Learn the reality of trading for a living. While many people want to trade for a living, they don’t understand the hardships they may encounter, or whether they’re even suited to the ups and downs of this journey. From someone who has been doing it for nearly 20 years, here are some of the things you need to be aware of.
I love trading for a living. It provides the flexibility and time to do other things I enjoy. I know many of you want to trade for a living, maybe because you are unsatisfied with your job, or you enjoy studying and trading the financial markets, or you want to make more money.
I want you to achieve your goal of being a trader, and I encourage you to pursue your dreams. Yet, I also want to tell you about some of the hardships or obstacles that trading for a living presents, and what it entails.
Most of us are familiar with the benefits of trading: the potential to make money, work from home, no boss, work from anywhere in the world, trade for a few hours or less a day. The list goes on. Yes, trading is great.
This article sheds light on obstacles that no one talks about. You probably won’t have heard about many of these things because new traders or those learning don’t know about them, people who just want to sell you something aren’t going to tell you about the hardships, and experienced traders are usually focused on answering questions related to strategy and risk management (which is what I am usually doing).
Few people get to the point of trading for a living, so there isn’t much discussion about it.
If you really want to trade for a living, here are some important things you should know…and plan for. This article is not meant to be a deterrent. It is meant to help those who really want this to plan for what is coming.
Here is a chart summarizing trading for a living. Details on each point are provided in the article.
|What You Need to Know About Trading For a Living
|Trading at a high level is repetitive; risk-managed trading is not the excitement many people crave/think it is
|Most people don’t succeed, let alone make a large income from trading
|Daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly income will fluctuate dramatically.
|You need to be good with your finances, saving for taxes, putting away money for retirement, and for emergencies (income fluctuates and there may be losing periods)
|Trading is not all or nothing. You can still do other things, such as have a job, a part-time job, freelance on the side, or have a business. Multiple streams of income are a good thing.
|If you need your trading profits to live and are withdrawing them, you aren’t compounding your capital.
|There are no safety nets for traders, and lots of dangers…mainly ourselves. We need protocols to protect ourselves from losing large amounts of capital.
|If we don’t have open positions, we aren’t getting paid. There is no paid time off, vacation days, or sick days with trading.
|Trading can improve quality of life if it brings in income, but it can also destroy quality of life if taking large losses.
|The path to trading success is not brief. Expect to spend a year or more of decidated study and practice to even implement and trade one strategy well.
|Trading doesn’t require a lot of time per day (once proficient and following protocols). If it is taking up too much of your day, it may reduce quality of life even if it is producing profits.
When learning, expect to put in a loads of hours before seeing fruit.
|The perks: no boss, set your own hours, you determine your income (to a certain extent), no commute, work from home, take time off when you need, self-growth
Difference Between Being a Trader and Wanting to Trade
Many people come to trading because they like the excitement of making or losing money. They like talking with others about trades and figuring out where the next big win is going to come from.
There is nothing wrong with being passionate about trading.
But there’s a difference between wanting to trade and being a trader.
Wanting to trade is no different than wanting to gamble. You’re in it for the excitement or to make a quick profit.
The goals and traits required for being a trader are quite different.
Being a trader requires discipline, a level head, risk management, only trading tested methods, emotional control, routines, patience, and persistence, to name a few.
A trader must be passionate about developing qualities like those if they hope to succeed. Successful traders dedicate their lives to improving these traits within themselves. This in turn helps them become a better trader.
The person who just wants to trade never works on these things, and thus will probably never trade for a living. And if they do, it will be short-term, possibly due to luck or a period of easy market conditions.
Ask yourself if you just want excitement, or if you want to be a trader?
Being a trader is actually rather boring compared to what most people think. It is a lot of doing nothing and waiting for an opportunity to arise. It is trading a few tested strategies, over and over and over again. Being a trader is relentless repetition. It is often spending more hours outside trading working on things than time spent in front of the trading platform.
This is why I also write articles. It helps me avoid doing foolish things when there aren’t any good trading opportunities, and provides a way to stimulate creative parts of my brain that pushing buy and sell buttons doesn’t offer.
Learn how to day trade stocks, revealed in step-by-step video format.
