The combination of investments you choose is as important as the individual investments themselves. In fact, many experts argue that it’s even more important, since the mix of various types of investments accounts for most of the ups and downs of a portfolio’s return. Each type of investment, or asset class, has strengths and weaknesses that let it play a specific role in your overall investing strategy. Some investments, such as stocks, may be chosen for their growth potential. Other asset classes, such as bonds, may provide regular income. Still others may offer relative stability or serve as a place to park money temporarily. And some investments may try to fill more than one role.

Balancing how much of each asset class you should include in your retirement portfolio is one of your most important tasks as an investor. That balance between growth, income, and safety/stability is called your asset allocation. It can help you manage the level and type of risks you face.

Balancing risk and return

Ideally, you should strive for an overall combination of investments that take the least amount of risk in trying to achieve a targeted rate of return. This often means balancing more conservative investments against others that are designed to provide a higher return but that also involve more risk.

Someone who is close to retirement and about to start relying on his or her savings for living expenses will probably need a very different asset allocation than a young, well-to-do working professional whose priority is saving for a retirement that’s 30 years away. The level of risk you are able to take is known as your “risk tolerance,” and it’s affected by factors such as how soon you’ll be using your savings as well as your emotional and financial ability to handle setbacks.

Don’t forget about the impact of inflation on your retirement savings. As time goes by, your money will probably buy less and less unless your portfolio at least keeps pace with the inflation rate. Even if you think of yourself as a conservative investor, your asset allocation should take long-term inflation into account.

Many ways to diversify

There are various approaches to choosing an asset allocation that makes sense for you. One approach is to look at what you’re investing for and how long you have to reach each goal. Those goals get balanced against your immediate need for money — for example, to pay living expenses. The more secure your immediate income and the longer you have to pursue your investing goals, the more aggressively you might be able to invest for them. That means your asset allocation might have a greater percentage of stocks, which are considered riskier than bonds or cash but which also might offer greater potential long-term return.

Or you might be in the opposite situation. If you worry that you might need to tap your investments in an emergency, you’ll need to balance that fact against your longer-term goals. In addition to establishing an emergency fund, which would lower the odds of your needing to tap your retirement account prematurely, you may need to invest more conservatively than you might otherwise want to.

Some investors believe in shifting their assets among asset classes based on which types of investments they expect will do well or poorly in the near term. However, this approach, called “market timing,” is extremely difficult even for professional investors. Less experienced investors often tend to put money into an asset class that has performed well recently, only to watch that strong performance disappear shortly after they’ve invested.

Your asset allocation should balance your financial goals with your emotional needs. If the way your money is invested keeps you awake worrying at night, you may need to rethink your investing goals and whether the strategy you’re pursuing is worth the anxiety.

Check your asset allocation periodically

Even if you’ve chosen an appropriate asset allocation, market forces may quickly begin to alter it without any action on your part. If stock prices go up, you may eventually find yourself with a greater percentage of stocks in your portfolio than you want. If stock prices go down, you might worry that you won’t be able to retire when you hope to — or at all.

Let’s say you initially decided on an 80% to 20% mix of stock investments to bond investments. If stocks perform well, you might find after several years that your portfolio is now divided 88% to 12% (conversely, if stocks haven’t done well, you might have a 70-30 ratio of stocks to bonds in this hypothetical example). You should review your portfolio periodically to see if you need to return to your original allocation.

Also, your asset allocation should take into account any changes in your life and circumstances — for example, if you get married, divorce, have children, change jobs, or get close to retirement. Even if your asset allocation was right for you when you first chose it, it may not be right for you now. It should change as your circumstances do. If you don’t review your holdings periodically, you won’t know whether a change is needed.

There is no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful; all investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. And remember that asset allocation and diversification can’t guarantee a profit or eliminate the possibility of potential losses, including the loss of principal.

Before investing in a mutual fund, carefully consider its investment objectives, risks, fees, and expenses, which can be found in the prospectus available from the fund. Obtain a copy of the prospectus and read it carefully before investing.

An investment in a money market fund is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Though a money market fund attempts to preserve a $1 per share value, there is no guarantee it will always do so, and it’s possible to lose money investing in the fund.

Bond prices and yields are subject to change based upon market conditions and availability. If bonds are sold prior to maturity, you may receive more or less than your initial investment. Holding bonds to term allows redemption at par value. There is an inverse relationship between interest rate movements and bond prices. Generally, when interest rates rise, bond prices fall and when interest rates fall, bond prices generally rise.

This information, developed by an independent third party, has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. This information is not intended as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security referred to herein. Investments mentioned may not be suitable for all investors. The material is general in nature. Past performance may not be indicative of future results. Raymond James Financial Services, Inc. does not provide advice on tax, legal or mortgage issues. These matters should be discussed with the appropriate professional. 

Content Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc.

Want to learn more about our process?

Schedule a 15 minute introductory call so we can learn more about you, your financial goals and how we can best help you achieve them.