Fall is almost officially here — and if you're like most people, you're probably wondering how summer went by so fast. Those trips to the lake or the beach are fading in memory now, giving way to helping kids with homework, raking leaves and the other rites of autumn. And just as your day-to-day tasks change with the seasons, so, too, will your money management and investment activities at different phases of your life.
Here's how these scenarios might look:
Phase one: Planning for possibilities — When you're young and you're starting out in the working world, your most immediate financial concerns may be to pay off student loans and then, possibly, save for a down payment on a house. To address both these goals, you'll need to budget carefully. And yet, even at this stage of your life, you should start thinking about saving for retirement — because time is your biggest ally. Consequently, if you work for an employer who offers a retirement plan, such as a 401(k), contribute what you can afford. At the very least, put in enough to earn your company's matching contribution, if one is offered. You may also want to open an Individual Retirement Account (IRA).
Phase two: Gearing up for other goals — As you move through life, and possibly begin a family, you'll likely develop other financial goals, such as helping your children pay for college. You may want to consider investing in a tax-advantaged college savings vehicle, such as a 529 plan. Also, it's important to have enough life insurance to protect your young family.
Phase three: Ramping up for retirement — When you reach the mid-to-later stages of your working life, you may find you have more financial resources available, as your earnings may have increased significantly, your children have grown and your mortgage may even be paid off. If you are not already doing so, "max out," if possible, on your 401(k) and IRA. And if you still have money available to invest, you may want to look for other tax-advantaged retirement vehicles.
Phase four: Reaping the rewards — Now it's time to enjoy the results of your lifetime of hard work and your many years of saving and investing. You may have to tap into your retirement accounts, so you'll need to choose a sustainable annual withdrawal rate. The amount you withdraw each year from your IRA and 401(k) depends on a variety of factors: how much you've saved, the lifestyle you've chosen, your estimated longevity, how much you have available from other sources, and so on.
Phase five: Examining your estate plans — During your retirement years, if not sooner, you'll want to review your estate plans so that you can leave the legacy you desire. If you have a need to create or update your legal documents, such as a living trust and durable power of attorney, you should consider consulting a qualified estate-planning attorney.
You'll need to make the appropriate financial and investment decisions at many different times over the years. This may sound daunting, but with diligence and discipline, you can discover the paths to take as you move through the seasons of your life.