MSU EXTENSION: Five ways to plant the seed of investment to make your money grow

By Brenda Long

Michigan State University Extension

Less than half of United States households are making good saving progress, according to America Saves Week 2016. Those with a plan tend to be more successful in saving for short-term emergency situations, reducing debt, emergency income, and also tend to use automatic savings. Once that short-term saving plan has become consistent and habitual, it may be time to think about long-term investments. In order to do so, several important decisions need to be made about growing money to reach long-term goals. This article will describe several steps to make investments.

The University of Minnesota Extension Dollar Works two curriculum states five steps to build your financial future:

  • Goals and time horizons: If you want to pay for a college education, have income during retirement, or leave an inheritance, ask yourself how many years do you have to invest? The general guidelines are:
  • Build emergency fund and emergency income replacement funds. Emergency funds are for expenses that happen like auto and appliance repairs, medical bills, or other unexpected emergencies. Next, the recommendation is to have about six months of living expenses saved in case you are suddenly looking for new employment or cannot work due to an extended illness. These funds should be safe and some need to be liquid.
  • If under two years, use cash savings, or Certificate of Deposits maturing at or before you need the money.
  • Two to ten years, use a combination of bonds and stocks.
  • If over ten years, focus mostly on stocks, depending on your investment objective and risk tolerance.
  • Grow money over time: Start saving for long-term goals by putting money in interest-earning accounts and letting that money compound over time.
  • Risk tolerance: The amount of risk you should take, or avoid, to meet your goal depends on how much time you have to let your money grow and what types of investments would be most suitable for that time horizon.
  • Diversify your investments to spread risk: Asset choices include stocks, bonds, cash real estate, hard assets and commodities. A diversified portfolio incorporates different asset classes and investment styles. This approach protects against being vulnerable to fluctuations in a particular security or sector.

You may wish to take the free, home study course Investing for Your Future developed by the Cooperative Extension System for beginning investors with small dollar amounts to invest. Helpful definitions of basic terms and worksheets will benefit your knowledge of important concepts as well as describe more advanced types of investments. Action steps are listed at the end of each unit to help you consider your choices.

Check to see if you have a retirement savings plan where you work. Some employers match employee contributions up to a certain percent.

If you do not have a workplace retirement plan or have not found an easy way to save, take a look at myRA. This retirement savings account was developed by the U. S. Department of the Treasury to help people start saving for the future in a simple, safe, and affordable way. You can set up automatic contributions, withdraw the money without tax or penalty, safely earn interest, and it does not charge fees to open an account.

Long-term investments take careful research, knowledge, patience, and discipline over time. Michigan State University Extension recommends looking at the Savings and Investing tab on the MI Money Health webpage, this contains more resources and tools to plan your investing strategy and to reach retirement goals at your stage of life.