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Is It Ever Too Late to Invest in the Stock Market?

Retirement planning

I’ve shared before about how I got to speak with people at various stages of their investing lives. Many of those situations were unique and would often require specific action, though the ones that always seemed to be more difficult were those who believed it was too late to invest in the stock market.

As an aside, by too late to invest, I am not meaning in terms of where the stock market is at a certain point in time, but in terms of if it’s too late to invest for the specific individual. Additionally, investing goes beyond just being in the stock market, so it’s certainly possible that you’re fine and not in the stock market much, but many individuals I spoke with had put investing off for one reason or another and coming to grips with the fact that retirement was a comin’ and they needed to get serious about it.

With that in mind, I thought this was a perfect topic for my How to Invest in Stocks series. If you’re looking for more posts in the series, you can check a few of them out below:

 

You’ll get Nowhere Quick By not Starting

Many that I got to speak with felt that time had simply passed them by and that it was too late for them to invest in the stock market. Truthfully, it is better to start investing the younger you are as time is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, tools to grow your investments. However, that does not mean that because you may be in your 40s or early 50s that it’s too late to start investing in the stock market.

That said, don’t allow this feeling to hold you back, but get started as we all have to start somewhere. Hopefully you at least have something built up in your 401k as many I spoke with did, and if so then you’re off to a somewhat decent start.

With that in mind, what are some things you should do if you see the need to start investing?

Start with a 401k if You have one: This is generally the best place to start as you begin to ramp up your investing. For 2013 and 2014 the contribution limits are $17,500 and if you’re over 50 you’re eligible for a catch up contribution of $5,500. The employer contribution doesn’t count towards that limit, so take advantage of all the free money you can. Keep in mind though, that the combined contribution limit is $51,000. That said, start with your 401k and look for the lowest funds possible.

Open an IRA: After you hammer out your plan for your 401k, opening an IRA should generally be your next step. It is important to point out that you may be limited in your ability to make a tax-deferred contribution. That said, you should speak with a tax advisor to see what your options are for funding an IRA and get started on it. Don’t allow the possibilities to hold you back, but simply get started investing.

Educate yourself and keep it simple: This, perhaps, should be at the top. Many that I spoke with felt that it was too late to invest because they did not know what they were doing. Investing can be overwhelming. Don’t allow that to hold you back.

There are many free educations options out there, you just have to look for them. Many 401k plans and online brokerages offer free education. Take advantage of it and you’ll likely find something as simple as investing in solid index funds are among your best bets.

 

If you’re looking for a quality online brokerage, check out my Etrade review of why they may be a great fit for you.

 

What Else is on Your Plate?

Many of those I spoke with felt like it was too late to invest as they had things like debt and children going to college that were holding them back. That is perfectly understandable and I’m not criticizing any of those situations as we all have different things on our plates that throw a wrench at life.

That said, there does come a point in time where it’s important to take stock of where you’re at and analyze your priorities. There is an ongoing debate over paying off debt vs. investing in the stock market and the key takeaway is that each situation is different and you have to do what’s best for you. If you’re dealing with debt, my encouragement to you is to get that knocked out as soon as possible and throw all that money towards saving for retirement.

There is also the saving for college and retirement planning debate, which is largely a personal decision. While it can be argued that you do have a responsibility to your children, you also have to remember that there are no loans for retirement.

The final big issue I often counseled individuals with was what does your financial life look like in terms of spending? What kind of lifestyle are you living? What is going on financially each month? More than a few people I spoke with were saddened to confess it was too late to invest because they had gotten use to a certain lifestyle and were frittering away their hard earned money on stuff as opposed to investing it for the long run.

Don’t Hold Yourself Back – It’s Never Too Late to Invest

Going back to the beginning, time is generally the greatest ally to your investing and growing wealth. With that in mind, it is also never too late to invest regardless of the age you are. Yes, you generally don’t have the benefit of many decades to grow your wealth, but you can still do some positive things that’ll help you in retirement.

