Financial Fitness: Are you prepared for the unexpected?

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When you’re working to achieve your financial objectives, you will encounter obstacles. Some of these can be anticipated—for example, you won’t be able to invest as much as you want for retirement because you have to pay for your mortgage. Other challenges can’t be easily anticipated, but you can still plan for them—and you should.

Obviously, the word “unexpected” implies an unlimited number of possibilities. However, at different stages of your life, you may want to watch for some “expected” unexpected developments. For example, during your working years, be prepared for the following:

Emergency expenses. If you needed a major car or home repair, could you handle it? What about a temporary job loss? These events are costly—especially if you are forced to dip into your long-term investments to pay for them. To help guard against these threats, try to build an emergency fund containing six to 12 months’ worth of living expenses, held in a liquid, low-risk account.

Investment risk and market volatility. Extreme price swings are unpredictable, and they can affect your investment success. To defend yourself against fluctuations in the market, build a diversified portfolio containing quality investments. While diversification, by itself, can’t protect against loss or guarantee profits, it can help reduce the effect of volatility on your portfolio.

And here’s one more thing you can do to cope with the ups and downs of investing: Maintain a long-term perspective. By doing so, you won’t be tempted to overreact to short-term downturns.

Long-term disability. One-third of all people between 30 and 64 will become disabled, according to the Health Insurance Association of America. Disabilities can be economically devastating. As part of your benefits package, your employer may offer some disability insurance, but you might need to supplement it with private coverage.

Premature death. None of us can really predict our longevity. If something happens to you, would your family be able to stay in your home? Could your children still attend college? To protect these goals, you need adequate life insurance.

As you approach retirement, and during your retirement years, you may want to focus on these challenges:

Living longer than expected. You probably don’t think that “living longer than expected” is necessarily a bad thing. However, a longer-than-anticipated life span carries with it the risk of outliving your money. Consequently, you might want to consider investment solutions that can provide you with an income stream that you can’t outlive. Also, you’ll need to be careful about how much you withdraw each year from your various retirement and investment accounts.

Need for long-term care. If you had to stay a few years in a nursing home, the cost could mount to hundreds of thousands of dollars. These expenses could jeopardize your financial security, so you’ll need to protect yourself. You could “self-insure,” but as that would be extremely costly, you may want to “transfer the risk” to an insurance company. A financial professional can help explain your choices.

None of us can foresee all the events in our lives. But in your role as an investor, you can at least take positive steps to prepare for the unexpected—and those steps should lead you in the right direction as you move toward your important goals.

Deborah Leahy is an investment adviser with Edward Jones, member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

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