Your Trading Income Fluctuates, Sometimes a Lot
Hopefully, this is obvious, but you should be aware that your profits/income will fluctuate.
Most new traders will use most or all of their profits each month as income.
Therefore, what you make is what you get, until your profits are larger than what you require for income each month.
I have found that with day trading I have a more stable income since I’m in the market every day and there is usually at least one decent opportunity most days to potentially make something. Other days there are lots of opportunities. Over 20 or so trading days in a month, the daily profits and losses tend to balance out. But even with that, you could easily see your income fluctuate by significant amounts each month.
Swing trading income fluctuates more each month because trades are more spread out. You may take multiple trades in a month, but none of them close. You close them the next month and take more trades, they close quickly. You have a month with no income, followed by a big month (or a negative month if you lose on those trades). With trades that last multiple days or weeks, it’s going to be harder to close the same amount of trades each month. Market conditions play more of a role in swing trading income.
In terms of yearly income, you should be able to see some income most years, since over so many trades and months things tend to even out. But that just means you likely have income (once proficient)…what that income will be is unknown.
There can be a massive variance in your income from year to year. If market conditions are tough for your strategy, you may have years where you barely make a profit. And you may have years where you make a killing because your personality and strategies thrive in that environment.
If you need income from your swing trading every year, you will likely need to get comfortable going long as well as short. There will be years where the market drops most of the year. You won’t make much money buying stocks during such times, so you will need to get comfortable making money as prices fall as well. 2022 was a recent example. With only a few brief rallies that year, if you only go long your income will be substantially less than in years when the market is rising most of the year.
Or you will need some other source of income during those tougher years for your strategies, such as day trading, or some other source of income…
You Can Still Do Others Things (jobs, projects, part-time work, freelancing, business)
Trading doesn’t mean you can’t or shouldn’t do other things that make money.
Based on some of the points in this article, you may actually decide that having a part-time job, freelancing for some extra income, or running a business on the side is a good idea. I fully support and encourage that.
Quitting all sources of income and solely focusing on trading can be daunting. When I started trading for a living, I had a part-time job to carry me through the initial six months when I wasn’t profitable. As my trading profits increased I quit the part-time job.
Once I was a profitable trader, it was my sole income for many years. You don’t need to do this, as having some income coming in from other sources reduces your stress levels, which is a good thing. If you’re super stressed about money, how well do you think you will trade?
But then I got asked to write some articles, and I accepted. Then the extra income is just a bonus. That writing has continued to this day, and yes, it provides an extra income stream.
If you have ever read a personal finance book, most talk about building multiple streams of income. And that is likely what you are trying to do as you research trading tactics! You have a current income, but you want to add in trading.
Just because trading has been added as an income stream doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continue with “personal finance 101” and continue to build other income streams. You don’t need to do it right away, but you also don’t need to abandon all your other income sources either.
Trading is not all or nothing. It is flexible. You may decide to have trading as your sole income, trade on the side of a full-time or part-time job, or you may freelance and run a business while trading.
This idea that if you are a “trader” you should only trade, otherwise you aren’t really a trader, is totally absurd. Do what is best for you!
Compounding is Harder When You Are Pulling Out Money to Live
If you trade for living, and work hard to steadily improve, high percentage returns are possible.
Upon hearing this, a common response is “If you make XY% per month, you will be a billionaire in 2 or 3 years with compounding.”
Well, the truth is, if you trade for a living, you are likely pulling out your profits each month. There isn’t much chance to compound. You can only compound if you don’t need to withdraw money from your trading account, which means you must have another income source or a lot of additional savings you’re willing to draw down (see section above).
It will take most traders many years before they start making enough to really start compounding their returns. For example, you trade a $50,000 account and make 10% per month (after commissions)—which is a fantastic return—chances are you will be withdrawing nearly all that profit if trading is your sole income. If you can leave a bit in there, great, then your account will slowly grow, allowing you to potentially increase your monthly income over time.
But life isn’t usually smooth. There are unexpected expenses, and the people who trade for a living usually end up needing to withdraw most or all of their profits. This is especially true if you start with a small account.
