It’s been about six months since the COVID-19 pandemic seized hold of our lives. The coronavirus has threatened our health and our wealth. It’s affected our jobs and our kids’ education. And it’s disrupted everything from our big plans to our everyday routines.
That’s why, even though we’re still a long way from what we’re used to, we can start taking some small steps. By focusing on our savings, understanding our comfort with risk, and building an emergency fund, we can keep moving forward with our retirement goals.
As we move through the second half of an unprecedented year, we will continue to feel the impact of the pandemic on the global economy, the markets, and our own personal finances. We still have a long way to go, and it’s entirely too soon to start looking for lessons learned or set-in-stone next steps.
That said, six months into this new—or next—normal, we can start regaining our footing and continue maintaining the right perspective. Whether you stayed the course with your retirement savings or had to make changes because of economic conditions, now is a good time to consider three big things that can keep your plans on track. These three big things aren’t about overhauling your strategy or making significant changes. Instead, they’re ways you can keep moving forward with your savings plan.
Big Thing #1: Continue or resume saving
If you’ve been able to continue contributing to your employer-sponsored retirement plan, great. Keep it up! And maybe go one step further and increase your contributions. If you stopped contributing earlier this year, try resuming your contributions. Small steps count; every dollar will help.
Whether you’re in the early years of saving or closer to retiring, continuing to contribute to your plan is vital. If your employer offers matching contributions, aim to contribute at least enough to get the maximum match.
Big Thing #2: Know your risk
If you haven’t thought about risk before, these times have likely shown you how important it is to make sure you’re taking on just the right amount of risk. Take time to really think about how much risk you’re comfortable with and how much time you have until you retire.
Risk is all about how much you can afford to lose—and how much time you have to make it up. Picking investments that are riskier than you can handle can lead to some pretty ugly outcomes. But choosing investments that aren’t risky enough—because they don’t have enough potential for growth—can also be a roadblock in reaching your savings goal.
Your risk tolerance can and probably will vary depending on your timeline. If you have more time (or if your timeline isn’t fixed), you can take on more risk. On the other hand, if you’re starting your journey a little late, or you’re close to retiring, you have less room for unexpected detours.
While your mix of investments should generally become less risky the closer you get to retirement, a good strategy is to find a mix of stocks and bonds you’ll be comfortable holding for a long time—and sticking with it whether the markets go up or down. No single investment mix is right for everyone; the one that’s right for you is the one that won’t keep you awake worrying.
Big Thing #3: Create or replenish your emergency fund
As hard as it might be, now is the time to start creating or replenishing your emergency fund. Ideally, it should hold enough money to cover three to six months of living expenses.
If you don’t have an emergency fund, consider starting one to the best of your ability. Again, small steps count and every dollar matters. Your first step might be listing all your expenses and your take-home pay. This will give you a clear picture of what you’re spending versus what’s discretionary income. The goal is to determine how much money you need to cover your living costs each month.
From there, create a budget so you can set aside some money each month in your emergency fund. For help getting started, visit our online lesson.
A final word
Be patient with yourself. You may not be able to tackle all—or any—of these three big things right now. Perhaps the most you can do is be aware of them and plan to take some steps whenever you’re able. If you’re reading this article, you already know that your finances and retirement savings are a priority. As a starting point, that’s a great mindset and commitment.