When I made the transition from full-time worker to stay-at-home-mom, I opted to have my company 401(k) transferred into a personal IRA savings account so I could keep putting money aside for retirement.
At the time, I was balancing new mom duties and feeling super stressed out. I had a newborn on my hip at all times who needed milk, attention, and diaper changing. How could I possibly be expected to manage the tiny details of budgeting and financial planning? Moreover, why would I want to at this time in my life, with so many long years between me and retirement?
Still, I knew the money had to go somewhere, and that I’d encounter some pretty significant fees and consequences for dipping into it early. So, I did what any overwhelmed mother who’s slowly losing her sanity one cartoon at a time would do – I talked to an expert.
My financial planner’s name is Stephen and he works about five miles from my house. I can’t tell you how relieving and releasing it was to sit with him, my two-month-old daughter sleeping in her car seat by my feet, and hand over all the confusing paperwork to him. He slowly and kindly explained every term to me so I understood all the jargon. He called the investment management company for me and took care of the transfer process. He even helped me assign my daughter as a beneficiary of my assets.
On my own, I would have been completely swamped and delusional reading through it all, but after handing the reins over to an expert, I understood the process more clearly. That was three years ago and since then, I’ve met with Stephen once a quarter to check in, make sure everything is going smoothly, and make any necessary changes I need to (like adding my new son as a beneficiary in 2015!) to update my plan.
I’m far from a financial expert, but here are a few takeaways I’ve learned from this experience:
1. You’ve got to think ahead or pay the price. For a year, I put off making monthly contributions to my personal IRA account. We were down to one income (my husband’s) and I couldn’t justify setting aside even $50 per month to put toward my retirement. We’d cut cable and started eating in all the time to save money, and we needed every single cent we earned. However, in one meeting, my financial advisor and I ran some numbers to determine how much money I would need to live comfortably when I hit retirement age and was no longer pulling an income. “I won’t need much, “ I reasoned. “I’ll probably be at home gardening and not out shopping like I am now!” He pulled up the report anyway and the results blew me away. I’d need far more than I’d imagined, and unless I started contributing now, I’d be in the red. I found the room in our budget and even though I only contribute around $25 per month now, it’s enough and it’s helped my accounts grow.
2. Don’t be afraid to risk a little while you’re young. I’m a planner and a worrywart by nature. I don’t take a vacation until I’ve created a detailed itinerary of every stop and put all the details into a three-ring binder complete with page protectors. So, when my financial advisor suggested we differentiate my portfolio and look at some riskier balancing options, I immediately balked. Still, I sat as he explained the process to me, and eventually understood that taking a risk while I’m young might mean going through some turbulent periods as the market stabilizes itself, but can ultimately yield me a greater return if I’m willing to take the ride. I signed up to do so, and while my monthly balance definitely ebbs and flows, I’ve noticed a gradual yet consistent uptick, which is promising.
3. Even a little investment can make a huge difference. In a recent news article, Small Cap Power revealed there are some stocks that boast a more than 30% net dividend per share annual growth rate. What does that mean? It means even if you invest just a few hundred bucks, you could be looking at a hefty payout if you’re patient enough. Though patience has never been my strong suit, I’m learning that slow and steady really does win the race. The key for me is to be realistic. There might be some months when I’m able to contribute more to my IRA than others, and some months when money feels too tight to give at all. To mitigate this, I made my monthly contribution small and manageable. If you’re willing to give even a little each month, you’ll be surprised at how much you’ll net at the end of the year.
These tips aren’t ground-breaking, but they’re easy to implement and a great way to dip your toes into the waters of financial planning. If you’re like me and those two works spark a little bit of anxiety in you, don’t fear. There are plenty of resources to help you navigate the terrain and come out on top. So learn all you can and don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Above all, have patience. It’s not a quick road, nor a smooth one, but the end destination is more than worth it.