Rarely do you have time to think about and plan for the future, when your daily life consumes all your time. But when you hit your 40s, your finance-sense can radically change. This is a key life stage for making sure you’re on track.
In your 20s and 30s, retirement was a million years away. You were just wrapping your brain around settling down. Your biggest goal was buying a home. Having kids started to transform from a casual conversation to a serious thought.
But now, in your 40s, retirement is on the horizon – you can see it coming into focus more and more every day. You’ve been paying that mortgage for at least 10 years. Your oldest will be a teenager soon, if they aren’t already. You’re probably making more income than ever before. Saving for college and retirement are now some of your biggest goals.
Untangle Your Complexity: The Ultimate 13-Point Financial Checklist for Your 40s
Over the last 20 years, all the elements of your financial life have been building up. That complexity requires attention, careful consideration, organization, and smart decisions to untangle it.
Chances are it’s been a while since you really thought about the strategies you put in place several years ago. Your 40s are a critical time to take that folder off the shelf, brush the dust off, and evaluate it. What does your current financial position look like? Are you accomplishing your goals, or on track to do so? What do you need to do moving forward?
Use the following as a roadmap to identify and prioritize the financial goals you should seek to accomplish in your 40s:
1. Eliminate short-term debt. Carrying debt directly affects your ability to invest and save your money. If you still have substantial short-term debt in your 40s, one of your top priorities should be getting rid of it.
2. Evaluate your retirement savings. Again, retirement is palpable at this stage in your life. You need to make sure that you’re on track. This is the perfect time to think about whether you need to adjust your contributions.
3. Start saving for college (if you haven’t already). The best time to start saving for your children’s college education is when they’re barely walking. That way you have lots of time to let your money grow. But if you had other priorities that were more pressing, that’s alright. Now’s the time to determine if you want to start saving. You shouldn’t do this at the expense of your retirement, however.
4. Decide when you want to retire and what retirement looks like for you. Some people say they’ll never really retire – does that sound like you? Do you see yourself working part-time, doing consulting work, or still having a hand in your business? Others envision traveling, volunteering, and leisure. This is important to make yourself aware of. In retirement, your money needs to work for you in a way that allows you to do those things – to live the life you want at every stage of life.
5. Maintain your lifestyle. In your 40s, you’re probably making more money than you ever have. As a result, it can be tempting to upgrade your lifestyle, simply because you can. But, overspending just to increase your lifestyle is something that you should avoid. Sure, you can indulge here and there, but if you’re maxing out your lifestyle and overspending in your 40s, you can find yourself in a world of financial hurt in your 50s and 60s. A better use for that excess money would be to put it toward your important financial goals.
6. Do an insurance audit. One of the most common problems I see with clients is that they’re overspending on insurance. Pull out your policies and evaluate them. Could you raise your deductibles and effectively lower your premiums? What about bundling? Are there any areas where you’re over-insured? By doing an insurance audit, you can potentially find lost money, recapture it, and then put it back to work for you.
7. Do a fee/cost audit. Costs matter – a lot. They directly impact your bottom line. That’s why you have to know how much you’re paying in fees to your advisor. You also need to know how much your portfolio is costing you. Often, this isn’t on your quarterly statement. You may need to get your advisor to run an analysis for you. You also need to know how much you’re paying in taxes. Yes, taxes are costs! What you’re paying in taxes detracts from your returns. Are your investments tax managed?
8. Do a beneficiary audit. By now, your financial life may be so complex that you have dozens of accounts between your savings, checking, and investments. When was the last time you modified your beneficiaries? If you can’t remember, do it now. This is something that you should do every year. Here’s why – your beneficiary information actually trumps what’s in your will, something most people don’t know. That’s why it’s important that they are accurate.
9. Implement an estate plan (or review your current one). Another common issue I see with many of my clients is that they don’t have an estate plan. Everyone needs an estate plan, whether your estate is worth $500,000 or $10 million. These plans aren’t just for the rich – they’re to ensure your wealth is protected, and distributed according to your terms and conditions. At the very basic level, you should have a will and durable power of attorney. If you already have an estate plan, this is the perfect time to review it and make any necessary updates.
10. Maintain your core liquidity. Even in your 40s, you should still be saving 15% – 20% of your income. Your emergency fund should be brimming with 3-6 months of expenses sitting in cash. You should also be keeping 6-12 months of expenses in near-liquid investment accounts.
11. Create an Investment Policy Statement. This document is key in helping you understand the answers to three critical questions surrounding your investments – 1) Where is my money?, 2) What is my money doing?, 3) Why is my money where it is and doing what it’s doing? Your IPS puts your most important values and goals, and your investment strategies, on paper. This is the document you pull out when the markets move and you’re tempted to make a rash decision – it helps keep you disciplined.
12. Review your life insurance policy. If you have a term life insurance policy, you need to know when it expires. Depending when you bought the policy and your age now, it may be close to expiration, or you may still have a decade of coverage left. The point is, once it expires, you can’t extend it or get it back – unless you want to pay substantially higher premiums. As your coverage gets closer to its expiration date, you may want to consider converting your term policy to a whole life insurance policy. In retirement, this can help you produce a greater income, while still leaving a legacy for your loved ones.
13. Re-evaluate your priorities and goals. Your life has changed a lot since you got your first job, and shared a house with three of your best friends from college. What is important to you now? What are your top goals you must accomplish? Write these down. Compare them to your current financial strategies, and see if it’s time to make a change.