It's important to know what you want to accomplish with your investments before you actually invest
Step 1: Set Your Financial Goals
You can create a list of your financial goals on your own or by working with us. We will show you how to get started. Please sign-up for our 30-minute confidential consultation.
Step 2: Know Your Net Worth
You can figure out how much you have (or don't have) to invest by calculating your net worth, the difference between your assets and liabilities. Our worksheet below can help.
Step 3: Manage Your Debt
Paying down your debt is one of the best ways to increase your positive cash flow and save money that you then can invest.
It's important to know what you want to accomplish with your investments before you actually invest. For example, you might want to purchase a home, a rental property, a commercial real estate net lease, fund a child's college education, build a precious metal portfolio or build an adequate retirement nest egg. If you set financial goals at the outset—you are more likely to reach them.
You also want to get a handle on basic finances such as how much money is coming in (taxable incomes) and going out (non-deductible expenses). This will help you control spending and manage debt. Most importantly, it will help you methodically save and invest, which is essential to building your net worth (liabilities minus assets).
The information below helping you to establish and to meet your financial goals. Also, additional resources for business, finance, investment, real estate and entrepreneur are available at our Amazon Corner.
Step 1: Set Your Financial Goals
Just as in other aspects of your life, setting financial goals (in writing) is a first step to reach those goals.
You can create a list of your financial goals on your own or you can work with us who has experience in this area. To make the most of this exercise, assign each of your financial goals a price tag and a time frame. Then, identify the kinds of savings and investing strategies that may be appropriate for meeting your goals.
One advantage of working with us that we may provide the encouragement you need to move from thinking about your goals to actually listing them out, and taking steps to achieve them.
While everyone's circumstances are a little bit different, there are essentially four steps to creating a strategy for meeting your goals that will work for just about every person and situation:
It's relatively easy to anticipate the costs of short-term goals, since they probably won't be significantly different from what they are today. Estimating the costs of goals that are further in the future, especially major ones like the cost of college or retirement, can be a bit challenging.
For goals that are more than a few years away, you also need to consider the impact of inflation on your assets. Historically, inflation has averaged about 3 percent per year. In addition, the costs of tuition at both public and private colleges typically rise even faster. That means you'll have to earn enough on your investments to offset these rising costs.
Set a Time Frame for Your Financial Goals
It's important to know the "when" of your financial goals, because investing for short-term goals differs from investing for long-term goals: Your investment strategy will vary depending on how long you can keep your money invested. Most goals fit into one of the three categories below--short-term, medium-term and long-term.
Learn more of precious metal and how bullion pricing works
You may also want to consider alternatives that don't impose potential penalties or fees for accessing your money before a maturity date. For example, a five-year CD might be safe, but the early withdrawal penalty is likely to cut into the money you are counting on for a short-term goal such as a down payment on a home you want to buy next year or a tuition payment that's due next January.
Cash investments typically pay lower interest rates than longer-term bonds—sometimes not enough to outpace inflation over the long term. But since you plan to use the money relatively quickly, inflation shouldn't have much of an impact on your purchasing power. And keep in mind that some cash investments offer the added security of government insurance, such as bank money market accounts and CDs, which are both insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.
Here are possible strategies for managing a portfolio of investments for goals that are three to ten years in the future:
While past performance is no guarantee of future results, historical returns consistently show that a well-diversified stock portfolio can be the most rewarding over the long term. It's true that over shorter periods—say less than 10 years—investing heavily in stock can lead to portfolio volatility and even to losses. But when you have 15 years or more to meet your goals, you have a good chance of being able to ride out market downturns and watch short-term losses eventually be offset by future gains.
In addition, some investors successfully build the value of their long-term portfolios buying and selling bonds to take advantage of increases in market value that may result from investor demand. Others diversify into commercial real estate net lease or real estate investment trusts (REITs). The larger your portfolio and the more comfortable you are making investment decisions, the more flexible you can be. As you begin thinking seriously about what your goals are, you'll want to be specific about your time frame for meeting them.
