Crypto

Curious About Cryptocurrency? 4 Ways to Start Investing Without Losing Your Shirt

Buying bitcoin is not the be-all and end-all.

Getty Images/Malte Mueller

This story is part of So Money (subscribe here), an online community dedicated to financial empowerment and advice, led by CNET Editor at Large and So Money podcast host Farnoosh Torabi.

If I had a dollar for every email with the words "bitcoin" or "NFT" sent to me over the last few years, I'd be richer than some of the cryptocurrency millionaires making headlines.

OK, that may be an exaggeration. But I will say that in this sector it's exceedingly difficult to separate the fanfare from the fundamentals. As "experts" online tout crypto as the "investment of a lifetime," new data shows that a majority of young millionaires hold the bulk of their wealth in it. What's next? Kim Kardashian promoting an obscure cryptocurrency? Oh, wait...

Then there's the cryptocurrency market's recent steep sell-off, which points to its ongoing volatility and uncertainty about the future.

Through my efforts to learn more, I've found that investing experts and financial and tech journalists tend to agree that crypto has become part of our lives and is not going away. At the same time, there's a ton of investor misguidance. Too many people are making financial moves off of pure adrenaline and speculation. 

"Investing should be boring," says Georgia Lee Hussey, founder of Modernist Financial in Portland, Oregon. "If you're super duper excited about your portfolio, you're doing it wrong. Full stop." 

Spencer Jakab, a longtime Wall Street reporter and author of the new book The Revolution That Wasn't, isn't convinced we have to participate at all. "There's no rhyme or reason to it ... I'm not a fan," he says.

But we can't help but be curious. Many of you have told me you want to understand how to start trying out this market in a clearheaded, substantive way. Are there ways to test the crypto waters that are measured, emotionally intelligent and rooted in a strategy? I have some ideas below.

1. Explore career opportunities in the crypto market

One way to "invest" in the cryptocurrency market is by working for a crypto company. And now, there are more choices than ever. Crypto-related job opportunities surged 395% in the US between 2020 and 2021, according to LinkedIn. That's about four times more than job listings in the broader tech industry.

After spending most of her career working for conventional financial institutions like TIAA and BlackRock, corporate communications executive Lauren Post was tapped to join Bakkt, an Atlanta-based digital asset platform. Bakkt, which went public last fall, works with noncrypto companies that want to offer their clients cryptocurrency experiences. This includes working with credit card companies that offer cardholders crypto rewards, as well as teaming up with banks to help them integrate crypto trading with their platforms. 

"I was both intrigued and slightly apprehensive because I didn't know much about crypto," said Post in an email. "But, after having spent my career at traditional financial services companies, I realized that learning about crypto couldn't be much different from learning about target date funds, fixed income, credit default swaps or any other corner of finance. I also realized that the skills I have unpacking complex topics for general audiences can be applied to any industry and are timely for the crypto space right now."

2. Consider stablecoins

Not into pegging your cryptocurrency's success to a rally sparked by an Elon Musk tweet?

A new cryptocurrency genre called stablecoins bloomed in 2021, and unlike its peers, it promises less volatility and a more direct connection to traditional forms of value. Stablecoins are like "cryptocurrency with a twist," according to CNET's Julian Dossett. He explains: "Instead of being 'mined' by an open, distributed network of computers performing a combination of math and record-keeping, a stablecoin derives its price from the value of another asset. In short, a stablecoin is pegged to some other underlying asset." Many stablecoins are fixed to the US dollar. 

Think of a stablecoin as you would chips at a poker table, says Dossett. Instead of buying bitcoin or any other cryptocurrency directly with fiat money like the US dollar, you pay cash to buy stablecoins first -- they're available on most crypto exchanges including Coinbase -- and can then trade stablecoins for other forms of cryptocurrency.  

3. Engage with blockchain

A blockchain is a digital ledger that facilitates and records bitcoin transactions, but this technology can do more than power bitcoin. More broadly, due to its decentralization and cryptography, a blockchain can create much-needed efficiency and security to a number of markets from insurance to real estate, banking and legal. 

If you're interested in learning about the crypto market, consider looking into blockchain. It can be time well spent for someone seeking to enhance their business or examining how to leverage the technology where they work.

As an investor, I'm bullish on the concept of blockchain. To that end, I've chosen to contribute a tiny portion of my retirement savings in a fund called BLOK, which comprises established companies such as Square, Paypal and Nvidia that are investing in blockchain technology. 

4. Still want to buy crypto? Top off at 5% and diversify

Invest in cryptocurrency if you'd like to, but just because this is a new asset class doesn't mean abandoning tried-and-true methods of portfolio management. For starters, don't bet the farm. Hussey and many financial planners recommend limiting our holdings of so-called alternative and relatively high-risk assets like cryptocurrency, real estate and start-ups to no more than 5% of our total portfolio. "It is an asset class in its infancy," says Hussey. "We don't really understand the market because it's not built to be understandable." 

Finally, invest in a bunch of currencies. No matter how confident you may be in a particular digital coin, remember that diversification helps to mitigate losses over time. (You don't want to be like some of the early investors during the dawn of the internet who went all in on pets.com.)

"If you're really confident about some bet, if you have some reason to believe you've got an edge, you still don't bet all your money because there's no sure thing," says Jakab. "To invest exclusively in a single category is something not even the best gamblers do."