Ask the Expert: Smart Savings Strategies for Every Age

When it comes to financial advice and guidance, it makes sense to talk to an expert. We asked Bruce Helmer, financial advisor and founder of Wealth Enhancement Group, headquartered in Plymouth, Minnesota, to share his proven strategies for success. He’s a regarded financial advisor, author, speaker, and radio host and says no matter where you are in life, you can use these tips to make the most of your savings dollars.

In Your 20s

“When you’re in your 20s, begin the lifelong practice of paying yourself first,” says Helmer. “While most Americans know they should be putting away money every month, they tend to live life first, and then save what’s left over. If you commit to saving a percentage of your income every month, you’ll significantly enhance your chances of success,” says Helmer. As you’re getting started on your career, open up a “rainy day” savings account to cover unexpected expenses. If your company offers a 401(k) plan, sign up to have the money automatically withheld from your paycheck, even if it’s just $50 per month. That $50 per month will become $600 per year, and after 30 or 40 years at an average return of six or seven percent, you’ll have saved more than $50,000.

In Your 30s

If you’re in your 30s, you may be in the process of getting married, buying a house, or having children. “With multiple financial priorities, it’s vitally important to live within your means and spend less than you make,” says Helmer. “Use your credit cards only as a convenience. If you can’t pay your bill at the end of the month, you probably can’t afford what you bought.” In addition to controlling your debt, this is a good time to review and update your current insurance coverage and begin saving for retirement. If you have to prioritize, save for retirement first. School loans can help offset the cost of college. Should you change jobs, don’t cash out your 401(k), as you’ll pay taxes and penalties. Instead, roll your 401(k) into your new company’s plan or open up a Roth IRA.

In Your 40s

Throughout your 40s, you have at least 20 years before retirement, so make the most of any tax-advantaged savings plans. If possible, contribute the maximum allowable amount to your company’s 401(k) plan and consider depositing part or all of your tax return directly into an IRA. Consider opening a 529 plan for your children’s college education, says Helmer.  “Continue to live within your means, build up your rainy day fund to cover three-to-six months of living expenses, and pay off any inefficient debt you may have accumulated. Execute a will and a power of attorney, and make sure your family knows where to find it.”

In Your 50s

“For many of my clients, the 50s are the years with the highest income and the lowest overhead,” says Helmer. “At the same time, if you’re in your 50s, you may be part of the ‘sandwich generation’—caring for your children and your aging parents. But with retirement on the horizon, it’s important to put yourself first and take care of your own savings before providing financial assistance to others.” You may also be reassessing your career and thinking of starting your own business. A financial advisor can help you manage the complexities of this time in your life and develop a long-term plan for your future. In this final sprint before retirement, strive to max-out your retirement savings accounts and your Health Savings Account (HSA) to help cover future health care costs.

In Your 60s and Beyond

If you’re in your 60s, you may be busier than ever juggling grandchildren, volunteering, and even a part-time job. “In the financial services industry, we used to think about retirement as a time to stop working and live off the three-legged stool of pensions, Social Security, and retirement savings,” says Helmer. “But, as pensions are no longer a possibility for most people, a part-time job in retirement can be both an economic necessity and a boon to one’s mental and physical health.” Work with your financial advisor to decide when you should claim your Social Security benefits, which you can do between ages 62 and 70, and review your asset allocation strategy. “While it’s tempting to want to protect your assets, stay diversified and don’t be too conservative with your investments,” says Helmer. “Your long-term money should still have some exposure to stocks. Your money has to last as long as you.”

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