161. How to Open an Investing Account (and the BIG Mistake You Might Be Making)

June 6, 2024

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“If you’re not investing, you’re losing money.”

If you’ve ever wanted to know the steps to open and fund an investing account (yes these are two separate actions!), then grab a notebook and tune in! In this episode, Tori breaks down the essential steps to opening an investment account, choosing the right investments, and navigating the complexities of the financial world with confidence. If you’re a newbie investor or haven’t invested yet because you’re unsure where to begin, this episode will equip you with the knowledge and tools to make informed financial decisions and begin confidently growing your wealth.

Tune in to learn:

  • The 2 requirements you need to have before investing 
  • How much money you actually need to get started
  • What’s more important than money when investing
  • How to choose the right platform/account for your goals
  • The best tool to eliminate overwhelm for new investors 

Notable Quotes

“The account is NOT the investment. These accounts HOLD the investments.You have not invested the money until you choose your investments.” 

“When I log into any one of these (DIY) platforms, I immediately break out in hives.There are so many graphs. There are so many charts. You don’t know where to go. Or you gotta talk to a guy named Chad who doesn’t actually know anything about your life and has a Patagonia vest and is gonna talk down to you. It’s not a great experience.” 


≫ 00:00 Introduction and New York trip recap

≫ 05:58 Why investing is crucial

≫ 06:26 How to know your ready to invest

≫ 12:52 Steps to open an investing account

≫ 13:37 Investment platforms and tools

≫ 21:24 How much to invest

Mentioned in this episode:

Stock Market School Workshop

See our HYSA recommendation

How to Financially Prepare Your Kids for the Future with Andy Hill

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Tori Dunlap:

Hello, financial feminists. Welcome to the show. If you’re an oldie but a goodie, welcome back. And if you’re new here, hi, my name is Tori. I run Her First $100K, I host this podcast, I have a book that’s also called Financial Feminist, and I slept eight hours last night. And God, am I feeling good. I got back from New York yesterday. I do not sleep well in New York. Here’s the thing about New York me. New York me goes to bed very late for me. It was like a midnight, 1:00 AM, most nights and sleeps in late to compensate. And then, she has to get up to do Good Morning America at like 7:00, 6:00, and that also doesn’t go well because of the sleeps schedules. I went to bed at literally 10:02, woke up at 7:15, feeling great. Life is great.

Yes. Got back from New York. If you’re wondering what shows I saw, here we because. I saw four. Okay, I saw Illinoise. It was beautiful. It was one of my favorite shows I’ve ever seen. It was absolutely amazing. If you’re going to New York, go see it. It is beautiful. I think I cried through half of it. Fantastic. Also, my friend who I did theater growing up with, produced it, which is so fun and a fun little full circle. So, that’s the first show I saw.

Second show I saw… Was it Suffs after that? Yes, I saw Suffs. I thought it was good. It wasn’t my favorite show. I think it’s very important. I think it’s great messaging. I think you’re going to have a good time. It’s more about the lyrics than anything else. The actual spectacle of it is not much spectacle. But important message, kind of like a Hamilton-light. So, Suffs was good.

Saw Water for Elephants. It was very acrobatic. It felt like you were seeing a Cirque du Soleil show that was also a musical. It was very beautiful. And there is one song called Easy, and it is beautiful. And it’s the song Marlena Sings to her horse. And the staging of it was just lovely.

And finally, I saw Uncle Vanya with Steve Carell and William Jackson Harper, who plays Chidi Anagonye on The Good Place, and Alison Pill and Alfred Molina. And you’re like, who’s that? And I say the villain from Spider-Man 2 and a bunch of other things. And also, Anika Noni Rose, who is one of Tony, but you might know her better as the voice of Tiana from Princess and the Frog. It was a stacked cast, ladies and gentlemen. It was crazy. And I literally cried when Steve Carell… I was just so excited to see him. I am the biggest fan of The Office. I’m surely the biggest Steve Carell fan. You listen to any interview about him, nobody has even a moderate, “Oh, he’s fine.” Anybody who talks about Steve Carell, he is the nicest person and so kind. He owns a general store in Massachusetts. He’s one of the people I’d bring to a dinner, dead or alive. Three people you’d bring to dinner, Steve Carell is probably one of them. And it was just so cool seeing him and William Jackson Harper because I’m a huge fan of The Good Place.

