I started investing in the stock market when I was in University purely for a hobby. A friend of ours parents owned a small investment firm so we started a little investment group in school.I'm now 31 and am managing my own trading account as well as mine and my wife's retirement accounts. This is something I personally enjoy doing but it takes time and a lot of work. I'm responding because I asked myself years ago - how do I get ahead of the game? I had the luck of having some guidance in equities but you need to answer this question for yourself.First off, anything related to the domestic or global economy is extremely risky. You have probably seen the headlines about the massive stock market rally and are wondering if this is the time to get in - Don't do it without gaining knowledge first. The markets remain an extremely volatile and dangerous place for inexperienced investors right now. If you are a beginner investor, I would advise waiting until the economy proves we have truly turned a corner as most reliable sources indicate the economy is still extremely weak. I would wait for a 10-15% downside correction first of all, but most importantly I would look for corporate earnings to deliver according to expectations for the next several quarters. Panic and emotion buying is the death of amateur investors so don't jump in because you feel you're missing out. These so called "missed opportunities" are nothing but opportunity costs and the market has a long way back up from its lows over time. The last thing you want to do is buy in just to see the market turn the corner to the downside. I have to say I like real estate in certain markets - but the properties in the hard hit areas (pardon me if my research is off as I am from Vancouver) are selling for such ridiculous prices (and I have this knowledge first hand from people who have purchased at auctions) that it would be hard not make money when you can buy a solid house in Vegas for the same price as an SUV. At 21 though, try and get a house for yourself now if you can (not sure your location) because mortgage rates are as low as you will probably see for many years.My personal preference is not to use leverage to invest. That being said, leverage is not an evil thing - it simply boils down to risk/reward tolerance. One word of advice - if you decide to start investing, be wary of buying on margin and DO NOT GET SUCKED INTO FOREX TRADING AT 400:1 LEVERAGE. I know many people who have jumped on this offer from brokers offering opportunity for huge gains. Also do not buy into electronic trading programs that automatically make money for you. If these worked, no one would need a job - we'd just download an EA and rake in the dough.Kinda lengthy but I try to make a point of helping young people get comfortable with investing. I'm not a professional and don't claim to be but I do follow capital markets pretty closely and do OK for myself. If you ever have any questions, feel free to drop me an e-mail and I'll answer as best I can.