By: Stephanie Bloom

After spending the last year working with my dad (Ken Bloom) and uncle (Rick Bloom), friends have begun to reach out for financial advice. I am often asked questions like, “am I on track?”, “at this point in my career, how much should I be saving?”, “what sort of benchmarks should I be meeting?” While the questions are consistent, the answers always vary based on the individual and their financial circumstances.

Many financial pundits (think Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey) throw out savings benchmarks like “15% of your annual gross income” or “twice your annual salary saved by age 35”. While potentially helpful for some, I think it can be dangerous to follow such general advice.  These benchmarks may not be right for you based on your goals and obligations.  Only after gaining a deeper understanding of my friends’ circumstances can I get to the true answers they are are looking for.  I often ask questions like, “do you have any debt?”, “are you planning on buying a house? Sending kids to college? Supporting your parents?”, the list goes on and on.

Rather than provide benchmarks, I encourage my friends to consider a handful of key questions at different stages. While Phase I and II mostly apply to my contemporaries, understanding all three phases is helpful for planning ahead.

Phase I: Typically for those early in their career (under age 35). This is the time to pay off any debt and optimize employer-sponsored benefits.

Phase II: For those more established in their career (age 35 – 50). Some refer to this as the “accumulation phase” however for others this is also a very expensive phase of life as many are raising children.

Phase III: For those nearing retirement.

I recognize this is not an exhaustive list, but it is definitely a starting point for those looking to build a strong financial foundation. The hard part is answering these questions. What is right for you might not be right for someone else. It is never too early to start working with a financial advisor – do your research (e.g., understand fees, services, how the advisor is compensated) and find the right fit for you.