And for good reason: investing is important. It’s crucial for retirement success, putting kids through school, and generally enabling you to live the life you desire. When people think of the financial services industry, they think of investing. There are countless websites and even entire TV networks dedicated to covering it. However, I would argue that many people focus too much on investing and not enough on other things that matter more. That’s right, maybe investing should not be your top priority. Have you ever taken a step back and thought about the other aspects of your financial life? Is everything working together how you want it to?
Many people come to us with a lot of investment questions, and rightfully so, but we discover other areas and concerns that are much more important to them that should be addressed before we get into the intricacies of investing. Here are some examples:
This is money set aside that you can get to right away (for example, a savings account at your bank). This enables you to cover unexpected costs like sudden loss of employment, large medical bills, home and car repairs, and so on. It’s important to have money here so you don’t rack up credit card debt or hit with early withdrawal penalties on retirement accounts. Those are both big no-nos.
The most common rule of thumb is to have 3 to 6 months of your spending set aside in your emergency fund, and that’s a good idea for most people, although it may vary depending on your income and spending. Another way to look at it would be to simply ask yourself questions like “If I lost my job, how long could I stay afloat?” or “Could I afford to replace the roof on my house?” If you don’t like your answers to those questions, consider focusing on that balance instead of religiously checking your 401k balance.
More specifically, credit card debt. With high interest rates and minimum payments, credit card debt can spiral out of control quickly. Once you’re there, it’s really hard to get out of that hole, and it will have a severe negative impact your financial future. The easiest way to avoid this is to not spend more than you make, that way you can afford to pay all bills each month. Plus, having the emergency fund will help cover unexpected bills.
However, if you’ve already racked up some credit card debt, I would encourage you to get that paid off as soon as possible. That requires a plan and some financial focus, which might mean putting extra money towards your credit cards as opposed to your investments. I’m not here to discourage saving money for the future, but in this case, the best thing for your future is to put extra money towards the credit cards as opposed to your investments.
BASIC ESTATE PLANNING
What good are all those investments if you (or your loved ones) aren’t in control of what happens to them? You need basic estate documents in place to cover your bases here. Those documents would include the following, and answer some important questions:
• A will (or in more advanced cases, a trust) – who gets your stuff when you die?
• Guardianship designations – who will take care of your kids?
• Durable Power of Attorney – who will make decisions for you if you’re unable to?
• Medical Directives (such as living will or healthcare power of attorney) – who will be in charge of your healthcare if you get sick, and what do you want to happen?
Separately, you should also name beneficiaries on your retirement plans.
As you can see, there are some important decisions to be made here; probably more important to you than what your investment allocation looks like. If you don’t have a basic estate plan in place, you’ll be leaving these decisions up to a judge. Why put these things to chance?
In the event of your death or disability, you want to make sure that you and your family are taken care of. This isn’t going to be accomplished through any investment decision; you need to have proper insurance coverage.
The amount of life insurance needed varies a ton from person to person, but you can arrive at an estimate by thinking about the reasons your family would need money if you were gone:
• Income replacement – if your family depends on your income to live their desired lifestyle, losing your income would be a huge hit. You can think of life insurance as replacing your income for a certain number of years. For example, if you make $100,000 per year and have a $1 million insurance policy, that’s 10 years worth of income covered by life insurance.
• Debt payoff – if you have a mortgage or other debt, life insurance could help ease the burden on your surviving family members.
• Education – if you have kids, life insurance proceeds not used for the above reasons could help put them through school and leave behind a legacy to future generations.
So I ask you: do you feel like you have these items taken care of? I’m not saying you should stop investing or put off making investing decisions until you’re satisfied with these other things. What I am saying is that even though investing gets a lot of press, maybe it shouldn’t always be your top priority. There might be more important things you need to focus on first to secure your financial future.