Learn more of commercial real estate net lease
You may find it helpful to put your ideas down in writing, perhaps in a chart form like this:
Keep in mind that no goal is short-, medium-, or long-term forever, and so the timetable for your financial goals will evolve over time. For instance, retirement will be a long-term goal when you're 35, but will probably be a short-term goal when you're 65. Similarly, paying for your child's higher education will be a long-term goal when she's a baby, but a short-term goal when she's a high-school sophomore. So your investing approach—and your choice of investments—will need to evolve as you draw closer to each of your goals.
As your priorities or life circumstances change, you may also find that you want to delay certain goals by a year or two, while others you may want to try to meet sooner. And some—such as a second car that you were planning to buy or an expensive family trip—you may decide to forego altogether. It's important to stay flexible and adapt your timetable to your changing needs and priorities.
Types of Investments
Think of the various types of investments as tools that can help you achieve your financial goals. Each broad investment type—from bank products to stocks and bonds—has its own general set of features, risk factors and ways in which they can be used by investors.
Learn more about the various types of investments below.
Commercial real estate net lease
Income producing, lowest risk, appreciation and secured by real estate.
Banks and credit unions can provide a safe and convenient way to accumulate savings—and some banks offer services that can help you manage your money. Checking and savings accounts offer liquidity and flexibility.
A bond is a loan an investor makes to an organization in exchange for interest payments over a specified term plus repayment of principal at the bond’s maturity date. Learn how corporate, muni, agency, Treasury and other types of bonds work.
When you buy shares of a company’s stock, you own a piece of that company. Stocks come in a wide variety, and they often are described based the company’s size, type, performance during market cycles and potential for short- and long-term growth. Learn more about your choices—from penny-stocks to large caps and more.
Funds—such as mutual funds, closed-end funds and exchange-traded funds—pool money from many investors and invest it according to a specific investment strategy. Funds can offer diversification, professional management and a wide variety of investment strategies and styles. But not all funds are the same. Understand how they work, and research fund fees and expenses.
An annuity is a contract between you and an insurance company, in which the company promises to make periodic payments, either starting immediately—called an immediate annuity—or at some future time—a deferred annuity.
Saving for College
Funding college begins with savings, starting with how much to save. Learn the many, smart ways to save for college, including 529 College Savings Plans and Coverdell Education Savings Accounts.
Numerous types of investments come into play when saving for retirement and managing income once you retire. For saving, tax-advantaged retirement options such as a 401(k) or an IRA can be a smart choice. Managing retirement income may require moving out of certain investments and into ones that are better suited to a retirement lifestyle.
Options are contracts that give the purchaser the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a security, such as a stock or exchange-traded fund, at a fixed price within a specific period of time. It pays to learn about different types of options, trading strategies and the risks involved.
Commodity futures contracts are agreements to buy or sell a specific quantity of a commodity at a specified price on a particular date in the future. Commodities include precious metals, oil, grains and animal products, as well as financial instruments and currencies. With limited exceptions, trading in futures contracts must be executed on the floor of a commodity exchange.
Federal regulations permit trading in futures contracts on single stocks, also known as single stock futures, and certain security indices. Learn more about security futures, how they differ from stock options and the risks they can pose.
Alternative and Complex Products
These products include notes with principal protection and high-yield bonds that have lower credit ratings and higher risk of default than traditional investments, but offer more attractive rates of return. Learn about their features, risks and potential advantages.
Life insurance products come in various forms, including term life, whole life and universal life policies. There also are variations on these—variable life insurance and variable universal life—which are considered securities. See how insurance products may fit into an overall financial plan.
Risk is the possibility that a negative financial outcome that matters to you might occur
The Reality of Investment Risk
When it comes to risk, here’s a reality check: All investments carry some degree of risk. Stocks, bonds, mutual funds and exchange-traded funds can lose value, even all their value, if market conditions sour. Even conservative, insured investments, such as certificates of deposit (CDs) issued by a bank or credit union, come with inflation risk. They may not earn enough over time to keep pace with the increasing cost of living.
