Setting up your own day trading office isn't difficult and doesn't have to cost a fortune, although it will definitely cost you something. Like opening a business--which is what trading is--investing in yourself and your tools will pay off over the long-run. Extravagance won't pay off; neither will paying for a bunch of services you don't need or that won't help you. Here are 10 tools you either need or will help you with your day trading. Some of these may seem obvious, but all of them are very important to give you the best experience when trading from your home office.
With everything done electronically you need a computer, and a good one. “Good” will change every few years. If you buy a mid-range computer today, you’ll likely need to replace it (for trading purposes) within five years to keep up with software advances.
The computer specific specifications you need will change over time. To stay current, or get into the right type of computer, visit a store that carries multiple computers, brands and models, and ask for an entry level gaming computer. Gaming computers typically have more RAM and faster processors, so you don’t need to worry about the computer lagging or being able to run all the applications you need.
Any computer you buy should be able to support at least two monitors, preferably more.
Trading off a laptop is fine, especially if it is good one with a large screen. Make sure you can hook another monitor up to it and that it can handle the task – again, ask for a gaming laptop. It won’t be as powerful as the desktop, but if you travel and trade it is a viable second-choice.
A high speed internet connection is a requirement for day traders. Without a high speed connection you will face a number of issues:
- The price you see on the screen may not be accurate; with a slow connection or slow computer you will get “lagging” quotes. This is when the price on the exchange has changed but you’re still looking at old prices. Even a second of lag (which is large) can mean the difference between being filled on your order or not.
- Similar to the above, your orders take time to get the exchange. A slow connection means that data takes longer to get the exchange. This can mean increased slippage on market orders and potentially missing trades.
- You’ll likely be running other applications or monitoring some websites for day trading information. If your internet can’t keep up with the data stream of these sites it may result in missing the information you need to act on in the moment.
Don’t cheap out here. If you are going to be using market orders or removing liquidity to get into a position, you want a fast connection. Even if you only use limit orders, eventually you are going to need to remove liquidity to get out of a position in a hurry, and for that you want a high speed connection.
Duel or triple-monitors make trading life much easier. Depending on how you set up your trading platform and your desktop, duel monitors will serve most day traders who only focus on a few stocks, futures or forex pairs. If you trade multiple assets and are always searching for action, three monitors (or even more) is a better choice. The extra monitors allow you to watch more charts and streaming data feeds from sites which monitor for breakouts, trade setups etc. 21-inch wide screens or bigger are ideal.
Desk and Chair
This one may seem like a no-brainer, but you need enough desk room to not feel cluttered while you trade; the more monitors you have (or eventually want) the bigger the desk you’ll need. Here’s one place to save some money; a cheap or makeshift desk will work just as well as an expensive one. Drawers to store pens and paper for jotting down notes to yourself is ideal.
A lot of traders don’t trade all day, but rather only a few hours of the trading day. Even so, get a chart that is comfortable to sit for several hours a day. You want to be focused on your trading, and not squirming around in an uncomfortable chair. Choose practicality over extravagance.
Some traders want constant access to news. News sources vary, from providing macro global news stories to disseminating the latest stock specific news. There are paid news sites and free news sites; pricey doesn’t necessarily mean better.
MarketWatch is usually quick to disseminate news, and sites like Yahoo! Finance syndicate content from multiple news sites—will often post relevant stories as quickly as paid sites. Benzinga disseminates news quickly, and Twitter has become a very quick way to stay in the loop … although make sure the source is trustworthy.
TV channels like CNBC and Bloomberg are also viable sources for stock specific and global news.
Broker and Platform
Your physical space is set up, now you need to choose a broker. For day trading, commissions are important – cheaper is better. At the same time, if your broker offers zero support to you when you need it (execution goes down or you have a power outage) one trade could end up costing you way more than you saved on the cheap commissions. Each market has its own brokers who specialize in it; if you want to trade forex ask active forex traders (look around on LinkedIn) what they use. Same for futures or stocks.
The most important thing for a platform is quick execution. There is a very wide array of trading platforms, from simple to complex. If you are a new trader, simple and free is fine and works for many traders. If you want more advanced tools you may need to pay for a platform such as NinjaTrader, TradeStation or another platform.
A simple chunk of free information you must read before your trading day begins. If you are trading U.S. stocks or futures during regular trading hours, the free Bloomberg Economic Calendar should suffice, if you trade outside of U.S. market hours (or trade forex) you’ll want to monitor the global economic calendar, like the one available on DailyFX.
Day traders typically close out positions and step aside for high impact news releases and then jump back in after the release when a direction is established. Holding a position through a high impact news release means taking on an unknown, and potentially very large, risk.
Day traders have a vast universe of stocks to choose from. Narrowing that search down using websites or software is a common tactic. Finviz.com/elite provides a list of stocks meeting certain criteria in real-time, such as breakouts or unusual volume. Stockfetcher.com provides one of the most advanced stock screening tools available anywhere. Using both these sites (upgraded membership) will keep your cost under $50/month.
A free option is Twitter. Follow active day traders on Twitter to get loads of trade ideas throughout the day. Get the beat on what is starting to move, moving well or is breaking out.
For more on getting stock ideas, check out 50 Blogs Every Serious Trader Should Read
A Mild Distraction
Trading isn’t all action; it can actually be very boring when not much is going on. This is where having some of distraction can actually help you from making impulsive and low probability/low reward trades. Having some music or CNBC on in the background will give you something to listen to or watch during the quiet times.
Your primary focus is watching the market, so avoid anything that engages you so much that you stop doing your job. Instead of CNBC or music, you may decide to write in your trading journal during quiet times.
Trading Journal and Community
As you trade, keep a journal of how you perform each day, and any tendencies you notice. Write down what you did right and what you did wrong in terms of your trading plan. Did you trade how you planned to trade, or did you deviate? Why? By writing these things down you have a better chance of becoming more conscious of them in the moment and changing your habits.
Trading can also be a solitary endeavor. If possible, join a community of traders where you can discuss trading and seek help on any issues you have noted in your trading.
The Bottom Line
Getting set up as a trader is going to take some work, money and probably reaching out to a few current traders for some advice. The bare minimum is a having a good computer, high speed internet, at least one (preferably two or three) monitor, a competitive and quick response broker, trading platform and comfortable work environment. Monitor economic news releases, visit websites (or your platform) for trade ideas, find a mild distraction for quiet times and ideally join a trading community to help you reach your goals.