Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Retirement Planning

Retirement planning is something everyone knows they need to do, but very few take the time to plan accordingly. Fortunately, we have a simple plan to help you achieve your retirement goals. Simply stated, you should SAVE AND INVEST YOUR MONEY!

Wow, that sounds so simple, but it is much harder than it sounds to do. The first thing you need to do is to read the rest of our site, go through the rules of financial management and learn how to take control of your finances. Turn your monthly savings into a positive number, then increase it each month. Take the money you save and invest it each week. If it doesn't seem like much, don't get discouraged, just keep saving and investing it. If you don't do this, you will regret it and worry about it for the rest of your life. It's never too late to start.

With that said, retirement planning involves a lot more than just saving your money. You need to know what to plan for and how to invest your money at different ages.

If you're interested in comparing how well you've done so far saving for retirement, check out the table below to see how you compare to others in your age and salary group. But remember, these are averages, not recommended savings. We recommend that you beat all the numbers on this chart before you feel satisfied.

Age Group

Salary Range 20s 30s 40s 50s 60s
$20k - $40k $9,069 $25,785 $42,182 $57,168 $48,914
$40k - $60k 17,996 41,922 61,538 76,920 83,180
$60k - $80k 33,941 70,735 94,162 117,964 140,167
$80k - $100k 45,534 104,018 150,166 182,656 223,936
$100k & up 47,525 132,395 229,878 297,250 323,711

Source: EBR/ICI Participant Directed Retirement Plan Data Collection Project

Diversify Your Investments and Wealth

A great piece of financial advice! It means, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. If you work for an insurance company, have all of your 401K and stock options invested in that same company, you’re not diversified. A good diversification strategy involves spreading your investments and wealth across many different asset classes. By doing so, you reduce the risk of losing a large percentage of your wealth by events that only affect one asset class.

The right diversification strategy for you depends on how much wealth you have, your age range, your risk profile and many other factors. Although I can’t recommend specific strategies for diversification, I can offer some simplified guidelines:

Diversify across the following categories: real estate, stocks, savings or money market accounts, bonds, other investments

Diversify within each category above.

If you invest in stocks, try not to let any one stock account for more than 5-10% of your portfolio.

Use mutual funds to diversify stock risk. Buy different mutual funds from different fund companies.

Keep 3-6 months of income in liquid assets including cash, savings or money market accounts. As you approach retirement, increase this amount dramatically.

Although bonds are often a staple to a well-diversified portfolio, I wouldn’t recommend investing in them unless your portfolio is large (over $200k) or unless you are close to retirement (within 5-15 years). To invest in bonds despite these circumstances, you can buy mutual funds that specialize in bonds, also known as bond funds.

If all of your wealth is in the value of your home (real estate) and you can afford a higher mortgage payment, you may want to diversify by taking a home equity loan (when interest rates are low) and investing it in another asset class. Only do this if you are comfortable taking on added financial responsibility, but doing so can sometimes increase your diversification and add to your long-term returns.

Prioritize Your Payments and Investments

Just as it pays to invest your money wisely, it also pays to make your debt payments wisely. And in some cases, it makes sense to pay your minimum debt payments and invest your would-be debt payments in something else. Without getting into too much detail, I’ll give a few examples of why this is important and then list some simple financial guidelines to follow. A good example of how you can save money by prioritizing your investments is if you have credit card debt. Say you have two credit cards, one is at a 9% rate and the other is at 18%. Instead of paying $100 to each account each month, it makes much more sense to pay the minimum fee (assume $20) to the 9% card and pay the remaining $180 to the 18% card. The same rule should be used when making payments to a car payment versus a credit card versus a mortgage versus any other interest bearing payment. Here are some guidelines to follow when making these payments:

Always pay your highest interest rate loan first.

If you have several high interest rate loans, you may want to refinance or consolidate your loans to a lower interest rate loan. Be careful not to consolidate your loans and then build back credit card balances.

Call your high interest rate lenders and ask them for a reduced rate. You’d be amazed how easy it is to reduce your interest rate. Sometimes a simple call can change your rate from 18% to as low as 9%.

When comparing rates on mortgages, remember that mortgage interest expense is tax deductible. Depending on your income tax rate, a typical 8% mortgage is really equivalent to a 5-6% rate on another loan.

If the interest rates you are paying are lower than the return you expect to make on another investment (and you can afford the extra risk), invest your money and make reduced or minimum debt payments.

If your only debt payment is a low interest rate mortgage, it often makes sense to pay only the minimum amount and invest the rest of the money in other asset classes.

Invest With a New Frame of Mind

I mean two things by this: First, when I use the word “invest” in this instance, I don’t mean just putting money into a savings account or the stock market. You should treat every decision you make in your life as an investment decision. For example, when you’re deciding whether or not to go out to dinner tonight, whether or not to add the GPS satellite system to your new car order, whether or not to go on that clothes shopping spree, or something as simple as paying $20 each month for HBO: look at each decision as an investment. It’s fine to spend your money, but you’d be surprised how much you can accumulate if you start investing with a new frame of mind.

Second, and most important, invest with a new frame of mind. Look at the money you invest with a new frame of mind. Instead of feeling like you’re putting away $100 this month when you could be buying a new DVD player, think of it this way: That $100 you just invested will pay you dividends for the rest of your life. That’s right, at a 10% return rate, you will receive $10 per year FOREVER from that investment. Moreover, if you leave the investment return in the same account, that $10 per year will grow each year. That means that if you invested $100 a month for 10 months, that your investment would return that same $100 every year.

