The easiest way to start investing, according to a financial planner

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millennial readingRichard Drury/Getty ImagesYou don't have to study up to get started investing.Richard Drury/Getty Images

"Investing is a lot like learning to cook," says certified financial planner Michael Anderson. "If you've never done it before, you aren't going to feel very comfortable about making that first risotto recipe. But as you become familiar with the tools, process, and people involved it becomes very easy and fun."

 Anderson, from Ventura, California-based Maranantha Financial, says the best place for beginning investors to dip their toes in the market is through employer-sponsored retirement plans. Accounts like 401(k)s - and IRAs, which are not employer-sponsored - are invested in the market for long-term growth.

"The first question I always ask people: Is there a retirement program available through your work?" Anderson says. As well as being a straightforward investment, an employer 401(k) plan or similar retirement savings plan often includes employer matching, which means the employer "matches" an employee's contributions as an incentive to save - essentially, it's free money added to your retirement savings from your paycheck.

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"Your employer has already done all of the heavy lifting for you to set up the account and pick the line-up of investment offerings," Anderson says. "All you have to do is say yes and opt into the program."

Even despite the sometimes-high fees, Anderson is a big fan of 401(k) plans in general. "The reason I love utilizing a 401(k) plan as a vehicle to start investing is because money will be automatically taken out from your paycheck each pay period," he says. "You don't have to think about it, it's automatic once you decide to participate, and you can adjust your contribution level at any time."

The most important part of investing for retirement - or any other goal - is getting started as soon as possible. Studies repeatedly show how far behind the typical household is when it comes to saving for retirement, and while Social Security is a major part of retirement planning for many families, that doesn't mean you can live on those benefits alone. "The best time to start saving for retirement is 15 years ago," Anderson says. "The next best time is today."

That's because of compound interest, which means the interest you earn then earns interest on itself, and so on, giving investments the ability to grow more over time than any other method of saving. If you can invest a small amount on a regular basis over a long period of time, you should see your balance climb faster and faster.

You may not be able to reshape your money with a snap of the finger, but sticking to a long-term plan works well for most clients in Anderson's experience. "The focus will be on progress," he says. "If the client buys into the idea, amazing and surprising things start to happen."

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