What Is Risk?
When you invest, you make choices about what to do with your financial assets. Risk is any uncertainty with respect to your investments that has the potential to negatively affect your financial welfare.
For example, your investment value might rise or fall because of market conditions (market risk). Corporate decisions, such as whether to expand into a new area of business or merge with another company, can affect the value of your investments (business risk). If you own an international investment, events within that country can affect your investment (political risk and currency risk, to name two).
There are other types of risk. How easy or hard it is to cash out of an investment when you need to is called liquidity risk. Another risk factor is tied to how many or how few investments you hold. Generally speaking, the more financial eggs you have in one basket, say all your money in a single stock, the greater risk you take (concentration risk).
In short, risk is the possibility that a negative financial outcome that matters to you might occur.
There are several key concepts you should understand when it comes to investment risk.
Risk and Reward.
The level of risk associated with a particular investment or asset class typically correlates with the level of return the investment might achieve. The rationale behind this relationship is that investors willing to take on risky investments and potentially lose money should be rewarded for their risk.
In the context of investing, reward is the possibility of higher returns. Historically, stocks have enjoyed the most robust average annual returns over the long term (just over 10 percent per year), followed by corporate bonds (around 6 percent annually), Treasury bonds (5.5 percent per year) and cash/cash equivalents such as short-term Treasury bills (3.5 percent per year). The trade-off is that with this higher return comes greater risk: as an asset class, stocks are riskier than corporate bonds, and corporate bonds are riskier than Treasury bonds or bank savings products.
Although stocks have historically provided a higher return than bonds and cash investments (albeit, at a higher level of risk), it is not always the case that stocks outperform bonds or that bonds are lower risk than stocks. Both stocks and bonds involve risk, and their returns and risk levels can vary depending on the prevailing market and economic conditions and the manner in which they are used. So, even though target-date funds are generally designed to become more conservative as the target date approaches, investment risk exists throughout the lifespan of the fund.
Averages and Volatility.
While historic averages over long periods can guide decision-making about risk, it can be difficult to predict (and impossible to know) whether, given your specific circumstances and with your particular goals and needs, the historical averages will play in your favor. Even if you hold a broad, diversified portfolio of stocks such as the S&P 500 for an extended period of time, there is no guarantee that they will earn a rate of return equal to the long-term historical average.
The timing of both the purchase and sale of an investment are key determinants of your investment return (along with fees). But while we have all heard the adage, “buy low and sell high,” the reality is that many investors do just the opposite. If you buy a stock or stock mutual fund when the market is hot and prices are high, you will have greater losses if the price drops for any reason compared with an investor who bought at a lower price. That means your average annualized returns will be less than theirs, and it will take you longer to recover.
Investors should also understand that holding a portfolio of stocks even for an extended period of time can result in negative returns. For example, on March 10, 2000, the NASDAQ composite closed at all-time high of 5,048.62. It has only been recently that the closing price has approached this record level, and for well over a decade the NASDAQ Composite was well off its historic high. In short, if you bought at or near the market’s peak, you may still not be seeing a positive return on your investment. Investors holding individual stocks for an extended period of time also face the risk that the company they are invested in could enter a state of permanent decline or go bankrupt.
Time Can Be Your Friend or Foe
Based on historical data, holding a broad portfolio of stocks over an extended period of time (for instance a large-cap portfolio like the S&P 500 over a 20-year period) significantly reduces your chances of losing your principal. However, the historical data should not mislead investors into thinking that there is no risk in investing in stocks over a long period of time.
For example, suppose an investor invests $10,000 in a broadly diversified stock portfolio and 19 years later sees that portfolio grow to $20,000. The following year, the investor’s portfolio loses 20 percent of its value, or $4,000, during a market downturn. As a result, at the end of the 20-year period, the investor ends up with a $16,000 portfolio, rather than the $20,000 portfolio she held after 19 years. Money was made—but not as much as if shares were sold the previous year. That’s why stocks are always risky investments, even over the long-term. They don’t get safer the longer you hold them.
