Investing Through Life's Stages

Key Points

Investing is a lifelong process. The sooner you start, the better off you'll be in the long run. It's best to start saving and investing as soon as you start earning money, even if it's only $10 a paycheck. The discipline and skills you learn will benefit you for the rest of your life. But no matter how old you are when you start thinking seriously about saving and investing, it's never too late to begin.

The first part of a successful lifelong investment strategy is disciplined savings habits. Regardless of whether you are saving for retirement, a new house, or just that extravagant dining room set, you will need to develop rigid savings habits. Regular contributions to savings or investment accounts are often the most productive; and if you can automate them, they are even easier.

Factors That Affect Your Investment Decisions

Once you begin saving on a regular basis, you'll soon have to decide how to invest the money you are saving. Regardless of what financial stage of life you are in, you will have to decide what your needs are and how comfortable you are with risk.

Growth or Income

What do you need the money for? The answer to this question will help determine whether you want to put your savings into investment products that produce income for you, or that concentrate on growing the value of your investment. For instance, a retirement fund does not need to produce income until you retire, so your investing strategy should focus on growth until you are close to retirement. After you retire, you'll want to draw income from your investment while keeping your principal intact to the extent possible.

Time and Risk Tolerance

All investing involves a certain amount of risk. How well you tolerate price fluctuations in your investments will need to be balanced against your required rate of return in determining the amount of risk your investments should carry. An offsetting factor to risk is time. If you plan to hold an investment for a long time, you will probably tolerate more risk because you have the time to make up any losses you may experience early on. For a shorter-term investment, such as saving to buy a house, you probably want to take on less risk and have more liquidity in your investments.

Sample Asset Allocations

Low Moderate Aggressive
% Treasury Bills 30 30 20 10 10 10
% Bonds 40 30 30 40 30 20
% Growth Stocks 30 30 40 30 50 70
% Small Caps 0 0 0 10 0 0
% International 0 10 10 10 10 0


Chart illustrates sample portfolio asset allocations: Low Risk (those nearing or in retirement); Moderate Risk (middle-aged investors); Aggressive Risk (younger investors).

Allocations are presented only as examples and are not intended as investment advice. Please consult a financial advisor if you have any questions about how these examples apply to your situation.

Sound Strategies for Everyone

Everyone lives his or her life differently, and everyone has complicated emotions about money, so investment decisions are highly personal and unique to each person. But there are some basic rules that apply to most investors.

Investing for Life Stages

Although everyone's attitude toward investing and money is different, most investors share some common situations throughout their lives. For instance, where you are in your life cycle certainly affects how you invest for retirement, but what about other life stages that aren't so closely related to age?

Let's say you're 40 and expecting your first child. You'll need to decide how to balance your finances to account for the additional expenses of a child. Perhaps you'll need to supplement your income with income-producing investments. Moreover, your child will be entering college at about the time you're ready to retire! In these circumstances, your growth and income needs most certainly will change, and maybe your risk tolerance as well.

The following are some major life events that most of us share, and some investment decisions that you may want to consider:

When you get your first "real" job:

When you get a raise:

When you get married:

When you want to buy your first house:

When you have a baby:

When you change jobs:

When all your children have moved out of the house:

When you reach 55:

When you retire:

Discipline and a Financial Advisor Can Help

One of the hardest things about investing is disciplining yourself to save an appropriate portion of your income regularly so that you can meet your investment goals. And if you're not fascinated with investing, it's probably also hard to force yourself to review your financial situation and investment strategy on a regular basis. Establishing a relationship with a trusted financial advisor can go a long way toward helping you practice smart money management over your entire lifetime.

Points to Remember

  1. The first step in a successful lifelong investment strategy is to develop disciplined savings habits.
  2. Throughout life, you should assess your need for growth or income.
  3. You will have to determine your overall tolerance to risk and regularly reassess your tolerance. Education and a long-range investment goal can help raise your risk tolerance.
  4. An offsetting factor to risk is time.
  5. You should probably always have a cash reserve in a money market fund, traditional savings account, or CD.
  6. You should probably always have some portion of your portfolio in stocks to help protect your investment from being devalued due to inflation.
  7. Increase regular investment contributions when your financial situation improves.
  8. Start separate investment funds for specific purposes, such as a fund for college or the down payment for a house.
  9. Schedule annual reviews of your investments.

1An investment in a money market fund is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Although the fund seeks to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 per share, it is possible to lose money by investing in the fund.

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