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Published: Jun 28, 2022 8 min read
Illustration of a stock market graph and a bear silhouette with stock numbers on it, while two young investors look at it.
Money; Getty Images

If you've been putting off your first foray into the stock market, listen up: Now may be the opportune time to take the plunge.

This month, the S&P 500 — a benchmark index commonly use to measure how the stock market overall is doing — fell into a bear market, meaning that its value dropped at least 20% from its previous high. Stocks have had a small comeback and are down around 17% for the year as of Tuesday morning. The overall downturn is still a stark difference from what investors got used to during the pandemic, when prices were buoyed by stimulus money from the government and near-zero interest rates.

Now for the good news.

"It's a great opportunity when the market is down to be able to get in and start the process," says Heather Winston, director of financial planning and advice at Principal Financial Group.

That means if you're brand new to investing, now is the time to start building wealth via the financial markets. Plus, when you're investing in stocks, it quite literally pays to start sooner rather than later because equities appreciate in value over the long term. So don't wait, Winston says. The longer you do, the more you'll have to save to make your financial goals a reality.

Here are four ways brand new investors can benefit from the bear market.

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Take advantage of the low stock prices

While financial advisors recommend not trying to time the market, it does make sense to buy when prices are low — and prices right now are certainly low.

"Bear markets are the time to be a buyer, not a seller, of stocks," Christopher Ballard, managing director of Check Capital Management, told Money via email. For experienced investors, that means staying invested through periods of market volatility. But for new investors, that means enjoying some low prices and setting yourself up for a lifetime of good investing practices.

Think of bear market stock prices like you would a sale at your favorite store, Ballard says. You’re getting them 20%, 30% or 50% off — but you still have to be a smart shopper and make sure that what you're buying makes sense for your investing goals.

"Investments matter, but how you're invested matters more," Winston says. If you invest both in and across asset classes, you have a better chance of weathering challenging market environments, she adds.

Experts tend to recommend everyday investors stick to funds, which are buckets of financial assets like stocks, rather than trying to pick an individual company whose shares you think will jump and putting all your eggs in that basket.

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Start dollar-cost averaging

So, how exactly can you start taking advantage of those low prices if you've never invested before?

This is a great time to start dollar-cost averaging in, says Liz Young, head of investment strategy at the digital personal finance company SoFi. This investing technique involves investing a set amount of money at regular intervals.

Because Young thinks this volatility is going to last for a while longer, she recommends drawing out your dollar-cost averaging plan over time. For example, say you have $10,000 saved up that you want to put into the market. Young says a new investor could choose to invest $1,000 every other week on a particular day of the week until it's all invested. Spacing out your purchases over time prevents you from falling into the trap of trying to guess which day prices will fall, since timing the market typically doesn't work out.

"I wouldn't want somebody to put it all in this week and next week and then have volatility continue until the end of July," Young says. "You want to do it over a longer period of time where you'll see different prices each time and the market will move as it may, but you're not doing it in one concentrated swoop."

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Put a long-term investing plan in place

Looking at recent stock performance may make now seem like a scary time to start investing, but establishing a long-term plan now is a good way to ensure that you can ride out volatility in the future. That's super-important because volatility is normal: While the S&P 500 has seen average intra-year drops of 14%, the index has still generated positive returns in 32 of the past 42 years, according to J.P. Morgan Asset Management's 2022 "Guide to the Markets" report.

To create their plan, new investors should start by taking stock of their current situation, according to Sam Palmer, head of digital wealth planning and advice at J.P. Morgan Wealth Management.

"They should ask themselves, 'What is my investing timeline? How comfortable am I with taking risks with my money? What does the rest of my financial picture look like?'," Palmer said via email.

While new investors may be tempted to buy individual stocks, doing so can concentrate your risk. On the other hand, a diversified portfolio — a mix of stocks, bonds and cash weighted to align with your goals, time horizon and risk tolerance — can help even out returns during periods of volatility.

In short, investors who have a long-term investment horizon, an emergency savings account covering three to six months of living expense and a good handle on any debt should not panic or make sudden moves when markets fall, Palmer says.

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Develop good investing habits

While it may feel a bit counterintuitive to buy stocks during a bear market, sticking to your long-term plan during times of uncertainty is a vital skill for new investors to master. Recognize we can't predict when prices are going to turn around. So get used to the whiplash you might experience as an investor and learn to not act rashly.

People tend to react very emotionally when they see their investments drop in value, Winston says. The more you can take emotion out of the equation and focus on the solutions that will work for you and your goals — whether it's dollar-cost averaging, using a robo-advisor or investing in funds as opposed to individual stocks — the better off you'll be.

"It will require the ability to see a number that you don't like and continue to keep to that same strategy regardless," Winston says. If you learn to do that in today's market, you'll be setting yourself up for success as an investor.

"It's all about progress towards your goals being more important than short-term performance," she says.

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