Possibly you will be one of the people who makes more money each month than you can possibly use. But keep in mind that less than 4% of people who try to be traders succeed. So the odds of being a super successful trader is a teeny tiny fraction of that.
If you can’t produce enough profit to live off your current trading capital, you will need another stream of income if you want to grow that capital. You can’t compound/grow your account if you’re taking all your profits out.
Also, just as most of us find a comfortable level in other areas of our life, most traders find a trading account size that is comfortable and an income that is comfortable. Pushing beyond these natural boundaries takes work and time, and sometimes even sends us back a few steps. I have seen many traders lose huge sums of money because they tried to trade position sizes beyond their comfort zone.
A trading firm published its findings on its traders. All their traders lost their accounts within 3 weeks of receiving record payouts/profits. Why do you think that is? Because the traders started trading bigger amounts—more than they were accustomed to—too quickly. That causes mistakes. Also, after a strong performance, many people feel invincible, so they abandon their strategies because they think they are smart enough to no longer need them.
Geat #trading stats from @funds_forex— Cory Mitchell, CMT (@corymitc) January 21, 2022
They show the breakdown of how many traders reached profitability (1st profit split). About 12 of 9,262 who tried. Key takeaways are important:
–keep trading time to couple hours
–use trade stops and DAILY stopshttps://t.co/JCUoLKKD3q pic.twitter.com/g8jH2tH1yh
Compounding, if you can do it, should generally be done slowly. If you run up your account quickly and are not accustomed to seeing the bigger numbers, you will likely start messing up a lot. It is human nature.
You Don’t Need a Lot of Money to Trade
Here’s a positive thing. You may have read that you need lots of money to trade for a living. That is not always the case.
The return your strategy is capable of lets you how much capital you need.
I have no idea how you will trade, so I have no idea what your returns will be. But, if you are serious about trading for a living, then you can look at your strategy (and how you trade it) and determine its profit potential. Here are some profit scenarios for forex day trading. Ultimately though, you need to use your own returns. That is what determines your income.
If you can make 5% per month, on average, you can use that to determine how much capital you need to make that 5% a livable income. And you will probably want more capital than the bare minimum, since profits can fluctuate. The higher your return potential, the less capital you need.
If you need $5,000 income, you need a $100K account if you are making 5%.
If you make 20% per month, you only need a $25k account, minimum to make your $5k.
You can always start out with less capital and grow it. Any withdrawals will slow down growth.
Increase your percentage return by reducing the trading mistakes you make each day, week, and month.
All markets offer great return potential, but each one may have different capital requirements based on where you live. See Which Market is Best for Day Trading.
You Can Trade For a Living in 1 to 3 hours Per Day
Trading doesn’t take a lot of time. It is not constant research.
Once a trader has established their methods, it’s possible to implement those methods in 1 to 3 hours per day, typically. You can trade for longer if you wish.
Day traders usually spend a couple of hours in front of their screens.
Swing traders may only need to put in a couple hours per week. They run scans for stocks meeting their criteria. This may take 1 to 2 hours once or twice per week. Or possibly less if the process is mostly automated. Then monitor those positions throughout the week, updating stop losses, etc.
If trading is taking up too much of your time, you could probably improve your efficiency. Some of those hours may be unprofitable or redundant. Be careful that the time spent on trading isn’t actually decreasing quality life. Many people come to trading because they want “more free time” yet the exact opposite happens: they spend all their time in front of the screen. That may be fine for you, just something to be aware of.
There are No Safety Nets (for being sick, injured, strategy stops working, losing months, broker goes under)
This is a big one. Most people assume that if they trade for a living they will make vast sums of money and all their financial problems will be over. This is a fantasy, not reality.
The reality is that traders have no safety nets. There is no pension, no work savings plan, no health benefits, no sick leave, no paid holidays, and no injury insurance. If you get sick or injured and can’t trade, your trading income stops until you can resume. If you take a holiday, there is no pay. And since you are self-employed, most countries don’t offer much in the way of financial assistance because you are not part of the workforce.
In 2022 the market was down the entire year, with only brief rallies interspersed. That means few swing trading opportunities if you are predominantly a long-only swing trader (most swing traders are). So little income from that.
