Getting familiar with investing may sound daunting, but blogger Melanie Lockert is here to tell you that it’s all a matter of taking the first steps.

I have a confession to make. I’m 31 years old and have practically nothing saved for retirement. And by nothing, I mean $600 in a Roth IRA.

My excuses have run the gamut from “I don’t make enough” (during my nonprofit days) to “I don’t understand investing” to “I’m focusing exclusively on my debt.”

So I focused on my debt, knowing that I’d get a guaranteed return on my investment. I got so serious that when I increased my income, I started to put more than $3,000 per month toward debt—an amount that would have been inconceivable just a year before.

At the end of last year, I made my last student loan payment. After putting all my energy and money towards my debt, I wondered, “What’s next?”

Now I really need to start investing and make up for lost time. I have to admit, it’s kind of scary. Investing can seem complicated and is often riddled with jargon and confusing information. In the headline news, there’s always a sense of intense fear or speculation surrounding investing.

My Plan to Get Started

I’m getting over my fear of the market by investing a total of $20,000 this year. I’m maxing out my Roth IRA contributions, up to the $5,500 limit, and putting the remainder in low-cost index funds.

A Roth IRA is a great way to save for retirement because you pay taxes on it now, but your withdrawals are all tax-free. I’m also interested in index funds—which are a type of mutual fund, like the S&P 500, that is built to match a market index and is popular because of the lower cost and the promising returns. Many of my friends approaching financial independence rave about the power of index funds. As a personal finance nerd, I plan on doing my own research to see what’s best for me.

Getting Educated

I plan to learn as much as I can about investing by voraciously consuming information. Part of the reason why I’ve been wary of investing is because I don’t understand it.

Next, I will research various investment firms and brokerages to compare fees, minimum contributions, and returns. Once I’ve made a decision, I plan on automating my investments to ensure I make it a priority. I plan to commit funds each month through automatic transfer and using a set it and forget it strategy.

I know that I’m investing for the long term and won’t be touching these funds until I’m much older, so I plan to avoid some of the emotion-rattling activities like obsessing over my accounts each and every day. That’s not to say that I won’t check up on my investments, but I’ve learned from my friends that keeping tabs on the ups and downs of your portfolio can be stressful and addictive.

My investment strategy is for the long-term gains, not short-term wins. I’ve come too far to try to play the system—I’m here to build wealth!

For the past several years, I’ve put 100 percent of my energy into getting out of debt. It was exhausting, but I did it. Now I plan on paying for my future, instead of my past, by allocating the money that used to go toward debt to investing.

While this new, aggressive goal is out of my comfort zone and a whole new arena for me, it can’t be as scary as having $81,000 in debt.

Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer and passionate
debt fighter who writes at
She recently climbed out of $81,000 in student loan debt
and is currently dreaming of her next adventure.

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