Women – including many single moms I know and work with – are often hesitant to invest on their own. That’s because no one ever teaches us how to do it, and it can be embarrassing to admit you don’t know how. Plus, the markets can feel intimidating, and there are so many choices it can be hard to figure out where to start.

The caveat: Don’t start investing until you’re free of credit card debt, and have some 100% save money set aside. It’s nearly impossible to earn investment returns as high as the credit card interest you’re paying, so your best first investment would be to zero out that debt. And to avoid building it back up again, make sure you have enough cash on hand to easily cover emergency expenses.

But once your debt is under control, you have a solid emergency fund, and you’re socking away money for retirement, it’s time to start seriously building your fortune. The only way to grow wealth is by planting the seeds…today.

Here’s what you need to do to get started – 5 simple steps.

  1. Start small: Only invest money you can afford to lose. Investing is not the same as saving – it comes with the risk of loss. So don’t invest money you’ll miss if it disappears. One very easy way to dip a toe in the water is with the Acorns app, which lets you automatically invest your spare change: every time you make a credit card purchase, the app rounds your charge up to the next dollar, and invests that difference. You’ll be surprised at how fast it grows!
  2. Start big: Don’t start out buying stocks and bonds – it takes a lot of research to make solid picks, and even those come with a very high level of risk. Instead, start with ETFs (exchange-traded funds). ETFs, like mutual funds, hold a lot of different securities, which reduces your risk of loss. Unlike mutual funds, ETFs trade like stocks, and offer a host of other advantages. Click here to learn more about investing in ETFs, and click here to learn how to buy ETF shares.
  3. Spread it out: To reduce risk and increase profit potential, the smart money is in diversification, which just means you invest in a lot of different things. Individual ETFs offer a level of instant diversification – like investing in 100 retail stocks as opposed to buying stock in Target. Buying different kinds of ETFs – for example, one that holds retail stocks, one that holds big company stocks, and one that holds bonds – adds another level of diversification to your portfolio.
  4. Follow the index: Big indexes (like the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones Industrial Average) track special portions of the stock market – sometimes the whole stock market. Index investing means the ETF invests in the exact same holdings as the index it’s tracking. Because the ETF simply follows the index, rather than having a professional advisor pick stocks, you won’t be paying hefty management fees – and it’ll keep your tax bill lower, too. Click here to learn more about the advantages of index investing.
  5. Track your success occasionally: Periodically, but not too often, check in to see how your funds are performing. Don’t let dips get you down! As long as you’re invested in reputable index funds, view these temporary decreases as opportunities to increase your investment. Scooping up good investments when the market is down means you’re getting a bargain – and over time you’ll see the value rebound. You’re in this for the long haul, and time is on your side.

After you’ve gained more confidence in your investing skills and developed your own investing style, you can take your portfolio and run with it. Before you know it, you’ll have a sizable nest egg, and the financial freedom and security that brings.