What's next for our 401(k) plans and college savings plans? Here are three areas to watch:

No shock here: the Fed

Some say the odds are 50-50 at this point that the Fed will move in December with the first interest rate hike since the Great Recession. Others say the Fed first could raise rates in perhaps March.

Some market watchers, though, express even more worry about the bumps in the road that the Fed could create by a haphazard communication style.

"Risk No. 1, top of the list, Janet Yellen and the Fed," said Dennis A. Johnson, chief investment officer for Comerica Wealth Management in Dallas.

If the communication is garbled in the future, some experts warn that there could be more volatility for the stock market again.

The R-word: recession.

Don't be surprised if you hear more scattered reports about a so-called "impending recession." But it's hard to argue that a U.S. recession is right around the corner when the consumer has been saving money and is not overwhelmed by debt, when housing prices are going up in many areas and when U.S. car and light truck sales hit a breakthrough record pace of 18.2 million in October.

Yet, economists warn that eventually there will be another recession out there.

"This is not an up, up and away economy," said Robert A. Dye, chief economist for Comerica Bank.

Dye said he would expect that auto sales are approaching a "cyclical peak" and could taper off in the future from these record levels. The manufacturing sector overall is approaching a "stall speed" and is expected to contribute to a slow-to-moderate growth story for the U.S. economy.

Manage money — and expectations

Money managers warn that investors should not expect double-digit gains on their overall investments in the future.

One cautionary signal: U.S. manufacturers grew at a sluggish pace in October for the fourth consecutive month, according to the much-watched ISM Manufacturing Survey. Another potential threat: outside risks, such as escalated troubles in the Middle East or unforeseen events, such as a cyberattack that could destabilize financial markets, says Comerica's Johnson.

Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press.