Every year, many of us make New Year's resolutions and then can't follow through because we claim we're too busy. The most common priority — if another hour can be found in the day — is to spend more time with family and friends. The second one on the list is to find time for physical fitness. But given two extra hours, far too many of us just work that much longer on our backlog of pressing responsibilities.
This year, however, is different. Financial planning concerns very likely threaten to consume your life and ruin all your other New Year's resolutions. The tsunami of 2008 left your finances beached in a tree, and a plan to get back on track in order to meet your goals is imperative. You can't afford to spend time with family and friends and make it to the gym unless you have someone on your team watching out for your finances. Few of us are disciplined enough to accomplish what we need to do without help.
If you are young, you may not have had that much saved relative to your annual spending anyway. But if you are older than 40, what you save each year is small compared with what you already have invested. So, growing that money is critical. And for both young and old alike, for every seven years you delay saving and investing, you cut in half the lifestyle you might enjoy in retirement.
Here are some suggestions.
First, ask the right questions and stay the course until you've found the answers. Goals that are shared are 10 times more likely to be acted on. Don't wait until you have everything set up to seek out accountability.
Second, make those goals concrete and then document them. Set your savings goals as a specific annual percentage of your adjusted gross income (AGI). We recommend saving at least 10 percent of your AGI in tax-free retirement accounts and another 5 percent toward retirement in taxable investments. If you are behind on your savings (over age 40 with less than five times your AGI in investments), you may want to save more in order to catch up.
Third, craft the best strategy to implement your goals, including prioritizing the appropriate retirement vehicles. We recommend investing just enough to get the entire match that your company's 401(k) plan offers, first and then funding your Roth IRA accounts next. After these two, make certain you have enough non-retirement savings. By prioritizing your investment vehicles, you are deliberately putting your money into accounts that combine the greatest number of asset allocation choices with the lowest possible fees. Many company 401(k) accounts have such high fees and poor choices that they frustrate investors.
Fourth, automate your plan. Automating putting money in an employer-defined contribution plan is easy. Automating a taxable savings plan is just as painless. Most brokers offer an automatic money link between your investment account and your checking account. They also offer a monthly automatic transfer between the two accounts.
Finally, monitor your plan and rebalance your portfolio regularly. I recommend doing this halfway through the year after your June 30 statement.
Your plan must be comprehensive. Investment management may be at the core, but it is not the most critical element. Managing your investments must be done in the context of sound financial planning that you and an advisor monitor and review regularly. Financial planning includes retirement projections, figuring out how much to save and setting reasonable spending rates in retirement.
But an even more important element than financial planning is a comprehensive wealth management plan, which should include reasonable and appropriate insurance and liability coverage.
Perhaps the most critical component of wealth management in the new year will be tax management. With the potential for tax rates to fluctuate even more than the stock market, the value of tax management has never been greater. In addition to positioning your family's wealth to take advantage of all the possibilities, from Roth conversion to municipal bonds, you also will need help to contend with the plethora of changes in estate planning laws over the next few years.
Investment management, financial planning, wealth management and estate planning underline the need for integrated life planning. You can learn to enjoy life more, and find time for family and exercise, if you delegate the financial, tax and legal issues to trustworthy advisors.
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