"Time is free, but it's priceless. You can't own it, but you can use it. You can't keep it, but you can spend it. Once you've lost it you can never get it back." Harvey MacKay
One of the key elements in any financial transaction is time. If you want to retire, you must consider the amount of time. If you want to borrow, how long you have to pay it back can be translated into dollars and cents. Investing; timing they suggest can't be down but is important nonetheless.
If you are twenty, time is on your side. If you are thirty, there is time left. If you are forty, time is of the essence. If you are fifty, time is running out. If you are sixty, where has the time gone. And older than that, time is no longer on your side. It accompanies us through life like some dark passenger. It reflect back on us from the mirror. And when we look at our retirement plan, it stares at us without guilt or shame. Time is the truth.
When I first began writing these predictions, and I've been churning out these year end ditties for over a decade, many were laced with optimism, some with an urging that we learn the lesson and move forward armed with knowledge of past mistakes, and still others were exercises in reality. In 2012, we have some opportunities and some problems awaiting us, left on the table as we symbolically turn the calendar wiping out 2011. But it won't leave quietly.
So I have a few thoughts about what you can do - resolutions of sorts but not the drastic sort we make and break almost within hours of promising ourselves at midnight.
Increase your contribution I start with this obvious chant for two reasons: you aren't making a large enough contribution and two, I would be remiss in not telling you this right from the start. And I'm not just speaking to those with a 401(k).
There are the millions of you who are forced to (and because of that are not likely to) finance your own retirement through an individual retirement account. We lament at the worker who literally only has to sign up at his workplace and doesn't. And far too often, we say little about the person who has to sign-up (after finding a fund), commit with a fortitude that is somewhat lacking and to contribute some of their paycheck via direct deposit every week or month. That effort, it seems is a much more involved hurdle.
In 2012, the investment world will be little changed. It will roil and confuse and gyrate and possibly even nose dive - just as it has for decades. It will react to news - if not from Europe form China or even the presidential elections (which ironically tend to be excellent years to invest). This will have you second-guessing your investments. But this will only apply if you have no idea how much risk you can take.
Pay attention to diversification You may not be capable of rebalancing, the act of making sure that your investments are directed evenly across many investments. This is much harder than it seems. As long as you are involved - and that is YOU in capitals - the struggle to keep balance will not get any easier.
For the vast majority of us, mutual funds will be the investment vehicle of choice. These investments will see more movement towards fee reductions. Which is a good thing. Fees will and always have been a subtraction of gains. This makes an excellent argument for indexing.
Choosing six index funds across the following cross-sections of the markets will not solve the problem of rebalancing (some will do better than others) but it will provide diversification. Index the largest companies (an S&P 500 fund), a mid-cap fund (the next 400 companies in size), small-caps (the next 2000), an international fund (an index of the largest countries (those with established banking systems even if they are currently troubled and will continue to be so in 2012), an emerging market fund (after international funds, the most risky) and a bond index (one that covers as much fixed income as possible).
Some of you will wonder if exchange traded funds (ETF) wouldn't be just as good if not better than simple indexing. In 2012, ETFs will continue to drill down ever deeper into sectors of the markets that add risk along with the illusion of an index. ETFs will become more actively managed in 2012 offering you more risk at a lower cost. Cheap doesn't mean better. 2012 will be year of the ETF. If you are unsure what these investments are, consider this conversation I had with David Abner of Financial Impact Factor Radio recently to help explain what these investments are and how they work.
Focus on your financial well-being This refers to your credit score. It continues to impact your financial future and will become increasingly harder to ignore. A new credit rating service agency will add to the difficulty in 2012 and not only will the current scoring impact costs such as insurance, it will seek to trace the breadcrumbs of your financial life more thoroughly that the big three do.
There is little likelihood that the job market will increase as many of our returning troops will flood the marketplace, taking numerous jobs from your kids just out of college. Which means another year with your kids at home. The only answer to this problem is to continue to tighten down your budgets in 2012. As I mentioned earlier: "If you are forty, time is of the essence. If you are fifty, time is running out. If you are sixty, where has the time gone."
And you must do this understanding that inflation - not the reported number but the real number in your grocery bill - will still chip away at your wealth. This means you will move in two opposite directs in 2012: saving and investing more for your fleeting future (at least 6% but 10% would be best) and spending less in the present (easy of you don't use credit).
And the housing market will improve for those who have repaired any damaged credit or who have saved enough of a down payment to buy a house. people are still buying and selling. These people have found that while the market is not accessible to all, it is for those that have done right by their personal finances.
Do all of that this may not seem like a new year - but it will be a better year!