They somehow managed to turn Chekhov into a comedy, and I’m still trying to figure out how that happened. Literally, the two shots went off at the end of Uncle Vanya. And again, if you don’t know Chekhov, this is going to go right over your head, but it’s very serious. Any Chekhov play, it’s Russian. Everybody’s miserable. And at least one person gets shot at in a show. And he literally fired the two shots and he goes, “I can’t believe… Because he misses the person he’s shooting at and he’s like, “I can’t believe I missed it.” Everybody laughed because it was funny. I couldn’t believe it. They managed to turn Chekhov into a comedy. It was a great show though. So, the TLDR, if you’re going to Broadway, out of the four shows I saw, I would say see Illinoise and see Uncle Vanya. Water for Elephants is good, Suffs is good, but those two shows were fantastic.

The other fun update is I just did a New York photo dump as if this recording on Instagram and I showed probably the most of my partner that I’ve showed. Even though I have committed, we will not be showing his face, We’ll not be tagging him, we’ll not be talking about who he is. The funny thing is you can tell who listens to this show and who doesn’t. Kristen, did you see this? Because all of the comments… There was a bunch of comments being like, “Oh my God, is this the soft launch?” And they’re like, “You’re dating somebody?” And I’m like, real ones know that we’ve been talking about this for years on the show, just not explicitly so on Instagram.

So, it is very, very funny because there was a ton of comments and a ton of likes on those comments that were like, “Oh my God.” And we’ve been dating for two years. I’ve been talking about it and I talk about it occasionally on episodes. So, you can tell who’s an OG podcast listener, hello you. And you can tell who is it, which I think is funny. So, that was my New York trip. I saw a bunch of friends, my business partner and good friend, Elias had his birthday, so I got to celebrate that, which was really fantastic. Yeah, just got to see friends. Got to do a bunch of cool work stuff. And honestly, I miss New York already. I’ve been home less than 24 hours and I already want to go back. So, that’s what’s been going on in my life.

We’re talking about investing accounts today. One of the most common questions we get is how do I open one of these? Just give me the step-by-step walkthrough, Tori. How do I open it? How do I put money in it? How do I know I’m investing properly? What do I do in what order? So we’re going to give you the big old big boy outline. I don’t know, that was a weird way of saying that. We’re just going to give you everything you need to know. We’re going to give you the ultimate guide because we want to make sure that you’re doing this successfully and we want to make sure that you are actually not only making the right choices, but not missing a step and actually getting you started.

I think, again, I’ve said this a million times in the show, so if you are a super fan, you’ve heard me say this, but if you are not investing, you are losing money. The average person cannot afford to retire if they do not invest. And if there’s one thing I try to get women to take away from our work, other than all of the other things that I say one thing I try to take away from your work, but truly I need you investing. It is your best way to build wealth. It is the best way for you to set yourself up for financial success. So, before we talk about specifically how to open an account, what the steps are to get started, let’s answer first, who is ready to invest? If you are someone with a fully-funded emergency fund, which is at least three months of living expenses in a high-yield savings account, and you’ve paid off all of your debt, over 7% interest, which is all credit card debt, you are ready to invest.

If you do not have an emergency fund, I love you. I will see you back here once you have that emergency fund. If you are someone who has credit card debt, love you, love that you’re interested in this, I will see you back here when you have actually paid that off. So, those are the two big things of who is ready to invest. You have that emergency fund of three months in that high-yield savings account and you have paid off all your credit card debt or any other debt over 7% interest. Now, why 7% interest? Again, we’ve mentioned this before, but 7% to 8% is the average return you can expect on the stock market. And if we are spending more money by being in debt than we could be earning by investing, we’re going to pay that off first. And if you need more info about paying off debt, there’s other episodes. There’s also an entire chapter on paying off debt in my book, Financial Feminist.

