How Much Money Do You Really Need To Trade For A Living

Many traders whom i have interacted during my   Trading Sessions have one question in general “How much money do I really need to begin trading for a living?”

I would then reveal the long-awaited answer

Determining the amount of money you need to start down the path of trading for a living is a complex process and one for which there are no shortcuts.  The biggest and most lethal mistake that traders make when they decide to go “full-time” is being undercapitalized.  It’s one of the mostly lethal mistakes, traders will do and will make sure you end your trading carer is less than a year.

I wish I could make it easy and just give you a simple mathematical  formula but that’s not how this works. Let me discuss few points which you should take into consideration before thinking about doing full time trading.

Quality of Life

First, let’s begin at the end, so ask yourself, “how much money do I need to make in order to support my desired quality of life?”  You will see that I have phrased this question in a very specific way.  It asks you to think.  To think about what your “desired” quality of life is.  This is key because depending on the stage and circumstances of your life, you may have some flexibility in this area that will help you to reach an acceptable answer to this question.

  • Are you early in your earning years, unmarried, with no children ?
  • Are you supporting a family and a Home Loan/Car Loan, Child Education and your retirement fund.

Wherever you are, you need to decide what you need to make in order to have peace of mind, financial stability, and ideally the ability to grow your net worth.

Once you have that number in place, then you have to determine what amount of capital is needed in order to generate that number based upon a reasonable return on a percentage basis.

The Pure Play

Let’s start with the most conservative and straightforward approach that assumes no leverage, meaning you open a margin account in order to have buying power returned immediately when a position is sold, but you don’t use that leverage.

So for example, if you have been averaging 20% return for the last five years, and you need to make 10,00,000 (10 Lakh) a year in order to support your desired quality of life, then the magic number for you is 50,00,000 (50 Lakh) of working capital.  But wait, there’s more.

Throw an extra 20% onto that number to give you some cushion that makes it 60,00,000 .  But there’s still more.

You need to have a minimum of one year’s expenses saved in order to start your new venture without the daily pressure of knowing that every one of your trades is being done  “to make the rent.”  Now you are up to 70,00,000.  This is fun isn’t it?

Sure, it’s a lot of money to some, but this scenario will give you the most peace of mind and ideally a longer runway in which to achieve consistent profitability.  This number will obviously change based upon what your actual average return has been and the amount of money you need for maintain your desired lifestyle. 

But What About Margin?

Many of you are saying to yourself, “Sir, what about the magical powers of margin?  Why do I need so much money when I can get 2x buying power for swings and 4x for day trading?”  Good question.  Let’s take a closer look at this aspect  of trading.

There is no doubt that the proper use of margin can enable you to reduce the amount of capital you need to sustain your desired lifestyle, but

In most cases you are about to go from the security and peace of mind of knowing that every month you will be getting a paycheck to an environment where you may have a whole month where you don’t make any money.  Maybe even a whole quarter.  Even wackier than that, when was the last time you got your company paycheck and it said you actually owed them money?

The mental transition that goes along with starting to trade full-time can be perilous.  You think you know how you will handle it, but you really don’t until you get there.  Do you really want to start this, well let’s just be frank, risky venture, having to leverage up your account equity?  Margin can make you money fast, but if can lose you money even faster if it is not used correctly as part of a risk based methodology.

The ideal situation would be to go into full-time trading fully capitalized, and then once you have completely transitioned and become comfortable with your new career, only then begin increasing your use of leverage while freeing up and segregating your excess capital from your trading activities.

70 Lakh is too much Can I start with smaller Capital ?

There are traders that I personally know who support their desired lifestyle with only 5,00,000 in trading capital.  Yes, you read that right.  Just 5 Lakhs  but that is because they trade with a prop trading firm  that gives them 10:1 leverage on their money.

And they day trade only, with the goal of chopping out between 8000 and 12000 from the market on a daily basis.  With the markets open an average of 250 day per year they are shooting for 20,00,000-30,00,000 annually.

