Investing apps are super trendy right now. And I have to be honest: I love how they’re making investing more easily available and helping people get started on their wealth-building journeys. Unlike many traditional brokerage accounts, you don’t have to have a lot of money to use these apps—but there are a few trends popping up that are kind of suspicious.
One of those trends is micro-investing. Here’s how it works: Apps like Acorns or Stash let you connect your debit card to an investment account. As you spend money, your account rounds up your purchases to the nearest dollar, then puts the difference into single stocks or ETFs (exchange-traded funds). It’s the digital equivalent of emptying your pockets of spare change at the end of the day and investing those dimes, quarters and nickels.
In addition to the round-up method, you can also set up automatic transfers of $5 or $10 every day or every week.
What’s the problem with micro-investing?
Even though micro-investing isn’t the worst thing you could do with your money, I see it as a dangerous mindset for long-term investing success for three reasons:
First, micro-investing is a set-it-and-forget-it approach. It doesn’t require strategic saving or long-term planning. At the end of the day, you’re likely relying on a computer to make the right investing decisions for you, and that’s not a good plan.
Secondly, it’s accessible. Like I said, I love seeing people get into the investing game. It’s possible for anyone to build wealth, regardless of salary. But just because you can invest doesn’t mean you’re an expert, or that you’re going to make the best choices. At some point in your journey, you need to connect with an investment professional. Your financial future is too important to go it alone.
Here’s the third (and biggest) issue: Micro-investing produces micro results. If pennies, nickels and dimes are your only plan, that’s not going to give you much to live on in retirement.
Think bigger than micro
So, what do I recommend for an investment strategy that actually produces results? A couple of years ago, my team at Ramsey Solutions conducted the largest research study ever done on millionaires. We wanted to study their habits so we could share the inside scoop with the rest of the world.
Here’s the main takeaway from studying over 10,000 millionaires: Investing for the long haul takes intentionality and work. You’ve got to start with a firm foundation of being debt-free, with a solid emergency fund that can cover three to six months of living expenses. Then, you’ve got to get serious about investing by putting 15% of your household income into tax-advantaged retirement accounts.
If you feel like you can’t do 15%, you need to start adjusting your lifestyle and living on a budget. Instead of investing the spare change from your last coffee run, stop buying coffee and make it at home so you can get serious about building wealth.
And here’s the truth: If you don’t build wealth today, you won’t have anything to live on later. There’s a retirement crisis coming for our country. Only one in 10 Americans are saving 15% of their income for retirement, and 42% of Americans aren’t saving at all! I don’t want you to be in that boat. I want you to be able to live it up in retirement, and you need more than a micro-nest egg to do that.
The number one tool millionaires use to build wealth
Over and over again in our study, millionaires told us that their company-sponsored retirement plan was their top wealth-building vehicle for retirement. Eight out of 10 invested in their 401(k) or 403(b). If you get a company match on your 401(k), you should definitely take it. That’s free money!
If you don’t have access to a 401(k), don’t stress. We found that three out of four millionaires invested in a retirement account outside of work. The best option is the Roth IRA. It gives you tons of mutual fund options, and you get to enjoy tax-free growth and withdrawals once you reach retirement age. Yep, you read that right—tax-free!
I know investing is complicated, which is another reason why micro-investing is appealing—it’s easy. But I don’t want you to settle for easy. I hope you buckle down, connect with a professional, and come up with a killer investment strategy (if you don’t have one already). Setting aside some serious cash now will allow you to live the retirement you want later.
Anthony ONeal is a national best-selling author, financial expert and host of the popular online series “The Table” on his YouTube channel. He has appeared on Good Morning America, The Tamron Hall Show, The Tom Joyner Show and Rachael Ray, among others. Since 2015, Anthony has served at Ramsey Solutions, where he teaches young adults how to budget, live without debt, avoid student loans, and build real wealth for the future.