So, the second question is how much do I actually need to get started investing? Do I need thousands of dollars? The answer is no. I think there’s a common misconception that you need at least hundreds but maybe thousands of dollars to start investing and you don’t. You don’t need that much money. And it’s actually more advantageous to start when you have less money because of compound interest. Time is greater than the amount of money. So, we want as much time to allow our investments to grow for us as possible, rather than stressing about getting to a couple thousand dollars before we start investing. So, you can start investing with something as small as $50, or $100, or even less than that.

Time is greater than the amount of money. We can’t get time back, that is why it’s so important to start investing now. So, you don’t need hundreds of dollars, you don’t need thousands of dollars, you don’t need tens of thousands of dollars. It’s not just for rich people. It is for you. You need to get started. And if you just have a small amount of money, great, we’re getting you started now.

So, before we open an account, we need to determine what our goal is. What are we actually investing for? Because that will determine what kind of account we open. For most people who are choosing to invest, retirement is your big goal. You should not be saving for retirement. You should not be putting retirement funds set aside for retirement into a high-yield savings account unless you are nearing retirement. So, when people call it saving for retirement, it’s really investing for retirement. So, big primary goal, when most people talk about investing, they’re talking about retirement account investing. And yes, you are investing with retirement accounts. We’ll talk about this in a second. But 401(k)s, IRAs, you are investing with those accounts and it’s actually really, really smart to do that. So, retirement is one of the big life goals that you are investing for.

A secondary goal might be investing for a child’s education, for your kid’s college fund and something in like a 529 plan. We have so much more info and 529 plans in our previous episode with Andy Hill. I will have Kristen drop it below. So, if you want more information about that, you can go listen to that. So, retirement, kid’s college, and then maybe you just want to invest outside of that goal, or maybe you have extra money after your retirement accounts to invest, or maybe you even have a goal that is seven to 10 years out. That is where we’re going to use what’s called a brokerage account. Again, we’ll talk about this in a second. But those are your three primary goals. Retirement, kid’s college, something else.

Now, I want to highlight that something else has a huge asterisk. If you are trying to contribute money for a goal, let’s say getting married or having kids, or buying a house, or taking a kick-ass vacation, and that goal is like five to seven years out or less, let’s just say seven years or less, which I think is most of our goals except retirement or maybe kid’s college, that needs to be in a high-yield savings account. If not, you take on a huge amount of potential risk. Why? Well, because sometimes the stock market does go down and if you are not giving yourself enough time for the stock market to recover, let’s say we are actually putting our money in the stock market to buy a house in three years.

We could be making money for two years, but six months before we’re about to buy that house, the stock market underperforms. You might not be looking at as much money as you would’ve been if that hadn’t happened and you’re not giving yourself as much time or really the stock market as much time for it to recover. So, when it comes to what I deem short-term goals, which is really like five to seven years or under, and for most people that is most goals are a couple years from now, we need to put that in a high-yield savings account. We need to not invest it, unless you are comfortable with that level of risk. We have the recommended high-yield savings count at our tools page, herfirst100k.com/tools, both for US citizens as well as our Canadian friends.

So, now you’ve determined your goal. Okay, I am going to save for retirement for example, and I’m going to open up a Roth IRA. Now, this order of operations works for any single investing account you are opening. So, whether that is a 401(k), an IRA, a SEP IRA a solo 401(k), an HSA, a 529 account, a general brokerage account, any other investing account, the account is not the investment. I’m going to say that again, the account is not the investment. These are not investments, these are accounts that hold the investments. These are investing accounts. So, let me tell you more about what I mean by this. So, if we’re going to open up one of these accounts, step one is to open one. We’re going to open an account.

