Pursuing your goals with five answers

Published 2:31 pm Friday, May 7, 2010

As you strive to achieve your long-term goals, such as a comfortable retirement, you may, at times, feel frustrated over events you can’t influence, such as the up-and-down movements of the financial markets.

Yet there is much you can control—once you determine the answers to just five key questions.

Where am I today?

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Take stock of all your assets—your IRA, 401(k) and other savings and investment accounts. Then, do the same for your debts, such as your mortgage and any other financial obligations.

On your financial journey through life, it’s essential that you know your starting point.

Where would I like to be?

Once you’ve established where you are today, you’ll need to identify where you’d like to be tomorrow.

How much will you need to pay for the retirement lifestyle you’ve envisioned?

Will you be able to help pay for your children’s or grandchildren’s college education?

Will you need to support any other family members?

At this stage, you’ll want to write down all your goals and put a price tag on each one.

Can I get there?

After you’ve identified your goals, determine if they are, in fact, achievable.

By considering a variety of factors—including your likely future income stream and your family situation—you should be able to determine if you can attain your goals or if you need to modify them in some way.

How do I get there?

Now it’s time to put a strategy into action.

Specifically, you need to choose those investments that can help you pursue the goals you’ve selected.

Your ideal portfolio will depend on your risk tolerance and time horizon, but in general, you’ll want a diversified mix of quality investments. While diversification, by itself, cannot guarantee a profit or protect against loss, it can help reduce the effects of volatility.

As you put together your holdings, make sure you understand what you can expect from your investments.

For example, growth stocks may offer the highest potential returns, but they also carry the greatest risk. On the other hand, investment-grade bonds can offer a steady income stream and, barring the default of the issuer, will repay your principal when they mature.

How can I stay on track?

Once you’ve built your investment portfolio, you’ll need to review it regularly—at least once a year—to help ensure it’s still meeting your needs. After all, many things can and will change in your life, such as your family situation, your goals, your employment and your risk tolerance. To address these changes, you’ll need to adjust your portfolio over time.

As you can see, answering all these questions will take both work and expertise. That’s why you may want to work with a professional financial adviser to help you identify your goals and create a strategy for pursuing them.

In any case, though, start asking—and answering—these five key questions as soon as you can. It’s easier to reach your financial goals if you put time on your side.