Unless you're wealthy or work on Wall Street, you probably only have a couple stocks to your name. That's perfectly okay, but unfortunately, the best way to track stocks is with expensive specialty software created for serial investors and business professionals. And you can't always listen to your broker either. Most of the time, they just want you to buy more stock so they can earn more commission. So how can the average person stay on top of their investments? Here are a few steps to learning more about your stocks.


1. Find your stock's ticker symbol

This might seem obvious, but you definitely need to know your stock's ticker symbol. This is a collection of up to five letters that is used as a shorthand on the stock exchange. It's a fast way to differentiate one stock from the others and it is the easiest way to research the company you've invested in. You can find your stock's symbol with a quick Google search. Some companies have symbols that make sense. For example, Apple goes by APPL. But others aren't quite as clear. Southwest Airlines goes by LUV on the stock exchange. So be careful because your stock's symbol might not be as logical as you would expect.

2. Search for the stock's information on financial databases

With your stock's ticker symbol in hand, you'll be able to quickly look up stock prices and another information about the company. Several news sites offer stock databases that are updated with real time information. The oldest and most efficient is Yahoo Finance, but Google Finance has similar features. When you visit these sites, just type your stock's symbol into the search and the information you need will pop up quickly. This is probably the fastest and easiest way to check the real-time price of your stock and monitor daily ups and downs.

3. Let an online portfolio do the heavy lifting

Checking your stock manually is probably more feasible if you're only invested in one company. But if you have two or more stocks you want to keep an eye on, you should set up an online portfolio. Google offers a free portfolio service where you can input your stocks and keep an eye on their fluctuations. Other websites like Mint and Wikinvest offer similar services. A drawback for these free services is that real-time stock quotes are delayed by about 15 minutes. But for the average small time stock owner, this delay isn't a big deal. If you really want up-to-the-second updates, you'll have to shell out some cash for a higher end stock tracking service.

4. Remember to keep stock fluctuations in context

The stock market can fluctuate greatly in a single day or a single week, but that doesn't mean the trend will continue. Stocks are very reactionary and can plummet one day and soar the next. Be careful not to make a snap decision based on one day's price fluctuations. Don't extrapolate too much based on an isolated incident. Some news stories carry much more weight for the company's future than others.

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