Set Your Objectives
The starting point for achieving financial independence begins with a financial plan. Determine your current financial position, available resources and immediate fund requirements. Then set your long term financial goals: keep in mind your risk-taking ability, current lifestyle, occupational profile and family background. The number of dependents and their own financial status –a working spouse gives you a greater degree of financial freedom- should also be considered.
A financial plan helps an investor to lay out realistic goals and then work towards them over a period of time. Since each individual has a unique setup, this section only makes broad recommendations that should apply to everyone before embarking upon an investment programme.
Estimate short term needs
Many investors plunge into the stock market without assessing their short term fund needs. Faced with a crunch, they end up selling shares much earlier or book losses at the smallest sign of trouble. That clashes with the fact that the holding period in equities is crucial to meet the targeted return. By estimating short term needs and preparing for them, the painful decision of selling shares before time can be avoided.
Create an emergency fund
Emergencies happen when least expected, forcing you to alter your investment plan. Therefore, having a cash reserve to help meet situations like a medical emergency or a layoff, ensure that your fund requirements are met without affecting the investment plan. A cash reserve (money market funds, which can be easily converted into cash should do) of at least six months worth of living expenses or a medical or disability insurance is a must.
Increase your net worth by repaying debt. Start by repaying the most expensive debt – usually credit card debts and unsecured personal loans are the most expensive. Keep some amount of debt, especially if you get a tax benefit, like on housing loans. If the return on investment is greater than the amount of interest paid on debt, invest. But if the risk-adjusted return is still less than the amount of interest being paid on the loan, you are obviously better off clearing the loan.
Set priorities in a chronological order
Classify your own priorities and that of your family members based on their time of occurrence. For instance, paying a lump sum donation for getting admission to school is a more immediate need, than providing for higher education. College education is still years away compared to school. Thus, school education can be provided for by investing in fixed income instruments like short term bonds or fixed maturity plans of mutual funds. For college education, a mix of equity and debt, with more in equity, can be taken to combat inflation and the higher risk is spread across a number of years.
Practice Asset Allocation
No investment plan is complete without an asset allocation. Different types of assets exist; the most common ones are cash and bullion, the most liquid asset class. Then, there are fixed income instruments, like bonds and fixed deposits, which are less risky, but yield lower returns compared to equities, and are less liquid too. Mutual funds come next, their risk profile depends on the type of fund –equity or debt or balanced and the investment philosophy. Sector-focused funds, for example, will be less riskier compared to diversified funds. Equities are the most aggressive investment option, with high returns and commensurate risk too.
Since there are various levels of risk associated with various assets, it makes sense to identify your own risk-return profile and then build an asset allocation strategy. There is no ideal asset allocation, a one size fits all plan. You have to make a plan that suits you best, allocating weights to various asset classes and then designing an investment plan accordingly.
After designing an asset plan, it is imperative to monitor it to ensure that changes in asset prices have not skewed your allocation. A sharp rise in equities, for example, may increase your exposure to equities, much more than you may want. So, selling down equities and increasing exposure to debt would be the right thing to do.