What is micro investing?

As the name implies, micro investing is investing in super small increments by buying fractions of shares. And it’s been gaining in popularity in recent years with micro-investing apps (like Acorns) allowing people to start investing with as little as $5.

How is it different from regular investing?

The good news is it’s not so different, actually. Micro investing affords you the benefit of maximizing your money’s growth potential and giving your savings a shot at beating inflation. It just makes that opportunity more accessible.

That’s because traditional investing platforms typically come with relatively high minimum investment requirements, hefty fees or both—potential barriers for anyone just starting to invest. For example, many actively managed mutual funds require at least $1,000 for an initial investment. And while you may be able to buy into certain stocks with just $5, most brokerage firms generally charge trading fees of $5 to $7 per transaction, making such small investments hardly worthwhile. Plus, a single stock purchase does not make for a well-diversified portfolio.

Micro investing through Acorns, on the other hand, lets you invest your spare change for just $3 a month. The way it works is you set your account up and connect it to a funding source (like your checking account), then link it with the debit or credit cards you use for everyday purchases. If you use the Acorns Round-Up feature, each time you spend with a linked card, the charge gets rounded up to the next dollar amount. Once that change adds up to a minimum of $5, the money is pulled from your funding source and invested via your Acorns account into a mix of exchange-traded funds, a customized portfolio designed to match your personal financial situation and goals. You can also set up Recurring Investments for as little as $5 a day, week or month.

Why not just wait and invest bigger sums?

You could do that. But every second you wait to invest means one less second your money has to grow in the market. And time in the market is the key to successful investing. One reason for that is compounding, i.e. your money’s ability to grow earnings on top of earnings on top of earnings and so on.

For example, let’s say you save $10 a week in your piggy bank, where it earns zero interest. After a couple years, you finally feel like you have “enough” to start investing. So you take your $1,040 and invest it, and you continue to add $10 a week for the next 30 years. That investment grows to $58,769 over that period, assuming a 7 percent annual rate of return. Not bad.

If you dove straight into investing using smaller sums, however, starting with $10 and adding another $10 every week, for all 32 years, you could reach $59,423 given the same rate of return. That’s an extra $654 for no additional time or money from you, simply from micro investing regularly.

But either way, that’s not a lot of money.

True, even with compounding and decades of saving, only investing your spare change is not going to fund your major long-term goals like retiring. Still, it can add up to a decent amount. For example, investing just $10 a week for 10 years can grow to $7,072 at a 6 percent rate of return. That can be enough for smaller, short-term goals, such as a nice vacation or a down payment for a car. Or it can simply mean having a little more money than you would have had otherwise for a minimal amount of extra effort. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

And anyway, the true power of micro investing is to nudge you into first investing in markets or help people who lack a large lump sum to reach their financial goals via investing. With an entry point as low as $5, you can overcome the notion that you can’t afford to invest and get started as soon as possible. And once you’re in, having a firsthand experience micro investing can help illustrate how simple investing can be and make you feel encouraged to do it more and more. Before you know it, you’ll have worked your way up to saving and investing the expert-recommended amount of 20 percent or more of your income.

What are some other advantages to micro investing?

Making regular investments—also known as dollar-cost averaging (though the term is not limited to the tiny amounts of micro investing)—can help lower the average amount you spend per share. That’s because you’re investing the same amount of money regardless of what share prices are at the moment, which means you scoop up more shares when prices dip and fewer shares when they spike.

A routine investing strategy can also help you overcome any anxiety you might get due to market volatility. While, historically, stocks have headed up significantly over the long term, it’s totally normal for them to turn downward along the way. Keeping your investments small and steady can ease the shock of those natural falls and help minimize the risk that you’ll cut and run out of fear, locking in any losses. If you set up automatic contributions, you might even skip watching the daily market churns altogether and opt to simply check in a few times a year.

Investing involves risk including loss of principal. Past performance does not guarantee or indicate future results. The forgoing is provided for informational purposes only and is not a recommendation to buy or sell any particular security or engage in any particular strategy.