Let’s face it, we all make mistakes. I know for certain that I am guilty of making them in my personal life and still kick myself for waiting so long to begin investing in the stock market, but don’t allow those mistakes to compound and become bigger. If you feel that it’s too late to invest in the stock market, then it could be argued that’s the perfect time to get started as you see something is amiss. With that in mind, take a look at what you’re wanting in retirement, establish an investment plan for yourself and start working towards your goal.

 

Do you ever think it’s too late to invest in the stock market, or investing period? What one tip would you give to someone who has waited too long to start investing? For those wondering about our trip to Vegas last week…it was a blast! I’ll have a post on Friday sharing some of the fun details. :-)

 

Photo courtesy of: Tax Credits

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I'm the founder of Frugal Rules, a Dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry. I'm passionate about helping people learn from my mistakes so that they can enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. If you're wanting to grow your blog, check out my blog coaching services to see how I can help you take your site to the next level.

42 Comments

  • MMD says:

    All good points, John. Especially the fact that you can make investing simple if you really want to. All of the time people ask me how they can pick good stocks, when really I think their objective is more just “how to make good investments” which could be accomplished easily with the right mutual fund. I don’t think its ever too late to start investing in stocks or anything for that matter. As long as you’re alive you might as well reap the power of potential compound returns.
    MMD recently posted…Active vs Passive Investing – Are There Times When Actively Managed Funds Can Actually Be A Good Thing?My Profile

    • John says:

      Thanks MMD. I got the same thing all the time in my old job, and still do to a certain extent. They think they need to be “picking stocks” when really what they’re wanting is a solid and balanced approach to investing – one that’ll generally be accomplished by getting in to some solid index funds.

  • Matt Becker says:

    It’s never too late, and that’s as true with investing as it is with anything else. Yes, it might have been better if you had started earlier. But doesn’t that just mean that it’s better to start now than to wait any longer? It’s the exact same logic.

    By the way, small point but I don’t think that from a purely rational standpoint the retirement vs. college argument is largely a personal one. I understand that from an emotional standpoint it often is and I’m not trying to say that’s totally wrong. But from a pure numbers perspective, you have to handle retirement before college. There are so many options for education and really very few when it comes to handling retirement.
    Matt Becker recently posted…A Step-by-Step Guide Through the Process of Actually Buying Life InsuranceMy Profile

    • John says:

      Completely agreed on your first point Matt.

      I think you may be reading a little in to what I was meaning on that point Matt, or maybe I didn’t bear the point out well enough. ;) I was meaning purely from a vantage point of how much you want to put away for college needs is a personal decision as I believe that retirement needs to be handled first. Like I said, there are no loans for retirement and thus need to be concerned about that first. I had written a post on that matter a few months back and linked back to it as opposed to going through it again. :)

  • It’s never too late because we don’t know how long we will live. Case in point…my grandfather turns 100 next month. If he had started investing at 60…well, that’s a 40-year investing horizon. Plenty of time for investments to grow.
    Brian @ Luke1428 recently posted…Grappling With the “Should I Retire Early?” QuestionMy Profile

  • Jennifer says:

    What I have discovered is that there are too many choices for people and that is why they don’t start. Another big reason is they feel they don’t have the whole $17,500 to max out a 401K. They don’t understand that they don’t have to fully fund their 401K, then they feel why bother. Add on top of all of that, the fear of appearing “dumb” to a financial professional and you have a recipe for disaster. Inertia is what will hurt people in the end unfortunately. I have been advising/counseling for 13 years and there is no easy answer unfortunately. We just have to keep plugging away and educating 1 person at a time.

