Opinion: How To Start Investing With Nothing

Originally authored by Josh Callaghan 

So, you’ve heard about the potential value of investing and want to jump on the compounding bandwagon, but there’s a problem: you don’t have any existing savings to start with. This is a common predicament and it goes across all life stages. Here are some options on how you could start to build an investment portfolio from the ground up.

How to start investing in shares for beginners

To help be as inclusive as possible, we’ll use the example of someone who is able to commit to $100 per month for investing. The guidance below can apply for any size portfolio, but as you get into the tens of thousands, there may be better ways to allocate your funds across sectors and products to optimise return and minimise fees. Until then, let’s stick with this example.

Shares and managed funds

The reason it’s often hard to invest at low amounts is, frankly, because many fund managers and stockbrokers don’t want your business. Generally, the investment world makes its money from either ongoing fees on large sums invested or commission on large trades, so they price those with smaller balances out of the market.

Many fund managers have a minimum investment of between $5,000 and $250,000 for retail investors, making them out of reach for smaller investors. Online stockbrokers typically charge anywhere between $10 and $20 for a $100 trade, which even at the low end means that for each $100 trade you’d actually only be getting $90 worth of stock. Besides that, the minimum parcel of shares you can buy in a company initially is typically $500, so trying to buy into the stock market with less than that wouldn’t work anyway.

Side note: In case you decide to buy a $500 parcel of shares on the ASX, be aware that if the value of those shares drop below $500, your shares are considered an ‘unmarketable parcel’ and the company you’ve invested in may be able to sell on the market or buy those shares at the lower price, essentially cashing you out of your shares and solidifying the loss.

Minimum amount you need to start investing

In short, $1,000 could get you access to a professionally managed fund at a wholesale rate so let’s start there as an example. Fund managers have minimum investment amounts to discourage small balances. However, some have an option to reduce the minimum buy-in on the proviso that the investor commits to contributing $100 or more per month into that fund.


The lowest fund buy-in with regular savings that we could find was Colonial First State at $1,000, but if you are willing to save a little more, there are a few that start at $1,500. While many funds are vague on the details, to be safe from being sold out from the fund you should plan to make your monthly contributions until you exceed the standard minimum buy-in (i.e $5,000).

Let’s park the choice of fund for a bit and just focus on how to get to $1,000.

Obviously, it’s 10 months worth of saving at $100 per month. You can do this in an everyday bank account, but in the ‘interest’ of being a return-hungry investor, we’re going to suggest you at least consider getting a little investment return on your savings while you build them up. Two main options for this are micro-investing and using a bonus saver account.

Micro Investing vs Bonus Saving Account

Micro investing can be a way of accumulating ‘forgotten’ savings with apps like Raiz and FirstStep offering to round up your spending and invest it for you. Micro-investing is an option for some people who couldn’t save in any other way, and it may, over the long term, build a little investment nest egg that would have otherwise been spent.

A bonus saving account is an account offered by a bank or credit union that encourages saving by paying a bonus interest rate if you meet certain criteria – for example, if you contribute a certain amount each month and don’t make any withdrawals.

The important difference is that micro-investing is invested in assets like shares and bonds, while the bonus saving account is held in cash at the bank, like any other bank account. Either way, the aim of this part of the endeavour is just to get to $1000 in 10 months.

Got to $1,000! Now, how do I choose a fund?

When choosing an investment fund, there are a number of factors to think about. Past performance is not an indication of future performance but it can often be a good starting place for assessing relative performance. When comparing the past five years of performance, the fact is that each of those funds have produced that return in the exact same market conditions. So, you may find past performance useful as a quality indicator to narrow down the selection.

Fees work a bit like a golf handicap. If fund A is 1% more expensive than fund B then A needs to outperform B by 1%, just to produce the same outcome. You don’t necessarily need to go to the cheapest option, but it’s worth being conscious of the fees you’re paying.

Given we’re talking about your first and (at this stage) only market investment, it may be worth considering a multi-sector fund that reflects your risk profile. “Multi-sector” simply refers to a managed fund that invests across a number of asset classes such as equities (domestic and international), commercial property, bonds, and so on. These funds tend to come with reference to an investor’s risk profile from cash/conservative through to aggressive growth. Generally, low risk equates to low returns and vice versa – but that’s not necessarily a guarantee. You should consider where along that spectrum your investment sits.

Finally, avoid analysis paralysis. It’s important to take the time to make an informed decision, but don’t get to the point where you make no decision at all because you’ve over-complicated it. Have a look at Canstar’s managed fund Star Ratings to help narrow your selection down, then go for it as soon as you’re ready.

And there you have it, you’re now an investor!

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