Investing 101 for Students

U of A alumna Bridget Casey shares advice for students interested in investing.


Investing??? I know literally nothing about the stock market. It's always something I thought I would focus on after graduation or when I have some real money in my pocket, but I learned that this doesn’t have to be the case. I had the pleasure of talking with Bridget Casey, who completed a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at the U of A in 2010. Bridget is now the founder and CEO of Money After Graduation, a financial literacy website dedicated to helping recent graduates and young adults pay off debt, save money, increase income and invest in the stock market. Through our discussion, I asked Bridget some questions that would give students an introductory insight into the world of investing. 

What is investing and what does it mean to you? 

Investing is putting your money in something that will increase in value. There are lots of ways to do that but there is a lot of focus in the stock market. It’s a great time to start investing because it is easier now than it has ever been before. One of the best ways to invest now, especially if you are a student, is using a RoboAdvisor which is an automated service that will invest your money for you. All you have to do is deposit money in your account and it will take care of the rest so while you are busy studying, your money will still have an opportunity to grow. A few examples of RoboAdvisors are WealthSimple, Questwealth, RBC InvestEase, and BMO Smartfolio. When choosing which platform to use, pick the platform your bank is already with or a platform that you find easiest to use. 

What is the difference between being a good investor and a good trader? 

Being a good investor is just leaving your money alone. It is putting your money into a RoboAdvisor or some Exchange-Traded Fund (ETF) and not taking any more action. You just sit back and watch your money grow. When you are trading, you are actively buying and selling and it is a lot harder to get right. It’s funny that you say "good trader" because good traders are only right about maybe 60% of the time and losing money the other 40% of the time. When you are a good investor, you are never really losing money. As students, you should focus on putting your money into good long-term assets and letting it grow. Trading is time-consuming and stressful and mixing that with being a student, you don’t want to overwhelm yourself. As a trader, you have to have the tolerance to losing money and most students are not in the position to be doing that. 

If a student wanted to invest money today, where should they start? 

The easiest thing is to choose a RoboAdvisor that works best for you and start with a small amount. A lot of people think that they have to have a lot of money to start investing, but that is simply not true. If you put $25 a week or every two weeks into an account, that’s enough to get started. The first step is to set up an account and start contributing to it regularly and if you do have extra money (like if you worked an extra shift), you can contribute a little more but it is all about doing it consistently and developing the habit. Having good financial habits will set you up greatly for later in life. When you graduate and start your career, you can begin to allocate a portion of your salary to invest. You will also be pleasantly surprised how valuable the little contributions end up becoming after a longer period of time. 

What is the difference between low, medium and high-risk investments? What are some examples of each and how do you know you have an appropriate amount of your portfolio in that category? 

Everyone's risk tolerance will be different so the answer to this question will really depend on each person's preferences. The higher-risk investments will come with a higher risk of losing money. but will also come with higher rewards and the same will go for medium and low-risk investments. Low-risk investments are like savings accounts and Guaranteed Income Certificates (GIC). These investments really don’t return all that much. Medium risk investments are a mix of stocks and bonds, ETFs, and RobAdvisors. High-risk investments are like alt-coins, stock options, and things like that. 

If you are in your twenties, I would encourage you to challenge your risk levels because when you are young, you will have the opportunity to make that money back and it probably wasn’t that much to begin with, relatively speaking. Your tolerance for risk can be the highest when you are young and don’t necessarily have others depending on you or don’t have a mortgage. Of course, you shouldn’t burn money you don’t have or invest your rent cheque. Also, be wary of scams (don’t send money to someone in your DMS promising you great returns). Feel comfortable taking on more risk without gambling what you can’t afford to lose. 

The purpose of investing is growing your wealth, building assets and increasing your money. It’s not another income stream. It’s a place where you can build assets. Ask yourself: where can you grow your money faster than inflation? That is what you are looking for.

How can I fit investing in my budget?

Ideally, you should work toward investing 10% of your income but if that is too high, start with 1%, then you can find little ways to top that up. When I was in university, I had a part-time job but then tutored on the side and with that extra money I could contribute more. It’s about finding creative ways of adding more, and that way you don’t have to take that out of other portions of your budget. You can still have money to go out. If you want extra investing money, sell those old textbooks you aren’t using anymore or pick up an extra shift. A little tip for budget planning as students: it would be useful to do financial planning at the start of each semester, that way, you know what’s ahead and can plan accordingly.

What are some resources students should check out when starting their investment journey?

What is waiting for you after you graduate is a course I created on how to build a six-figure stock portfolio (you can start sooner, but I get if that is a lot of coursework at once). I am active on social media for more tips. If you want to learn about how it all works, check out the Government of Canada website and the large financial institutions. My website, Money After Graduation, is all really helpful as well for giving overview summaries. 

Any final pieces of advice?

One of the hardest things is feeling really impatient while investing. You have to trust the time and process. Don’t get caught up in feeling behind. Remember where you are in the journey (the beginning) and don’t feel too stressed about it not taking off right away. 

Which stories from MoneyAfter Graduation do you recommend students start with?

For more investing tips from Bridget, find her on various platforms:

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

About Nathaniel

Nathaniel is a fifth year BA student double majoring in Economics and Political Science as well as double minoring in Philosophy and International Studies and has completed the Arts Work Experience Program. He is passionate about Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and serves as the student representative on the Arts CEDI committee. Nathaniel enjoys spending time with family and friends, reading, binge watching Netflix and playing basketball in his spare time.