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Commit to following the ABCs of finance

Okay, I caved and finally opened my 401(k) statement after refusing to look during the market meltdown. What's a $100,000-plus (paper) loss among us 50-somethings?

As much as I'd love to work 'til I'm 85, it's time to get to work rebuilding that retirement fund. Fortunately, money experts (is that an oxymoron?) are awash in New Year's recommendations. I'll cut through the clutter. Here are some of the best ideas out there, alphabetically:

Accountants are your lifelong friends. Find a good one.

Bad investments? Be cutthroat and dump the real losers (but check with your accountant first).

Consult a certified financial planner, even if you must pay a fee, if you want to restructure your retirement savings.

Don't be conservative in investing in stocks for your retirement if you are young. You've got decades to bounce back if the market sinks again.

Examine how well your traditional pension is funded at

Fund a 401(k) if — somehow — you've not yet done so.

Go back to school if you need to learn some new skills to find work.

Have savings automatically deducted from your paycheck.

Invest on your own with caution. It takes time and discipline — and can be painful.

Jobs? They are the best way to boost savings quickly.

Keep more cash on hand for emergencies. Don't tap retirement investments to fill a short-term need.

Learn the lesson just delivered with a fist by the stock markets. If you can't handle higher-risk investing — because of age or temperament — tone it down.

Make sure you fund your 401(k) enough to maximize your company's matching plan — assuming your employer still does matching.

Never maxed out your 401(k) contributions at work? Take advantage of the catchup provision, worth up to $5,500 extra this year.

Open an IRA (individual retirement account). Please.

Part-time work will be in big demand as retirees smacked by market losses look for jobs — just as the recession pushes more out-of-work folks to search for any type of employment.

Quarterly retirement statements? Actually learn how to read them.

Rethink your financial lifestyle. If you're going to save more to rebuild your retirement, that extra money will have to come from somewhere. What can you cut?

Software like Intuit's Quicken or Microsoft Money can do wonders helping you manage your money more efficiently.

Try to be debt free — certainly pay off your personal and credit card loans — by the time you retire. If you can pay off the mortgage, too, three cheers! But set some goals.

Use long-term care insurance to protect a spouse or family assets.

Vet any financial strategy with trusted experts (and your spouse).

Withdrawing less from retirement funds will make them last longer. Can you live on a 4 percent rate of withdrawal?

Xmas is a great time to give and receive cash these days. Do it right, and it's tax-free.

Your Social Security payouts will be bigger if you wait to tap them. You get more at age 66 than 62, for example.

Zero: That's what you'll have if you ignore this list.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at

Commit to following the ABCs of finance 01/07/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 8, 2009 10:22am]
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