For many of us, this time of year can be both a joy and a burden. Planning great gifts, welcoming out-of-town relatives, dealing with unruly crowds at the mall, dreading out-of-town-relatives ... whether it's good or bad for you (and for most of us, it's a bit of both, truth be told), it's a busy, whirlwind time.
Need a break from all of that? I've got just the thing.
With the end of the year just a couple of weeks away, now is a great time to sit down and spend an hour or two looking at your financial picture, especially your retirement plan. If that seems like a scary (or boring) prospect to you, take a deep breath and think of it as a respite from the craziness of the season. And if it's been a while since your last look, making sure things are in order might increase your peace of mind -- and we can all use a little more of that this time of year.
A simple plan of action
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to make sure you're still on track.
- Review your asset allocation. First, look at your whole retirement investing picture -- all the assets you think of as "retirement savings." How are they allocated across investment types? Do you have a specific target allocation? If so, have your investments drifted away from it over time as some have grown more than others? Is your allocation appropriate for your current age? If you're older than 60, your allocation may need annual readjustment. (Not sure how to come up with a target allocation? Read this for some thoughts on getting started.)
Review your investments. Asset allocation notwithstanding, are you still happy with the investments you own? Do you think it's time to unload that position in Berkshire Hathaway
(NYSE:BRK-A), as Barron's recently suggested, or do you think it's worth holding on to Mr. Be-Greedy-When-Others-Are-Fearful and his $39 billion war chest while the fear is still rising on Wall Street? How about Apple Computer (NASDAQ:AAPL)-- has it peaked yet, or is there more upside? Is it time to think about bottom-feeding on shares of Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX)or JPMorgan Chase (NYSE:JPM)? How are your mutual funds doing? Any recent management changes? What does Morningstar say about them? At least once a year, it's wise to sit down and re-decide (or not) to own all of the investments you hold. Make sure you're comfortable that the retirement portfolio you hold is set up to do what you need it to do now.
- Make year-end decisions. Can you squeeze one last big contribution into your 401(k) before year's end? Do you want to convert all or some of your traditional IRA savings to a Roth IRA? (If you've been thinking about that one, decide quickly. Many brokerages get backlogged and won't accept conversion requests during the last week of December. Sit down tonight and figure it out.) Do you want to make any last charitable contributions for 2007 tax purposes? How about adjustments to your taxable investment accounts? (For more on year-end tax considerations, read this.)
Spend an hour or two working through just those three steps, and you'll have given your future self a great gift -- and you'll probably have given yourself some peace of mind in the here and now, as well.
And here's one last tip: If you'd like to share that peace of mind, consider giving a gift subscription to the Fool's excellent Rule Your Retirement newsletter service. Grab a complimentary one-month guest pass, and check it out right now. You (or your gift recipient) will have full access to the current issue and dozens of back issues covering all sorts of retirement questions. You'll also be able to participate in a special members-only discussion board for questions and ideas -- and have access to a unique set of planning tools to help you create your own plan for retirement. That pass gives you full access for 30 days, too, with absolutely no obligation to subscribe. Enjoy!
Fool contributor John Rosevear owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway and Apple. The Motley Fool also owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation and a Stock Advisor pick. The Fool has a disclosure policy.