  • Good to hear about your trip to Vegas! I think it is never too late to start investing and getting your personal finances straightened out. Even if you are 60 years old you could have 40 years left of living to do, which means there’s a chance you are only about halfway through your life!
    DC @ Young Adult Money recently posted…How Much Money Would you Need to Live off Dividend Income? [Free Download]My Profile

  • The biggest key is to simply start investing. Every day wasted is another day you won’t get compounding to work in your favor. When it comes to paying off debt or investing, I’ve taken the approach of prioritizing my debt payments down to a comfortable level and then slowly transitioning to investing. So, if I were paying 100% to debt, after I get my debt balance down to a reasonable level where I can pay it off in a short period of time, I will go 75% debt and 25% investing. Then eventually I will be at 100% investing.
    Jon @ MoneySmartGuides recently posted…Top 3 Tips for Staying Ahead of the Online Coupon Trend of 2014My Profile

    • John says:

      That’s a great way to look at it Jon. That should help you smooth your transition to an investing mindset and if the money has already been going to one thing then changing it to something else shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

  • Great post, John. I think the important point here is that, no matter your age, you should do SOMETHING. Put $50 a month in to start – just get moving! Long-term, the market has always had the best success.
    Laurie @thefrugalfarmer recently posted…The Dangers of Short-Sighted VisionMy Profile

    • John says:

      Thanks Laurie! Completely agreed, getting started is the key. It may seem like nothing to start with, but it’s the action of doing it which counts and will help you develop that investing mindset.

  • We started saving for retirement later that I would’ve liked (in our late 20s) but it’s definitely better late than never. It’s also addictive once you start. I love watching balances grow over time!
    Holly@ClubThrifty recently posted…Let’s Talk About SpringMy Profile

  • I know it can be a scary subject, but investing is really not that difficult. There are so many funds that are easy to purchase and hold. I think it is just a common misconception.
    Grayson @ Debt Roundup recently posted…A Sobering Moment Of ReflectionMy Profile

  • I don’t think it’s ever too late. If you wait until you’re 55, it might mean more sacrifice and possibly working a few more years, but retirement will come for most people unless they drop dead on the job. Generally loss of a job or health problems force out even those who think they will never retire. Social security is pretty meager, so whatever you can save in the years you have will help add to that.
    Kim@Eyesonthedollar recently posted…Thoughts About Turning 40My Profile

    • John says:

      Completely agreed Kim. I shudder to think of anyone completely living off of Social Security, though I know it’s done. Every little bit you can put away will help in spades with it.

  • Better late than never. But I do think most people don’t know how to get started. That is a big challenge for many. These are great tips on how to do it.
    Raquel@Practical Cents recently posted…Emergency Fund: Why Every Homeowner Needs OneMy Profile

    • John says:

      Thanks Raquel and I could not agree more! I saw that day in and day out and many do struggle with that even though it’s not as difficult as many make it out to be.

  • The best time to start is always now, isn’t it? That’s the best bit about how time moves forward. Yesterday really is gone, for all of us, and all that matters is what each of us chooses to do today.

    Great message, John. Thanks!
    Done by Forty recently posted…Girls Just Want to Raise FundsMy Profile

    • John says:

      Completely agreed, the time is now though too many miss that altogether. That said, what’s past is past, but you can change what you’re doing today. :)

  • I agree that it is never too late. People get paralyzed by fear of investing at market highs, but if you are going to be invested over decades, there will be numerous highs and lows over those periods and if you are consistently putting money in, over time, you will be ahead of the game. And definitely better than you would have been in cash.
    Shannon @ Financially Blonde recently posted…Music Mondays – The ChampMy Profile

  • Investing is a tool in an individuals financial plan. If your goal is a safe retirement then you will need to plan for the years up to retirement and the years after. Investing in the stock market happens to be the best tool to help secure a safe retirement. So no, it’s never too late!
    Michael Solari recently posted…Exchange Traded Funds; What are They?My Profile

  • I only started investing a few years ago and have seen monumental gains. I wouldn’t take on any risky investments when approaching retirement, but even bond returns are better than savings accounts.
    Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life recently posted…The Danger of Doing What You LoveMy Profile

    • John says:

      That’s the benefit of having started a few years ago – seeing those awesome gains. :) I agree that you likely want to dial back the “riskier” investments as you approach retirement. Though, I’d be leery of bonds right now with the rate uncertainty – that said they are better than savings accounts in terms of rates.

