The other day I walked into a fast-food restaurant looking for a quick bite, but I froze when I went up to the counter to order.
I just couldn’t decide between the 57 different combo options to choose from. Do I get the bacon cheeseburger or the hot chicken sandwich? What side do I get? Fries? Tater tots? And what about drinks? Then I started to feel the stares from the folks behind me in line. That’s a lot of pressure to put on someone, people!
But if you think that’s stressful, trying to figure out how to invest your money can feel even more intimidating. It’s easy to go from pumped at the idea of saving for retirement to panicked trying to decide what to invest in. These are some big decisions. I get it.
The truth is, learning how to invest doesn’t have to be complicated. You can learn how to invest your money in a few simple steps:
- Step 1: Set goals for your investments.
- Step 2: Save 15% of your income for retirement.
- Step 3: Choose good growth stock mutual funds.
- Step 4: Invest with a long-term perspective.
- Step 5: Get help from an investing professional.
I’m going to walk you through how to get started with investing so that you can start working toward your retirement dreams.
Ready? Let’s do this!
Step 1: Set goals for your investments.
This is important. Take a step back for a second. What does your dream retirement look like? Have you ever really thought about it? No matter what age or stage of life you’re in, it’s never too early or too late to think about what you want to do in retirement someday. And make no mistake, “someday” is coming—and what it looks like depends on what you do today.
It’s not enough to invest “just for the sake of investing.” You need to have a strong “why,” something that keeps you going when times get tough and you’re tempted to jump ship. That’s why I want you to set a “dream date” with your spouse (or, if you’re single, meet up with a trusted friend) and talk about some of the things you want to do in your golden years. You might be surprised what you both come up with!
It’s not enough to invest “just for the sake of investing.” You need to have a strong “why,” something that keeps you going when times get tough.
But it’s not enough to dream. You need a plan to turn that dream into reality. Remember, retirement isn’t an age—it’s a financial number. You need to know exactly how much you’ll need to fund your retirement dream!
You can do this!
Step 2: Save 15% of your income for retirement.
Okay, let’s dive in. When you’re out of debt and have an emergency fund with three to six months of expenses saved, start investing 15% of your gross income toward retirement.
Why 15%? Because there are some other goals you need to plan for—like paying off your home early or saving for your kid’s college fund. Just remember, when it comes to juggling college savings and your own retirement goals, saving 15% of your income for retirement comes first.
The next step is to decide where to invest your money. Start with your work 401(k) and invest at least enough to receive the full employer match. Then you (and your spouse if you’re married) can invest up to $6,000 a year in a Roth IRA.
When you’re out of debt and have an emergency fund with three to six months of expenses saved, start investing 15% of your gross income toward retirement.
And the sooner you start investing, the more compound growth works to your advantage. Here’s what I mean: Let’s say you start investing $800 a month in good, growth stock mutual funds when you’re 35. If your investment grows for 30 years at the historic average annual rate of return, you could have over $1.7 million when you retire. How much of that was money you put in? Less than $300,000. The rest was compound growth!
What if you’re starting late with nothing saved at all? There’s still hope. If you start investing at age 50 and invest $800 each month, you could still end up with more than $600,000 by the time you celebrate your 70th birthday. That’s not bad at all!
Step 3: Choose good growth stock mutual funds.
It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by all the mutual fund options when you’re making your 401(k) selections or talking through your Roth IRA options with a financial advisor. With so many choices, it can be hard to figure out the best way to invest your money.
But choosing the right mutual funds is really simple if you follow this strategy. I recommend keeping your portfolio diversified by spreading your investments evenly across four mutual fund categories:
- Growth and income
- Aggressive growth
Yes, it’s that simple! Keeping your portfolio balanced with these four types of funds can help you minimize your risk and still take advantage of the returns the stock market can offer. If you’re confused about your fund options, talk to a financial advisor. They can help you make sense of the details so you feel confident about how your money is invested.
Keeping your portfolio balanced with these four types of funds can help you minimize your risk and still take advantage of the returns the stock market can offer.
Step 4: Invest with a long-term perspective.
When the market spikes or dips, it’s easy to make emotional decisions about your investments. Just remember: Saving for retirement is a marathon, not a sprint!
Jumping in and out as you try to time the market only costs you. For example, a study found that those who did so during the downturn of 2008 realized a 6.1% growth from September 2008 to March 2010. What about those who stayed in the market? Their growth was nearly 22% over the same 18-month period.1
Financial discipline and consistent investing were the keys to building wealth for millionaires. That means they put money into their 401(k)s and IRAs like clockwork month in and month out for decades, no matter what was happening on Wall Street.
And no matter what, don’t cash out your 401(k). Don’t steal from your future to fund your new kitchen remodel or dream vacation. Keep your hands off your retirement accounts until you’re ready to retire and invest consistently year after year—regardless of what the market is doing. That’s a long-term investing strategy you can count on.
Step 5: Get help from an investing professional.
Listen to me, you don’t need to have all the answers about long-term retirement investing. But you do want to have someone in your corner who can help you along your financial journey.
That’s why I recommend working with an experienced investing pro who can answer your questions and show you how to get your retirement savings started the right way.