Too many young people rarely, or never, invest for their retirement years. Some distant date, 40 or so years in the future, is hard to imagine. However, without investments to supplement retirement income, if any, retirees will have a difficult time paying for life's necessities.
TUTORIAL: Stocks Basics
Smart, disciplined, regular investment in a portfolio of diverse holdings, can yield good long-term returns for retirement and provide additional income throughout an investor's working life.
An often stated reason for not investing is a lack of knowledge and understanding of the stock market. This objection can be overcome through self-education and step-by-step through the years, as an investor learns by investing. Classes in investing are also offered by a variety of sources, including city and state colleges, civic and not-for-profit organizations, and there are numerous books targeted to the beginning investor.
However, you've got to start investing now; the earlier you begin, the more time your investments will have to grow in value. Here's a good way to start building a portfolio, and how to manage it for the best results. (For related reading, see Top 5 Books For Young Investors.)
Start saving as soon as you go to work by participating in a 401(k) retirement plan, if it's offered by your employer. If a 401(k) plan is not available, establish an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and earmark a percentage of your compensation for a monthly contribution to the account. An easy, convenient way to save in an IRA or 401(k) is to create an automatic monthly cash contribution. Keep in mind, the savings accumulate and the interest compounds without taxes, as long as the money is not withdrawn, so it's wise to establish one of these retirement investment vehicles early in your working life.
Another reason to start saving early is that usually the younger you are, the less likely you are to have burdensome financial obligations: a spouse, children and mortgage, for example. That means you can allocate a small portion of your investment portfolio to higher risk investments, which may return higher yields.
When you start investing while young, before your financial commitments start piling up, you'll probably also have more cash available for investing and a longer time horizon before retirement. With more money to invest for many years to come, you'll have a bigger retirement nest egg.
To illustrate the advantage of value investing as soon as possible, assume you invest $200 every month starting at age 25. If you earn a 7% annual return on that money, when you're 65 your retirement nest egg will be approximately $525,000. However, if you start saving that $200 monthly at age 35 and get the same 7% return, you'll only have about $244,000 at age 65. (For additional reading, see Accelerating Returns With Continuous Compounding.)
Select stocks across a broad spectrum of market categories. This is best achieved in an index fund. Invest in conservative stocks with regular dividends, stocks with long-term growth potential, and a small percentage of stocks with better returns, along with higher risk potential. If you're investing in individual stocks, don't put more than 4% of your total portfolio into one stock. That way, if a stock or two suffers a downturn, your portfolio won't be too adversely effected. Certain AAA rated bonds are also good investments for the long term, either corporate or government. Long-term U.S. Treasury bonds, for example, are safe and pay a higher rate of return than short- and mid-term bonds. (To learn more on investing in bonds, read Bond Basics: Different Types Of Bonds.)
Keep Costs to a Minimum
Invest with a discount brokerage firm. Another reason to consider index funds when beginning to invest is that they have low fees. Because you'll be investing for the long-term, don't buy and sell regularly in response to market ups and downs. This saves you commission expenses and management fees, and may prevent cash losses when the price of your stock declines.
Discipline and Regular Investing
Make sure that you put money into your investments on a regular, disciplined basis. This may not be possible if you lose your job, but once you find new employment, continue to put money into your portfolio.
Asset Allocation and Re-Balance
Assign a certain percentage of your portfolio to growth stocks, dividend paying stocks, index funds and stocks with a higher risk, but better returns.
When your asset allocation changes (i.e., market fluctuations change the percentage of your portfolio allocated to each category), re-balance your portfolio by adjusting your monetary stake in each category to reflect your original percentage. (For more information, read Five Things To Know About Asset Allocation.),
A portfolio of holdings in a tax-deferred account, a 401(k), for example, builds wealth faster than a portfolio with tax liability. You pay taxes on the amount of money withdrawn from a tax deferred retirement account. A Roth IRA also accumulates tax free savings, but the account owner doesn't have to pay taxes on the amount withdrawn. To qualify for a Roth IRA, your modified adjusted gross income must meet IRS limits and other regulations. Earnings are federally tax free if you've owned your Roth IRA for at least five years and you're older than 59.5, or if you're younger than 59.5, have owned your Roth IRA for at least five years and the withdrawal is due to your death or disability, or for a first time home purchase.
The Bottom Line
Disciplined, regular, diversified investment in a tax deferred 401(k), IRA or a potentially tax-free Roth IRA, and smart portfolio management can build a significant nest egg for retirement. A portfolio with tax liability, dividends and the sale of profitable stock can provide cash to supplement employment or business income. Managing your assets by re-allocation and keeping costs, such as commissions and management fees, low, can produce maximum returns. If you start investing as early as possible, your stocks will have more time to build value. Finally, keep learning about investments throughout your life, both before and after retirement. The more you know, the more your potential portfolio return, with proper management, of course. (For related reading, see Investing 101.)