Expert: Time & patience key to retiring rich

Posted at 4:05 PM, Feb 16, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-16 19:52:03-05

Nobody wants to work until age 85, but are you saving enough money for retirement? Do you even know what's in your 401(k) or IRA (Individual Retirement Account)?

Many people do not.

Growing your retirement money is a lot like growing plants -- it takes time and patience.

But where do you put those retirement funds?

It's a prickly question for workers like Jennifer Gladish, who 10News found shopping at the North Park Nursery on Monday.

"Do you work forever? Do you just save? Put it in savings?" she wondered aloud.

If you have a 401(k) through your job, you may have several funds from which you can choose. It can be a daunting choice.

"Well, you just don't really know what to do with it," said worker Mike Stanphill. "Most do nothing or the bare minimum."

How do you get your 401(k) or IRA to grow and bloom like the flowers at the nursery?

"I think sometimes the mistake you'll see … somebody young being too conservative," cautioned financial advisor Dennis Brewster.

He said young workers, with decades to go until retirement, may want to consider an index fund that tracks the S&P 500 -- the 500 biggest companies in the U.S.

"It's going to be tough to beat this [index] over a long period of time," explained Brewster.

Brewster showed 10News a spreadsheet of the S&P 500's performance dating back to 1927. If you invested $100 a month for 30 years -- a total of $36,000 -- that money would have grown anywhere from $155,000 to more than $600,000, depending on whether the market was up or down when you took out the funds. Either way, it's a pretty good return for just $25 a week.

"It's money you wouldn't have noticed was gone," said Brewster.

But Brewster said the key is, "What's your time frame?"

If you're retiring soon, you don't want to get stung by the ups and downs of the market.

Brewster said "target date retirement funds" have become popular because they automatically move your money into less risky investments, the closer you get to retirement.

"It's trying to take some of the decision-making process and put it on 'auto pilot' for you," he said.

Brewster also reminds workers that their money may have to last them for a long time, as some life expectancies get closer to 85.

"A 40-year-old might consider themselves working for 20 more years, but really you probably have a 40-year horizon," he said.

The bottom line, according to Brewster, is to find a mix that's comfortable for you and to know the risk you're willing to handle.

Gladish has a friend who's grappling with that right now.

"She's always looking at it [her investment]. 'Oh my gosh, it's down! What do I do?'" Gladish said.

She laughed at the thought of someone asking her for financial advice.

"I don't know how I'm coaching her," she joked. "Just ride it out."