How I Finally Started Investing in My Future With Just $5 and My Smartphone

Updated February 14, 2017
by Jamie Cattanach

So, I have a confession.

Although I work for a personal finance blog, I know absolutely nothing about investing.

OK, correction — almost nothing. The only thing I DO know is I should definitely be doing it.

Investing is the very best way to save money. You just add time and magically, your money multiplies. That’s why they call it “making your money work for you.” You can earn cash by just kicking up your feet and waiting.

But since time is the only fertilizer your money-seeds need to grow more of themselves, it’s imperative you start investing early.

For instance, if you’re 21, you can retire comfortably at 65 if you invest just $25 per week. It’s as simple as knocking the money you spend on your morning latte into your Roth IRA instead.

But even 10 years later, it’s significantly more difficult to get ahead of the curve — your $25 per week is closer to $50.

And if you let it go too long, you may find yourself halfway through your career with absolutely nothing saved for retirement. It’s (unfortunately) far from unheard of: Almost half of American working-age households have zero retirement savings.

But luckily, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Why You Need to Start Investing

Even if you have your retirement plans situated, investing can help you meet your savings goal for another big, long-term project, like buying a home or taking a travel sabbatical from work.

But if you’re like me, you have no idea where to start, and it can be intimidating.

I mean, I couldn’t have told you the difference between a Roth IRA and a 401(k) two months ago, and I still only have a vague, eighth-grade knowledge of “the stock market.”

Luckily, I found an easy, automatic way to start investing before I lose any more time.

Confession number two: I spend way too much time on my cell phone.

Whatever, I get to embody some of the millennial stereotypes if everyone’s going to make fun of me for them anyway.

So when I came across an app to help me get started investing — right now — I decided to give it a try.

Stash Makes Investing Simple — and Fun

Stash is an app available for both Android and Apple devices, and it makes it super simple to (finally) take the dive into investing, even if you don’t have a whole lot of cash to spare.

You can start investing with as little as $5.

And what’s more, you can have as little knowledge as you do spare change.

Stash spells everything out in terms you can understand, so you’ll be able to invest your money how you want, without re-enrolling in Economics 101.

In fact, thanks to Stash, I finally understand exactly what an ETF is. Here’s a sample of its crystal clear explanation:

“Most people start Stash with small amounts of money. We like it that way, because it’s affordable, and less intimidating. But if you’ve only got $100, it’s risky to buy one share of a stock — that’s putting all your eggs in one basket. It’s better to spread investments around. Unfortunately, buying stock in 50 different companies at around $100 per share will run you $5,000. Yikes! Instead, you can invest in a fund that includes 50 companies. One of the most popular types of funds are Exchange Traded Funds, or ‘ETFs.’”

Most of Stash’s investments are ETFs.

But since about 1,800 ETFs are available to the consumer, Stash curates the best ones and then categorizes them by your preferences and goals. It gives them understandable names that actually mean something to people like you and me.

For example, instead of “PIMCO Enhanced Short Maturity Active Exchange Traded Fund,” you’ll invest in what Stash has called “Park My Cash.”

What’s more? You won’t have to spend exorbitant management fees for the privilege of investing your money in a way you can understand.

Stash charges just $1 per month until your account reaches $5,000, at which point you’ll be charged 0.25% of your account balance per year.

And did I mention your first three months are free? 🙂

How to Start Investing with Stash

You know you’ve got $5 you’re waiting to turn into junk — so why not turn it into more money instead?

You’ll start by linking your bank account and choosing how risky you want to be with your investment. You’ll have the chance to use a calculator to see how much money your investments might make, depending on your choices.


Once Stash can verify and connect with your bank account, you’ll see your initial deposit of $5 or more come out in two to three business days.

And when it does? Congratulations: You’re officially an investor!

But this is just the beginning. Now, you get to decide exactly where your money goes as it slowly multiplies.

Under the “Discover” tab, you can explore new funds to invest your Stash in based on your goals, desires and beliefs.

For instance, you might want to invest in green energy sources or cybersecurity, or tech companies that simplify your life by building the devices you love.


Stash makes it simple to identify which ETFs best support your personal ideals — and provide the best, risk-managed potential for returns.


If you care less about what your money does while it’s out of your hands and more about how much you’ll get back, you can skip the themed accounts and simply let your stash accrue with the Moderate Mix — a recommended, conservative-risk ETF.


Or take a page out of a professional’s book and pick “Follow the Experts” or “Roll with Buffett” — what better way to feel good about where your funds are going?

No matter what, you’ll get just enough information to feel confident your investment funds are going where you want, and have the best chance to get you what you want — without the confusing detail.

Automate Your Investments and Profit in the Long Term

Once you’ve gotten started, stay on a roll: Even with the magic of compound interest, that $5 isn’t gonna do much by itself.

Good thing Stash actually gives you another $5 just for clicking this link and signing up. But keep it going.

Set up “Auto-Stash” to pull a set amount from your bank account at regular intervals, so you can help your investments grow over time.

You can add to your existing ETF choice or diversify your investments by buying new shares — all at the touch of a finger, from your cell phone, with the simple security of a 4-digit PIN.

Plus, you can make free money by helping your friends get on the right financial track? You’ll earn $5 apiece for each friend you refer, up to $100, to be deposited directly into your Stash.

I know I was thrilled to find a way to finally start investing, and then automate it so I didn’t have to think about it.

For now, I’m just investing $5 per week — I’m working on building a plush emergency fund before I worry too much about my long-term goals.

But I love that Stash helps me set it and forget it, and the ticking clock sounds less scary and more comforting.

Your Turn: Are you investing yet? What are your long-term money goals?

Disclosure: Here’s a toast to the affiliate links in this post. May we all be just a little richer today.

Jamie Cattanach is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder and (finally) an official investor. Her writing has also been featured at Word Riot, DMQ Review, Hinchas de Poesia and elsewhere. Find @JamieCattanach on Twitter to wave hello.

by Jamie Cattanach
Contributor for The Penny Hoarder

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