10 Years to Retirement? Invest For Balance

Dear Dr. Don,

I am contributing $300 a month to my 401(k) plan at work. I also have a Roth IRA, but I don't know anything about buying stocks, bonds or mutual funds. So where do I start? I do have an idea of where I want to put my money for the next 10 years until I retire. Please assist me with choices as to how to invest.

-- Vilma Volar

Dear Vilma,

With only 10 years until retirement, you don't want to swing for the fences in your investment allocations in retirement accounts. You also don't want to be overly conservative, because you want retirement funds to grow in value and purchasing power over time.

You have an idea of where to put the money, but don't know about buying stocks, bonds or mutual funds. You have a choice between a do-it-yourself approach and getting professional advice on how to invest to meet your goals. For do-it-yourselfers, I recommend Morningstar.com's Investing Classroom to get some basic knowledge about investing.

If you choose to get professional advice, work with a financial planner and get a sense of what your income will look like in retirement. Determine what you can do over the next 10 years to improve the odds of meeting your retirement goals.

Work with a fee-only planner to develop a comprehensive financial plan. Look for planners who are paid by the hour, and skip those who are compensated through commission or an assets-under-management approach.