Step two is we’re going to put money in the account. So, we’ve opened up the Roth IRA for example, and we’ve put $1,000 in let’s say. So, that’s step one and step two, I’ve said this many times on the show before, and I will say this again, you have not invested the money until you choose your investments. So, step one, open the account. Step two, put money in the account. Step three is you need to choose your investments. The Roth IRA, the 401(k) is not the investment, it is the account that holds the investments. So, where do you go about doing this 1, 2, 3 step process? Couple options for you. First option is a DIY platform. DIY platforms include Fidelity, Vanguard, Charles Schwab, and it’s exactly what it sounds like, DIY. That means that you are opening up these accounts, you are putting your money in and you’re choosing your own investments for yourself.

Now, the pro with these accounts or these types of accounts is that you’re not having to pay anybody else to do this for you. You’re doing it yourself. You’re not paying a fee, you’re not contributing to somebody else. You’re not paying somebody else to do this for you. But almost every single person listening right now, this is not the best option for you. Why? Because these platforms are fucking confusing. I am a personal finance expert. I’m a multimillionaire. When I log into any one of these platforms, I immediately break out in hives. There are so many graphs, there are so many charts. You don’t know where to go to even open the account, yet alone to figure out what to buy in the account and no one’s guiding you and you can’t ask questions. Or if you can, you got to wait on hold or you got to talk to a guy named Chad, who doesn’t actually know anything about you and your life and has a Patagonia vest and is going to talk down to you. It’s not a great experience.

And for the average person, especially somebody who is intimidated by investing, a DIY platform is too overwhelming. So, that is option one, but it’s probably not your best option. Option two is what’s called a robo-advisor. Robo-advisors are exactly what they sound like. They’re like algorithms or a group of individuals who is selecting investments for you through companies like Ellevest, or Acorns, or Betterment, Wealthsimple. There’s a lot of them out there. The pro with these platforms is that they’re getting you started, which is fucking fantastic. We talk all the time on the show about the importance of getting started, so that is incredible.

The cons however. One, they are taking a small fee to do this for you. It’s not huge, but it’s not tiny, tiny either. It’s typically a half a percent. Now, a half percent doesn’t sound like a lot, but let’s all hope we’re millionaires someday, That’s a good decent chunk of change, half a percent. The other thing with robo-advisors… Well, two more things. One other thing with robo-advisors is that they are asking you questions to determine what sort of decisions they should make for you. But most of these platforms, I think all of them, are not interviewing you. They’re asking you eight questions, like what is your risk tolerance? And you’re like, “I don’t know. I fucking hate risk. Zero, I guess.” Or “What day are you expected to retire?” Or, “How much money do you expect to have?” Or, “What are your goals?” And you might know the answers to some of these questions, but you definitely might not for other things. And then, they’re using that survey to basically decide what they’re going to do for you. I don’t know. That seems a little scary to me.

Finally, my least favorite thing, my least favorite con is that they’re fishing for you rather than teaching you to fish. The amount of people who come to us, and again, they got started, which is fantastic, but they come to us three years later after joining a robo-advisor and they’re like, “I don’t know what any of this means. I’m still just as confused as the day I started, and I don’t know why they’re choosing the things that they’re choosing for me or how they’re choosing things, and it’s all still so confusing.” It’s your hard-earned money. I want you knowing where it’s going and I want you knowing why it’s going there.

So, shameless plug, but I built you what I jokingly call the Hannah Montana of investing platforms because it is the best of both worlds. It is called Stock Market School. It is not just education, but we’ve literally built you an investing platform. You can invest through Stock Market School. There is live coaching with me. We train you how to be an investor through workshops and through a really, really simple, easy-to-use platform that looks nothing like the really convoluted platforms you’ve seen before and only gives you the information you actually need to know. It was featured in the New York Times’ Business front page. We also have over $75 million invested. The bulk of which has been invested by first-time investors. 80% of people who join have never invested before. And if you want more information, you can go down below.

