Posted by Shelly Eweka.
Whenever someone comes to me and says they’ve stashed their savings away somewhere “safe,” it’s a giant red flag. Because what they usually mean is, they’ve put their money somewhere that merely feels secure. For instance, inside a heavy-duty, triple-layered, fire-resistant safe.
It’s time to wake up and smell the coffers: Nothing is 100% safe—not even cash kept in one. No matter how much you protect it from thieves, fire or earthquakes, cash remains vulnerable to the corrosive effects of inflation–wherever it’s kept.
All asset types–cash, bonds, stocks, real estate–have some form of uncertainty built in. And yes, that can be scary. But you can’t avoid risk altogether. Instead, you can avoid letting your fears paralyze you into inaction–and ultimately regain control of your financial destiny. To address this, you’ll need to confront your fear of risk-taking head-on.
Here are 7 key risks that may pose a threat to your nest egg–along with practical steps for managing each one:
Inflation. One of my preferred pastimes involves complaining to my husband about the price of food—I remember grocery shopping with my Mom, when chicken was 19 cents per pound. Inflation is one of those silent threats that stealthily creeps up on you, catching you unawares. Next time you’re in the supermarket, check out the price of a favorite childhood candy bar, and you’ll see what I mean. To tackle inflation risk, make sure your investments are properly diversified1 among stocks, bonds, guaranteed, real estate and cash investments. Inflation was 2.11% in 2017, and typically around 2-3%, but sometimes higher. 5 As I write this, the most generous 5-year Certificate of Deposit available online is offering 3% APY, while the top savings account is paying around 1.5%.
Longevity. Long life seems more like a reward than a “risk,” but that’s the best way to frame the all-too-likely prospect of outliving your nest egg. One way to guarantee income for life2, and retirement readiness, is with an annuity3, which can convert a lump sum paid upfront into a lifetime of regular payments. Also, the longer you live, the more likely you are to need expensive long-term care–the kind not covered by regular health insurance or Medicare. A long-term care insurance policy can protect your family and estate if you need care later in life, but be aware that premiums can be high, so talk to your financial advisor about the different options for handling long-term care costs in retirement. Even near-retirees need to think about potentially long timeframes (and longevity risk). In other words, you probably won’t need access to all your funds right away, and also need to stomach some market exposure through retirement, since stock investing4 can help manage inflation risk.
Overspending. This one should be familiar to anyone who’s gotten into debt, and had to spend money to climb out of the hole. Better spending requires a good deal of self-awareness, so be honest with yourself. Are you extravagant? Your last credit card statement can function as a mirror to your spending soul, especially if it breaks down your expenditure into “restaurants” and “entertainment” etc. Are you spending reasonable amounts on clothing, eating out? If indulging yourself has become the norm, one simple but effective solution is to invest more of your money. You only spend what you see, and keeping money out of your checking account will train you to spend at a reduced level. Set up direct auto payments to your Roth IRA or emergency fund on payday.
Investment risk. When deciding how to allocate our assets, we are often influenced by our coworkers. Evidence shows that people are likely to increase their risky share when they see coworkers earning above-average equity returns on their investments. 6 I’ve definitely seen this happen with a coworker putting her whole nest egg into the equities basket just because another coworker did–then selling those shares at the wrong time, after a market dip. The danger here is not the market, but your impulsiveness. You become the risk. Of course, it’s logical for younger investors to invest more aggressively, since they have longer timeframes, but your risky share should also be based on your comfort factor. Everyone should take a risk tolerance questionnaire to determine their risk level. This, rather than what your cohorts are doing, will help determine how your money should be invested. Diversity is key. Not too exposed to the market, not too conservative.
Dying early. This one is difficult to confront for obvious reasons, but it needs to be faced all the same. What you need to think about specifically is whether your children or other dependents, would be OK financially, were anything to happen to you. Life insurance isn’t just about peace of mind for you (although it may give you that), it’s about providing for your loved ones after you’re gone. How much would be enough–twice your current salary, 10x the amount? Every family is different, so don’t just go along with your default employer policy. Maybe it provides too much coverage, or not nearly enough.
Accident or illness. If you drive, you’ll know all about auto insurance, which can cover you in the event of being sued. You’ve likely given less thought to insuring yourself in the event of an accident or sudden disability. Again, it’s not something we want to think about, and you may already have disability coverage through your employer, but do you know what your policy covers? A surprising number of people don’t realize what coverage they have. As with life insurance, you need to be smart about how you manage the various risks: Understand when you need disability insurance and when you don’t; every family situation is different, and there’s no one-size-fits-all policy.
Job loss. The job market is a lot more precarious than it used to be, and job security is no longer taken for granted. It’s no wonder that anxiety disorders are on the rise. But you can reduce your anxiety levels dramatically–not with a doctor’s prescription, but through having an emergency fund big enough to cover at least 6 months’ worth of living expenses. Savings target: Calculate how much you could get by on each month and multiply by six.
Managing all the competing financial risks in our lives can be a job in itself, so it’s OK to ask for help. The same way we go to a hairdresser, knowing we could cut our own hair, so too should we trust the expertise of a financial advisor–after all, the risks of a badly dented nest egg are more severe and longer-lasting than a bad haircut.