You’ve probably heard it numerous times – the younger you are when you start saving for the future, the better off your financial stability will be. The question that still lingers for many, however, is just to go about this, and what to do if you are starting later than what is considered ideal.

More Than a Savings Habit

The ability to save money – putting off the immediate wants for the good of your future needs – is often more challenging than one might think. Perhaps it’s because young investors feel that they have decades and decades yet before they really need to worry about financial security and actually drawing from those savings and investments.

Saving allows you to pay off high interest rate loans (such as student or car loans) and ensures that when you transition from one place of employment to another (which will likely happen) that you have a safety cushion for when things don’t go quite as planned.

For millennials, saving is not the only required component to a robust financial portfolio. Investing a fair portion of that money is also a necessary element. While saving money allows for you to pay off student loan debts and make sure that you are protected by an available emergency fund, the nest egg really starts to bloom when a portion of those saved dollars can go towards diversified investments.

5 Elements to Better Investing

In order to move from just indiscriminately saving money to wisely saving, spending, and investing, remember these five elements for better investing.

  1. Pay off loans with high interest rates first. It’s OK to hold on to a mortgage as that can also provide you with tax benefits.
  2. Diversify your investments across a wide variety of asset classes – you have the time to do this.
  3. Pay attention to your investment fees and rates so your investments don’t become imbalanced.
  4. Rebalance those investments as needed. The economy does not remain the same over time, and neither should your portfolio.
  5. Seek tax advice and understand how your investments affect them, and how to use your after-tax returns to your investing advantages.

Paying Attention to the Changing Economy

As you can see, one of the common threads within these elements is the reality that the economy changes over time, and that your saving and investment strategies must do so as well. The following are examples of the changes and innovations that have been seen in the industry in recent decades, and what they indicate for the future.

  • Historically, new technologies were such as the first index funds in the ‘70s, followed by further additions in the ‘80s. In the ‘90s we saw the emergence of online brokerage tools, and everything indicates that we will continue to see innovations in terms of personal investing tools in the online arena.

Investing Wisely for the Future

Trends show us that stocks are important elements of investment portfolios for millennials. When it comes to investing wisely for your future, however, the first place you should really begin is your place of employment.

  • If your job offers a 401(k) match program, emphasize this in your investment strategy first. This is an enormous jump start to your portfolio, and, if at all possible, you should strive to invest the maximum amount allowed for the match.
  • Consider starting a Roth IRA if you have not done so already. Shop around for an investment platform that meets your needs. At some the minimum investment amounts range from $1,000 to $3,000, but there are those which allow much smaller (or even zero) minimums.

Here are some Roth IRA Rules:

  • You can only contribute the maximum amount each year. In 2013,  the max is $5,500.
  • You can only contribute to a Roth IRA if you earn an income or if you’re married to someone who earns an income. You can’t open an account in your child’s name unless they earn an income.
  • In 2013, if you are single and make less than $112,000, you can invest the max amount each year. For married couples, you must make less than $178,000 combined to contribute to a Roth IRA. If your income is over these amounts, look into a traditional IRA.

Although you can pull your money out of a Roth IRA in certain circumstances, Dave doesn’t recommend doing this. If you pull the money out before you hit age 59 1/2, you will most likely face fees for taking it out early. So, make sure you can afford to invest in a Roth IRA.

Make this as simple as possible by having a set amount withdrawn from your bank account and put into your Roth IRA each month. You won’t even feel like you’re missing the money since you never saw it to begin with. Basically, put the money in and forget about it. It’s very simple to set one up.

  • Look for help. It’s better to spend some initial upfront fees to get assistance with your investing than to lose fees because you went into the process without the necessary information and preparation.
  • Don’t forget about investing for short-term goals. Retirement is a long-term goal, but short-term goals such as upcoming education and home buying are also often sound investments which require financial support up front.
  • Take advantage of dividend reinvestment programs. This is a less painful way to invest, and it saves you money because you don’t have to pay future investment fees if you decide to purchase additional stocks at a later date. The reinvestment program keeps working for you and lessens the amount of work you have to put forth.
  • Routinely perform self-assessments of your portfolios. You will need to maintain adequate risk: return balances and adjust your allocations accordingly.

Dave Ramsey recommends mutual funds for your employer-sponsored retirement savings and your IRAs. Divide your investments equally between each of these four types of funds:

  1. Growth
  2. Growth & Income
  3. Aggressive Growth
  4. International

Choose A shares (front end load) and funds that are at least five years old. They should have a solid track record of acceptable returns within their fund category.

If your risk tolerance is low, which means you have a shorter time to keep your money invested, put less than 25% in aggressive growth or consider adding a “Balanced” fund to the four types of funds suggested.

There is an old saying that reads. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” This is especially true when it comes to your financial nest egg. Be sure that your portfolio is diversified, and that it serves your short-term and long-term goals. Don’t make knee-jerk reactions to changes in the economic landscape as history generally shows that leaving your funds during a sudden downturn is a safer decision than pulling out because of financial fear. In actuality, some of the best investments are made when the economy is still in a recovery mode.

There is a lot of information to learn for beginner investors, but creating plans, learning the terms that are unique to investing, and diversifying your investments will give you the best options for building that solid financial future.