free trading tools and research offered to clients only. Some brokers offer virtual trading which is beneficial because you can practice trading stocks with fake money (see #9 below).
2. Read books
Books provide a wealth of information and are inexpensive compared to the costs of classes, seminars, and educational DVDs sold across the web. See my list of 20 great stock trading books to get started. One of my personal favorites is How to Make Money in Stocks by William O’Neil (pictured below), founder of CANSLIM trading.
3. Read articles
Articles are a fantastic resource for education. My most popular posts are listed on my stock education page. The most popular website for investment education is investopedia.com. I also highly recommend reading the memos of billionaire Howard Marks (Oaktree Capital), which are absolutely terrific. Naturally, searching with Google search is another great way to find educational material to read.
4. Find a mentor or a friend to learn with
A mentor could be a family member, a friend, a coworker, a past or current professor, or any individual that has a fundamental understanding of the stock market. A good mentor is willing to answer questions, provide help, recommend useful resources, and keep spirits up when the market gets tough. All successful investors of the past and present have had mentors during their early days.
Despite being “old school,” online forums are still used today and they can be a great place to get questions answered. Two recommendations include Elite Trader and Trade2Win. Just be careful of who you listen to. The vast majority of participants are not professional traders, let alone profitable traders. Heed advice from forums with a heavy dose of salt and do not, under any circumstance, follow trade recommendations.
5. Study successful investors
Learning about great investors from the past provides perspective, inspiration, and appreciation for the game which is the stock market. Greats include Warren Buffett (below), Jesse Livermore, George Soros, Benjamin Graham, Peter Lynch, John Templeton and Paul Tudor Jones, among others. One of my favorite book series is the Market Wizards by Jack Schwager.
6. Read and casually follow the stock market
News sites such as CNBC and MarketWatch serve as a great resource for beginners. For in depth coverage, look no further than the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg. By casually checking in on the stock market each day and reading headline stories, you will expose yourself to economic trends, third-party analysis, and general investing lingo. Pulling stock quotes on Yahoo Finance to view a stock chart, view news headlines, and check fundamental data can also serve as another quality source of exposure.
TV is another way to expose yourself to the stock market. No question, CNBC is the most popular channel. Even turning on CNBC for 15 minutes a day will broaden your knowledge base. Don’t let the lingo or the style of news intimidate you, just simply watch and allow the commentators, interviews, and discussions to soak in. Beware though, over time you may find that a lot of the investing shows on TV are more of a distraction and source of excitement than being actually useful. Recommendations rarely yield profitable trades.
7. Carefully consider paid subscriptions
Paying for research and trade ideas can be educational. Some investors may find watching or observing market professionals to be more beneficial than trying to apply newly learned lessons themselves. There are a variety of paid subscription sites available across the web; the key is to find the right one for you.
CAUTION – Be careful. Many paid subscriptions marketed online, especially in social media, come from one-off traders that claim to have fantastic returns and can teach you how to be successful. 99.99% of them are a really poor investment and come with higher prices of $99 – $149 per month, or more. The worst damage though comes when you try to do what they do, invest way too much in a stock tip, and get burned when it doesn’t work out.
8. Cautiously explore seminars, online courses, or live classes
Seminars can provide valuable insight into the overall market and specific investment types. Most seminars will focus on one specific aspect of the market and how the speaker has found success utilizing their own strategies over the years. Examples include Dan Zanger and Mark Minervini, both of which I have attended and reviewed thoroughly here on the site. Not all seminars have to be paid for either. Some seminars are provided free, which can be a beneficial experience, just be extremely conscious of the sales pitch that will almost always come at the end. Whatever is offered, just say no!
When it comes to courses and classes, these are typically pricey, but like seminars, can also be beneficial. Will O’Neil workshops, Warrior Trading, Bulls On Wall Street, and Online Trading Academy provide a variety of courses on investing and trading.
CAUTION – Like paid subscriptions, be very careful with classes and courses. Most are easily over $1,000 and are sold with promises of acquiring valuable knowledge. Their fantastic sales funnels will suck you in, take your money, excite you during the course, then leave you with a strategy that was profitable five or ten years ago, but is no longer relevant today. That, or you simply do not yet have the expertise required to be successful and trade the strategy properly.
9. Buy your first shares of stock or practice trading through a simulator
With your online broker account setup, the next step is to simply take the plunge and place your first stock trade (instructions further down!). Don’t be afraid to start small, even 1, 10, or 20 shares will serve its purpose.
If the thought of trading stocks with your hard earned money is to nerve racking, consider using a stock simulator for virtual trading. Online brokers TD Ameritrade and E*TRADE both offer virtual trading to practice buying and selling stocks.
CAUTION – One of the most common mistakes new investors make is to buy too many shares for their first stock trade; this is a mistake. Taking on too much risk as a beginner who is just getting started will very likely result in experiencing unnecessary losses. Instead, begin with trading small position sizes, then slowly work your way up to buying more shares, on average, each trade.
10. Follow Warren Buffett’s advice, buy and hold the market
For the majority, online trading (especially day trading) will not outperform simply buying the entire market, such as the S&P 500, and holding it for many years. Warren Buffett, the greatest investor of all-time, recommends individual investors simply passively invest (buy and hold) instead of trying to beat the market trading stocks on their own.
What is the Stock Market?
The stock market is built around the simple concept of connecting buyers and sellers who wish to trade shares of publicly traded companies. It is a marketplace.
