No matter what stage you are at in your life, it’s important to be mindful of your finances. In addition to spending wisely and saving when you can, there are certain actions you should take and financial goals you should meet during every decade of your life.
GOBankingRates asked financial experts what you should aim to do in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond to make sure your finances are in order and you’re setting yourself up for a happy retirement. Find out what goals you should have achieved by your current age, and plan ahead so you can retire rich.
In Your 20s: Learn to Budget Wisely
Budgeting wisely is a “foundational money-management skill that can help you throughout your life,” said Lynnette Khalfani-Cox, personal finance expert at AskTheMoneyCoach. “The earlier you start striving for this goal, the better you’ll be down the road. You can become a good budgeter through a variety of means. Mobile apps and budgeting websites can help.”
Some of the best budgeting apps include Mint, which tracks your income and expenses and notifies you when you are reaching your budgeting limit, and PocketGuard, which helps you organize your bills, expenses and subscriptions.
“When you create your budget, take care of the Four Walls before you budget anything else,” said Chris Hogan, author of “Retire Inspired.” “The Four Walls are your basic necessities: food, shelter and utilities, basic clothing and transportation. By maintaining these Four Walls, you stabilize your situation so you can begin to find margin in your budget to attack your debt. Without a budget, you’ll spend your money on your wants instead of your needs. A budget gives you guardrails for where your money should go.”
In Your 20s: Become a Disciplined Saver
Khalfani-Cox advised that learning to save money is another essential skill that is best to embrace early on in life. “You can also start small by committing to simple practices such as saving a modest amount of money each month without fail, or by consistently tracking your spending each month so you always know where your money is going,” she said.
Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, certified financial planner and board chair and president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, recommended putting savings into an emergency fund. “You should set aside enough cash to cover your essential expenses for three to six months,” she said. “Put it in a safe, relatively liquid account like a short-term certificate of deposit (CD) or money market fund.”
Schwab-Pomerantz also advised beginning to contribute to a Roth IRA or 401k. “Start contributing 10 percent of your income to a retirement account,” she said. “If you stick with that 10 percent during your working years, you’ll likely be in good financial shape come retirement.”
In Your 30s: Reduce Your Debts
“The reason this is so crucial is that excessive debt will hold you back from virtually every other financial goal you’d like to achieve, whether it’s investing more money, starting a business or just getting married without having so many bills hanging over your head,” said Khalfani-Cox. “Focus on paying off consumer debts like student loans you may have amassed.”
Ideally, you’ll finish paying off student loans during this decade. “If you’re on the standard 10-year plan or Public Service Loan Forgiveness, then you’d be on track [to have paid off your loans by your] early 30s with an undergrad degree or late 30s with a grad degree,” said Galen Herbst de Cortina, a financial planner with Buff Your Finances. “If you’re on a longer-term income-based plan, then you should see if you can ratchet up how much you pay in. This plan makes sense for most borrowers who are on track to pay off their loans, though if you’re on track for large forgiveness, it might not make sense.”
To make the payment process even simpler, “automate your payments to save on interest, and set it and forget it,” he said.
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In Your 30s: Manage Your Credit
Paying off any outstanding credit card bills goes hand in hand with reducing overall debt, and it’s something you should aim to do in your 30s, said Khalfani-Cox. This will also help improve your credit score — another financial goal you should set for your 30s.
“Avoid only paying the minimum payment due; always pay more,” said Khalfani-Cox. “Your credit standing impacts so many facets, from your ability to land a new job to your ability to get approved for a home loan or rent an apartment. To obtain or maintain a high credit score, pay all your bills on time, keep your credit card balances low, and only apply for credit when you truly need it.”
In Your 40s: Build Your Assets
Building assets in this decade is essential to be able to achieve long-term financial goals later in life. “Paying for a child’s education and funding your retirement are two long-term goals for which you’ll want to build sizable assets,” said Khalfani-Cox.
Make the most of employer plans to fund your retirement. “You should be maximizing your 401k/retirement plan contributions,” said Shomari Hearn, certified financial planner and managing vice president of Palisades Hudson Financial Group. “This may require cutting back on certain discretionary expenditures. And if you can’t contribute the maximum, at least defer enough to receive the entire company match contribution, assuming your employer’s plan offers one. Don’t leave free money on the table.”
You should also consider contributing to a Section 529 college savings plan account, said Hearn. “As long as the funds in these accounts are used to pay qualified higher education expenses, like tuition, books, and room and board, the earnings will be withdrawn tax free,” he said.
“However, prioritize retirement savings over paying for your children’s college educations,” he added. “Remember that your child can borrow to help pay for college, but you can’t take out loans to pay for retirement.”
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In Your 40s: Protect Your Assets
Take all the necessary precautions to ensure that your home — and you — will be protected in the case of an emergency during this decade.
“You don’t want things like natural disasters, accidents or health issues to wipe you out financially,” said Khalfani-Cox. “It’s important to have the right insurance in place to protect yourself against unexpected emergencies. Life insurance is a must for anyone with a spouse or kids.”
Also, don’t forget to make a last will and testament. “Unfortunately, 70 percent of all adults in America don’t have a will, and that’s a big mistake,” said Khalfani-Cox. “Life isn’t promised to any of us, and you never known when a death in the family could occur.”
In Your 50s: Focus on Retirement Planning
“If you’ve been behind in your retirement savings, now is the time to play catch-up, get more aggressive and sock away as much cash as possible in preparation for the years when you won’t be working full time,” said Khalfani-Cox.
Schwab-Pomerantz said this is the decade to really evaluate what your retirement expenses will be and what is feasible given your income resources.
“Will you move to a new home or a new community? Travel? Work part time? Whatever you envision, it likely takes money,” she said. “Back up your plan with real numbers, and be sure to factor in Social Security benefits.”
In Your 50s: Take Care of Your Physical Health
Although staying healthy might not seem like a financial goal, not doing so could have detrimental effects on your finances, explained Khalfani-Cox.
“Illness, injuries and medical crises can thwart even the best-laid financial plans,” she said. “Take time to improve your nutrition, exercise regularly and get routine medical checkups to prevent or address any potential health matters of concern. After all, having all the money in the world will be meaningless if you don’t have the good health to enjoy your fortune. Plus, as previously mentioned, a medical crisis can easily wipe out your savings given the skyrocketing cost of healthcare in America.”
In Your 60s and Older: Decide When to Start Collecting Social Security
“Many people file for Social Security too early, leaving thousands of dollars on the table,” said Schwab-Pomerantz. “Remember, the longer you wait up to age 70, the bigger your check once you begin collecting, so it pays to do some calculations.”
You can begin collecting Social Security at 62, but if you start taking your benefits before reaching your full retirement age — 65 to 67, depending on when you were born — your benefits will be reduced.
In Your 60s and Older: Focus on Estate Planning
“Proper estate planning will go beyond just making a will,” said Khalfani-Cox. “You’ll also need to evaluate whether you should have a trust, and how you can be most effective, from a tax standpoint, in leaving various assets to your heirs and beneficiaries. If you haven’t already done so, when you’re in your 60s is a good time to pull together a team of financial advisors, like a financial planner, a tax specialist and a certified public accountant.”
In addition to meeting with a financial team, Keith Ellis, co-founder of SHP Financial, said it’s important to discuss financial planning with your family as well. “Make it a point to sit down with your children and talk about issues like finances, retirement planning and elder care,” he said. “It can be an awkward conversation, but it’s important that you are all on the same page.”