How to get the best prices buying and selling stocks
Imagine you’re at a flea market. You head over to one of the stands and see a baseball card that you want. And even though you really want it, you won’t pay just anything for it. Instead, you want the best (lowest) price for it. Because it’s a market, you’re able to negotiate for it.
The seller sets his price at $30. That’s his ask price.
You are willing to pay $20 for the card. That your bid price.
You can choose to to raise your bid, wait for the seller to drop his ask or go find another seller. This is exactly how bid and ask work on the stock market. Except there are millions of traders buying and selling thousands of different stocks every day.
At its core “bid” is the highest price someone is willing to pay to buy a stock. “Ask” is the lowest price someone is willing to sell their stock for.
But first…the “Last Price”
Before we dive into the bid and the ask, we should explain the “last price”. When you hear someone say that Apple is trading at $400, it doesn’t mean that you could buy apple for that price. What that price actually refers to is the last price that it was traded at. There is no actual current price – that’s what the bid and the ask are for.
The bid and the ask
There are always two prices to any trade:
The bid: the price that someone is willing to pay for a share
The ask: the price that someone is willing to sell their share for.
The stock market has bid and ask prices for each and every stock. You can find this on the stock quote page on WallStreetSurvivor.com.
The Bid Price
The bid is the price someone is willing pay for a share of Google.
Look at Google’s quote above. If you owned Google’s stock and wanted to sell it you’d want to know what someone would be willing to pay for it. Easy. Look at the bid price. The highest that someone would be willing to buy Google is $581.25. So if you decided to sell your stock, you’d be able to sell it for $581.25.
Practice by: selling one of the stocks in your portfolio. Mark down the bid price from the quote page, and check out what price your sell order is filled at.
The Ask Price
The ask is the price someone is willing to sell a share of Google for.
Now if you wanted to buy some shares of Google, you’d want to know how much someone would be willing to sell it for, right? So have a look at the ask price. The lowest someone is willing to sell Google for is $581.51. So if you wanted to buy Google right now, you could buy it for that price.
Practice by: buying 10 shares of Google on Wallstreetsurvivor.com. Remember, don’t look at the last price, look at the ask.
Using Limit Orders – For more advanced (but curious) traders
In the two examples above, the buyer and the seller had no choice but to trade at the listed bid and ask price. But in practice you have the ability to choose your bid and your ask using limit order (Note: It’s for slightly more advanced traders, so feel free to skip).
Look at the Google quote above. The bid is $581.25 and the ask is $581.51. If you wanted to buy Google, you would look at the ask price.
Now, imagine you only have $575 in your account and you think Google’s price will go down. You would set a limit buy order with a target price of $575. This way, whenever the ASK price of google goes down to $575, your order will execute. The opposite is true if you wanted to sell a stock only at a certain price. You would set a limit sell order, and wait till the BID price reached it.
Practice by: Placing one limit buy order and on limit sell order on Wallstreetsurvivor.com. If you’re still unclear, check out this article on limit orders.
Sometimes you bid…sometimes you ask…
So there you have it – bid and ask, explained. Understanding the basics of bid and ask are important to help you understand exactly how trades are processed. So next time you make a trade, remember: don’t look at the last price like an amateur; instead have a look at the bid and the ask!
Still unclear? Ask some questions below!