Friday, July 03, 2015

4 Steps Toward Financial Independence

While retirement and retirement savings may not be high on your Independence Day weekend agenda, it can be a good time to focus on things that have been pushed aside for more pressing priorities.

Here are four steps you can take this weekend that can help put you on the road to achieve financial independence.

1. Figure Out How Much You Need

Yogi Berra once famously noted that if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.
Effective savings strategies start with a goal, something to aim for. For many, retirement savings goals seem impossible to set. After all, there’s no “blue book” on the cost or quality of retirement — no single answer to the question, “How much do I need?” As a result, many people fear that their estimates “aren’t even in the ballpark” of what will be required. The 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey affirmed a long-standing trend — that most haven’t made even a single attempt to figure out what they might need for retirement.

There are, however, tools that can help you set a reasonable target. If your workplace retirement plan doesn’t currently provide that option, the Ballpark E$timate at www.choosetosave.org is free, thorough, and won’t require much of your weekend to come up with a target based on your individual circumstances.

2. Rebalance Your Account

While a growing number of individuals take advantage of strategies like managed accounts and target-date funds — options that are regularly rebalanced by investment professionals — to invest their 401(k) balances, many workers (especially older ones) still make individual fund selections, either on their own or with the help of an advisor. The problem is, we’re often too busy to go back and review those decisions. Unfortunately, left unattended too long, market movements can leave even the best investment choices out of balance and produce results that are unintended.

If you haven’t rebalanced your account in a while (or can’t remember when you did), take advantage of the long weekend to do so.

Note: if you are using a strategy like a target-date fund, balanced fund or managed account with your workplace plan, you shouldn’t need to rebalance. And if you’re not using one of those options, this might be a good opportunity to consider making a change.

3. Bump Up That Contribution Rate

Like those investment choices, most of us make a decision about how much to save once, frequently when we first join the plan. At that time you may have chosen that rate based on the employer match, or the rate that the plan automatically enrolled you, or perhaps even just the amount that you thought you could afford at the time. Odds are you haven’t changed that rate since that very first time, however — and if you didn’t make that decision based on an assessment of how much you needed to provide a financially secure retirement (see #1 above), it may not be enough.

So, take that rate and consider increasing it — by at least 1%, or more if you can.
And make a point of increasing that savings rate annually.

4. Give Your Plan an Annual Check Up

It may seem obvious, but once you have figured out how much you’ll need to live on in retirement, you need to see if you are on track to achieve that goal. So pull out those retirement plan statements, take a look at your current rate of savings, how you’re invested, the amount of the employer match, and your remaining years of saving/investing, and see how far that takes you in achieving the goal you set above.

If your current approach leaves you short of that goal, consider alternatives — saving more, for instance, or in a way that allows you to maximize your employer match. The tool you used to forecast your needs should also be able to help you see the impact that changes in your current savings strategy can make.

Then remember that things change. Whether it’s your health, your family, your income, or your place of residence, your plan needs to keep up with your needs and expectations.

While you don’t need to constantly reassess, even if there aren’t major changes it’s a good idea to check it out at least once a year — and why not on a long weekend?

Regardless, always consider seeking the help of a qualified expert advisor to help you make the decisions that will allow you to celebrate your own financial independence!

- Nevin E. Adams, JD

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