Near the start of January 2022, I got Covid. Symptoms only lasted a few days, but I was still very tired, operating at about 25% energy levels compared to normal. That lasted almost a month, so lower day trading income during that time.
I don’t advise trading when you are sick or not in a good mental state; only trade after getting into the proper mind frame.
Getting sick or injured and tough market conditions…this stuff happens. Or what if you go through a divorce, or a breakup, or your kids or family members are sick and you can’t mentally focus on trading well? Can you afford to ride it out? That’s why these other sections are important; have savings, or have plans in place for things like this.
If you are used to taking a vacation for a month, while you still receive your salary, with trading you likely won’t be receiving any money for that month (or a lot less than normal).
You may also just lose money some weeks or months. Not only did you not make an income, but you also have less capital than you started with. Less capital means future month’s income may be smaller (depending on the size of the capital drop). This can mess with traders’ heads. But it will happen. Nothing can be done about it, except to keep applying the methods which will hopefully produce an income next week/month.
Some other potential hazards are that your strategy stops working. It happens, especially with complex systems that are only profitable under specialized circumstances. The strategy I used through my first 4 years of trading disappeared completely. I had to reinvent my methods, and that took time. I made my new strategies much more robust, based on recurring patterns, so they have not gone away, and likely won’t. But I am still prepared in case they do, and have learned other styles of trading in case what I’m doing no longer works down the road. A competitive advantage is not a strategy, it’s the ability to adapt.
There are also no safety nets for if your broker goes bust and all your capital is tied up. You may get it back from regulatory bodies eventually, but that may take months or even years. And for those months you don’t have an income because you don’t have capital to trade. This is very rare, but it has happened before. There is not much to do about this one; it is no different than the company you work for going bust and all of a sudden you have no income and possibly no pension etc.
As a trader, you set up your own safety nets, which include savings, your own retirement fund, and potentially other sources of income.
You Are One Bad Day Away From Losing Everything (without safety protocols)
This is a scary one.
You may be a great trader; you’ve created a great living for yourself or have run your account up significantly.
Then one day, you get in a fight with your partner. The car just konked out, the water heater blew so you’re taking cold showers, and you burnt your hand making breakfast, which means missing a golf tournament you were looking forward to.
You’re pissed, livid actually, stressed to the max, but you decide to trade anyway. You really need to make some money…now! Your first few trades are losses, and the second one was a bigger position size than you usually take, so you are down more than you are supposed to be.
Now you are even madder. You ARE NOT going to lose money today! You start hitting keys, trying to make back the money. You lose some more. You increase your position size, you are going to make it all back on this one trade! The price immediately moves against you, and keeps going. The loss is too big to take.
You are so angry at yourself for doing something so stupid. Your account is down 15% on the day. You can’t afford to take that big of a loss. The price is likely to bounce soon, you reason, so you average down on your already too-big position. The price keeps going against you. You feel sick. Nearly a 1/3 of your capital is gone, and your maximum daily loss is 3% of your capital…you are losing 10x that amount.
The day is almost over, but you decide to hold overnight because you can’t take that big of a loss.
You stay up all night watching the futures market to see which way the market will open. It doesn’t look good, but by the time the market opens, things are looking ok. But the price has to rally so much to get you back to breakeven, or even a small loss. You have too many bills, you can’t take that hit. You add to the position again. You feel confident this is a good choice to make your money back. “If I had no positions, I would want to buy here!” you reason. You are rationalizing the horrific choices.
The price moves a little in your favor but then heads the other way. Hard. Your account is down more than 70%. And you have bills to pay. You literally can’t lose any more money, so you close the position. Nearly all your capital is gone. It only took one or two days, or maybe a string of bad days. Yet, the result is the same. For a brief time emotions got out of control and the money is gone.
Or maybe you lose a bunch on one bad trade you keep holding. Or maybe you’re having a bad time and you are losing a few percent most days. At the end of the month, half your money could be gone.
Most trader’s yearly P&L could be vastly improved by avoiding one or two big losses per year. When looking at end of year data tiny losses are rarely the problem; its the huge losses that kill performance. Remember that big picture when you feel the urge to keep holding a loser.— Cory Mitchell, CMT (@corymitc) January 19, 2022
How will you avoid this situation?
