By Justin Grossbard, Kiplinger

Along with saving for a down payment or setting aside money for college, planning for retirement tops most Americans’ list of investment priorities. But the strategies that make the most sense when you’re 25 — Take on risk! Focus on stocks! — don’t necessarily make sense as you enter your 30s and 40s. That’s why it’s a good idea to know how to invest at any age.

Volatility in the economy and changes to the typical career trajectory may also impact when you’re able to start saving. If you spend the majority of your 20s working to pay off student loans, for example, or only recently entered the labor market in your 30s or 40s, you’ll need a different approach to investing than someone with a more typical résumé.

As a serial entrepreneur who has worked in a salaried position and now writes about day trading, I appreciate the complexities of managing your money. Below are my suggestions on what to keep in mind when investing, regardless of your age.

Investing in Your 20s

It’s never too early to focus on retirement. Even if it’s only a nominal sum, get into the habit of setting aside some portion of your income each month. You’ll want to deposit these funds into retirement-specific savings account for this purpose, either a 401(k) or an individual retirement account (IRA).

If you’re a student or self-employed, you can open an IRA on your own through a bank, licensed brokerage firm or a robo adviser. If you’re employed, check to see if your company automatically enrolled you in its 401(k) plan and, if not, complete the paperwork needed to sign up.

Be sure to review the different account types and investment choices available, as well as the company policy on matching your contributions.

Once you’ve set up a retirement savings account and started making contributions, think about other ways to begin growing wealth. Opening a brokerage account enables you to begin investing in stocks or other securities, like mutual funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs), as well as bonds.

You can do this alone or with the assistance of a robo adviser. These sophisticated algorithms will manage your investments for a lower fee than a human adviser.

If you have the option, you may prefer to work with a certified financial planner to develop an investment strategy that matches your risk tolerance. At this age, you should feel comfortable taking larger risks than you might later in life, as you have plenty of time to watch your investments recoup any losses.

Focus on your career and adjust your savings plan as your income increases. Don’t wait to start saving until you reach a certain income level. Even $50 a month matters when you’re trying to build the habit of investing, but make sure you adjust your contributions to match your income level.

Investing in Your 30s

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to open a retirement account, now’s the time. If you have a 401(k) or IRA, try to make the maximum annual contribution. This goes double — literally — if you’re eligible for matching contributions from your employer. Already making the maximum annual contribution? Consider supplementing your retirement funds with a Roth IRA.

This is also a good time to diversify your investments. The best way to do this is by investing in an index fund. Even better, invest in a few different index funds with varying levels of risk. You should also begin purchasing bonds, if you haven’t already, to balance out the risk of stocks.

If you enjoy researching fund performance, you can do this yourself for free. Otherwise, certified financial planners can help you design an investment strategy or manage your investment for an annual fee. If you’re not entirely confident in your investment skills but don’t want to shoulder the cost of an adviser’s fee, you might consider a robo-adviser.

That said, don’t put all your focus on retirement. If you have children, you’ll also want to think about planning for college. People planning for homeownership will also want to explore savings strategies like high-yield accounts to help you build your down payment. As your income increases, think about how you can best prioritize your savings strategy to meet your family’s needs in the future.

Investing in Your 40s

At this stage in your life, you likely have at least one retirement account in your name. If you’ve changed jobs frequently or opened an independent IRA, however, you may have multiple “pots” of money managed by different entities. Consolidating these accounts will help you avoid excessive management fees and give you a clearer picture of your progress toward your savings goals.

Rolling over your 401(k) into an IRA can also protect you from high tax bills and make it easier to diversify your portfolio. While a 401(k) limits your options to those provided by the administrator, an IRA gives you access to a broader selection of instruments.

In particular, you’ll want to consider a Roth IRA. Though most people associate this account with younger investors, it has benefits for those further on in life, too. Roth IRAs offer more time to grow your wealth — you’re not required to begin taking distributions at age 70 and can continue making contributions at any age if you’re still earning income. If you suspect you might need access to some of your money before age 59, the Roth IRA isn’t subject to the same early-withdrawal penalties and taxes as a traditional account.

If you’ve focused entirely on putting money aside without investing, think about whether this strategy will help you reach your retirement goals. It may be time to begin looking into different types of funds and securities to make your money work harder.

You won’t want to take on significant risk at this stage in your life, but sensible exposure via a mutual fund or index fund can go a long way toward increasing your quality of life later on.

For those just beginning to save, you can make up for the lost time by choosing the right allocation of assets. In this case, we suggest working with an investment adviser to identify the right mix of high-performing stocks mixed with bonds. A robo-adviser can also do this work, but given that you don’t have time to make mistakes, an experienced professional is worth the investment.

Investing in Your 50s

Didn’t quite make your savings goals earlier in life? Not to fear. That’s both completely normal and easily addressed. Starting at age 50, you’re eligible to make additional “catch-up” contributions to a 401(k), and the maximum contribution to an IRA increases. Even an extra $100 a month can significantly increase your retirement income.

If your 30s and 40s were about expanding your investment portfolio, your 50s are all about refining it. As your anticipated withdrawal date approaches, you may want to adjust your investments to reflect a lower risk appetite. You’ll also want to take a good look at the specific types of investments in your portfolio to ensure a balanced portfolio.


About LRPC’s Monday Morning Minute

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) Monday Morning Minute is crafted to provide decision-makers with important information about the economy, investments and corporate retirement plans in a format that allows a reader to consume the information in less than 60 seconds. As an independent, objective investment adviser, LRPC has access to many sources of research and shares the best and most relevant information with its readers each week.

About Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC

Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC (LRPC) is a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based independent, objective Registered Investment Adviser (RIA) providing investment advisory, fiduciary compliance, employee education, provider management and plan design services to employer retirement plan sponsors. The firm specializes in sustainable investment strategies for retirement plans that incorporate Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) factors and Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) elements. LRPC currently has contracts in place to provide consulting services on more than a half billion dollars in plan assets. For more information, please contact Robert C. Lawton at (414) 828-4015 or or visit the firm’s website at Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser.

Important Disclosures

This information was developed as a general guide to educate plan sponsors and is not intended as authoritative guidance, tax, legal or investment advice. Each plan has unique requirements and you should consult your attorney or tax adviser for guidance on your specific situation. In no way does Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC assure that, by using the information provided, a plan sponsor will be in compliance with ERISA regulations. Investors should carefully consider investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. The statements in this publication are the opinions and beliefs of the commentator expressed when the commentary was made and are not intended to represent that person’s opinions and beliefs at any other time. The commentary does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC and should not be construed as recommendations or investment advice. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC offers no tax, legal or accounting advice and any advice contained herein is not specific to any individual, entity or retirement plan, but rather general in nature and, therefore, should not be relied upon for specific investment situations. Lawton Retirement Plan Consultants, LLC is a Wisconsin Registered Investment Adviser and accepts clients outside of Wisconsin based upon applicable state registration regulations and the “de minimus” exception.