One of the most common myths surrounding investing is that it's necessary to have a large sum of money to get started. In reality, it's possible to build a well-rounded portfolio on a small budget of a few thousand or even a few hundred dollars.
When operating on a limited budget, the key is to choose investments that offer the most value for every dollar. Whether you're starting off with $500, $5,000 or something in between, take a look at our recommendations for the best places to invest on a shoestring.(For more, see the Tutorial: Investing 101: A Tutorial for Beginner Investors.)How to Invest $500
At first glance, $500 may seem like a relatively small amount to work with, but it can go farther than you might think.
Exchange-traded funds or ETFs, for example, are an attractive option for investors who are comfortable taking on a higher degree of risk but don't want to pay higher fees. Compared to a traditional mutual fund, ETFs are actively traded on the market and they typically feature a passive management structure, which translates to fewer fees. Because they tend to have a lower turnover, exchange-traded funds are also more efficient in terms of how frequently taxable events occur. (For more, read: Comparing ETFs Vs.. Mutual Funds For Tax Efficiency.)
Another great, low-fee alternative is a dividend reinvestment plan or DRIP. With this kind of plan, companies allow you to buy shares of their stock and reinvest any dividends earned automatically by purchasing additional shares or fractional shares. This is a good choice for smaller investors because it's possible to purchase shares at a discount and without paying a sales commission to a broker. All that's needed to get started is enough money to buy a single share of the company's stock.How to Invest $1,000
With $1,000, it's possible to do a branch out a little more with your investment strategy. Keeping fees to a minimum is still a priority, but investors can move beyond ETFs and consider other options, such as index funds. An index fund is a type of mutual fund that tracks a specific market index, such as the Standard & Poor 500 or the Dow Jones.
Like exchange-traded funds, index funds are also passively managed which means a lower expense ratio to contend with. They're structured to match or beat the market, which is a positive in terms of their overall performance. Because they're linked to a broader index, these kinds of funds also offer more exposure to different asset classes.
Purchasing individual stock shares can potentially generate higher returns for investors with a higher risk tolerance. Investing in individual stocks that pay dividends is a smart strategy when your budget is set at $1,000. Unlike a DRIP, investors have the option of receiving their dividends as cash payouts or reinvesting them to purchase additional shares. This can be an effective way to create a passive income stream with very little invested up front. (For more on dividend investing, see: 6 Rules for Successful Dividend Investing.)How to Invest $2,500 to $3,000
Moving up the ladder, the question of what to do with an extra $2,500 to $3,000 ultimately depends on your goals and risk tolerance.
Investors who prefer to play it safe with a larger sum, for instance, may be better off parking it in a certificate of deposit or using it to purchase short-term treasury bills. The growth potential is limited with these types of investments, but the returns are more or less guaranteed and there's virtually zero risk involved.
Peer to peer lending, on the other hand, offers the potential to earn significantly higher yields. Crowdfunding platforms like Lending Club and Prosper allow non-accredited investors to partially or fully fund loans for borrowers. As the loans are repaid, each investor receives a share of the interest in proportion to the amount they have invested. Generally, annual returns fall in the 5% to 8% range but they can climb higher for investors who are willing to take a chance on high-risk borrowers who may be paying interest rates of 30% or more.How to Invest $5,000
The possibilities become even broader at the $5,000 level. One avenue worth considering is making an investment in real estate. While $5,000 isn't sufficient to purchase an investment property, it's still enough to allow investors to add real estate holdings to their portfolio in one of two ways.
The first option is investing in a real estate investment trust (REIT). A REIT is a corporation that owns individual properties or mortgages that produce a continuous stream of income. When you invest in a REIT, you're entitled to a share of the income generated by the underlying properties. REITs are required by law to payout 90% of their income to investors as dividends annually. REITs can be traded or non-traded, with the latter carrying much higher upfront fees.