What actual protocols will you put in place? What are your checks and balances?
These scenarios happen. Even people who have traded well for years can have a meltdown on a particular day. Some people have reached out for coaching after having such a meltdown; this story is actually a pretty common one.
All I can recommend is a daily routine and regular check-ins, with yourself and possibly someone else who can monitor you if you find it hard to monitor yourself.
Work on quietening/negotiating with “dangerous” voices, and instituting pre-trade routines (and during trading, if needed) to bring your awareness back to following the trading plan that you designed while in a better more trustworthy frame of mind
Hopefully, you don’t have a personality that is prone to this type of behavior very often. But under extreme circumstances and stress, assume it IS a possibility, and plan for it.
Some trades slowly fade away, grinding their account to zero, sometimes multiple times. But many trades also vanish in an instant; one, two, or a few trades do them in. And typically the more someone is down, the greater the impulse to increase risk, hold losses, and do all the things we know we shouldn’t do. And when that happens: Poof, gone.
Trading Doesn’t Equal Wealth, Even if You Are Good
Trading and wealth are two completely different skill sets.
Yet, I see and hear many people saying that they want to trade in order to become wealthy or have more money.
What I think they mean is that they want a better quality of life. Trading can definitely bring that…if profitable. Based on other sections, you may also notice that trading can destroy your life without the proper protocols in place.
Trading is executing a trading plan, which outlines when we enter and exit trades, what conditions we trade in, and how we manage our risk.
If we do that, yes, we can make money.
But wealth is about making more than you spend. And most people continue to spend in line with what they make. Wealth is about accumulating money—SAVING—not just making more.
Trading does offer some people the potential to make more money than they currently make. But making more money doesn’t equate to wealth/financial security. BUT…more money may mean a better quality life, even if “wealth” isn’t the objective.
Be clear on what you are after? Do you want wealth or do you want to be a trader? You can have both, but you will have to develop BOTH skill sets.
Most of us are happy to make more money, even if it doesn’t mean we are wealthy. We simply enjoy having more money to spend! There is nothing wrong with that.
So if you want to make more money, and you believe trading offers that, then pursue it.
If you want to be wealthy and have financial security, you better be a fantastic trader earning way more than you can spend, or you may wish to start reading books on wealth-building in addition to your trading books.
Learn a complete method for swing trading stocks: strategies, analyzing market conditions, risk management, when not to trade.
Plan For Taxes When Trading for a Living
When trading for a living, no one is going to tell you to save the taxes that you’ll need to pay on your profits.
In most countries, including the US and Canada, if you trade for a living, you are taxed at the regular income rate (not the capital gains rate). You get no tax advantage, but you are self-employed which means you can write-off expenses related to your “business”. Check with an accountant in your area.
If you make $2K, or $7K, or $75K in profit for the month and withdraw it, you should automatically be putting the taxes you would pay on that into a saving account. At a job, they do that for you. Now it is up to you.
At the end of the year, hopefully, you will have a huge amount saved up from your great year. If you had a great year and you have nothing saved, you could be in trouble.
After you have done this for a year or two, typically the tax authority in your country will ask you to pay your taxes quarterly or monthly. You will submit a portion of your profits to them every month or quarter, in accordance with how much you made.
If you don’t save your taxes, you could have a huge problem on your hands, owing a big amount to the government with a lot of interest and penalties.
Estimate your tax rate and put that money aside every time you withdraw funds. Don’t ever touch it or dip into it. It isn’t yours. If you worked at a job, you would have never even seen that money.
I have known many traders, including myself, who thought they would just pay their tax bill later with future earnings. But of course, you are going to want to spend in the future too. And that tax bill just keeps getting bigger and doesn’t go away.
Stay on top of your taxes.
Your Journey to Trading for a Living Is Not Brief
It takes most people at least a year to start seeing some consistent profits with a specific strategy. That’s focusing on just ONE strategy. Most people try to learn 5, 10, or 20 things at the same time, which is why they never improve.
