Most people invest their money to achieve a comfortable and secure retirement, to help their children pay through college, or to make a large purchase such as a home. No matter the goals you have in your mind, you will need to have a specific plan to help you reach those goals, so when the times comes you’ll know you’ve accumulated enough funds. You should consider working with a financial advisor to help you guide you along the way especially for longer-term goals such as retirement. Retirement, for instance, may require 15 or 20 years of savings, investing, and monitoring to make sure you get where you want to be. And there are many headwinds that can blow you off track along the way, so it’s never too early to start considering financial planning.

Why not just go out in your backyard, dig a hole and throw money into it every month, and only take it out when you are ready to make a big purchase such as a house? It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that’s what investing your money for the future is like when you don’t identify and clarify your financial and investment goals. You may be lucky to end up with the money you need to put your children through college, buy a home, or retire, but there’s no way of knowing that for sure. The worst thing is falling short of your goals and only finding that out when it’s already too late.

How do you set goals?
The first major step is to identity your financial goals for the future. If you have a spouse, consider discussing joint and individual goals together. It’s best to have the clearest vision for the future as possible. For example, at some point everyone wants to retire, but when exactly? If you are considering which college to put your kids through college, should it be an Ivy League or just a state or community college?

Once you put all your thoughts together, you will come up with a list of goals. Some of your goals will be long-term (15 years plus) and some will be shorter-term (5 years or less), and some goals may even be in the middle. Once you have a list of you goals, you know are in a better position to accumulate the money you need and have an idea of which investments should be used to meet your various goals.

Looking forward to retirement
It’s obvious that no one gets out of the office everyday and wonders is today the right to retire? Retirement for the most part is a long way away for some people and it may seem like you have time before you start thinking about it, but it’s really never too early to start planning for your retirement. The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to invest and accumulate the money you need to fund a confident and secure retirement.

Imaging a situation where your goal is to retire at 65 with a $500,000 retirement nest egg. But say you start saving and contributing to your retirement fund at age 25 through your company’s 401(k) plan. If you investment grows at 6 percent per year, compounded monthly, you will have way more than 500k sitting in your 401(k) retirement account at age 65.

However, the shorter the time you have to save and invest your money, the harder it will be to attain your original goal. Let’s say you wait until you turn 35 before you begin saving and investing your money. Assuming everything is equal with the amount you decide to contribute and the investment rate of return you will hypothetically receive, you would end up with only about half of the amount you were hoping to get. Even though it’s never too late to start thinking about your retirement, good decisions early on can make your chances of achieving your goals much greater.

Here are some points to consider when you’re planning your retirement and investing strategy:

Make sure to plan for a long life. Average life expectancies have been going up for decades, and many people even live longer than those averages.
Consider how much time you have before you retire and then invest your money accordingly. Your investments do matter. For instance, if you’re retirement is a long way off, and you can stomach some risk, then you might want to consider allocating most of you money in stocks, which may be more volatile, but can offer a higher potential for long-term returns than more conservative investments. But, if you are nearing retirement, you might want to consider allocating you money more in fixed-income investment and focus on preserving your capital.
Consider the risks of inflation on your retirement savings. When you figure in a number that you’ll need to save for retirement, make sure you don’t forget that over time the cost of living increases and your money’s purchasing power decreases.
The truth about college savings
Saving for a child’s higher education definitely requires careful and early planning. The cost of tuition rises even faster than the rate of inflation. That’s why getting an early start on college savings plans and vehicles can make a tremendous difference later on and for you and your children. The farther away you have before your children go to college the money you’ll be able to take advantage of saving, investing, compounding, and tax efficiency to build a significant college fund. With some tolerance for risk, you may be able to put your money into investments that offer higher growth potential.

Consider these tips:

Estimate approximately how much it will cost to help your children go through college. Estimate the average cost of tuition for both two-year and four-year public and private colleges and universities.
Research financial aid packages that can help you pay some of the cost of tuition. Although, there is never a guarantee that you child will be offered financial aid, it is still good to know what option may be available to you.
Look into state-sponsored education plans that put your money into investments bases on you time frame and financial needs.
Most importantly, think about prioritizing all your goals, because you may only have one budget but many competing goals. For instance, if you need to save for your retirement and your child’s education, what approach will you take?
Investing for something big
At some point you’ll probably make a big purchase such as a home or a car you’ve always wanted. Needless to say, large purchases usually have a shorter time frame to plan for than other financial goals. Because you won’t have too much time to invest, you’ll have to make sure you work out a budget with your investment dollars wisely. Rather than choosing growth investment that may take some time before you can reap those rewards, you may want to put your money into less volatile investments that are liquid and have some potential to grow.