Each publicly traded company lists their shares on a stock exchange. The two largest exchanges in the world are the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) and the NASDAQ; both are based in the United States (Wikipedia). Attempting to grasp just how large the NYSE and NASDAQ both are is certainly not easy. The NYSE has a market cap of nearly $31 trillion and the NASDAQ’s is nearly $11 trillion. And yes, that is not a typo, I said, “trillion”.
Let’s take Apple (AAPL) for example, which is listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Apple currently has 4.6 billion shares outstanding, of which 4.35 billion are available to be traded (also known as the “float”). Using today’s closing price of $201.75 (July 11th, 2019), Apple has a market cap of $937.44 billion. That’s a big company! (By the way, market cap is a simple way to gauge the value of a company. If you bought every available share of stock, the market cap is how much it would cost you to buy the entire company.)
More recently, in May 2019, Uber (UBER) went public, listing its shares on the NYSE. As of today’s close, UBER’s stock trades for $43.99 per share and the company boasts a market cap of $74.59 billion.
Once a company has their shares listed on an exchange, then anyone, including you and I, can use an online broker account to trade shares. Whether you are an everyday investor or an institutional hedge fund managing hundreds of millions of dollars in client money, anyone can trade.
There are many strategies for trading stocks. The most common strategy is to buy and hold. You buy shares of stock, then hold them for years and years. The complete opposite strategy would be day trading, which is when you buy shares then sell them the same day before the market closes.
Each strategy has its advantages and disadvantages. For example, day trading can be expensive since you are trading frequently. Furthermore, since your trades are less than a year in duration, any profits are subject to short-term capital gains taxes.
To keep costs as low as possible, famous investors like John Bogle and Warren Buffett recommend buying and holding the entire stock market. Known as passive investing, it is a buy and hold strategy where you buy an entire market index, typically the S&P 500, as a single mutual fund or exchange traded fund (ETF). By buying an entire index, you are properly diversified (have shares in ~500 large companies, not just one), which reduces your risk long term. In fact, John Bogle is credited with creating the first index fund.
Three other common strategies you may hear traders refer to include momentum trading (buying shares of very fast growing companies and selling them for a profit before they inevitably peak in price), swing trading (using technical analysis to identify a trading range, and then buying and selling shares as the stock trades within that range), and penny stock trading (buying shares of very small companies whose stocks trade for less than $1 a share).
ETFs and Mutual Funds
By this point, we should already know what a stock is, so let’s break down ETFs and mutual funds. ETFs (exchange traded funds) and mutual funds are similar in that they both represent a collection, or “baskets”, of individual stocks or bonds.
Take for example the S&P 500 market index, which is comprised of 505 companies. Buying shares in 505 different companies would be very difficult to do. Thanks to mutual funds and ETFs, we can simply buy one single security that holds shares in all 505 companies. The largest S&P 500 mutual fund is the Vanguard 500 Index Fund Admiral Shares (VFIAX) and the largest S&P 500 ETF is the State Street Global Advisors SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY).
By buying an ETF or mutual fund, your portfolio is better diversified than just owning shares of one or two stocks; thus, you are taking on less risk overall. This is the primary advantage of buying ETFs and mutual funds over trading individual shares.
The main difference between ETFs and mutual funds is in how they trade. ETFs trade like stocks, which means you can buy and sell them throughout the day and they fluctuate in price depending on supply and demand. Contrarily, mutual funds are priced each day after the market closes, so everyone pays the same price. Also, mutual funds typically require a higher minimum investment than ETFs.
How to Buy Shares – Step by Step Instructions
Once you open and fund your online brokerage account, the process of placing a stock trade can be broken down into five simple steps:
- Choose whether to buy or sell
- Insert quantity
- Insert symbol
- Select order type
- Review order, place trade
1. Choose Buy or Sell
The first step is always to choose what we would like to do, buy shares long or sell shares short. As a new investor, keep it simple, buy shares long!
2. Insert Quantity
Next we enter how many shares we would like to buy or sell in total. To calculate how many shares we can afford, simply take the total amount of cash currently in the account and divide it buy the stock’s last price. So, if stock XYZ is trading at $10 and we have $1000 in our account, we can afford to purchase 100 shares of stock ($1000 / $10).
3. Insert Symbol
The ticker symbol represents the company we are going to trade. For example, Disney has a ticker symbol of “DIS”, Apple is “AAPL”, and Facebook is “FB”. If we are not sure of the company’s symbol, you can click on the Symbol field and search to find it. Tickers are also required to read a stock chart.
4. Choose Order Type
The most common order types: market, limit, and stop . Market orders buy or sell immediately at the current best market price. Limit orders only buy or sell these shares at, “$xx price or better”. Lastly, stop loss orders are combined with a market or limit to trigger once $xx price hits. For new investors just getting started, I always suggest just sticking with market orders.
5. Review Order and Place Trade
After the basic inputs have been made, the “Place Trade” button will appear to complete the order. By default, a summary screen always appears once this button is clicked to summarize the order and confirm we have enough funds in our account. Once investors have experience and are comfortable with the trade ticket, this confirmation page can be disabled.
Here’s an example of a TD Ameritrade order ticket filled out,
Other fields (Expiration, Special Instructions, Routing)
New investors should ignore these fields and leave them set to their default values. These options give investors more control as to how long certain orders should remain active and how they should be filled. For example, “GTC” for expiration means “good-till-cancelled”.
Regarding routing, 99.9% of orders are routed using the online broker’s automated system. However, day traders will sometimes hand select (direct route) their orders to a specific market center to receive market rebates.