As an economist and professional investor, DON'T.
Instead do several things.
First, go to Edward Jones and give them your money. They are a very well respected brokerage firm. They will keep you out of trouble, which is a big help, and you should do reasonably well.
Second, pick up a copy of "The Intelligent Investor," by Benjamin Graham. It was last published in 1972, but is widely sold at any major book store. After that, it depends upon your accounting knowledge. A good MBA textbook on accounting will help alot if your skills are few. After that, buy "Security Analysis," by Cottle.
Third, and you can do this at the same time as you buy the first book. Go to www.marketocracy.com and register an account. They will give you a fake $1,000,000 to invest. If you do a good job they will pay you, if you make it into the top 100 of the 70,000 competing investors. It will let you see how you stack up compared to others, it will let you make mistakes without actually hurting you, so you can learn, and it is quite realistic.
After all of the above, go to www.etrade.com and open an account. They are excellent and provide a very wide array of services.CharlesSchwab.com, ETrade, ScottTrade and others all offer very inexpensive stock transactions as well as research information.
BUT FIRST, do a LOT of research on your own. The library is full of excellent books. You might also find a class at your local college (but be a bit careful, those are often conducted by brokers).
And remember this: Every time you buy a stock thinking it's going to go up, someone else is selling it thinking that it won't. Your first option should be to fund fully a retirement account.
If you have done this, or you wish to wait on the retirement fund, then one of the best things you can do is open a DRIP Plan.
They are seldom talked about because brokers make very little money when they suggest them. Yet, they have proven to be one of the best, if not the best, long-term strategy on Wall Street.
The best part is you get solid annual returns from well-known, safe Blue Chip companies like: McDonalds, General Electric, Pfizer, Walmart, US Bancorp.......etc........
They are perfect for small investors, as well as big investors. They are safe and allow you to not care about whether the market is going up or down.
DRIP & Retirement Section