It’s that time of year when many companies are paying out their year-end bonuses. Hopefully “congratulations” are in order and all that hard work from the last year paid off. Now the real decisions begin.
In some fields, like energy trading, your bonus can vary widely from year to year and are only maximized when the stars align -- you have a great year, your group meets their goals, and the company hits their profit targets. Even the most successful may only get a dozen or so of these big paydays in a career, so it is critical to be thoughtful about how you allocate your bonus. These are the payments that ought to support you and your family’s hopes and dreams for a lifetime.
What is your plan? Upgrade the house, pay off an existing mortgage, invest in the market or just sit in cash? How much should you save versus spend?
· Working through the hierarchy of how to allocate new capital can be challenging. A good place to start is making sure to maximize your employer’s matching 401-K plans, Health Savings Accounts and any other tax advantaged account that is underfunded, like an education 529 Plan.
· While it is tempting to ratchet up your lifestyle with a big payday. Be careful when adjusting your spending habits that even when there are years when the bonus is sub-par, you can handle your bills. One way to keep your spending in check is to imagine: what if I had to find a new job? What kind of salary could I earn in the current job market?
· Finally, as there are no one-size fits-all decision-making tools, consider working with an independent Register Investment Advisor. RIAs typically do not market products or have outside pressures as to where these funds go plus as your fiduciary, have an obligation to put the client first and develop solutions that align with your risk appetite and long-term goals. Even when an advisor’s pay is a function of the amount of assets they manage, your advisor should acknowledge this and determine the best course, regardless of this conflict.
We hear of athletes or actors going from rags to riches and end up having financial problems later in life. Many other careers can have volatile earnings streams. Careful and thoughtful planning during the heady years can help to minimize the impact of the lean years.