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When to cut back stock risk

Dear Dave,

My wife and I are 70, and we have $950,000 in annuities in the market, plus $68,000 in our emergency fund. The only debt we have is our mortgage. I’m considering converting our stocks to a money market account to lower the risk. What do you think?

– Howard

Dear Howard,

There are two sides to this. One is the asset allocation method, where as you grow older you move away from equities like mutual funds toward safer, more conservative investments like money markets, bonds and certificates of deposit. This is standard financial planning theory.

I disagree with that theory, and here’s why. Statistics show that if you make it to 72 years of age and are in good health, you have a high probability of living into your 90s. If you’re making around 1 percent on your money market and inflation is 4 to 5 percent, then your money isn’t going to be worth a lot. You need to outpace inflation, at least with your investments, in order to break even.

You might move some cash over to money markets and CDs for your own peace of mind, but I’d also recommend growth and income mutual funds along with some balanced funds.

You want the entire group to be hitting the 4 to 5 percent range over the next several years, so you can at least keep up with the rising costs of gas and bread.

In my mind, you’re avoiding one type of risk by moving everything to money markets, but you’re taking on a different kind of risk – the chance you’ll get tackled from behind by inflation. My advice is to balance things so you can sleep better at night, but at a pace where you and your money stay ahead of the curve.

–Dave 

Is this an emergency?

Dear Dave,

My wife just had our first child. As a result, we now have $2,500 in medical bills not covered by insurance. We’ve got $7,000 in our emergency fund, and I make about $25,000 a year. Should we dip into our savings for this or set up a payment plan with the hospital?

–Matthew

Dear Matthew,

Congratulations on your new baby! I know this is going to make the new year extra special for you.

If I were in your situation, I’d write a check today and knock out that hospital bill. This definitely falls under the heading of “emergency” in my mind, so pay the bill and jump back into rebuilding your emergency fund.

You’ve done a good job of saving on $25,000 a year, but let’s look around and see what you can do about making more money, too. Additional classroom education or extra training in your field could increase your income pretty quickly. Your emergency fund probably needs to be a little bit bigger as well, and it’ll be a lot easier to make this happen if you’re bringing in more cash.

I’m sure you’re a hard-working guy, but the truth is it’s going to be pretty tough for even a small family to make it on what you’re bringing home now. Life happens, and the unexpected can become a common occurrence when there’s a little one loose in the house.

–Dave

Dave Ramsey has written four New York Times best-selling books: “Financial Peace,” “More Than Enough,” “The Total Money Makeover” and “EntreLeadership”. The Dave Ramsey Show is heard by more than 5 million listeners each week on more than 500 radio stations. Follow Dave on Twitter at @DaveRamsey and on the web at daveramsey.com.

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