I bought my first stock back in 1994 when I worked for a manufacturing company in Shanghai, and I got to buy 250 shares when the company went public. After that between 1996 and 1997 I did some trade in stocks because at that time the Chinese stock market was very hot, if not as hot as the Chinese market a few months ago. But these are mostly speculations, I know the PE ratios, but that’s about all the financial analysis I did (I think many retail investors in China these days are still at that level, to them stock is not too different from a lottery ticket).
Fast forward to year 2002, I got a little money after I joined the work force. The US stock market was not good. But I did learned more about personal finance, mostly through reading Kiplinger, do my own tax, etc. Kiplinger mentioned this Sharebuilder, a discount broker through which one can buy factional stocks (e.g, 10.5 shares of GE), the idea was a person put a fixed amount of money to buy stocks each month, after a while that amount will grow to some meaningful amount (say, buy a car or something).