how to start investingRecently, a friend of mine (and reader of this blog, so a good friend ūüėÄ ) asked me a question. “So do you have an actual investing portfolio?” It’s sounds so grown up. So fancy. So complicated.

“I do,” I said. “And you have a 401k at¬†work, so you’ve got one, too!”

“Oh yeah, that’s true,” she¬†said, and I realized that a lot of people don’t consider themselves investors, even though they¬†are! Which is pretty awesome when you think about it. A lot of us talk about how scary investing is without even realizing we’re already doing it.

And if you’re not doing it? Hey, don’t worry. It’s so easy to get started, a lot of people don’t even know they already¬†have. Just take what I call the¬†“no brainer” first step.¬†

It’s no wonder we’re all terrified of investing. There’s so much jargon; so many terms and numbers to think about. Capital gains. Diversification. Assets. What the hell does it all¬†mean? One day, years ago, I decided to figure it out. I vowed to learn everything I could about investing in a single afternoon. I studied the terms. I memorized their definitions. I drew pictures, trying to make sense of it all. Guess what? It still made zero sense to me. Without any experience, there was no context for those terms. It was just a bunch of gobbledygook.

Investing isn’t something you learn in afternoon. Most of us learn by jumping in and doing it, and then we¬†figure it out as we¬†go along.¬†Investing makes sense gradually,¬†but not until you take the first step and get your feet wet. And the good news is, it’s incredibly easy to do that. Here are three “no brainer” first steps to start investing:

Enroll in your 401(k): If you work full time, chances are your company offers a 401(k). Hell, they may even match some of the money you put into it! Sign up for it. Ask your HR person for the paperwork, fill it out, and automatically save¬†even the smallest percentage of your paycheck. That’s it. If you can fill out paperwork, you can start investing.

Ask your employer to START a retirement plan: It’s a bold move, but it can work. My fianc√© tried this, and his employer went for it, and now he has a retirement plan at work.¬†If you can have a meeting with your boss, you can start investing.

Open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA): But let’s say your boss isn’t as cool as my fianc√©s, and she doesn’t go for it. That’s okay, you can still start investing. Go to an online brokerage firm (Fidelity and Vanguard are my favorites) and sign up for an account. They make it really easy–when you sign up, they’ll ask you what kind of account you want to open. Select Retirement, and they’ll walk you through the process from there. It basically involves transferring money from your checking account into your new investment account.

How to start investing

When you have cash in your account, you can start buying funds–basically, groups of companies or other types of investments. They’ll walk you through that, too. They offer something called “target date funds,” which is basically a starter investment portfolio.¬†There are better options, but even a target date fund is a better option than not investing at all. Don’t have enough cash to open a target date fund? There are cheaper funds¬†you can invest in.

If you can fill out an online application, initiate a bank transfer and navigate a website, you can start investing.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m not saying investing is as easy as talking to your boss, filling out some paperwork, and setting up an online account.

But getting started with investing? Yes, it’s that easy.

And from there, you learn. You read more about the funds you should¬†buy here. You learn how to diversify there.¬†But first, you have to take that “no brainer” first step.

Photo by luxstorm.

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Kristin writes and makes videos about money, the economy, travel, and more. You can find her stuff at Lifehacker, New York Magazine, the New York Times, and more. Learn more about her here.