Investing allows putting money to work by using it to buy assets with the goal of generating returns. But how exactly does investing work and how can you get started?

This investing guide covers the basics of how investing works, key terminology, and tips for getting started even with limited funds.

Investing Definition

Investing involves allocating money into various securities like stocks, bonds, real estate, or cash equivalents. The goal is to grow your money over time through the assets’ appreciation and income generation.

When you invest, you trade capital upfront for potential rewards later down the line. It allows your money to work harder than just saving.

Main Ways Investing Generates Returns

Investing can potentially grow your money through:

  • Price appreciation – Asset values increasing over time. For example, stocks worth more due to company growth.
  • Earned income – Assets that pay out portions of their earnings. For example, dividend-paying stocks or bond interest.
  • Capital gains – Selling assets for a profit higher than the purchase price.

Not all investments offer all three return types. But smart investing uses a balanced approach.

Common Investment Types

While many options exist, main investment categories include:

  • Stocks – Shares representing partial ownership in a company. Provide potential for price appreciation and dividends.
  • Bonds – A loan issued by a government or corporation paying interest. More stable than stocks.
  • Real estate – Properties like residential, commercial, or industrial generating rental income.
  • Cash equivalents – Highly liquid assets like money market funds, CDs, and Treasury bills. Very low risk.
  • Alternative – More complex investments like venture capital, commodities, or derivatives. Higher risk.

Investing Time Horizon

Investing works best as a long-term endeavor. While market volatility occurs in the short-term, historically returns smooth out over longer periods.

Time horizons determine suitable investments. Shorter 1-3 year horizons warrant more stable assets. Longer 10+ year horizons allow riskier assets with higher potential but more variability.

Getting Started with Investing

You can begin investing with little money using several options:

  • Robo-advisors – Allow creating diversified portfolios with minimal starting balances.
  • Micro-investing apps – Enable buying fractional shares with as little as $1.
  • 401(k) or IRA – Open a tax-advantaged retirement account through an employer or on your own.
  • Index funds – Offer diversified investing in entire markets from just one fund.

The key is starting – even small amounts compound significantly over decades.

FAQs About How Investing Works

What is the best investment for beginners?

Index funds that track entire markets are great starter investments. They offer built-in diversification and require minimal management.

How much money do I need to start investing?

Apps allow starting with as little as $1. Most individual stocks can be purchased for under $500 per share. Mutual funds start at $1,000 or less.

How frequently should I monitor investments?

Long-term investors only need to occasionally rebalance holdings every few months. Active traders monitor daily. Anything in between works based on your strategy.

How much can I earn from investments?

Stock markets historically earn 6-10% over long periods, but individual returns vary greatly based on specific holdings and economic factors.

Are investment gains guaranteed?

No, investments carry risks and potential for losses. But taken together, markets trend upward which is why long-term, diversified investing works.

Investing puts your money to work for potential growth rather than just savings interest. Take advantage of the many options to start building your nest egg.


  • Gio Watts

    Gio Watts brings over 10 years of digital marketing experience to his role as marketing manager at Walletminded. In his current position, Gio oversees brand marketing, campaign management, and audience growth initiatives. Prior to joining Walletminded, Gio held marketing roles at several ecommerce and SaaS startups, most recently serving as senior marketing manager at CloudTable Inc. There, he specialized in paid social advertising and content marketing. Gio holds a bachelor’s degree in business marketing from the University of Oregon. He is a certified content marketing specialist and frequently guest lectures at his alma mater. When he's not devising omni-channel marketing campaigns, you can find Gio coaching youth basketball and indulging his passion for live music.

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