We built it because I didn’t like any of the two options. DIY was way too complicated. Robo-advising was way too passive. So, I built you Stock Market School, which is not just education from me, but actual investing through a new platform that is intuitive and accessible and inclusive and not jargony or Chad-like. Can I coin that, Chad-like? So, those are your three options. DIY, robo-advising, something like Stock Market School. Let’s say that you’re not using stock market school and you’re wondering what do I actually invest in? Robo-Advisors will do that for you, right? They’ll pick what to invest in with, but a DIY platform, you got to choose. So, this is where my book comes into play.

We can teach you how to research some of those investments. I personally like index funds, and this is what I teach in Stock Market School. Index funds made me a millionaire. I’m not telling you one thing and then doing something else. This is actually what I use and what I continue to invest in. And index funds are group of companies or groups of stocks. So, if I open up my Roth IRA or any sort of investment account, I am opening up that account, I’m putting money in that account, and then I’m choosing an index fund. I personally like VTI, that is my favorite. And again, we have so much more information about how to go about choosing these, about how to research them and about what ones are right for you with personalized recommendations, and they live in Stock Market School.

Okay. So, let’s talk about what you need to open an investing account. Well, you need a little bit of money. You can’t open up these accounts with $0, or at least you can’t invest with $0. You also just need a lot of information about yourself. You sometimes need some tax forms. If you’re opening up one of these tax advantaged accounts like a 401(k) or IRA, you need to know how much income you’re making, that sort of thing. You also just need to have your ducks in a row in terms of, again, all of the rest of your financial plan.

So, your credit card debt needs to be gone. You need to have that emergency fund in place. And you also need to know exactly who is going to, and this is not a fun statement, but it’s true, get this account if you die. There’s a section called beneficiaries and you need to determine if you were to die or something were to happen to you, who is going to get this account? A good option might be a relative, your partner or spouse or somebody important to you. For me, it’s my parents. My parents get my accounts should I pass away, knock on wood. So, you don’t need a lot more information than that. And again, I think that’s a common misconception is it’s like, “Oh my God, I have to sit down and this is going to take hours and hours.” Through a DIY platform, yeah, it is.

And I’ll tell you, actually speaking of my partner, he’s literally been trying to open up a step IRA or it a solo 401(k) for two months. Sometimes the paperwork takes a while and they don’t make it easy for you. And again, I know it sounds like a plug, and I guess it is a plug because I built it, but truly, the finance industry is so fucked, it takes so much red tape and it’s just a bunch of Chads and Brads and it’s a trillion-dollar industry built off the back of making me feel like I’m too stupid to understand. So, I’ve built something better because everything out there sucks. It takes way too much time.

Okay, how much do I need to set aside every month? I got my account open, I contribute that first amount. How much do I need? Well, I always say, and we say this in Stock Market School, it’s about consistency. Now, consistency can be whatever you define it as. It can be every month, it can be every time you get paid, it can be every quarter, maybe it’s just when you get extra money. But there’s no hard-and-fast rule of like this is the amount of money every single person needs to be contributing because personal finance is personal and you have different goals and a different life than I do or Kristen does or anybody else does.

I will say, and we’re literally going to record an episode on this in two days, the average person needs way more for retirement than you think you do. And retirement is the biggest expense of your life. It is bigger than sending your kids to college, it’s bigger than you going to college, it’s bigger than buying a house because you’ll roughly live just as long without an income as you had to work, if that makes sense, right? So, let’s say for simple math, you started at 20, you retire at 65, that is 45 years, well, 65. Let’s all hope we live to 100, that’s another 45 years, 35 years, math, 35 years. It’s about the same amount of time. You get it.