This is not a hypothetical risk. If you had planned to retire in the 2008 to 2009 time frame—when stock prices dropped by 57 percent—and had the bulk of your retirement savings in stocks or stock mutual funds, you might have had to reconsider your retirement plan.
Investors should also consider how realistic it will be for them to ride out the ups and downs of the market over the long-term. Will you have to sell stocks during an economic downturn to fill the gap caused by a job loss? Will you sell investments to pay for medical care or a child’s college education? Predictable and unpredictable life events might make it difficult for some investors to stay invested in stocks over an extended period of time.
You cannot eliminate investment risk. But two basic investment strategies can help manage both systemic risk (risk affecting the economy as a whole) and non-systemic risk (risks that affect a small part of the economy, or even a single company).
The bottom line is all investments carry some degree of risk. By better understanding the nature of risk, and taking steps to manage those risks, you put yourself in a better position to meet your financial goals.
Step 2: Know Your Net Worth
As you prepare to invest, you'll need to assess your net worth. It's not hard: add up what you own and subtract what you owe. Creating a net worth statement, and updating it each year, will help you monitor your financial progress and meet financial goals. It will also enable you to calculate how much you have (or don't have) to invest.
The first step in this process is to determine the total amount of your assets. Assets are your possessions that have value—for example, money in bank accounts, stocks and bonds, personal property, your home or other income producing real estate. Once you've calculated your assets, determine the total amount of your liabilities. Liabilities are financial obligations, or debts. Examples include credit card balances, personal or auto loans and mortgages.
Once you've calculated the total amount of your assets and liabilities, subtract the total amount of liabilities from the total amount of assets. Ideally, you'll want to have a greater amount in assets than liabilities. If your assets are more than your liabilities, you have a "positive" net worth. If your liabilities are greater than your assets, you have a "negative" net worth. If you have a negative net worth, it's probably not the right time to start investing. You should re-evaluate your finances and determine how you can decrease liabilities—for example, by reducing your credit card debt. If you have a positive net worth and cash flow, you're probably ready to start an investment plan.
Here's a simple net worth worksheet that can help you get started. It’s a good practice to calculate your net worth on a yearly basis. Net Worth Sample Worksheet
Net Worth = Total Assets Less Total Liabilities
Step 3: Manage Your Debt
Most people carry debt in one form or another, and you are probably one of them. Your debts, also called liabilities, can include the mortgage on your home, loans for automobiles or education expenses and, of course, credit card balances. Virtually all of these debts come with an obligation to pay monthly interest on the balance you still owe. As you prepare to invest, take stock of your current debts and try to pay them down. The less money you put towards paying off outstanding debts and interest charges, the more you will have to save and invest for your future.
If you use a credit card to make purchases, you should know that they have advantages and disadvantages. If you spend within your means and pay off your balance on time—and in full—each month, credit cards can serve as a safe and convenient substitute for cash. And there is the added bonus that they can help you establish and maintain a solid credit history. But if you use them to purchase items you couldn't otherwise afford—or max out your cards to cover routine monthly expenses—credit cards can quickly compound your debt and hurt your credit score.
Few money-management strategies pay off as well as, or with less risk than, paying off all high interest debt you may have. Let's say you have a $3,000 balance on a credit card that charges 18 percent APR and requires a minimum payment of 2.5 percent each month. Assuming you charge nothing else, it will take you 263 months—nearly 22 years—to pay off your debt! In addition, the total amount you pay for that $3,000 charge will be $4,115.44—an amount that you could have saved or invested. If you can't pay off credit card debt immediately, work out a structured plan to pay off the balance as quickly as possible. You'll save money in the long run.
Additional resources for business, finance, investment, real estate and entrepreneur are available at our Amazon Corner.
Should you have further questions how to get started, please sign-up for our 30-minute confidential consultation.
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