Wisebread recently posted a blog that suggested an unpopular idea: Maybe it's not imperative that you start investing for retirement just yet. At least not right now.
Despite it countering most expert financial advice, it may have a ring of truth. Have you seen interest rates lately? Compare the highest available savings rate at bankrate.com (0.95% for a money market account, and 1.15% for a 1-year CD) to the current rate of inflation (2.8% the first half of 2011) and you start to see that the value of your savings is not so hot.
As for your portfolio, in these uncertain times, how can you possibly expect a decent return on your money? Even if you invest in the basics--for example, toilet paper will not be going out of style any time soon--stock prices are pretty volatile. Don't believe me? Take a look at Procter & Gamble (NYSE:PG). They've had nothing but ups and downs for the last three years. There's no growth there. Everybody is struggling.
So what is a saver to do? Right now, the best way to make money may be to avoid losing it. So many of us are drowning in debt.
- Two-thirds of college students graduate with an average debt of $24,000.
- Forty-two percent of adults under age 35 have more than $5,000 in personal debt (not including mortgages).
- The average credit card APR has been hovering around 14% for quite some time, and it can get as high as 25% if you have bad credit.
- To make things even more acute, the
unemploymentunderemployment rate for 18- to 24-year-olds is 29%. It's ridiculous.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t save at all. An emergency savings is essential. Otherwise when your car breaks down, when you have to have that emergency appendectomy, when your computer starts to smoke… you'll end up adding to your debt, making every purchase even more expensive when interested is added to the tab. Take a look at your debt and your savings and set the appropriate budget for your situation.
All this being said, there are reasons to start or continue contributing to a retirement fund. First and foremost, if you are lucky enough to have a job that matches your contributions, max them out. Even if your portfolio doesn't grow, it's still free money from your employer. If your debt is under control and mostly paid off, starting a retirement account such as an IRA is likely a step in the right direction. IRAs in all their flavors are tax-advantageous accounts, so at least you can dodge some taxes.
What's your priority right now? Are you saving, investing or paying down debt?