For as long as I can remember, I’ve been not so great with saving money. Anyone who knows me will tell you I’m a spender, not a saver, and despite my best efforts, I always seem to be able to justify an expensive overseas trip or three courses at an obscenely overpriced restaurant. Until, at age 25, I discovered a free app that actually made me enjoy saving and investing money. It’s called Robinhood, and it’s a game-changer.
Investors include Jared Leto and Snoop Dogg, and the company’s aspiring to “inspire a new generation of investors” by making trading on the stock market easy and affordable. Here’s why I’m hooked on it: After signing up for the app, which involves simply providing proof of identity and linking your bank account, you can immediately begin buying and selling U.S. listed stocks and ETFs with zero commission or the common brokerage fees, and you avoid being taxed up to $10 per trade.
Plus, there’s no minimum buy, you have total control of what and when you trade, and this can all be done with just a couple of easy swipes and clicks on the commute to work. All of these factors encouraged me to put away relatively small, nonscary amounts of money each fortnight in the beginning while I built up my confidence to make bigger investments. Oh, and because the cash isn’t just sitting in a savings account, I’ve found that I’m far less likely to transfer the money out when American Airlines has cheap fares to Mexico.
Seeing as I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing when it comes to buying and selling shares, I asked an award-winning personal finance expert, Dominique Broadway, for some pointers. She told me to stick to what I do know and only use money I’m unlikely to desperately need: “The best advice I can give to millennials is to invest in things and companies that you already own or are familiar with and to never invest any money from your emergency fund or that you would need to get by.”
Robinhood also serves up information about how a share price has performed over the past one, three, six, and 12 months using super-digestible graphs that you can easily see by swiping through a listed company. Color-coding makes the whole thing rather idiot-proof—green means the stock price was up over a period, red means it dropped.
Of course, without any context, this information is kind of useless to rookies (me!), so Broadway explained that there are certain patterns to look for: “If the stock is at the highest that it has been in a year, this may not be a great to time to start buying the stock, as it may be inflated from recent news or something else. If the stock is at the lowest it has been, then this may be a great time to start buying, and buy alot. Also, look at the recent news and analyst ratings of the company.” Based on Broadway’s tips, I decided to play it safe by starting with bank shares that had been declining over six months after a few years of solid performance.
Every morning I can use my thumbprint password to access the app and see how my investments have performed—details that are displayed in a super-easy format outlining exactly what has gained or lost that day and over the past one, three, six, and 12 months. Trust me when I say this info is addictive, and I’m now guilty of checking Robinhood almost as frequently as Instagram—which is a lot.
Obviously, before you start siphoning your savings into any random finance app, it’s important to do your due diligence. Robinhood is a registered broker-dealer and a member of key financial regulatory organizations such as Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC) and Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FIRA), which protects securities customers’ members up to $500,000 (including $250,000 for claims for cash). It’s also backed by more than $66 million in venture capital, and even Broadway gave the service her tick of approval, saying that “apps and technology in general have helped people who would not have ordinarily been interested in investing to start and to do with small amounts.”
The biggest concern to keep in mind when investing is that nothing’s guaranteed, and you could lose everything you put away. “When you are investing in the stock market, the biggest risk is losing all of your money,” said Broadway. To avoid ending up in serious financial trouble, she advises that you should not invest any money that you may need in the next six months, or “any money that could hinder you in paying your bills if lost.”