Check the price divided by earnings or PE on any stock you buy. The lower the better. If you buy a dividend stock, check to see how long they've been posting dividends. The longer the better. Check out your local energy company - they often have a good dividend and if it's local you can keep a better eye on the stock.
We manage our own Roth IRA's through Vanguard.com. We don't own any single stocks, just mutual funds. Mutual funds are managed by somebody who really knows what they're doing, and they contain lots of different stocks from companies of different sizes, locations, and industries so you get a lot of diversification. It's important not to put all your eggs in one basket--that's how people lost their entire retirement savings with Enron--they had only Enron stock. Had they diversified by owning different stocks or mutual funds, they'd only have lost the small portion that was Enron stock.
It's also important to understand that when investing in stocks and mutual funds, you need to think long-term. 100% of the 10 year periods over the last century have yielded a positive return. Some people want to sell stocks every time they go down in price because they think they are losing money, but if they'd just wait, most of the stocks will go back up. Picture a kid on the "up" escalator playing with a yo-yo.
I'm not sure what minimum balance is required to start an IRA with vanguard.com but we were able to do it so it can't be that much. You can probably check at vanguard.com If it is more than you have right now you could always start saving towards that goal. Then whatever amount you are saving per month, you can start putting into the IRA instead of the bank savings account and you'll hardly miss it! Pretty soon you will have a good amount put away for your retirement.
You might look for an investment club to join. You learn a lot and buy stock as a group. Another idea is to buy DRPs (Dividend Reinvestment Programs). You can generally buy them directly from the company and your dividends are applied to purchasing more stock. You don't have to pay stock broker fees for this.
Add your voice to the conversation. Click here to answer this question.