Investing is a difficult, fun, and rewarding thing, especially if you decide to pick individual stocks rather than invest in index funds.
Following market news, making bets on companies that you think will do well, and being proven right can be very rewarding.
Perhaps you don’t want to risk your retirement money on individual stocks, but you want the experience of being a day-trader or stock picker.
Maybe you just want to learn how investing in individual securities works.
Investment simulators give you the chance to play with the market without risking your own funds.
Why You Should Use an Investment Simulator
There are a number of scenarios where using an investment simulator makes sense.
Test your stock picks without risk
One of the most common reasons to use a stock simulator is to get the experience of investing in the market without the risk.
You might feel confident that Apple’s latest iPhone will help the company’s stock skyrocket, but not confident enough that you’re willing to risk your retirement account on it.
With an investment simulator, you can invest virtual dollars and see how your investment would have performed.
You can test your skills over the long-term, or come up with goals for yourself, such as doubling your money as quickly as possible or building a portfolio with minimal volatility.
Using one or more simulations lets you test yourself and multiple investing strategies without needing to risk your money.
Learn (or teach) how the stock market works
The adage that the best way to learn is by doing holds true when it comes to investing.
You can study the theory, but sometimes you have to experience the ups and downs of the market to understand how daily headlines and seemingly random chance can influence things.
Using an investment simulator can get you that experience before you’re willing to commit your own money.
Investing simulators are also a great tool to teach children about investing.
You could buy a share of your child’s favorite company and put it in an account for them, handing your child the reins and letting them decide what to do is likely to be more effective.
Simulators don’t care if your child is old enough to open a real brokerage account and you won’t have to let your child risk your real money.
Compete with friends, family, or colleagues
If you’re up for some friendly competition, you and your friends can all sign up for a stock simulator.
Set some ground rules, such as the timeline, starting cash, and any other rules you’d like.
Then, see who is the best investor.
You can play it safe or take wild risks, trying to earn as much as you can.
Using a simulator means that there’s no risk and that everyone can compete on an equal level.
No one will have an advantage because they have more money or a great income.
The Best Investment Simulator Apps
If you’re interested in signing up for an investment simulator, these are four of the best available.
Investopedia Stock Simulator
The Investopedia Stock Simulator gives you the chance to gain hands-on experience with investing.
When you sign up, you’ll be given $100,000 in virtual cash.
You can invest that money however you wish and compete with more than 700,000 other users who've signed up for the simulator.
If you’d prefer a private competition with friends, you can also set up challenges to compete with only the people who you invite.
Wall Street Survivor
Wall Street Survivor is an educational and competition-focused investment simulator.
When you sign up for an account, you can start by taking Wall Street Survivor’s courses.
These will teach you the basics of things like reading a stock quote or determining the best stocks to invest in.
Once you feel ready to start investing with your virtual cash, you can create or join a league.
Each month, Wall Street Survivor offers a sponsored league. The three best investors in that league win a cash prize.
MarketWatch Virtual Stock Exchange
The MarketWatch Virtual Stock Exchange lets you create games where you can compete with family, friends, co-workers, and classmates.
What sets it apart from other simulators is the advanced customization that you can use to tailor the game to your desires.
For example, you can choose to allow advanced trading options, such as stop-loss or limit orders. You can also allow players in the game to purchase partial shares, making it easier to invest exact amounts in your desired companies.
You can also simulate margin trading using MarketWatch’s simulator.
Margin is high-risk but gives you the opportunity for huge gains, which can be a good way to get ahead of your competition.
HowTheMarketWorks is heavily geared towards educators but is a great way for anyone to simulate investments.
More than 10,000 college, high school, and middle school classes used the website last year.
In addition to the simulation, which gives players $100,000 to start, the website offers hundreds of videos and tutorials and teach materials that educators can use in the classroom.
HowTheMarketWorks also runs its own contests where the best performers can win prizes such as gift cards or cash.
Simulation vs. Reality
While simulations are a great way to gain experience without taking on risk, there are some things that simulators cannot do.
If you’re thinking about using an investment simulator app, here are the things that you should keep in mind.
Trade execution speed
When you trade stocks, it can seem like everything happens instantly.
You submit an order, money is removed from your account, and shares are added to your account all at the same time.
With investment simulators, this is almost always true.
The fact is:
If there’s no one who wants to buy or no one who is selling, you’ll be left waiting until there’s someone ready to be the other party in your transaction.
In the vast majority of situations, you don’t need to worry about this, but it’s good to know if you ever trade low-volume stocks.
Additionally, market orders may not complete at the price that you were seeing on the ticker.
The other thing to remember is that transactions need to settle in real life. Usually, stock trades settle two days after the transaction is made.
If you trade too often, you open yourself up to various trading violations related to the settlement of transactions.
You’ll need to read up on what is and isn’t allowed by your brokerage and by regulators if you plan to trade on a daily basis.
Availability of investments
In real life, there are seemingly-endless investments and trading options for you to consider.
Stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs, foreign currencies, options, futures, cryptocurrency, and commodities are just examples of the investments that you can buy, sell, or trade.
Different investment simulators will have different investment options for you to choose from.
If you want to learn to trade options, using an investment simulator that doesn’t allow options trading won’t be of much use.
Similarly, with an investment simulator, you can always buy an investment when you want to buy it and sell it when you want to sell it.
In real life, you always need to buy from someone else who is selling and sell to someone else who is buying.
If you want to invest in small companies with shares that don’t move around often, you might have to wait to find a buyer or a seller.
Taxes and fees
Nothing in the world of finance is free.
You have to remember that capital gains taxes apply if your real investments perform well.
Most brokerages will charge fees for each trade you make, which can put a major drag on strategies that revolve around making dozens of trades each month, week, or day.
Taxes can also reduce your earnings.
Some investing strategies may produce smaller returns on paper but reduce your tax burden by a huge amount.
You want to keep as much of your money in your pocket as possible, so paying attention to taxes is essential.
Different investing attitudes
The stress of risking your own money in an investment cannot be understated and it’s something that an investment simulator cannot simulate.
It’s easy to risk $100,000 of fake money on high-risk, high-reward options.
You don’t really lose anything if it goes wrong.
When you’re risking your life’s savings, it’s natural to want to be more conservative.
Investment simulators can teach you the mechanics, but you’ll have to learn to manage the emotions of investing when you start working with real money.