As an investor, what are your goals? You can probably think of quite a few — but over the course of your lifetime, your objectives typically will fall into five key categories. And once you're familiar with these areas, you can start thinking of what they'll mean to you in terms of your financial and investment strategies.
So, let's take a look at each of these areas and see what they might entail for you:
•Preparing for retirement —With advances in health care and a greater awareness of healthy living practices, many of us can expect to live two or three decades in an active retirement. To pay for all those years, you'll need to save and invest early and often. So, while you're working, take full advantage of your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan, as well as contribute to a traditional or Roth IRA. After understanding your desired retirement lifestyle, your financial advisor can help you determine how, and how much, to save to provide for your income in retirement.
•Planning for the unexpected —You can't see into the future, so you'll need to prepare for anything that comes your way. By building an emergency fund containing six to 12 months' worth of living expenses, you can possibly avoid dipping into your long-term investments to pay for things such as a new furnace or a major car repair. And planning for the unexpected also means having sufficient life insurance to provide for your family in case anything happens to you.
•Educating your children —College is already expensive — and college expenses have been rising faster than the overall rate of inflation. If you want to help your children, or grandchildren, pay for school, you may want to invest in a college savings vehicle, such as the 529 plan. You can contribute large amounts to a 529 plan, and earnings have the opportunity to grow tax-free, provided withdrawals are used for higher education. (Withdrawals not used for education are subject to income taxes and a 10 percent penalty.)
•Living in retirement —Once you reach retirement, your investment emphasis will shift somewhat, from accumulating resources to making them last. By working with a financial advisor, you can develop a withdrawal strategy that can help make sure you don't outlive the income you receive from your 401(k), IRA and other sources. At the same time, given the possible length of your retirement, you can't ignore the need to invest for growth, so you may need to consider some growth-oriented vehicles in your portfolio to help your income keep pace with inflation.
•Transferring your wealth —When you've worked hard your whole life, you want to be able to leave a legacy —one that allows you to provide financial resources to the next generation and to those charitable organizations you may wish to support. So, when it's time to think about transferring your wealth, you'll want to consult with your financial and legal advisors to create an estate plan that's appropriate for your needs. And because these plans can take significant time to create, you won't want to wait too long to start.
So, there you have them: five key financial areas on which to focus as you travel through life. By doing your homework, planning ahead and getting the help you need, you can make the journey a pleasant and productive one.