Investing on a Budget

June 22, 2011

How to invest with just a little money is a common question for people investing on a small income or trying to balance investing vs paying down debt.  Just because you don’t have a lot of money doesn’t mean you can’t invest, however it does require you to be smarter in your investment strategy. So today I’m going to write about investing on a budget. There are five core concepts I’ll cover and if you follow them you should be able to invest on just about any budget.

Core Concept #1 – Emergency Fund
I’m not the first person to discuss this concept–it’s actually a part of the “debt snowball” idea created by Dave Ramsey. But it’s still a core value in being able to invest on a budget. Before you can invest, you need to have sufficient funds in savings (in case of an emergency) so that you won’t have to tap into your investments the first time your car breaks down or you need a new roof for your house. This is particularly important in terms of tax affecting your investments.

Core Concept #2 – Researching Investment Minimums
If you’re investing on a budget, you might want to go with one of the large no-load mutual fund companies such as Vanguard, T Rowe Price, or Fidelity. You’ll probably be upset to learn that most of these companies require a minimum investment of several thousand before you can even begin investing. Knowing this up front will help you make a decision as to when and where to invest. In the meantime, keep setting money aside in a a “pre-investment” account – you’ll get there sooner then you think. Something else to consider is that the required minimums are often lower if you’re opening a retirement account like an IRA.

There are also companies like ShareBuilder and Betterment that will let you invest just a small amount each month.  The two work a little differently, ShareBuilder charges a $4 fee for each investment you buy and Betterment charges 0.9% of your investment annually.  Here’s a ShareBuilder review and you can look for a Betterment review on this site later this month.

Core Concept #3 – Pay Yourself First
– If you don’t pay yourself first, you won’t pay yourself at all. Period. Again, this isn’t a concept I created (I’m not even sure who did), but it works. A good number is to try and set aside at least $50.00 each month for your investments. If you can’t afford that then you’ll have to do some digging to come up with the money.

Is your cable $50.00 per month? Maybe you could downgrade to save $20 a month and then you’re almost halfway to $50. When you’re on a budget you have to make trade-offs – you have to decide if you’re willing to make cuts to start an investment portfolio or retirement fund. It’s up to you to decide if investing is feasible or not – with some juggling, hopefully you’ll find that its possible. If not, the focus has to be on increasing your income (which of course is always easier said than done).

Core Concept #4 – Diversify
I’ve been over this concept before in prior posts on this site, but it’s just so important when you’re investing on a budget. When you’re investing on a budget, you likely won’t have the funds to survive one big investment mistake. You’re only chance to get the exposure you need, across a wide cross-section and variety of sectors and investments is to diversify.

As I mentioned ealier, I think the best way to accomplish this task is to invest in a low cost brokerage firm, my favorite is Vanguard.  When you only have a little to invest it’s even more important to keep your costs/expenses as low as possible. A diversified mutual fund with a brokerage house will help you achieve both these goals with little hassle.

Core Concept #5 – Get Started as Soon as Possible
Since you won’t have (at least for the foreseeable future) the ability to fully fund most of your investments, you’ll have to obtain your investment and savings value through time rather than volume. The sooner you invest, the sooner you can start the compounding interest that you will need to carry you through to achieve your individual investing goals.


These are, in my opinion, the five core principles of investing on a budget. After you have mastered these concepts, you should be able to start investing now or in the near future–even on a tight budget. I’ve found that there’s always a place I can cut money or a way to earn some extra cash. I understand too that some budgets have more flexibility than others.

As always, it’s important to meet with an appropriate expert prior to making any such important decisions. Best of luck as you embark on investing on a budget. With time, you may realize you don’t even miss the extra money you are investing rather than spending. That sacrifice now should pay dividends, both financially and in your life, for years to come.


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Chris Thomas is a personal finance blogger at Debt and the owner/creator of FreelancePF. Chris has a B.A. in English and a J.D. in law. Chris lives in the northeast with his Wife and dog.

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10 Responses to Investing on a Budget

  • Tyler @ DividendMoney

    Just a thought with respect to your points.
    Some may find it difficult to diversify effectively on a budget if purchasing shares of individual companies through Sharebuilder.
    Therefore, index funds and ETF’s may be an appropriate methosd to diversify on a budget. That said, it is important to examine the fees charged by Funds. Vanguard tends to have some of the lowest fees for diversified ETF’s.
    Great article for those just starting out.
    Have a great day,

  • Bret @ Hope to Prosper

    The first time I read about the concept Pay Yourself First was in a book called The Richest Man in Babylon. It may have come from a previous source, but that book is about 80 years old. I highly recommend it.

    Some of the mutual funds will waive the minimum investment, if you sign up for automatic monthly investments. I am with T. Rowe Price and they allow you to start an investment for as little as $100 per month.

    • Ben

      Good point Bret, thanks for bringing it up. Automatic investments can reduce or waive the minimum investments with some companies, that’s a great way to get started for a much smaller sum.

  • Jay

    WOW, this info is very accurate and it helped me with some questions that I had. Thanks!

  • Forest

    I have about $1k to start investing I think and could do $50-$100 right now per month. I’m not sure if I should go the learners route and invest in individual stocks learning how the whole thing works or if I should go with a fund of some sort…..


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