You’d be surprised just how far $500 can go when it’s invested in the stock market. Not only is it enough to start growing wealth in a meaningful way, but investing even a small amount can help you build positive investing habits that will help you to reach your future financial goals.
Not sure where to start investing with $500? Let’s dig into how far $500 can go when it’s invested, along with a few of our favorite strategies to start investing — even with a small amount of money.
In this Guide
How Far Does $500 Go When You Invest It?
One of the factors that hold so many people back from investing is feeling like they don’t have enough money. But the good news is that even just a small amount of money in your budget can have a significant long-term impact when invested.
So exactly how far does $500 go when invested?
If you have just one lump sum of $500 and invest it in an asset with a 10% annual return, then in 10 years, you would have nearly $1,300. If you were instead able to invest $500 per year, your 10-year returns would be more than $8,000. And if you were able to invest $500 per month with a 10% annual return, you would have nearly $100,000 after a decade.
The great news about investing is that you can take advantage of compound interest. In other words, the money you invest earns money. And in future years, the money you’ve earned on your money also begins to earn money.
Let’s use a simple example to show how compound interest works: Imagine you put $1,000 into an investment with a 10% annual return. After one year, you would have $1,100 invested. In the second year, rather than earning a 10% return on your initial $1,000 investment, you’re earning a 10% return on the entire $1,100 in your portfolio.
As time goes on, compounding has an even greater effect on your investments, and the amount in your portfolio can increase exponentially from the amount you initially invested, even if that initial investment was only $500.
Find out more >>> How Does Compound Interest Work?
Invest With a Robo Advisor
If you’re new to investing and don’t feel comfortable choosing your own investments, then a robo advisor is a great place to start. A robo advisor is an online brokerage account that uses a computer algorithm to choose appropriate investments for your portfolio. You can learn about our favorite robo advisors in our best robo advisors guide.
When you first sign up with a robo advisor, you’ll answer a series of questions about your investment goals, risk tolerance, annual income and more. Using that information, your robo advisor will build a diversified portfolio with an asset allocation that’s best suited to your situation. The robo advisor will maintain your portfolio, including rebalancing it when necessary. And as your time horizon or financial goals change, the robo advisor will change your portfolio with them.
There are plenty of benefits to investing with a robo advisor. The biggest attraction for new investors is that the robo advisor chooses investments on your behalf, rather than having to choose them yourself. And for someone starting from scratch, this factor can have you many hours of research and provide a lot of peace of mind.
Robo advisor fees are usually far lower than working with an investment professional. Financial advisors often charge fees around 1% of your assets under management. Many robo advisors charge a fee of around 0.25%, meaning more of your money stays in your portfolio. Over a period of many years, that small fee difference can have a major impact on the size of your portfolio, thanks to compounding.
Robo advisors also increasingly offer advanced features that make them even more attractive. For example, some robo advisors have on-staff financial advisors with whom you can speak and ask financial questions at no additional cost. This factor adds a human component to what can feel like a very detached relationship.
Another feature that some robo advisors now offer is the ability to invest in causes that are important to you. Robo advisors have begun offering socially responsible investing (SRI) portfolios so that you can invest in a way that supports your values.
Keep reading >>> What is a Robo Advisor?
Contribute Regularly to a 401(k) or IRA
Investing in your workplace 401(k) plan is perhaps the easiest way to start investing, even with a small amount of money. First, your employer sets up the plan on your behalf, meaning there’s very little work on your end required to get started. Some companies automatically opt their employees into the plan, requiring that they opt-out if they don’t want to participate. These automatic opt-in policies have drastically increased 401(k) participation.
Another benefit of investing in a workplace 401(k) plan is that your return is often far greater because of an employer contribution. Suppose your workplace offers a 3% match on your 401(k) contributions; in other words, if you contribute 3% of your salary, then your employer will match your contribution. You’ve immediately earned a 100% return on your investment.
Finally, 401(k) contributions are taken out of your paycheck before taxes, so you’re saving yourself money in taxes by contributing.
While a 401(k) plan is a great place to get started with investing, not everyone has one available to them. In that case, you can open an individual retirement account (IRA), which offers many of the same benefits as a 401(k) plan. IRAs can be pre-tax, as with a 401(k), or after-tax, in the case of a Roth IRA. With a Roth IRA, you contribute money that’s already been taxed, but then you can withdraw your earnings tax-free during retirement.
Because of their tax advantages, 401(k) plans and IRAs are excellent places to start your investing journey. They’ll save you money in taxes, meaning more of your money can stay invested. And because they’re specifically designed for retirement, you can feel confident that you’ll have money waiting for you when you’re ready to stop working.
Find out more >>> How to Invest in an IRA
DIY With Commission-Free ETFs
Many people think they need to hire an investment professional to help them manage their portfolios, but it’s never been easier to manage your own portfolio than it is today.
The first reason it’s so easy to manage your own portfolio is the existence of exchange-traded funds (ETFs). An ETF is a pooled investment that allows you to get exposure to hundreds — or even thousands — of assets in a single investment. ETFs are diversified funds, meaning you don’t have to worry about buying individual stocks and bonds.
ETFs come in many different shapes and sizes. You can buy ETFs that represent the entire stock or bond market, or those that represent just a share of it, such as in the case of sector ETFs. These investments are great for a buy-on-hold strategy since you can buy ETF shares and then simply watch your investment grow.