So, you’re going to have to work to retire about as long as you’re going to retire, and you’re going to have to live off that money. So, I would do everything you can to max out these accounts. And if you can’t, that’s okay. Just contribute what you can. But if you do get a 401(k) matched through your employer, we’ve talked about this on the show before, I would be remiss to not say it on this episode. Please take advantage of it. It’s literal free money. It is free money that is offered by your employer. Please take advantage of it.

Now, if you are the person who has the fun side of this, which is you actually make too much money to contribute to something like a Roth IRA, we have episodes upcoming about what to do with that. But in the meantime, Google backdoor IRA, it’s basically being able to contribute money to a traditional and roll it into a Roth IRA. So, that is the way around it. And it sounds illegal, but it is not. It’s very legal. I jokingly call it with my accountant, Cayman Island shit, because it is stuff that seems illegal, but is actually very legal.

Okay, as we’re rounding out this episode. Again, I sound like a broken record. I know. But if there’s one thing you do, please just get started. Please just get started. You are wasting money every day you don’t start. It is time you cannot get back. And as we know, time is more important than the amount of money. And if you are really confused, I would love to see you in Stock Market School. And we also have a free investing workshop, it is called Stock Market Secrets. It is all of the myths you’ve been believing about the stock market. It is how to overcome them to actually get started. You can go to herfirst100k.com.com/secrets to take that free workshop. We will also link it down below. That is a great place to go after this.

Please don’t just listen to this episode and let it wash over you and be like, “Cool, that was some good information that I’m going to do nothing with.” And I know that sounds harsh, but please actually make a difference in your financial life. Help me not shout into the void and help this information actually make an impact on you and your money on your financial future. So, if you want to get started beyond this today, take our Secrets Workshop, maybe sign up for Stock Market School, at least do some more research around investing so you can actually get started.

As always, team, thank you for being here. Thank you for the support of the show. If you have any investing questions you’d like us to answer in an upcoming episode, feel free to leave us a voicemail. You can also subscribe to the show and leave us a review. And if you’re on Spotify, go ahead and drop a question down below in the little question box. Isn’t that fun? It’s right there, it’s down below. Scroll down, unless you’re driving, but scroll down, you can see it. It’s right there. Submit a question. We’d love to hear from you.

Okay, thank you team. We appreciate you. We hope to see you in Stock Market School and we’ll talk to you later. Bye.

Thank you for listening to Financial Feminist, a Her First $100K podcast. Financial Feminist is hosted by me, Tori Dunlap, produced by Kristen Fields, associate producer Tamisha Grant, research by Ariel Johnson, audio and Video engineering by Alyssa Midcalf, marketing and operations by Karina Patel, Amanda Leffew, Elizabeth McCumber, Masha Bakhmetyeva, Taylor Chou, Kailyn Sprinkle, Sasha Bonar, Claire Kurronen, Daryl Ann Ingman, and Jenell Riesner. Promotional Graphics by Mary Stratton. Photography by Sarah Wolfe. And theme music by Jonah Cohen Sound.

A huge thanks to the entire Her First $100K team and community for supporting this show. For more information about Financial Feminist, Her First $100K, our guests and episode show notes, visit financialfeministpodcast.com.

Tori Dunlap

Tori Dunlap is an internationally-recognized money and career expert. After saving $100,000 at age 25, Tori quit her corporate job in marketing and founded Her First $100K to fight financial inequality by giving women actionable resources to better their money. She has helped over one million women negotiate salary, pay off debt, build savings, and invest.

Tori’s work has been featured on Good Morning America, the New York Times, BBC, TIME, PEOPLE, CNN, New York Magazine, Forbes, CNBC, BuzzFeed, and more.

With a dedicated following of almost 250,000 on Instagram and more than 1.6 million on TikTok —and multiple instances of her story going viral—Tori’s unique take on financial advice has made her the go-to voice for ambitious millennial women. CNBC called Tori “the voice of financial confidence for women.”

An honors graduate of the University of Portland, Tori currently lives in Seattle, where she enjoys eating fried chicken, going to barre classes, and attempting to naturally work John Mulaney bits into conversation.

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