Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio for Beginners

By Inyoung Hwang · February 22, 2023 · 10 minute read

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Guide to Building an Investment Portfolio for Beginners

Investing can seem intimidating, especially for beginners who are just starting out. But building an investment portfolio is one of the best ways to grow your wealth over time.

Before you start pondering what you want to invest in and build an investment portfolio, think this through: Why am I investing? In the end, most of what matters is achieving your financial goals. And what are you saving for? By answering these questions, you can match your goals with your investment strategy — which is important if you want to give yourself a shot at your desired financial outcome.

The Basics: What Is an Investment Portfolio?

An investment portfolio is a collection of investments, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, exchange-traded funds (ETFs), real estate, and other assets. An investment portfolio aims to achieve specific investment goals, such as generating income, building wealth, or preserving capital, while managing market risk and volatility.

A well-diversified investment portfolio can help investors achieve their financial objectives over the long term.

Recommended: Investing for Beginners: Considerations and Ways to Get Started

Why Building a Balanced Portfolio Matters

Building a balanced investment portfolio matters for several reasons. As noted above, a balanced, diversified portfolio can help manage the risk and volatility of the financial markets. Many people avoid building an investment portfolio because they fear the swings of the market and the potential to lose money. But by diversifying investments across different asset classes and sectors, the impact of any one investment on the overall portfolio is reduced. This beginner investment strategy can help protect the portfolio from significant losses due to the poor performance of any one investment.

Additionally, a balanced portfolio can help investors achieve their long-term investment objectives. By including a mix of different types of investments, investors can benefit from the potential returns of different asset classes while minimizing risk. For example, building a portfolio made up of relatively risky, high-growth stocks and stable government bonds may allow you to benefit from long-term price growth from the stocks while also generating stable returns from the bonds.

What Is Your Risk Tolerance?

When it comes to braving risk, everyone is different. And in life, there are no guarantees. So where does that leave you? Take your risk temperature and see which type of investing you can live (and grow) with. Below are two general strategies many investors follow depending on their risk tolerance.

Aggressive Investing

An aggressive investment strategy is for investors who want to take risks to grow their money as much as possible. High risk sometimes means big losses (but not always). The idea here is to “go for it.” Find investments that feel like they have a lot of potential to generate significant gains.

Your stock picks can ride the rollercoaster, and if you opt for an aggressive investing strategy when you’re young and just starting out, you can watch them take the ride without you doing much hand-wringing.

If it doesn’t work out, you can own the loss and move on. Downturns happen. So do bull markets. And when you’re young, you can likely afford to take risks.

Conservative Investing

Conservative investing is for investors who are leery of losing a lot of their money. It may be better suited for older investors because the closer you get to your ultimate goal, the less room you will have for big drawdowns in your portfolio should the market sell off.

You can prioritize lower-risk investments as you inch closer to retirement. Research investments with more stable and conservative returns. Lower-risk investments can include fixed-income (bonds) and money-market accounts.

These investments may not have the same return-generating potential as high-risk stocks, but often the most important goal is to not lose money.

Choosing a Goal for Your Portfolio

Long- and short-term goals depend on where you are in life. Your relationship with money and investing may change as you get older and your circumstances evolve. As this happens, it’s best to understand your goals and figure out how to meet them ahead of time.

If you’re still a beginner investing in your 20s, you’re in luck. Time is on your side, and when building an investment portfolio, you have that time to make mistakes (and correct them).

You can also potentially afford to take more risks because you’ll have more time to work on reversing losses or at least shrugging them off and moving on.

If you’re older and closer to retirement age, you can reconfigure your investments so that your risks are lower and your investments become more conservative, predictable, and less prone to significant drops in value.

As you go through life, consider creating short and long-term goal timelines. If you keep them flexible, you can always change them as needed. But of course, you’d want to check on them regularly and the big financial picture they’re helping you create.

Short Term: Starting an Emergency Fund

Before you do any serious investing, making sure you have enough money stashed away for emergencies is a good idea. Loss of income, unplanned moves, health situations, auto repairs, and all of those other surprises can tap you on the shoulder at the worst possible time — and that’s when your emergency fund comes in.

It may make sense to keep your emergency money in liquid assets for short-term expenses. Liquidity helps ensure you can get your money if and when you need it. Try to take only a few risks with emergency money because you may not have time to recover if the market experiences a severe downturn.

Long Term: Starting a Retirement Fund

Think about what age you would want to retire and how much money you would need to live on yearly. You can use a retirement calculator to get a better idea.

One of the most frequently recommended strategies for long-term retirement savings is opening a 401(k), an IRA, or both. The benefit of this type of investment account is that they have tax advantages.

Another benefit of 401(k)s and IRAs is that they help you build an investment portfolio over decades: the long term.