  • I agree – it’s NEVER too late to start investing. I meet with many people who are nervous they waited too long and their lives are forever doomed. Sure, starting young is certainly ideal but it certainly doesn’t mean that you life is ruined if you didn’t. People tend to overcomplicate investing, and it definitely doesn’t need to be that way. When it comes to retirement or debt, I’m in the camp of trying to do both – have an emergency fund and invest in your 401k up to your company match with everything else going to debt repayment. Like you said, there is no loan for retirement, so I put retirement ahead of college funding, if you are unable to do both. I also believe that you need to be upfront with your children if they are going to need to take out student loans and firmly guide them so they use the money they borrow wisely and not take a penny more than they really need.
    Shannon @ The Heavy Purse recently posted…Improve Your Financial Health: Fix Bad Money Habits in 4 Steps and Embrace Living within Your MeansMy Profile

    • John says:

      I could not agree more Shannon, people do tend to overcomplicate investing when they really don’t need to. Great point on the retirement vs. debt issue. I think many can do both with an emphasis on killing the debt then shifting it all towards retirement. Great point as well on being upfront with your kids if they will need to take out loans. I hate to see students take loans, but it’s a reality many will face. However, the borrowing can still be done wisely as well as spending only what is needed.

  • E.M. says:

    I am trying to tell my parents this actually. They had a managed portfolio when they were still living here, but since moving, have received no contact from the company. They want to move elsewhere, but they’re a little scared. I’m trying to find some resources to help them out, but they do have a 401k, pension and other mutual funds at least. They would love for some of that to keep growing!
    E.M. recently posted…When Have You Paid the Price?My Profile

    • John says:

      I can understand that fear E.M. as I saw that same emotion quite a bit in my corporate role. That said, it sounds like your parents have a good foundation going that they should be able to build on. Feel free to let me know if you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to help out. :)

  • Agreed it’s never too late. Obviously starting earlier is better, but there is a benefit to investing in stocks at any point in your life.
    The First Million is the Hardest recently posted…What Is Your Money Personality Type?My Profile

  • Liz says:

    I regret not investing more sooner. During college I was really cautious. I wish I would have been a litter braver and allocated more of my savings to investment instead of majority cash!
    Liz recently posted…Managing My Finances: Net WorthMy Profile

    • John says:

      I’m in the same boat Liz. I was paying off debt, but wish I would’ve allocated something to investing. But, you live and you learn right? :)

  • As you say, it’s never too late to invest, although money that is needed in less than 5 years should not be invested. I started investing when I got out of the Air Force and started college. I had some money saved in the Air Force that I wouldn’t need during college (imagine that!) so I got in touch with a stock broker (only way to buy mutual funds back then) and bought a T. Rowe Price fund. It gained 50% in value while I was in college. That helped me get my first apartment after finding work. I’ve been saving and investing ever since.
    Bryce @ Save and Conquer recently posted…Videos That Make the Case for Passive Index InvestingMy Profile

  • Mark Ross says:

    Great article John! I think it’s never too late to invest in the stock market, but investing later in life means you can’t take advantage of the time that you have now.
    Mark Ross recently posted…A Quick Way To Save Money With The Help Of A Water BottleMy Profile

  • For those who have not yet tried investing in stock market it’s not too late for them! Maybe you’ll alfraid for economic downlfall that’s why you tend not to try this investment. Well here are some tips that I can share to you on how to be successful in stock market investment.

    1. Investigate before investing.
    2. Diversify your portfolio.
    3.Don’t rely on rumors.
    4. Monitor your investments.
    5. Don’t be greedy.
    6. Limit your risk.

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