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6 ways to break the fear cycle and get started in investing

Laurence Dutton | E+ | Getty Images

Getting started is the hardest part.

This may be especially true for investing.

The stakes are high. There's a lot to know. It seems like other people are smarter, richer, more capable than you.

Historically, investing was mostly for wealthy families.

"The good news is that there has been a seismic shift in the financial services landscape," said Brent Weiss, a certified financial planner and co-founder of Facet Wealth in Baltimore. "Firms have been working to make investing not only more affordable but more accessible."

If you don't know the first thing about investing, it can feel as if it's impossible to make any move at all.

But that first step is critical. It has to start somewhere, after all.

Weiss' recommendation is simple. Start small.

"Take the first step in the right direction," Weiss said. "If you have a goal of saving $1 million by the time you retire, you have to start with the first dollar."

1. Set a goal

First, be clear on what you want.

If understanding the stock market is your goal, start reading. Pair up with a friend with similar interests and read an article a day.

If you'd like to save for a specific event, such as retirement or college tuition, write down exactly what you want, how long you have to get there and how much it should cost.

Sometimes, just the act of writing down your plans helps create accountability and solidifies your commitment to a project.

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2. Brush up your skills

Marcello DePascale, an accredited investment fiduciary at the Barnum Financial Group in Shelton, Connecticut, thinks lack of exposure rather than fear of the unknown prevents people from learning about investing. "Financial education should start in our school systems, but it doesn't," he said.

You may find that learning some of the basic terms — stocks, bonds, risk and return — makes you feel you are on firmer footing.

"Find an educational resource to tackle the unknown," said Lauren Anastasio, a CFP at SoFi, a New York-based personal finance company. "Whether it's a podcast, a blog or a one-on-one conversation with a planner, obtaining knowledge is powerful."

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3. Analyze this

Another good early step is understanding the habits that are sabotaging your plan. Then, find ways to break them.

For instance, if it feels like you never have enough money left to save, flip the order of spending and saving. Pay yourself first — by stocking your savings account with a specific amount — and then work out how to spend what's left over.

Tracking your expenses isn't for everyone. Some people hate the idea of writing down every single purchase. Luckily there are no real hard and fast rules for personal money management. Try a little creativity and award yourself gold stars or fill in a pictorial chart to mark your progress.

4. Choose a strategy

To reach your goal, use the method that you find most appealing.

You might look at your spending habits and make some small changes, such as bringing lunch to work one or two days a week.

Start saving $100 a month or 1% of your pay, Weiss recommends. And remember that every little bit counts. "You will begin to create good habits and feel good about your progress, which will build on itself over time," Weiss said.

5. No need to panic

Stock market volatility — a fancy way of saying the stock market is experiencing extreme ups and downs — also plays a part in some people's reluctance to invest.

It's always difficult to get through, DePascale says, "but the news can exacerbate those fears."

The best way to calm your nerves is to create a plan with the right timelines for your goals. With decades to get to your retirement, for example, your portfolio should withstand some of these market shakes.

6. Set it and forget it

It's not just our money, it's our money minds, Weiss says. For instance, out of sight is out of mind.

When it comes to your money, that can be a very good thing. "Having an automated savings plan every month that puts money into an investment account [is ideal]," Weiss said. "We have to develop healthier habits and create routines that keep us from the emotional mistakes that most consumers make when it comes to investing."

CHECK OUT: 3 mental shifts that can help you save money for a home via Grow with Acorns+CNBC.

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.