Being in the investment advisory business for awhile now, we get a lot of questions about what we think of the markets, especially around times like this. People always like to ask what we’re investing in. And it’s a very fair question given what we do. Investing can be exciting (or horrifying), despite the fact that the best way we know how to invest is actually quite boring. It’s challenging, and there is an abundance of news about it minute-by-minute, and there is always a chance of finding the next big thing or seeing something that maybe nobody else is seeing. And all the stories of that guy who made all this money by investing in that thing have a great allure…because why can’t we be the guy, right? But the truth is that while what you are invested in is important, it's much less important than knowing what you’re investing for.
If you don’t know what you’re investing for, what you’re investing in can be much less effective. Here are a few examples where questions about what you are investing for need to be answered before we figure out what to be investing in…
Are you saving for a house in the next 5-years?
Well then our thoughts on the market and asset allocation aren’t necessary, because you probably shouldn’t put that money in the way of too much risk, if any.
Do you have an emergency fund in place to cover 3-6 months of expenses in the event of something unforeseen?
If yes, great. Let’s talk about your goals and long-term investing. If not, lets talk about how we’re going to get that fund in place. Again, thoughts on investing not yet important.
Are you saving for college?
If so, how old are your kids? And have you considered options like a 529 savings plan or maybe the flexibility of saving some money in a Roth IRA? Do you know how much you need to save each month to cover at least some of the cost or which accounts will count against you more heavily when you apply for financial aid? All questions that should be answered before deciding what to invest in.
Do you love to travel and have experiences with your family?
Sounds great. Then you will need to consider that some of the money spent on today’s experiences will not be invested for tomorrow’s goals. How you decide to balance the two is a personal decision. But how does that impact your present finances and your future retirement lifestyle? No need to discuss the market just yet…
Oh wait, you have a family…how are you going to take care of them if something happens to you?
Let’s talk about insurance. Do you have life and/or disability insurance, and if so, do you have enough? Do you have a Will, Powers of Attorney, and Medical directives in place? Not impacted by the markets…
Yes please. But when is the right age, what is the amount of money you’ll need each month when you get there. What retirement vehicles do you have access to and are you fully taking care of your employer-match? Do you know where all of you accounts are and what options you have? Gotta figure that out in conjunction with providing our thoughts on investing for your situation.
You get the point. What you are investing in is really important. And not doing it properly can have an impact on your goals, maybe even a big one. You invest in stocks, bonds, real estate, commodities and alternatives. But, more importantly, you invest for your family, a secure retirement, to have fun, to live the life you enjoy today and want to tomorrow. Getting the order right can make a huge difference in your personal financial effectiveness over time.