Growing up, stocks weren’t for people like us or so I thought. We didn’t have a ton of income or a lot of savings. My dad’s business went bankrupt in my early teens, and everything had gone to try saving it. Commissions, risk, and a poor financial education were too big a barrier to the stock market for my parents. I would’ve fallen into the same trap, but a class project in high school where we all split a single stock and watched it grow for a year gave me hope.
Financially-speaking, adulthood has not been easy. That one class project aside, my education on things like loans, saving money, purchasing stocks, planning for retirement, etc. was virtually nil. Some of that is passed down to from your parents, but it is hard for them to teach what they don’t know or aren’t sure about. It is also hard to teach when the lessons might be painfully honest about the family’s current financial situations which can easily feel like too large a burden to give to your child.
These days, I know a lot more than I did, but stocks still elude me, or at least they did until I started learning more about them by using the app Robinhood.
I am not paid by Robinhood nor am I in anyway a personal finance expert or stock broker. I am just a fan who has had some fun and decent luck in my time with the app. I do have a referral link that will net us both a random free stock when you sign up: share.robinhood.com/christm158.
What is Robinhood?
Robinhood is a stock trading app for people who may or may not know much about stocks. While it isn’t an educational tool, its entirely free approach to buying and trading stocks, as well as its excellent user interface, makes the whole process far more accessible. If you are learning about stocks for the first time or want a way to teach your kids, then Robinhood is a great entry point.
There are no commissions when using Robinhood. Similar to banks, the company behind the app makes money off interest from the money users leave in their accounts. You do have to link a bank account but I’ve had no concerns or issues since first using the app in February 2016.
Here’s how the company describes itself on its website:
Robinhood is a stock brokerage that allows customers to buy and sell U.S. listed stocks and ETFs with $0 commission. We believe that everyone should have access to the financial markets and are on a mission to inspire a new generation of investors.
How are we able to offer commission-free trading while others charge up to $10 per trade? Robinhood was built from the ground up to be as efficient as possible. By cutting out the fat — hundreds of storefront locations, manual account management, expensive Super Bowl ads, etc. — we are able to maintain a lean bottom-line and pass the savings along to you, the customer.
Robinhood is an SEC registered broker-dealer and member of FINRA & SIPC. (The chart below is based on information published by brokerages as of April 18, 2017. For more information about Robinhood’s fees, please see our Commission and Fee Schedule.)
Why use Robinhood?
For the longest time, I thought entering the stock market was like paying a cover to enter a casino where I risked even more of my money for potentially no gain. Removing the cover (commissions) and the middleman, Robinhood is dead simple to use and you can risk as little or as much as you want while still being able to exit at anytime.
You’d do better with more professional help, but if you aren’t sure about stocks or you want to treat it more like a game with real money (i.e. gamble) then Robinhood gives you full control without nickel-and-diming what little you may have to invest.
A Few Tips For Using Robinhood
Here are a few tips I have picked up from using Robinhood:
1. Don’t Risk More Than You Can Lose
Even with the luck I’ve had, I have not been willing to put in more than a few hundred dollars of my own savings at a time. Robinhood should not become your primary means of saving money, as the stock market is always risky and doing it yourself is even riskier. Look at it more as a learning tool or a way to do a side bet with any extra savings you are willing to lose.
I use Robinhood strictly for fun and I am well aware that I could lose my money at any time. Never forget you are gambling, it just so happens that, unlike loot boxes, you have a chance at getting your money back.
2. Familiarize Yourself With Order Types
When it comes to buying and selling stocks, there are different Order Types that help cut out some of the micromanagement. With all four Order Types, you can set them to either expire at the close of the stock market that day or never expire.
- Market – Buy/Sell a stock at its current market price. This is the default and most straightforward option.
- Limit – Specify the minimum price you are willing to buy/sell a stock for. I rarely use this one since the next two tend to cover more of what I am doing.
- Stop Loss – Sets the amount you are willing to buy/sell a stock for that is higher or lower than the current market price. This allows you to “plan” for volatility so that if a stock drops to a certain point, it will automatically sell at the best price available.
- Stop Limit – Similar to Stop Loss, a Stop Limit allows you to set a “stop” price that automatically buys/sells a stock based on the limit you set. For example, my AMD stock is at $12.50 and I want to sell if it goes to $12.00. If I used a Stop Loss and the stock was particularly volatile, then it would convert to a sell as soon as it hits $12.00 but the stock may have dropped suddenly and I might only end up with $11.75. With Stop Limit, I can place a limit so that even if the stock drops below what I wanted for it, I don’t risk automatically selling it on a huge downturn at a bigger loss than I anticipated.
For more information on Stop Loss versus Stop Limit, I recommend this article from Investopedia.
3. Learn to Love Learning About the Economy
News about the economy and the stock market was boring until my money was on the line. Now, I find it pretty entertaining. I never know when a story will spark my interest in a company and create a potential investment opportunity. I have jumped on and off the AMD train many times in the last year because cryptocurrency (up, up, up), poor sells on new processors that I was considering buying for my gaming PC anyway (down, down), Intel’s recent security flaw (up, up), and AMD’s own version with Spectre (down).
These are all stories I was already reading. When it comes to investing, I like to deal with stocks for companies I kind of know, so I tend to not be very diverse. That opens me up to risk, but, again, this is not my primary savings vehicle, just a hobby.
If you are reading this blog, then I assume you likely are here because you know I love video games and you do too. Did you know you can buy stock in Activision and Electronic Arts? Gamers always talk about “voting with their wallets” but I never hear any of them talk about actual voting by buying stock in the companies we love to hate and hate to love. Skipping a Call of Duty entry will practically get you a stock of Activision (~$70 a share as of writing) which won’t get you a seat on the board but it will feel good when you sell it for a profit later.
Plus, Robinhood makes it easy to a) follow stocks you don’t own, and b) read about stocks. The app pulls in various articles from popular financial websites and blogs, so there’s always something to read within the app.
I buy mostly nerdy companies, but I am often the most adult person in the room when I start talking about individual stocks in my portfolio and their rise and fall. It’s a weird way to integrate my passion for games and technology with trying to live and succeed as a human adult via financial responsibility, but it works.
Besides, if I am passionate enough to rant or rave about a company on Twitter, then the least I can do is try and turn that passion into “insider” knowledge for potential profit.
I stand by everything I have said and really do recommend using Robinhood. Even if you only use the referral for the free stock and never commit anything more than watching that one stock shrink or grow, I think it is an excellent opportunity for everyone to learn more about the often daunting world of stocks.