I love trading for a living. It provides the flexibility and time to do things I love. 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. And 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.
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. I am.
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. Therefore, these must be the goals of the trader. Traders dedicate their life 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.
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 stability, since over so many trades and months things tend to even out.
But even yearly income can fluctuate in. 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.
For swing trading in 2022, I barely made any swing trades and thus only made a small profit (compared to other years). If that was my sole income (I also day trade) that would be rough. Good thing years like that don’t happen very often. Prior to 2022, 2015 was the last pretty dead year I remember for swing trading stocks.
The point is, be prepared for fluctuating profits. If you have a hard time saving (discussed later) during the good times, you could be in trouble when you have lower income/profit months down the road.
If you require certainty, OR YOUR SPOUSE requires certainty, trading for a living will be difficult for you/your spouse (which makes it difficult for you).
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 where 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.
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.
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.
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. 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. 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 the 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 that 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?
All I can recommend is routines 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 “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. This is pretty rare. Most 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.
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. If that is the case, then by all means pursue trading. But making more money doesn’t equate to wealth/financial security.
Be clear on what you are after? Do you want wealth or do you want to trade? 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, but just placing random trades and getting lucky.
The person who gets lucky and makes money is further behind 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.
The EURUSD Day Trading Course teaches 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.