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Columns: Dr. Don
Don Taylor, Ph.D., CFA, CFP   Expert: Don Taylor, Ph.D., CFA, CFP
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No amount too tiny when securing future
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'Spending plans' must include retirement

Dear Dr. Don,
My husband and I are both 36 with two children and no savings toward retirement. We have no credit card debt and only have a home mortgage ($2,700) and two car payments ($1,000). We need to begin investing for retirement but don't know where to start. I am a stay-at-home mom and my husband's job does not offer a 401(k). We make approximately $6,000 per month. Where should we start and how much should we invest monthly?
-- Jennie Jump-start

Dear Jennie,
You start by making some room for retirement savings in your monthly spending plan. I like calling it a spending plan versus a budget because, like dieting, nobody likes to budget.

Bankrate's spending plan work sheet can help you allocate your monthly spending. With the car payments and a mortgage taking up $3,700 of your $6,000 in monthly income, it's going to be a little tight. Still, investing even just $200 per month is better than not doing anything.

Because your husband doesn't have a 401(k) plan at his workplace, you'll wind up choosing between a Roth IRA and a traditional IRA account. Which one is right for you? It depends on several different variables. Use Bankrate's IRA comparison chart or look on Vanguard's Web site to help you make an informed choice.

Once you choose an account type, you need to decide where to hold the account. The three major choices are in a bank account, a brokerage account or directly with a mutual fund. I lean toward the latter because of the many investment choices and the ability to manage expenses.

Before choosing a mutual fund, you should be aware of account minimums. Vanguard, for example, has a $3,000 account minimum. That means you need $3,000 before you can open an account and invest. Fidelity Investments has a Simple Start IRA that waives Fidelity's $2,500 account minimum if you commit to a $200-per-month automatic investment plan for a traditional or Roth IRA account.

You can also search for mutual funds with low-minimum investments using Morningstar's free "Fund Screener." Morningstar's free Investing Classroom is also a good place to learn the basics of investing.'s corrections policy -- Posted: Nov. 2, 2007
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