With constantly changing regulations, a market that seems to be continuously in flux, and inflation driving costs up across the board, it can be hard to know when and if you should start investing your money.

So how do you know when you should start?

When you’re able to.

The most basic answer to this question is, “as soon as you’re able,” because time is on your side when you start earlier.

Any type of investing that you get involved in will perform based on several variables—how much you put away, how often you contribute, what you’re investing in—but the most important variable you will always have is time. The longer you have for your investment to grow and mature, the better your outcome is likely to be.

When you’re out of adverse debt.

Consumer debt is a huge issue in our country, and student loans may be the worst contributor. If you’re starting a career and want to begin investing, but you have enormous student loans or other debt, it may be important to begin chipping away at that debt first before you start focusing on investing.

Fill in the hole in the sand so you have a level foundation when you start building your castle.

When you begin working.

When you start your career, you’re likely going to be offered an employee benefit package that includes options for investing for retirement. How you start investing will depend a little bit on what your employer has to offer.

If your employer offers a retirement account, for example, and there’s an employer match, that’s like an income tax-free raise. It’s worth contributing to take advantage of the employer match, even if you have some debt to repay.

When you understand your goals.

When you invest, you must consider your time horizon.

Are you investing for the long term? Are you investing for a short term or a more immediate goal?

If you’re investing for the long term, you can put things into tax-deferred accounts, tax-favored investments, or other more illiquid investment vehicles that don’t give you access to your capital until you reach retirement age.

If you’re investing for a shorter-term goal, like a first home, college for your kids, or just simply having a nest egg, it may make sense to be a little bit more conservative and to stay reasonably liquid so that you can access your capital when you need or want it.

The lesson:

It’s always better to start investing sooner than later and to be consistent along the way. If there are liabilities that you need to clean up, I would strongly encourage you to do that first and then look at the various options. Try to find the free money—whether it’s a match in a 401(k), a health savings account, a profit-sharing plan, or a stock purchase plan where you can buy company stock and get a discount on it. There are a lot of ways to amplify your retirement savings, including having some assistance from another party, but you have to start as soon as you’re able to do so.

By Eric Brotman, Contributor

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