There’s a Finnish quote, “Happiness is the place between too little and too much.” In our culture that’s so driven by having more, no matter what we already have, this can be a smart and helpful bit of advice. For families just starting to plan their financial priorities, budgeting can be a balancing act: paying bills, saving wisely in the event of emergencies and investing in anticipation of children’s college tuition or your own retirement.
The desire for more “stuff” actually can contribute to a financial bind for families. In many cases, a lack of financial priorities leads to overspending, leaving too little money to cover expenses and savings. As a result, many individuals have little choice but to continue working into their retirement years.
For many Americans, however, retirement will span decades—and that key thought should be near the forefront of your planning efforts.
Start by planning your journey
Everyone should avoid the temptation to plow ahead with no plan, possibly because they think they don’t earn enough to save or because poor decisions have left their finances in such turmoil that they don’t want others, including family members, to know. You should never be embarrassed about what you make or the situation you are in. It might surprise people to know how many others are in situations similar to theirs.
The worst thing you can do is nothing. Seeking help from a trusted financial advisor can help build your confidence, and most important, show you that you’re not alone on your financial journey.
Set goals, ask the right questions, and find someone to help you
Setting goals is critical to your financial wellbeing, and it starts with introspection and questions. For example, would you love to work into old age or do you want to retire early? Would you like to start a second career or own a business? How will you financially provide for your children’s college education? Is your dream house a near or distant possibility?
At the heart of having an investment plan for your future is figuring out exactly what you want to achieve. In determining your investment goals, there are several questions that can help you and your financial advisor develop an appropriate investment plan.
- First, how long can you invest your money?
- Second, how comfortable are you with up and down movements in the value of your investments?
- Third, how much ready cash do you need to meet unexpected emergencies or expenses?
Once you’ve answered those questions, you and your financial advisor can begin to weigh the three primary investment goals—growth, income and stability or protection of principal—to determine how to select specific investments that are appropriate for your investment plan.
Move saving up your priority list
Typically when we budget, we budget all of the required obligations that we have—mortgages, car loans, utilities—and then we budget our discretionary spending. And whatever is left over, if anything, is what we save. Re-order your list (and priorities): Pay required household bills and then budget your savings, moving nonessentials to the bottom of the list.
Smart planning starts with a simple principle: Pay yourself first
Save systematically to take advantage of the potential for compound growth. As a hypothetical example, Sally, age 23, invests $5,500 a year for 10 years in a Traditional IRA. At age 65, her investment will be worth $363,418, based on a hypothetical, consistent return of 5 percent. By contrast, David starts funding his Traditional IRA at age 40, putting in a total of $143,000 over 26 years until he’s 65. Using that same assumed return, his investment will be worth $295,180 — about $68,000 less than Sally has in her account even though she invested $88,000 less.
A small amount can be huge here, even if you are saving $10 a week or $50 a month or $200 a month. Doing so may be more reliable than hoping for an inheritance from your parents, who may incur unexpected medical bills or give their money to someone else.
By Jonathan Rochlin MBA, CRPC® , Vice President – Investments, Financial Advisor for Wells Fargo Advisors in Paramus. Rochlin is also a member of the Meadowlands Regional Chamber’s Financial Futures Initiative.