My husband and I made a big money mistake early in our marriage that means we'll have to wait years longer to retire

  • When my husband and I married, we both had nest eggs for retirement, but we didn't have a smart investing strategy.
  • We thought picking individual stocks and holding onto them for years would help us build wealth, but we were wrong. Some of the companies we invested in eventually went out of business.
  • It was a decade before we hired a financial advisor who got us on track, and my biggest money regret is not hiring her years earlier.
  • SmartAsset's free tool can find a financial planner to help you take control of your money »

Most of us have what we would call financial dreams or goals. Some of the more common ones are paying for college, having a wedding, buying a home, having a child or children, and retiring comfortably. All of these things, whether they make your list or not, require money.

My husband and I managed to pay cash for our wedding because we weren't big planners and ended up getting married in a little chapel in Vegas. It was over 20 years ago, and I think the whole package was just over $600. That included flowers, a video of the ceremony, the chapel rental, the minister's services, and maybe a few other odds and ends. If we had wanted a big wedding with 100 or more guests, that price tag could have easily soared over $10,000 or more (and that was over two decades ago). We also didn't take a honeymoon, which is another considerable expense for many couples with more traditional plans. 

As a couple, my husband and I haven't hit any of life's milestones in a set order. We bought our 1,200-square-foot condominium before we purchased that package deal in Vegas. When we met and started dating, we both had small nest eggs and some investments to help us begin our life together, but one of the first things I wish we would have done after deciding to exchange vows was to meet, interview, and hire a financial planner.

Our original investment strategy didn't work

Our strategy when we first started investing was to buy individual stocks and hold onto them for years. In one account, we had a recurring purchase every month of the same stock; our thought was that we would be buying it when it was at highs and lows, and we hoped that when we got ready to sell, the times we bought at the lows would outweigh the purchases at the highs, giving us a hefty profit. It didn't work out that way. We invested in that account for over 10 years and made very little return.

Unfortunately, it would be over 10 years into our marriage, a decade of lost planning, before we hired someone to help us plan out and meet our financial goals and dreams. I'm not saying that we have done a terrible job investing without guidance. And there is nothing we can do about the lost time or the advice we never acted upon or paid to receive. Still, I can't help but think (and regret) that we would have benefited tremendously from the help of a professional.

Why I wish we'd hired a financial advisor sooner

With an advisor, we could have strategized purchasing a new car, the camper van we bought in 2006, and my graduate school and culinary school. All of these things could have become part of a much larger plan instead of the unstructured way we approached our savings, investing, and financial health. 

We saved, juggled, and figured all of these expenses and how to pay for them on our own. The difference between then and now is, every quarter, we sit down with our advisor and tell her our dream or goals, and then we work out a plan. 

How our advisor has changed the way we manage our money

Our financial advisor also does an excellent job of allocating our portfolio. Our allocation now represents our risk tolerance, which has changed now that we are closer to retirement and don't have decades to recoup from a down market like the one in 2008. Our holdings have far fewer individual stocks and many more bonds and ETFs (exchange-traded funds) to make our portfolio less volatile.  

Our advisor also helped us structure our portfolio for growth — something we did not know how to do. The growth part is essential in an obvious way — making our money grow instead of just sitting there, like in a savings account, earning less interest than inflation. The expert advice we now have will help us protect our assets and, hopefully, continue to grow them into retirement, so we don't have to rely so heavily on drawing down the principal.  

The plan we have now isn't 100% guaranteed to get us where we want to be. Still, it has a much better chance of bringing our goals to fruition than the period we spent picking individual stocks to invest in (many of those companies went out of business). Yes, there are still risks, even with a plan and planner, but much less than our previous strategy (or non-strategy).

We've done a decent job of planning for the next milestone in our lives, retirement, but this is the first big life event where we have actively worked with a financial planner. It is hard to know exactly how much better we could have done with professional help with our investments from the beginning. Still, looking at it from this late date, we feel like if we would have made our first stop at a brokerage firm after we got married, we would probably already be setting up camp in a national park rather than filling our time cards for the next six or more years.

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