How to Dip Your Toe in the Stock Market With ETFs

Millennials have every reason to feel shy about Wall Street. So many of our generational ills, from the housing crash to low wages to corporate corruption, seem tied to stock market profit-seeking. But more and more of us are starting to take the plunge, trying to make our money work for us, and we've actually found a pretty reliable place to start.

According to CNBC reporting, millennials are flocking to exchange-traded funds, last year comprising a stunning 42 percent of buyers. If you've never heard of an ETF, don't worry — it is a bit less intuitive than a straight-up stock or bond. Basically, ETFs encompass assets, like a stock, a bond, or a pile of gold bars, and shareholders of that fund can buy or sell shares through brokers authorized to do so by the fund. They'll also track an index relating to particular industries, so it's an easy way to diversify your investment without a mutual fund manager trying to sell you on their own magic recipe of assets.

ETFs are sort of the jackalopes of Wall Street, combining features of mutual funds and individual stocks, but they do a pretty brisk business. CNBC reports that the market is worth $3.3 trillion, and it's become part of the investment strategy of 1 in 3 investors across all ages. ETF trading tends to be pretty conservative, so it might be a good place to get your feet wet if you're nervous about experimenting with the stock market.

If you work with a broker or money manager, or you would like to, ask them about exchange-traded funds. Investopedia has a good 90-second video introduction to ETFs, along with more detailed written explanations. If you're not ready to start slinging shares of Apple or Morgan Stanley, this might be the baby steps you need to start on your path to playing the stock market.