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When a loved one is ill, saving for retirement is never top of mind.
That was the case for Lisa Bowman, whose husband suffered a debilitating stroke six years ago and passed away in 2011.
With a steady stream of medical bills not covered by their high-deductible plan, the couple just managed to get by.
Since Bowman was relocated from Watertown, N.Y., to Arkansas for work last year, she has made saving a priority.
In 2012 she contributed $17,000 to her 401(k), socked away $4,000 in a Roth, and put another $11,000 into individual stocks in a taxable account.
She'd like to buy a home and take a vacation, but she worries that would be too profligate.
"I feel panicked," she says.
Occupation: Retail manager
Goals: Create a retirement savings plan, buy a new home
Total income: $104,000
Total assets: $195,000
Retirement savings: $115,000
Home equity: $36,000
To reduce her fear, Bowman needs an allocation that won't cause sudden losses, says Jeremy Kisner of SureVest Capital Management in Phoenix. And she deserves to have a place she can truly call home.
Diversify. The bulk of Bowman's retirement assets are in growth-oriented stocks that can be volatile.
"If we had another 2008, she'd be down 40%," says Kisner. He suggests adding more bonds as well as stocks of companies that tend to grow more slowly but are more dependable.
Since bonds have had a good run, a 15% allocation makes sense for now, says Kisner; she can add more bonds over time.
At Bowman's current savings rate, she's on track to retire at 63 -- and she can take vacations too.
Stop picking stocks. For her taxable account, Bowman has been picking stocks willy-nilly. "I feel like I'm throwing darts," she says.
Kisner suggests she invest in a global allocation fund such as BlackRock Global Allocation or First Eagle Global fund ; both carry sales loads, but annual fees are low.
"For relatively small amounts of money, a global allocation fund is easier than choosing a bunch of funds based on market trends," he says.
Buy a house now. Bowman recently listed her New York home but expects it could take a long time to sell it.
She'd planned to save for a 20% down payment on a $150,000 house in Arkansas, though that will take a couple of years or cut into her retirement contributions.
Rather than risk interest rates going up, Kisner suggests buying now using a Federal Housing Administration loan, which requires just 3.5% down. At today's rates, her monthly nut on a 30-year FHA loan -- including taxes and mortgage insurance -- will be less than her $1,250 rent.
Bowman says she'll take his advice: "I feel much better about where I am."