Q. My 37 year-old grandson is in business for himself. He is a great saver, but has never used any method for saving except banking his money. I told him that was like sticking his money under a mattress and that he desperately needs to get into some kind of retirement saving program. I am a great fan of Vanguard funds and would like to get him involved in a 500 Index or Wellington fund with Vanguard.
The trouble is I know nothing about IRAs or Roth IRAs, or 401(k) plans. He feels the need to save on taxes so I suspect one of the IRAs would be good for him. I have applied for and received applications for these accounts from Vanguard. What would you suggest he use as a start for some sort of retirement savings program. He is not married and has no children. — V.B., Seal Beach, CA
A. There are lots of people in business for themselves who are great at making money but intimidated by the task of investing it. One reason is that both our financial services industry and media make investing look incredibly difficult and extremely time sensitive. Long-term investing is neither.
If doing things remotely is difficult for him, let me suggest that you visit a Schwab office and open an account. This will get you access to a very broad platform for investing and a person to provide guidance about opening accounts. He could also open an account at Fidelity, but they have fewer offices than Schwab.
Wherever he goes, the important thing is to make a consistent commitment. Since he is single and has no children he can afford significant risk, but his temperament may not allow it since he probably likes a greater feeling of control. So it would be reasonable for him to start with a balanced fund. If he finds the ups and downs tolerable, he could then expand to a broad all-stock fund. The exact amount of risk isn’t important. What is important is that he takes some risk so that he increases the long-term odds that his return will be greater than inflation.
Another consideration is the vehicle he can use for tax-deferred retirement savings. By saving through a SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) he will be able to save more each year than he can through an IRA.
Q. I've been a client of an investment advisory firm for nearly fourteen years. During that time the firm has done fairly well for me. My average annual return has been 5.99 percent compared to their benchmark for me of 8.53 percent. This includes distributions of slightly over $349,000 and also the market debacle with me fully invested in 2009.
I've thought of using one of your "Couch Potato" investment strategies, but I know that if the market declined severely, I would bail out and would get back in at the least opportune time. I just don't have faith that I will know the optimum time to return.
To avoid this, I have thought of putting my total portfolio with Berkshire Hathaway by investing it its stock. Does this seem like a prudent thing to do, or am I overlooking something? Many thanks for your thoughts. —J.L., by email
A. Basically, you are asking if Warren Buffett can be used as an asset allocation guru, selling and buying at opportune times. Since he effectively reduced his equity stake before the market collapse, I think it is fair to say that he did better than most mutual fund managers did, in part because they tend to be constrained by their fund description.
That said, you are overlooking a simple tool for “timing” the market: Having a fixed asset allocation. If you have a 50/50 or 60/40 division between stocks and bonds you will automatically be required to sell stocks at the market rises and to buy them after a major market decline. You will do this simply to keep your asset allocation constant. So you don’t need to guess whether the market is near a top or near a bottom— your constant allocation will tell you when to move into stocks and when to move into bonds.