When it comes to protecting your financial future, you want to make sure you are getting it right.
Yet figuring out how to invest, how much to set aside each year and how much cash you should have may leave you confused. Add in concerns about inflation and market volatility, and you may not want to even enter the market.
To be sure, 54% of Americans are worried a big market crash is on the horizon and 72% fear the rising cost of living will impact their retirement plans, according to a study from Allianz Life. The online survey took place in September with a nationally representative sample of 1,005 U.S. adults.
The best thing to do is get informed. There are a number of books and online financial education resources to help you learn how to invest, experts told CNBC Senior Personal Finance Correspondent Sharon Epperson during the CNBC Your Money event on Wednesday. View the entire session.
"There is so much education available, it is really inspiring to see how financial literacy is available in many, many different mediums," said Delyanne Barros, founder of Delyanne The Money Coach.
You can also learn as you are engaged in the act of investing, said certified financial planner Tim Maurer, head of wealth management at Triad Financial Advisors, based in Greensboro, North Carolina.
It may seem sexier to invest in individual stocks, but it is dangerous to do while learning, he said. Instead, start with low-cost index funds, which give you a broader exposure to the market.
"As you learn you can start layering in different asset classes."
How much to invest
Conventional wisdom has always been to save about 10% of your income. If you lived a linear life with a linear income increasing by inflation every year, you'd probably save enough for a comfortable retirement, said Maurer, a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.
"The problem is life is not linear and not predictable," he said.
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Therefore, he recommends a barbell approach that has you saving more during your younger years, around 20% to 25% of your income, when you don't have as many other financial obligations. Once you enter the phase of life where you may have children and a home, you may dip down below 10%, he said.
You can bump it back up when things ease up, like when you become an empty nester.
Don't let student debt stop you
In January, millions of student loan borrowers will have to start repaying their federal loans, after the government's pandemic-induced pause expires.
Yet don't let that debt stop you from investing, Barros said. That's because it takes the average person about 20 years to pay off student loans.
"I can't imagine saying, 'Step out of the market for the next 20 years,'" she said. "That is precious time you won't get back."
Take advantage of a 401(k)
If your employer offers a 401(k), it's important to at least contribute up to the company match, said Winnie Sun, co-founder and managing director of Irvine, California-based Sun Group Wealth Partners.
If you can, contribute the maximum amount, which is $19,500 for 2021 and $20,500 for 2022, she added. Those age 50 and older can make additional so-called catch-up contributions.
Also, if your income qualifies, contribute to a Roth individual retirement account, Sun said. If your income is too high, talk to a financial advisor about doing what's called a backdoor Roth. In that instance, you contribute to a traditional IRA and then convert it to a Roth.
"The earlier you can start putting away money towards retirement, the better," said Sun, also a member of the CNBC Financial Advisor Council.
Try to challenge yourself, she added. You may be surprised how you can adapt to putting more into savings and living on less.
Don't forget to rebalance
Remember to check your portfolio to make sure your assets are balanced — in other words, if you want to have 10% in large-cap growth stocks and it reaches 20%, you'll want to get it back to 10%.
There are different approaches, Maurer said. One way is periodic rebalancing, which is done at a certain time, such as once a quarter.
He recommends situational rebalancing, which is waiting to make changes until a portion of your portfolio has grown outsized.
Have some cash on hand
You certainly need money in case of an emergency, which means it should be accessible in some type of bank account rather than investments.
Once you have enough saved in an emergency fund, which is at least three to six months of living expenses, put it towards your long-term financial goals, Sun said.
"You are not earning as much on your cash," she said.
The national average interest rate for savings accounts is 0.06%, according to Bankrate.
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Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.