Use this state of mind constantly and think of each investment you make. Instead of spending an extra $5,000 to upgrade your new car purchase to the sport package, you could invest that money and earn over $500 per year. In ten years when you sell your car, that $5,000 will be worth closer to $13,000 (with compounded interest at 10%) and you will be earning about $1,300 per year (or over $100 per month).

Save money

The smartest words ever said by anyone: “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Start small. Don’t give up. Don’t dip into your savings unless it’s an emergency. Every little bit helps. Did you know that if you saved $1 per day and invested it at 10%, you’d have almost $200,000 in 40 years? Every little bit counts and it is very important that you take this financial advice, get out of debt and save money - and start saving it now!

You can save money in many different ways. For example, using coupons at a grocery store or buying things on sale that you’d buy regardless of whether or not it was on sale save you money. You can also save money by foregoing spending until a future date or by foregoing spending on non-essential items. For some people, self-control is a real issue and if the money isn’t “accounted for” immediately, they tend to spend it on impulse and luxury items that are non-essential. If you find yourself in this category, or have trouble saving, you should create an investment account that is automatically funded each month. To do this, you may need to create a monthly budget to determine a monthly savings goal. If you do create a budget, make sure that it is realistic, matches your lifestyle and that it leaves plenty of room for miscellaneous expenses that seem to pop up regularly. If you create an unrealistic budget you’ll likely save less than what your budget calls for, become frustrated and resort to your old ways.

Take Appropriate Financial Risks

If you want to build wealth you need to take risks. The higher level of risk that you take, the higher your return should be. With that said, only take the risks that are appropriate to you! For example: You have the choice of investing in a savings account, a money market account, a certificate of deposit (CD), a bond fund, a large cap stock fund and an aggressive mutual fund (mostly tech stocks). Each investment has a different level of risk and each investment makes sense for different people. Typically, the higher level of risk that you take, the higher your potential investment return. The right investment for you depends on many things, but the two most important factors are 1) your realistic time horizon, and 2) your aversion to risk. Regarding time horizon, if you have 40 years to retirement, you should invest your money in the highest risk, highest yielding sectors (maybe 70% stocks, 15% bonds and 15% money markets). But if you are close to retirement or can't afford to risk your investments, the majority of your investments should be allocated toward the low-risk investments such as savings accounts, money market accounts, CDs and maybe even a bond fund. Regarding risk aversion, you must make this decision yourself. If you have trouble sleeping at night because you're investing in stocks, you should probably sway toward the lower risk investments.

The major takeaway from this section is that it is important to take risks. The more risk you take the more you can expect to earn and accumulate over the long-term. However, be conscious of yourself and your goals and do not take more risk than your time horizon or your own personality will allow.

the Compounding Effect of Money

The compounding effect of money is extremely important when making any financial decision. The compounding effect of money is often overlooked or underestimated by people when making decisions. When applied to all of your financial decisions, this effect is the KEY to long-term success! To illustrate the compounding effect of money, let me use some financial examples:

Suppose you had invested $1,000 today in a 5% savings account. In one year, that account would be worth $1,050 [$1,000 + ($1,000 x 5%)], yielding a $50 gain. However, in year two, that same initial investment would be worth $1,102.50 [$1,000 + ($1,000 x 5%) + ($1,050 x 5%)], yielding a $52.50 gain. And in year three, the same $1,000 would be worth $1,157.63, yielding a $55.13 gain. By year ten, the initial $1,000 investment would be worth $1,629 and by year 25 it would be worth $3,386.

From looking at this example, you can see that investing $1,000 today is much more valuable than investing $1,000 even a couple of years from now. To accumulate wealth, you MUST use the time value of money and the compounding effect of money to your advantage.

This second example shows how the compounding effect can work against you:

Suppose you borrowed $20,000 to purchase a car and your auto loan was at a 10% interest rate (for 5 years). Your monthly payments would be $424.94. Because the $20,000 loan continues to compound over the life of the loan, you actually pay $25,496.45 over the five-year period, meaning that you’ve in essence paid $5,496.45 because you spent the money before you had it. In fact, in your initial payments, the interest alone will account for almost 40% of your monthly payments. In this case, the bank or lender that gave you the loan uses the time value of money to their advantage.

Now look at this scenario, where instead of making the $424.94 car payment, you invest that payment at the same rate as what your car loan was (granted it’s a little high for a savings rate, but not unreasonable for other investments). Now, instead of paying the bank, you are actually earning interest and compounding the benefit yourself. After one year you will have saved $5,340 and have earned $240 in interest. After two years, you will have saved $11,239 and have earned $1,039 in interest. By the third year, your investments will be worth almost $18,000 and you will have earned $2,457 in interest. By month 40, you will have enough money to purchase a $20,000 car in cash!

So let’s weigh the differences between the two scenarios above. In the first case you paid the bank $5,496 to borrow the money and in the second case you earned $2,457 and could buy the car in cash after just 40 months (just over 3 years)! The opportunity cost of the first alternative versus the second alternative results in a net difference of $7,953 (a $2,457 gain versus a $5,496 loss). That means that by making a simple deferral decision (buying the car in 3 years versus today), you can get ahead by almost $8,000!