Last week was a big one for our family. We dropped our youngest off at college to begin her freshman year. Anyone who has gone through this rite of passage knows the variety of emotions that comes with it. All at once, I was mourning the end of my kids’ childhoods, feeling excited for my daughter and all of the things she’ll experience, and anticipating the adventures my own newfound freedom will allow.
Financially, the emotions were mixed too. My kids’ schools require that I write gigantic checks that will leave a gaping hole where cash used to be.
On the other hand, I’m proud of how my wife and I got ready for this moment. Although paying exorbitant tuition is painful, there’s something extremely satisfying about setting a long-term goal and accomplishing it.
When my wife was pregnant with my first child, we met with a financial planner who told us what college would cost today. After they revived me, we went about the hard business of saving and investing.
Mind you, it wasn’t easy. Back then, my career was in its infancy. I was making about $45,000 a year, so I wasn’t exactly a rainmaker in those days.
For each kid, we saved hard and invested. The Great Recession happened. Our house was worth about 20% less than we paid for it. Stocks were down. We continued to invest.
Markets went nowhere for about a year and a half in 2015 and 2016. My wife and I never stopped saving or investing. Only when we got closer to when we needed the money did we start moving investments out of the market and into safer alternatives, just in case we hit a bear market like this year’s.
I’ve worked since I was 12 years old, when I shoveling snow off neighbors’ driveways for $8. I can’t remember the last time I put in only a 40-hour week. I know the value of a dollar because I’ve worked my tail off for decades.
So writing large checks isn’t something I’ve done for years. But when I have had to spend big bucks – to buy my first house, to take the family on a trip to Italy and to pay for college – I did so with a smile on my face because I accomplished a hard-earned, well-planned goal.
If you have a long-term goal, like college tuition, retirement or anything else, here are three things you can do to help you reach your goal…
Figure Out What You’ll Need
You can’t set a goal if you don’t know what that goal is. Sit down with a financial planner or crunch the numbers yourself and figure out what your goal will cost – and then add another 10% as a buffer. If your goal is retirement, Wealthy Retirement‘s free Retirement Readiness Calculator can help you determine how close you are to accomplishing your goal.
Invest No Matter What
It’s easy to get discouraged from investing. The world is a messy place. Whether the market is down, the morons in Washington can’t get anything done or conflict ignites somewhere in the world, there’s always a logical reason to avoid risking your hard-earned money.
That would be a huge mistake.
Think of the insanity that has gone on in this country in the past (go ahead and pick any period you like). And now look at the market.
Stocks go up over the long term, and if you have long-term goals, you need exposure to stocks for many years – regardless of what’s happening in the world. If I had gotten spooked every time the market fell or news was scary, my kids’ college situations would be dramatically different.
Hold the line and sell only when you’re getting close to needing the cash.
Keep Your Fees Low
Every dollar you’re paying to someone else is a dollar that’s not growing for you.
If working with a financial professional will improve your results and/or allow you sleep at night, then their help is worth every penny you pay them. But many folks can either figure this stuff out for themselves or work with a professional to get on the right track (and then they can take it from there).
Many online brokers offer the ability to pay a one-time fee to work with an advisor to help create a plan. Some financial planners are also willing to work with you to create a one-time plan. You can always go back to them (or someone else) if circumstances change.
But once you have a plan in place, you may not need a professional taking 1% of your assets every year to simply rebalance your portfolio. You can probably do that yourself with an online broker who won’t charge you anything to hold your account or to make trades in that account.
There is nothing like the feeling of being able to provide for yourself and your family because you created and executed a plan.
Now that college is taken care of… I guess next up is to start saving for weddings!