Prioritizing Diversification

As mentioned above, portfolio diversification means keeping your money in more than one place: think stocks, bonds, and real estate. And once you diversify into those asset classes, you’ll need to drill down and diversify again within each sector.

Understanding Systematic Risk

Big things happen, like economic uncertainty, geopolitical conflicts, and pandemics. These incidents will affect almost all businesses, industries, and economies. There are not many places to hide during these events, so they’ll likely affect your investments too.

One smart way to fight this: diversify. Spread out. High-quality bonds, like U.S. Treasuries, tend to do well in these environments and have offset some of the negative performances that stocks usually suffer during these times.

It might also be helpful to calculate your portfolio’s beta, the systemic risk that can’t be diversified away. This can be done by measuring your portfolio’s sensitivity to broader market swings.

Understanding Idiosyncratic Risk

Smaller things happen. For instance, a scandal could rock a business, or a tech disruption could make a particular business suddenly obsolete. This risk is more micro than macro; it may occur in a specific company or industry.

As a result, a stock’s value could fall, along with the strength of your investment portfolio. The best way to fight this: diversify. Spread out. If you only invest in three companies and one goes under, that’s a big risk. If you invest in 20 companies and one goes under, not so much.

Owning many different assets that act differently in various environments can help smooth your investment journey, reduce your risk, and hopefully allow you to stick with your strategy and reach your goals.

4 Steps Towards Building an Investment Portfolio

Here are four steps toward building an investment portfolio:

1. Set Your Goals

The first step to building an investment portfolio is determining your investment goals. Are you investing to build wealth for retirement, to save for a down payment on a home, or another reason? Your investment goals will determine your investment strategy.

2. What Sort of Account Do You Want?

Investors can choose several kinds of investment accounts to build wealth. The type of investment accounts that investors should open depends on their investment goals and the investments they plan to make. Here are some common investment accounts that investors may consider:

•   Individual brokerage account: This is a standard brokerage account that allows investors to buy and sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, and other securities. This account is ideal for investors who want to manage their own investments and have the flexibility to buy and sell securities as they wish.

•   Retirement accounts: These different retirement plans, such as 401(k)s, IRAs, and Roth IRAs, offer tax advantages and are specifically designed for retirement savings. They have contribution limits and may restrict when and how withdrawals can be made.

•   Automated investing accounts: These accounts, also known as robo advisors, use algorithms to manage investments based on an investor’s goals and risk tolerance.

Recommended: What Is Automated Investing?

3. Choosing Investments Based on Risk Tolerance

Once you have set your investment goals, the next step is to determine your investments based on your risk tolerance. As discussed above, risk tolerance refers to the amount of risk you are willing to take with your investments. If you are comfortable with higher levels of risk, you may be able to invest in more aggressive assets, such as stocks or commodities. If you are risk-averse, you may prefer more conservative investments, such as bonds or certificates of deposit (CDs).

Recommended: How to Invest in Stocks: A Beginner’s Guide

4. Allocating Your Assets

The next step in building an investment portfolio is to choose your asset allocation. This involves deciding what percentage of your portfolio you want to allocate to different investments, such as stocks, bonds, and real estate.

Once you have built your investment portfolio, it is important to monitor it regularly and make necessary adjustments. This may include rebalancing your portfolio to ensure it remains diversified and aligned with your investment goals and risk tolerance.

Paying Off Debt First

Student loans and credit card debt may stand in the way of pumping money into your investment portfolio. Do what you can to pay off most or all of your debt, especially high-interest debt.

Get an aggressive repayment plan going. Also, remember it can be wise to pay yourself first (by that, we mean to keep a steady flow of cash flowing into your short and long-term investments before you pay anything else).

Investing in the Stock Market

Building an investment portfolio is a process that depends on where a person is in their life as well as their financial goals. Every individual should consider long-term and short-term investments and the importance of portfolio diversification when building an investment portfolio and investing in the stock market.

These are big decisions to make. And sometimes you may need help. That’s where SoFi comes in. With a SoFi Invest® online brokerage account, you can trade stocks, ETFs, fractional shares, and more with no commissions for as little as $5. And you can get access to educational resources to help learn more about the investing process.

Take a step toward reaching your financial goals with SoFi Invest.


How much money do you need to start building an investment portfolio?

The amount of money needed to start building an investment portfolio can vary depending on the type of investments chosen, but it is possible to start with a small amount, such as a few hundred or thousand dollars. Some online brokers and investment platforms have no minimum requirement, making it possible for investors to start with very little money.

Can beginners create their own stock portfolios?

Beginners can create their own stock portfolios. Access to online brokers and trading platforms makes it easier for beginners to buy and sell stocks and build their own portfolios.

What should be included in investment portfolios?

Experts recommended that investment portfolios should be diversified with a mix of different types of investments, such as stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, and cash, depending on the investor’s goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon. Regular monitoring and rebalancing are important to keep the portfolio aligned with the investor’s objectives.

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