How many of you use your 401k for your everything bucket? I’ve overheard friends and family talk about their 401k like their “all for one long term savings account” saying things like, “I’m going to use my 401k for my kids education” or “my 401k is used for both me and my wifes retirements” or the worst to date, “I really need to get a car, I’ll probably borrow against my 401k”. The last one is clearly the worst because a car is a depreciating investment. You’ll never get that one back.
I can see the other 2 MAYBE working; but when you start to dabble the same investment for other pieces you often times lose site of what it is there for. A 401k is there for YOUR retirement; a ROTH IRA is for YOUR retirement. Unless you’re dumping TWICE as much in your 401k, it shouldn’t be set for yourself and your wife. Keep it for you and start something ELSE up for her.
Using it for your kids college education isn’t a HORRIBLE idea either, but take into account that you’re going to likely retire AFTER they go to college. So if you’re double-timing your 401k to education AND retirement, it’s going to look awfully small after the kids take it to school. By that time, it might be too late to know where you want to get with it. I offer the same advice for the person wanting to use the 401k for both he and his wife, make sure you’re dumping a lot into it then.
Just the visual aspect of seeing my kids 529 plans, my 401k, and my ROTH IRA are enough to keep me in line. I know what the investments are for, and what money is going where, and more importantly, why. Simplifying the process can often times remove that “investing blur” that you may have when it comes to saving for your future.
If that isn’t enough to convince you to keep them separate, think of how life is always changing; you have another kid, you have an accident at work forcing you to retire early, big medical bills come up. If you plan on your ROTH covering you in retirement (after 59 1/2) and you have to retire early, is there anything set up for that aspect? Might not be a bad idea to have that emergency fund fired up in that case.
Over time, your investments will change, your mindset will change, your timeframes will change. For those reasons you shouldn’t keep all your (investment) eggs in one basket. Spread them around to different baskets for different goals. If nothing else, it trains you on another aspect of investing when you jump to another ship and increases your financial education significantly.