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Financial Advice at Every Age

Olivia Stacey, CFA
Mar 16, 2021

Financial Planning at Every AgeI recently purchased a house. My first home. The process was anxiety inducing to say the least. Want to know what I also got the day I bought my first home? The promise of a billion decisions that needed to be made and even more questions that I didn’t have the answer to. I realized early in the process that there was quite a bit that I didn’t know, and what’s worse is that I sometimes didn't even know what I didn’t know.

Cue my fairy home-mother, or as I like to call him, Dad. Luckily for me, my dad is a licensed contractor and has the answers to everything I don’t know about the home buying, remodeling, and maintenance process. He guided me through searching houses on the internet, going to see them in person, navigating an inspection, all the way to remodeling the house I finally decided on. And who do I call every time the plumbing or furnace make a funny noise? I think you can guess. I’ve come to the realization more than once that without him I’d have been up a certain creek without a paddle.

This is the part where I turn this example into a metaphor (I love a metaphor). My dad is to me what a financial advisor is to a person who wants to enjoy their life, using the money they’ve made or will make, while also realizing a stable retirement.

So, if a financial advisor is like a general contractor for your financial well-being, what exactly do they provide? The answer is: it depends what phase of life you’re in...

It’s impossible to say what’s right for every person in a single blog post. We’re all different and our circumstances are as unique as each of us. However, we can make certain generalizations based on age and life stage that allow for a framework.

20s

You’ve likely just started to get your footing in the career world after finishing whatever educational path you’ve pursued. It may take a while to figure out where you belong or where you want to be. At this stage, the best thing you can do for yourself is to set up practical saving habits.

There are a couple simple actions you can take at this point to start you off on the right foot. If your employer offers a 401(k) match, take advantage of that free money by ensuring that you’re contributing enough to receive the full match. Opening and contributing to a Roth IRA is also a great place to put extra savings while you’re in your lower earning years and likely under the income limit.

Focus at this stage: Find your career path and spend less than you make. 

What an advisor can provide: Hiring an advisor is probably unnecessary at this point, but if your parents or other family members have a trusted advisor, they'll likely be willing to give you some basic advice for free.

Employer Retirement Plans

30s & 40s

By this time, your career has become more established. You’ve put yourself on a path that’ll help you to get somewhere you want to be. However, spare time is often in short supply. Perhaps you’ve started a family, bought a home, or you’re involved with organizations outside your career that bring you satisfaction while taking up much of your time.

Establishing a relationship with a financial advisor during this relatively early chapter can provide a benefit for the rest of your life. They’ll help you establish shorter and longer-term goals and map out specific strategies on how to achieve them. The best part is, they take the bulk of the work off your plate, giving you more of your time back.

People tend to think their financial lives aren’t complicated enough to justify hiring an advisor at this time, they wonder why they can’t just do it themselves. Perhaps you can do it yourself, but there are a multitude of reasons you might not want to, the risk of making a mistake is just one of them.

At this stage we have more questions than we have answers regarding our financial well-being. A financial advisor will not only help answer those questions, but I'll wager that they’ll pose a few you didn’t even think to ask.

At this stage, you may be asking these questions:

  • How much should I be saving?
  • Where should I be saving?
  • How should I be investing the money that I am saving?
  • What are the best funds to choose in my 401(k)?
  • What’re the best ways to save for my children’s education, and should I?
  • Do I need life insurance? If so, how much and what kind?
  • Can I afford this home / move / next child?

Focus at this stage: begin saving for retirement, saving for shorter-term goals, investing for long-term growth, setting your family up for a secure future

What an advisor can provide: saving strategies, investment counsel, planning for future goals and obstacles

50s & 60s

These are likely your highest earning years. Your career is established, you’ve reached the top of your game, and you’re starting to think about winding down. There are critical elements to think about at this stage, especially if you’re considering retiring early.

Your free time is still in short supply but you’re beginning to think about claiming some of it back. You find yourself daydreaming more and more about that trip to Italy you’re planning to take the moment you retire.

At this stage, you may be asking these questions:

  • When do I cut my adult children off financially? How much support can I afford to offer them?
  • When can I afford to safely retire?
  • What will I do with my time in retirement?
  • Once I retire, should I leave my 401(k) where it is or roll it over?
  • When should I begin claiming social security?
  • How will I get medical insurance if I retire before Medicare kicks in?
  • How should my investments change now that my time horizon is shorter?
  • Is my time horizon really shorter?
  • What if something unexpected happens to me? What if something happens to my spouse?

Focus at this stage: Meeting savings goals, planning for and choosing a date to retire, health insurance continuity, transitioning from saving spending

What an advisor can provide: Understanding of income sources and strategy in retirement, tax optimization strategies, risk tolerance advice, adjusting investment strategy, social security claiming strategies

Transitioning to Retirement

70s and Beyond

Some people are still working at this age (and good on them) but most are already enjoying the first few years of retirement.

You’re busy playing with the grandchildren, traveling with friends and loved ones, mastering new hobbies, and savoring taking things a bit slower. 

Eventually, you’ll begin to think about what you’ll leave behind and who you might like to leave it to. 

At this stage, you may be asking these questions:

  • Is my spending rate sustainable?
  • Who will make decisions on my behalf when I’m no longer able?
  • Who will the possible financial burden fall to when I need extra care?
  • Does little Tommy deserve an inheritance?

Focus at this stage: Enjoying the retirement you worked so hard for

What an advisor can provide: Support to help you stay on track, tax efficient income distribution, legacy strategy, LTC planning

A Changing Landscape

As humans, we change as we move through life and grow older. Along the way, our financial needs, goals, and plans change with us. One day you’re working hard and stashing away every extra dollar like a squirrel hiding nuts for a long winter. Then, before you know it, you’re spending that hard earned money while you sit around all day wondering what to do with yourself. It sounds simple enough, but in reality, the intricacies of financial planning are complicated and warrant the help of a professional at almost every stage.

What an advisor does for you at every stage: Helps you avoid unnecessary costs and tackle unforeseen obstacles, shines a light on overlooked topics, helps take your emotion out of the equation, manages investments, supplies a continuity plan should the unexpected happen, takes the financial anxiety off your plate and hands you your time back

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Olivia Stacey, CFA is an Investment Advisor at Exchange Capital Managementa fee-only, fiduciary financial planning firm. She also writes with our Investment Team: The West Wing. The opinions expressed in this article are her own.

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