Another perk of ETFs is the way they trade; rather than trading like mutual funds, ETFs trade like stocks on stock exchanges. You can buy and sell shares throughout the day and have more control over the trading price.
Online brokerage firms like make it easier than ever to trade ETFs by offering commission-free trading. With many brokers, you won’t pay anything to buy and sell your ETF shares. The only cost you have to worry about is the individual fund’s expense ratio, which is usually quite low.
Check out our favorite online brokers in our Best Online Stock Brokers Guide.
Set Up a DRIP
A dividend reinvestment plan — or DRIP for short — is a way of automatically investing your stock dividends to buy additional shares of stock. A DRIP is usually offered directly by the company paying the dividends, but many brokerage firms also offer the opportunity for inventors to automatically reinvest dividends.
Many companies reward their investors through dividends, which is a way of sharing profits with their shareholders. Investors can choose to simply receive their dividends in cash, but that money can be even more impactful if it’s reinvested.
Thanks to compound interest, reinvesting those dividends could result in them being worth many times their original value by the time you cash out your investment. Suppose you received $900 per year in dividends from a company you invested in.
Over the course of 12 months, $900 probably doesn’t make much of a difference in your budget. But if you had reinvested those dividends through a DRIP, then in 10 years, your dividends could be worth more than $14,000 if you had an annual return of 10%.
Read more >>> What is DRIP Investing?
A bond is a type of fixed-income security that’s essentially you lending money to a government entity or corporation. In return, the bond issuer makes regular interest payments to you, the lender. When the bond reaches maturity, the corporation or government entity returns your principal investment.
Bonds don’t get as much attention as stocks in investing conversations for two key reasons: they have historically lower returns than stocks and they aren’t as volatile. In other words, many investors find bonds to be boring. In reality, bonds are an important part of a well-diversified portfolio.
The very characteristics that make bonds seem less exciting to investors are precisely the reason they have a place in your portfolio. While they don’t have the same historical returns as stocks, bonds are less volatile, so you’re less likely to lose money, which makes them valuable for capital preservation.
Another benefit of bond investing is that they generate income. While some stocks pay dividends, often the only way you make money is through capital gains. However, with bond investing, you’ll get regular interest payments during the life of the bond.
There are several ways to buy bonds, including directly from the U.S. Treasury Department or through your brokerage account.
Find out more >>> How to Invest in Bonds
Pay Off Your Debt
You might be confused why we’re talking about paying off debt in an article about investing. But the truth is that sometimes paying off debt yields far greater returns than investing can.
Consider for a moment that at the end of 2021, the average credit card interest rate was 16.13%; for some cardholders, rates can easily exceed 20%. But according to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the average annual stock market return is closer to 10% (and more like 6% or 7% when you account for inflation). Based on these numbers, you could actually see a greater potential return on your money by using it to pay off debt rather than invest.
While credit cards have notoriously high-interest rates, that isn’t the case for all types of debt. For mortgages, auto loans, and student loans, it’s not uncommon to have interest rates below 5%. In those cases, when the rate is lower than the average stock market return, you might decide to divide your efforts between both investing and paying off debt.
Additionally, stock market returns in 2021 have been higher than even the interest rate on credit card debt, according to data from S&P Global. For that reason, some investors may feel comfortable investing while they still have credit card debt.
Ultimately, whether you invest while paying off debt is a personal decision. You can compare stock market returns to your current debt interest rate to see which makes the most sense on paper. For many people, debt is also a financial decision and eliminating that emotional burden may be more important than their potential investment returns.
Find out more >>> Should You Pay Off Your Mortgage or Invest?
Invest for the Long Term
When you’re first learning about investing, it’s easy to get caught up in the current trends of day trading, cryptocurrency, meme stocks and more. Much of what you’ll read about are current trends that are designed for short-term investing. However, most people really need a long-term investing plan.
To build your long-term investing strategy, tune out the noise and focus first on what you need. Start by figuring out what your investing goals are. For many people, investing is a means to an end to retire comfortably, though you may have loftier investing goals such as achieving FIRE (financial independence, retire early) or building a business. Keeping your goals in mind will make it easier to build a strategy that works.
Once you’ve identified your investing goals, you can use that information to build your investment plan. Start by matching your investment portfolio to your time horizon and risk tolerance. If you have many years until your investing goal and a normal tolerance for risk, you can afford to take on a bit more risk in your portfolio. But if you have a low tolerance for risk, you’ll want to focus on low-risk investments. As your time horizon shortens, it’s generally recommended that you reduce the risk in your portfolio.
The two other keys to long-term investing are diversification and not timing the market (as the saying goes, time in the market is better than timing the market). In other words, investing consistently over a long period of time will yield better results than correctly guessing what the market will do. Building a well-diversified portfolio will help you achieve returns that are comparable to the market, but without putting all of your eggs in one basket.
The Bottom Line
$500 may not seem like a lot, but it can go a long way when it’s invested. The most important first step is getting started and building the habit of consistent investing. Your $500 investment will continue to grow and, when you have more money to work with, you can improve your portfolio and watch your investments grow even more quickly.
Remember, you don’t have to wait until you have $500 to start investing. Many brokers allow you to get started with as little as $10, and thanks to compounding, every small amount makes a difference.