Dear Helaine: I need some financial advice. I am 60 years old and, after working for a U.S. embassy as local staff, I migrated to the United States in 2014. Upon separating from the embassy, I received a six-figure severance. I invested about $40,000 toward the purchase of a home in North Carolina, and I am currently left with $145,000 in savings. This is all the savings I have. My wife is now the main breadwinner, and I earn extra money as a substitute teacher. We have no credit card debt. The major monthly liability is the mortgage of $1,600. We have three children. Two are in college and self-supporting. One is in high school. Please advise me on where I can safely invest my savings so I can get a reasonable rate of return. At this stage of life, my appetite for risk is not that great. — Trying to Stay Afloat in the United States
Dear Trying to Stay Afloat in the United States: Investing a large sum of money can seem overwhelming. As a result, all too many of us can end up making a risky move we don't view as such: We do nothing. In the period of time you sat on your funds, the S&P 500 — if you reinvested your dividends — increased by slightly more than 75 percent. Your risk and loss aversion cost you a tidy sum of money — but I bet you don't see it that way.
So what should you do now? Obviously, you can't go back to 2014 and invest the sum. We can't change our past behavior. We only live moving forward. I would first counsel that you eliminate the idea of a "safe" investment from your vocabulary. It's an oxymoron, like jumbo shrimp. Investments offer greater and lesser risks.
Experts generally suggest you take the number 100, minus your age from it, and invest the remainder of your funds — in your case 40 percent — in the stock market, using a broadly diversified index fund such as a total stock market index fund. That's an all-encompassing fund, representing the entirety of the domestic stock market. The remainder of the sum should go in a long-term bond fund. Should you do this? Probably, but this is the limit of an advice column — I don't actually know you. I don't know how old your wife is, how much she earns, and what your financial situation will be like when she leaves the full-time workforce. And this is all important stuff, and it would be negligent of me to tell you exactly what to do without knowing all of that.
My suggestion? Sit down with a certified financial planner who is paid by the hour and doesn't earn their keep by selling financial investments that they will receive a commission on. Yes, you'll need to pay for the service, but it's money well spent. The Garrett Planning Network, which specializes in working with middle-income people, is a good place to start.
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