Here is the dilemma: we are responsible for our own retirement but no one has taught us how to build a nest egg. Thus, we are at the mercy of the financial services industry which gladly provides the service and in the process takes a huge chunk of our nest egg and produces poor performance.
Not surprisingly many people avoid the responsibility of planning for their retirement until it is too late. In many instances people even pass up the opportunity for the 401(k) company match because they just don't know what to do. In other instances they wade into the company 401(k) and see a bewildering choice of Funds and subsequently back off bewildered.
If the subject of investing is taught at all in school it is taught by those who know little of the subject. They typically will use materials provided by the financial services industry and look at investing as a stock picking exercise. They will present a basic method of valuation based on P/E ratios etc. and encouraged to research stocks and trade the stocks. Many times this presented as a game. This of course is what the industry wants. If the industry could turn of us into day traders it would be exactly what they want.
So here is a proposed approach to teaching investing for retirement. I suggest it be presented by human resources departments when young people start their career or whenever they have the opportunity to participate in a 401(k) type vehicle. The approach isn't set in concrete for every single investor. If you think you're the next Warren Buffett and believe you are a great stock picker then go for it. If you want to trade your 401(k) aggressively to try to hit a homerun go for it. If you want to snub your nose at diversification principles go for it. Just understand that instead of hitting the ball in the upper deck you are more likely to strike out.
If instead you take Aesop's advice and go the route of the tortoise as presented here and are patient the odds are high that you will achieve the retirement dreams you seek.
Again this is a simple approach for most nest egg builders.
Begin by looking at your company 401(k) for so-called "retirement date funds" or "life cycle funds". They typically have a year attached to their name - this is the year of expected retirement. For example, a retirement date Fund might be named "Fund 2035". This would be for employees expected to retire in approximately 20 years. This would be you for example if you are in your mid 40s.
In fact, many 401(k)s automatically opt in new employees and the Fund they go into is the appropriate retirement date fund.
Check the retirement date fund's expense ratio. This expense is charged every year. It shouldn't be more than .3%. So, find the Fund that is closest to when you expect to retire and put 100% of your 401(k) contributions into it. You should save at least 10% of your gross income into your 401(k). More would be better. The more you save now the more choices you have down the road.
So with that simple step you're on the right path. By selecting a retirement date/life cycle type fund your asset allocation is handled for you. This basically is the percentage invested in stocks,bonds, international stocks etc. Your job now is to go to work on your career, get promoted build your human capital and even enjoy your family. Your investments are on auto pilot and doing their thing.
FAQ 1: What if the market drops and my account goes down?
First off you shouldn't be watching it that closely because you are working on getting promoted, enjoying your family etc. But still know this: a falling market is good because it enables you to buy more shares of the target date fund out of each paycheck. Always remember this: what you care about is where the market is years from now when you retire.
FAQ 2: What if I can't save at least 10%.
Make adjustments. Take another job, hold back on vacation expenses, buy a lesser car etc.Do what you have to do. The 10% is for your future self! Think about this: if you can't do at least 10% then it is likely you will be a burden to your kids when they are in their prime years of trying to build a family.
The next post will go step 2 on the transition to the next step once your 401(k) gets sizable.
If you are seeking investment help, look at the video here on my services. If you are seeking a different approach to managing your assets, you have landed at the right spot. I am a fee-only advisor registered in the State of Maryland, charge less than half the going rate for investment management, and seek to teach individuals how to manage their own assets using low-cost indexed exchange traded funds. Please call or email me if interested in further details. My website is at http://www.rwinvestmentstrategies.com. If you are new to investing, take a look at the "DIY Investor Newbie" posts here by typing "newbie" in the search box above to the left. These take you through the basics of what you need to know in getting started on doing your own investing.