Get better at one #trading strategy at a time. Most people take a year+ to trade 1 strategy decently (with all their focus+effort).— Cory Mitchell, CMT (@corymitc) January 27, 2022
Try to absorb 20 strategies/books at the same time and each strategy gets 5% of your focus, thus taking MUCH longer to get good any 1 of them.
This means learning and implementing a specific strategy, not just placing random trades and getting lucky.
The person who gets lucky and makes money is further behind than someone who dedicated themselves to learning a strategy and lost money for six months but is now turning the corner and starting to see results.
The lucky person still knows nothing about generating consistent profits going forward. The person who dedicated themself to improving their performance with a strategy now has a consistent way to make money. And they have also developed crucial traits such as discipline.
The educational journey to profits will likely be a year or more. Financially plan for that. You will either need savings or a job to support you through the learning curve.
The Final Word on Trading For a Living
These are some of the things that no one seems to really talk about. Maybe because these points aren’t very fun and they certainly aren’t going to improve trading course sales.
But they are important, and for anyone serious about trading for a living, this knowledge shouldn’t be a deterrent.
I didn’t know about all these when I started. No one told me. But I dealt with them as they arose.
Every “job” has its obstacles, and trading is the same. The only difference for me is that I loved it. It was what I wanted to do, so the obstacles were just stepping stones to getting there.
Maybe you want to be a trader, but as discussed in some of these sections, you don’t have to ONLY be a trader. You can be a trader and work part-time, or even work full-time. You can have things on the side, and probably should
Think about what you really want, how you are doing to get there, and then go for it.
TheEURUSD Day Trading Courseteaches you how to day trade the EURUSD in 2 hours or less a day, although you can certainly trade longer if you wish.
By Cory Mitchell, CMT
Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is personal investment advice, or advice to buy or sell anything. Trading is risky and can result in substantial losses, even more than deposited if using leverage.
As a seasoned trader with nearly two decades of experience, I resonate deeply with the sentiments expressed in the article about the realities of trading for a living. Let me delve into each concept discussed in the piece and provide insights based on my expertise:
Repetitive Nature of Trading: Trading at a high level indeed involves repetitive actions and disciplined risk management, which may not always match the excitement some individuals seek.
Success Rates and Income Fluctuations: It's crucial for aspiring traders to acknowledge that most traders don't achieve significant success, and incomes can fluctuate drastically on a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly basis.
Financial Management: Being adept at financial management is paramount for traders, including saving for taxes, retirement, and emergencies, given the unpredictable nature of trading income.
Diversification of Income Streams: Trading doesn't have to be the sole source of income; diversifying through part-time jobs, freelancing, or businesses can mitigate financial risks and provide stability.
Compounding and Withdrawals: While compounding is ideal for wealth accumulation, it's often challenging when traders need to withdraw profits for living expenses, potentially slowing down account growth.
Time Commitment: Trading doesn't require excessive time investment once proficient, usually taking 1 to 3 hours per day, but it's essential to strike a balance to avoid diminishing quality of life.
Safety Nets and Risks: Traders lack conventional safety nets like paid leave or insurance, and they must establish protocols to mitigate risks such as large losses, market volatility, or personal emergencies.
Difference Between Being a Trader and Wanting to Trade: There's a distinction between being passionate about trading and embodying the traits necessary for successful trading, such as discipline, risk management, and emotional control.
Income Fluctuations and Financial Planning: Traders must anticipate income fluctuations and plan accordingly, ensuring they have the financial resilience to weather market downturns or personal challenges.
Tax Planning: Tax obligations for traders can be significant, necessitating meticulous planning and setting aside funds to fulfill tax liabilities promptly.
Learning Curve and Persistence: Achieving consistent profitability in trading requires dedication, typically taking a year or more to master a specific strategy and develop the necessary skills.
Wealth vs. Trading Income: Trading income doesn't equate to wealth unless accompanied by prudent financial management and wealth-building strategies beyond trading.
In conclusion, trading for a living offers flexibility and potential rewards, but it comes with significant challenges and uncertainties. Aspiring traders should approach this journey with realistic expectations, disciplined strategies, and a comprehensive understanding of the risks involved.