This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of 425 Business.
Sometimes, I just want to scratch my head and ask, “Why does Wall Street make it so hard?”
Building a successful portfolio today to reach your financial goals for tomorrow can be as difficult — or as easy — as you make it out to be. All it takes is common sense and a little energy on your part to put into motion a game plan that will see you through your retirement years.
Let’s take a look at three ways you can simplify the process of building wealth, ignoring Wall Street, and getting on with your life.
1. Automate your saving.
The most obvious way to accomplish this process is through workplace retirement plans, including 401(k), 457(b) and 403(b) accounts. All you have to do is sign up for the plan and let your employer know how much you want withdrawn from your paycheck, and the specific investments into which you want your savings placed.
From here on out, your saving is on autopilot. On top of that, if you are one of the lucky investors, your employer will match your savings up to a certain amount — free money you cannot afford to pass up.
If your company does not offer a workplace retirement plan, don’t despair. You can still set up an individual retirement account (IRA) and have your human resources department direct a portion of your monthly earnings into this account on a tax-deferred basis.
And finally, if you are really intent on saving beyond what your company and federal regulations allow on a tax-deferred basis, you can always invest additional dollars in a taxable account.
2. Automate your investment choices.
With so many retirement plans now offering target-date funds, this is the easy part. These are mutual funds that automatically increase their bond allocations, making your portfolio more conservative throughout your lifetime.
If target-date funds are not available in your company’s retirement plan, you can still build a three-fund portfolio that includes a domestic, international, and bond index fund.
A primary benefit of keeping your portfolio simple is that you never have to second-guess your investment choices because you are capturing the long-term returns of each asset class. This lets you ignore the market and focus on financial matters that are in your control, like everyday saving and spending decisions.
3. Track your spending.
Speaking of spending, it is time to automate the tracking of your spending. I am not talking about creating a budget, which for most folks (including me) doesn’t work. I am suggesting you create some system so that at the end of the year, you can fairly quickly determine where you spent all your money during the last 12 months.
This exercise provides clarity on whether you are spending money on things that you want to spend money on. Also, as you get closer to retirement, your annual spending amount becomes a critical component of your financial plan, and is the foundation for a sustainable portfolio over your lifetime.
Tracking your spending requires a little upfront effort to link your bank accounts and credit-card purchases to a financial management tool like Quicken or Mint.com, but it is more than worth the effort.
Simplify, automate, and get on with your life. The time to get started is now.