But these are highly focused traders with a style they have perfected and are comfortable with.  They are like machines who don’t chase news or the latest stock being profiled on CNBC.   Is that how you are currently trading?

If so, then by all means feel free to jump in short-stacked.  I would still highly recommend that you have a least one full year’s worth of money set aside, separate from your trading capital, and that you find a reputable shop who will give you the needed leverage.  Best of luck to you.

The Average Trader

In all honesty, this is the category that most are going to fall into; not having the ability or desire to do the full “Pure Play” but having at least enough common sense not to try to attempt the “Wing and a Prayer” option.  You are going to come in with a decent chunk of change, but you will probably have to use overnight or day trading margin on a semi-regular basis.  If that is you, then as much as I hate to do this to you, I am going to have to answer this blog post’s title question by revisiting previous questions.  Questions you need to ask yourself and honestly answer.

  • How much do I need/wish to make per year to live my desired quality of life?
  • How much reserves, separate from my trading funds, and do I need for peace of mind?
  • Am I comfortable/disciplined enough to use margin ?
  • What trading style am  I most comfortable/successful with and what capital requirements does it necessitate?

And most importantly…..

  • What amount of money do I feel I need to start with to HONESTLY GIVE ME A FIGHTING CHANCE AT SUCCESS?

You will notice that I have overused the term “honestly” here in this section because everything thing else I am talking about doesn’t matter if you are not honest with yourself in determining not only you lifestyle and financial needs, but your trading ability and mental toughness.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you must have no doubts, and believe 110% in your conviction that “everything will work out.”  Nothing in life is a sure thing, and I don’t want the normal question marks that are a part of every major life decision, from changing careers, to getting married, to having kids, to deter you, I just want to make sure you take this decision with your eyes wide open.


15 thoughts on “How Much Money Do You Really Need To Trade For A Living”

  1. Hi, You mentioned about some ‘machines’. How to get there? If not news/CNBC how are they selecting their stocks? Are they daily scanning through 1000s of charts to make 8-10k per day?


  2. U r right sir, 3 to 5 % per month is reasonable return for a good trader ( full time professional) if u calculate on yearly basis.

  3. Dear Mr Bramesh
    As always beautifully written it is a pleasure to read your blogs and your articles thank you once again for the effort and work you put in your blog

  4. At the outset (pardon me for not reading word by word), 50L+buffer for 10 lakh yearly income seems to be too conservative figure. Very few will venture trading with this capital.That is not the return professional traders look from trading. One should get a return of 40-60% return from market.
    But there is one caveat. Above figure is only after you are seasoned in the market. It does not include the money you loose to learn. Once learning curve is over, above percentile return should be possible. Otherwise, there is no point in this field which is highly risk. An investment of 50L ON OTHER businesses will give you better than 20% return over a long time.

  5. Brahmeshji,

    if followed seriously, this article can clip off time required to learn by trial and error – how to start with and how long before you can be fairly successful in your trading endeavour. Many traders do read such articles but do not see the meat in them that can help them evolve or improve their trading skills. One needs to remember learning curve has a price too. So read this article carefully and evolve

    Thanks again

  6. sir very good article…eye opener as well as motivational.
    once again thanks a lot dear sir.

  7. Very nice article.Many people get into trading lured by the success stories (nobody mentions his failures). They just get into it (part time basis)without preparing themselves as mentioned in the article.This article is a must read. Thanks.

  8. Its a privilege to read your views.The real capital is to have distinguished person like you who on all days gives technical analysis which makes the difference.Hope to measure upto your standards.
    Lots of best wishes.

  9. Very important to set goals first then have a plan to execute…discipline is key to success. Thnx a lot sir

  10. Sir do tell me one thing if i take positional trade on ur stocks which u provide daily wht should be the stop loss in positipnal trade.andas i am new reader of ur blog do tell me intraday trades can be done in cash markets also but at wht prices as u provide prices for futures bases so how to trade in cash .

  11. Very nicely written…illustrations are also good…for people who want to choose trading for living with 5 lak capital, they must stick to the plan given by Bramesh

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