One of the questions I get asked on a regular basis is “can you make a living trading stocks?” It’s no surprise because the idea that you could quit your job and support yourself just by trading stocks is fascinating to most people.
It seems like a fantasy, something that would be impossible to do. So you can imagine their shock when I tell them that it is possible to make a living trading stocks -- but is it probable – that is the real question.
Every year, novice investors, buoyed by their paper trading success, take the leap of faith and decide that they are going to earn their living from the stock market. Some make it, but the vast majority just blow their accounts up.
I know people who make a good living trading stocks and who have done it successfully for years. I’ve seen people literally sit on a tropical beach, or in a mansion high up in the Hollywood Hills, armed with only a laptop and an internet connection, who can carve out a living from the market. And that of course it the allure of trading for a living, freedom.
Freedom to be your own boss, work where, and when, you want, and to be financially secure. But the reality is that trading for a living is a tough job, one that requires a very specific skill set and risk tolerance that most people just don’t possess.
Being able to trade for a living successfully means reaching a level of excellence that most people will never achieve no matter what career they choose. It’s the difference between being a movie extra and an Oscar winning actor. Between playing in a pick-up football game in the park and being the Superbowl MVP. Between a weekend musician and a rock star.
What I am saying is that it is more of a dream for most people than a reality, and though I would never discourage someone from pursuing their dream, it’s important, if you want to pursue trading for a living, to go into it with your eyes wide open.
To begin with, you need to have a sound trading methodology, one that takes advantage of volatility, yet always keeps risk management as its core principle. Ideally this methodology should have been tested over time, in all difference market environments, and with real money.
Next, you want to spend some serious time educating yourself about everything you can related to trading. It's important to emphasize this -- you want to be a trader, not an investor -- so find the best books about trading and put in the hours necessary to give yourself a strong understanding of the world you are about to enter.
Financially I always suggest having one year’s worth of income set aside before you start. This is not the bankroll that you will trade with, but money that you will use to pay your living expenses. Having this financial cushion will give you piece of mind, allowing you to begin your new career without the pressure of having to trade to “make the rent.”
Psychologically you will need to steel yourself for the income inconsistency that will surely accompany the first few months of your trading.
The goal when trading for a living is of course to have a reliable and consistent revenue stream, but that will take time to achieve, and having to bear the daily fluctuations of your income can be tough on the psyche, so be ready for it.
But ultimately the biggest hurdle you will have to overcome in order to make a living trading stocks is an emotional one.
Trading, by its nature, consists of losing more than winning. A successful trader knows that they will lose small on more than half their trades, but that the profit on their winning trades will more than make up for their losses.
This runs counterintuitive to our human nature, where we want to “win” as much as possible. If you don’t come to terms with this concept it can wreak havoc on your emotional well-being.
These are just some of the things you have to be aware of if you are going to try to make a living trading stocks. And though the odds are against your success, if you are one of the few who can master this art, it will reward you in a way that no other job or career can.