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HOW DO I GET THERE FROM HERE? -- Updated Janaury 2010

Are you overwhelmed by the number and variety of saving and investment vehicles available? You're not alone. Many of us believe there is more to learn about saving and investing than our busy schedules will allow. As a result, some of us stick to familiar savings vehicles (like a bank account) that may be appropriate for our short-term financial goals but make reaching our long-term goals more difficult. Others become poor financial consumers -- buying inappropriate financial products they know very little about.

Fortunately, there is no need to feel overwhelmed. We'll let you in on a little secret -- some of the most successful investment strategies are also simple and easy to understand. In fact, you will probably be surprised at how little time and effort it takes to master the fundamentals of saving and investing.

Now that you've decided to plan for retirement, you'll want to take advantage of resources that teach the basics of saving and investing. These resources can be found at your local public library, on TV, or online from your home computer. If you need further assistance, a stockbroker, insurance agent, or financial planner can serve as your resource. Mastering the basics will help you work more effectively with your financial professional to create and maintain your saving and investing plan.

The sooner you begin saving and investing, the greater the power of compounding investment earnings over time. For example, if you saved $50 a month and earned 8% a year after 10 years your savings would grow to $9,147.30 ($6,000 of that amount is what you saved and $3,147.30 is the amount earned through compounding). After 30 years your savings qould grow to $74,517.97 ($18,000 of that amount is what you saved and $56,517.97 is the amount earned through compounding)

Many of us may still look for assistance even after hearing the basics. There is plenty of help available. Selecting the right assistance, however, can be confusing. It helps to know who does what, how each is paid, and what questions to ask. You'll find helpful hints on the following pages.

In "A Guide for Do-lt-Yourselfers," we list sources of information on saving and investing. Every investor, even those getting assistance, should have a basic understanding of the investing process. For beginners we've listed material that will get you started in the right direction. Once you've gotten beyond the basics, you may want more sophisticated sources of information -- so we've also listed materials for the intermediate and advanced investor.

Once you understand the basics of investing you may still want guidance from a professional. Stockbrokers, insurance agents, and financial planners can assist you in developing an investment plan. But finding a qualified professional with whom you are comfortable is not easy. You must be prepared to identify several good candidates and interview each before making your selection.

You may begin by asking family and friends for recommendations. You can call or visit a local financial services firm to request information. Attend a free investment seminar given by a stockbroker, insurance agent, or a financial planner. If one of the speakers looks like a good candidate, call him or her for an interview.

Once you complete your investigation, narrow your list of potential candidates to those you wish to interview. Some of the questions you should ask are listed below. Don't be shy! A good professional understands the selection process and will answer your questions fully and honestly. You may want to ask the candidates to respond to these questions in writing before your personal interview. Always conduct a personal interview to make sure you are comfortable with your final selection (in other words: you feel you will work well together -- remember, this will be a long-term relationship).

Questions task:

  • What is your area of expertise?
  • What is your educational background?
  • What financial planning credentials have you earned?
  • What further education in financial planning do you plan to pursue?
  • Are you a member of any professional financial planning association?
  • How long have you been offering financial planning services?
  • Will you provide references?
  • Have you ever been cited by a professional or regulatory governing body for disciplinary reasons?
  • In the last year, how many clients have stopped using your services? Why?
  • Do you do the work or will I be turned over to another employee in your firm?
  • What is your approach to saving and investing?
  • Will you provide an individualized financial plan? Can I look at a recent example of a plan prepared for someone in similar financial circumstances?
  • What kinds of communications can I expect from you on an ongoing basis (account statements, newsletters, etc.)?
  • How often will you review my portfolio?
  • How are you compensated for the services you provide?
  • How are fees calculated?
  • On average, how much can I expect to pay for your service?
  • What do I receive in return for that fee?
  • What, if anything do you expect of me during our relationship?

Now that you're ready to start planning for your retirement, it is helpful to know what resources are available to help you make important decisions. Listed below are a few suggestions.

Your local newsstand and even the public library can be great sources of information on investing. There is a wide array of newspapers, magazines, and books written specifically for the individual investor. Some of these publications include:

Newspapers

  • The Wall Street Journal
  • Barron's
  • Investor's Business Daily

Magazines

  • Money
  • Mutual Funds
  • Worth
  • Individual Investor
  • Smart Money
  • Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Books

  • Eric Tyson, "Personal Finance for Dummies"
  • David Chilton, "The Wealthy Barber: The Commonsense Guide to Successful Financial Planning"
  • Beth Kobliner, "Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance in Your Twenties and Thirties"
  • Terry Savage, "The Savage Number: How Much Money Do You Need to Retire?"
  • Lois Vitt, "You and Your Money: A No-Stress Guide to Becoming Financially Fit"

Although the tools cited above contain a wealth of valuable information, you may be interested in a more detailed analysis of a specific investment, an individual stock, or a mutual fund. The following resources provide an in-depth look at a vast number of stocks and mutual funds, including past performance, long-term projections, and general comments on the value of the investment.

Reference guides

More advanced individual investors can take advantage of a number of useful television programs. These programs typically cover events on Wall Street on a daily or weekly basis and are formatted to address issues confronting the individual investor.

Television programs

  • Wall Street Week (PBS)
  • The Money Wheel (CNBC)
  • Nightly Business Report (PBS)

Serious do-it-yourselfers may be interested in the wide range of budgeting and financial planning software available. These products help you with simple functions such as balancing a checkbook, and more advanced tasks like tracking your investment portfolio.

Software products

  • Money (Microsoft)
  • Quicken & Quicken Financial Planner (Intuit)
  • Managing Your Money (Meca)

Online services are an excellent resource for any level of investor. Services such as America OnLine, CompuServe, and Prodigy offer "chat rooms" on personal finance as well as detailed information on investment companies, daily stock and mutual fund information, and access to the Internet, which offers a wealth of information. Here are a few suggested starting points:

Online services

Free Stock Quotes and Charts: Financial and Business News: SEC Information:

If you prefer the classroom environment, there are virtually hundreds of classes, workshops, and seminars designed for all levels of investors from the novice to the expert. Local universities and community colleges offer many of these resources. Additionally, similar programs are often sponsored by stockbrokers, insurance agents, and financial planners.

Many of these courses can be located by looking through the business or finance section of your local newspaper, in a community college course catalog or simply by contacting a local financial services provider.

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