You want it all – who doesn’t?
Unfortunately, for most of us it’s not so easy and there is no “silver bullet” to achieving all of your financial goals.
I must confess that I am weary (and wary) of blog posts that proclaim three easy steps to this and 5 simple ways to that… Meeting your financial goals takes planning and discipline, and, even then, there are no guarantees.
However, there are some universal truths that can improve your chances of hitting your most important objectives.
If juggling multiple financial goals seems overwhelming, check out these practical tips to help you with your planning.
Step One: Get a Clear Picture
List every savings goal that you’d ideally like to achieve. Don’t hold back – the time for self-editing will come later.
Just free-flow all of your objectives: retirement savings, building a backyard deck, buying a new car, sending your children to a private college.
Next, list your ideal time horizon associated with each goal. Certain goals have hard deadlines.
Your children, for example, will most likely go to college immediately after they graduate high school. Your roof and gutters must be replaced within the next 12 months.
Other goals have deadlines within a broader window of time. You might want to buy a vacation home within the next 5 to 10 years. You and your spouse might want to retire within 20 to 25 years.
Great – now that you know both your goals and your deadlines, work backwards to calculate how much you’ll need to save every month in order to achieve every goal.
If you want to buy a $24,000 car in 2 years, you’ll need to save $1,000 per month. If you want a $60,000 college fund for your children within the next 12 years, you’ll need to save $416 per month.
For retirement savings, think about how much money you currently need to maintain your lifestyle, how much you can expect your earnings to grow between now and retirement, and how much will you need when you’re retired.
Did the final figure overwhelm you?
Many people complete this exercise and realize the amount they’d need to save each month is more than they earn!
Don’t worry – the final stage within this step is to prioritize.
Now you know how much you’d need to save in order to reach each goal by your ideal deadline.
Start by making sure you are saving enough for retirement. Once this in place, pick the other goals that you can afford to save for, based on their importance and timeline.
The importance of this exercise, as painstaking as it may seem, is to help you develop a realistic plan.
You may have to forego the dream vacation home, but you’ll be on track for your kid’s college savings and a more secure retirement.
Often, without a proper plan that you can “touch and see”, you may find yourself on a path to neither.
Step Two: Be Tax Smart and Account Savvy
Not all savings should go into the same accounts.
The money you’re setting aside for the new car you want to buy in the next three months should go into a high-interest savings account, but the money you’re setting aside for college and retirement should take advantage of accounts that have tax incentives, such as a 401(k), IRA, or 529 plan.
Set up an automatic savings plan that directs your money into the appropriate accounts.
Instead of manually transferring money into your savings each month, automate the process. You’ll save more money when the process is hands-off.
Step Three: Invest Wisely
Now that your money is accumulating in the best vehicles for your goals, your final step is managing those accounts to make sure the cash you’re saving is optimized.
For goals that have a longer time horizon, like retirement, you’ll want to invest the money to optimize your returns (without taking undue risk).
I’ve spent the last 12 years in financial services, and currently work with a team that collectively has over 100 years’ experience in wealth management.
I’m not going to pretend I can distil all of that expertise into one paragraph that is the perfect fit for your personal investment strategy.
When it comes to investing, one size does not fit all.
Again, however, there are some basic steps that can help frame your approach to ensure you have a better chance of getting it right.
The first step to investing wisely is deciding how to allocate your savings. Asset allocation is widely regarded as the most important determinant of the performance of your portfolio.
This means allocating your assets among different asset classes (like stocks and bonds) according to your age, risk tolerance, time horizon and other personal factors.
The ideal mix of assets is one that achieves the highest level of returns given the risk you are willing to take.
Generally, the more time you have until retirement, the more capacity your portfolio should have for higher-risk investments like stocks.
[Related Article: 3 Steps to Better Asset Allocation ]
Then, you’ll need to select quality funds in each asset class. Be wary of only looking at a single data point like the fund’s year-to-date performance as your selection criteria.
Other attributes, like fund fees (expense ratio) and volatility, for example, should all come into the picture.
Generally, there is a lot to be said for low cost index funds as forming the foundation of your well-diversified portfolio.
And you can’t just “set it and forget it.” Once you’ve purchased your funds, you should rebalance at least once a year to keep your portfolio on track.
Sound overwhelming? Don’t worry.
Online investment advisors like Jemstep.com can offer an individualized investment strategy and unbiased buy/sell recommendations based on your unique profile.
Rather than leaving everything to “lady luck”, approaching multiple financial goals – including a mix of short-term and long-term goals – with clear priorities and a plan will improve your chances of success.
Kevin Cimring is CEO of Jemstep, an online investment advisor that helps people lock in more money for retirement. Using patented technology and proven portfolio management methodologies, Jemstep tells users exactly what to buy and sell to maximize their returns without undue risk, avoid high fees, and reduce taxes. Jemstep’s easy-to-use website takes the complexity, difficulty, and anxiety out of investing. A Registered Investment Advisor with the SEC, Jemstep is led by a team of experts with over 100 years’ combined experience in financial management and technology innovation and development. Learn more at Jemstep.com.