Growing up, most of us learned basic life skills: job interviewing, how to use a checkbook, buy a car, make friends, play nice, and of course the Pythagorean Theorem. I, myself, can’t wait to use it someday. But one skill that is often overlooked is how to formulate a financial strategy that is best for you. It must be a needed skill because an entire industry has been built around teaching the public how to create sound financial strategies. Magazines, newsletters, videos, apps, when in reality the best source to learn it from is you, yourself.

Ask yourself “where am I today?  If you’re working and in the early stages of your career, you’ve likely got a while until your retirement.  With time on your side, consider taking on some risk with high return investments. If you’re in mid-career, consider a mix of guaranteed investments. And, if retirement is near, your first priority should be preservation of what you’ve accumulated to date. Guaranteed and insured investments should be at the top of your list. Once you have a good idea of where you are and where you plan to be, consider how much you can set aside for your goal and how much time you have to do so.  When you’re younger, smaller amounts add up over time. Once you’re older, increasing those amounts may be a necessity.  

With all this comes your personal feelings about money and discipline.  Do you have the discipline to follow a plan that limits or conflicts with your lifestyle? Do you have patience, and if not, are you willing to learn to be patient? In the case of a higher risk venture, how would you feel if you woke up tomorrow and learned your investments were 20% less than when you went to sleep the night before?  Or in the opposite scenario, a low risk, longer range investment, how would you feel listening to friends brag about earning a 20% return when yours earned 3%? Would your reaction to these scenarios change based on your distance from retirement? When time is the key factor, your strategy must fit your anticipated needs. Depending on your attitude towards risk, the unforeseen must be taken into consideration.

Your strategy should be comprised of a mix of things with various returns and risk. And it is important to remember that risk is associated with all financial products. If you kept your money under your mattress, the risk of inflation exists because a dollar saved today may only be worth a fraction of its current value when you retire. Higher-return products, such as stocks, may be a hedge against inflation, but as you know the stock market can be volatile. To combat this, insured products such as annuities that provide controlled growth with the guarantee of lifetime income may also be a good fit for your strategy.

Once you have a good idea of where you are and where you wish to be, consult with a financial advisor to create a detailed plan. A sound planning strategy today could be the deciding factor in your successful financial future.