I often get asked what money actions people should take by certain ages. In this condensed excerpt from my upcoming book, Good Money Habits in 17 Minutes A Day, I discuss what individuals should accomplish from age 31 to age 70.
The period from age 31 to age 70 is what I call the Striving Stage of an individual’s financial life, where people work and accumulate cash to fund their living expenses and accumulate assets for their key long-term needs in life. Here are the key actions that should be taken:
Create a long-term financial plan and work it. Like the famous expression says, If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else. That is what a financial plan is all about. While working on a financial plan, you must consider the long-term perspective—the far-off personal and financial goals you want to achieve—to determine the best steps to take today.
Figure out the right investment strategy for you. Considering your long-term financial plan and working with an investment professional, you should allocate the assets beyond your emergency fund to work hard for you. Asset allocation is about picking the right proportion of different investment types (or asset classes) to match your portfolio with your risk appetite, investment timeframe and financial goals.
Put insurance protections in place for income protection, life, health, home, auto and liability. Working with insurance professionals you need to put in place insurance coverages that help to minimize your key financial risks. These include dying too soon, illness, accidents and living too long.
Maintain and solidify your emergency fund. As you age, you need to make sure your emergency fund ages and changes with you. The amount you are keeping in the fund should reflect your current level of income, uncovered insurance exposures and an extra amount to protect you in case you unexpectedly lose your job.
Make a plan to pay off debt. As you enter the Striving Stage, it is common to have education loans, car loans, a mortgage, credit card debt and other debts. As part of your financial plan, you should have a solid action plan for how to eliminate or reduce these debts to a minimum.
Start (or keep) maxing out your 401(k) or other tax-advantaged account. Unlike maxing out your credit cards, putting the maximum into your 401(k) or other retirement plans is a good thing—and it is never too late to start. If you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, contribute as much as you can. If you’re not yet able to make the maximum allowable contribution, you should contribute at least enough to get the matching contribution from your employer if the company offers it. The matching contribution is essentially free money; don’t let it go to waste. Start investing as soon as possible. One of the biggest advantages of being younger is time, so it pays to start investing early. I recommend working with a professional as you begin to invest. If you become knowledgeable, you can directly manage your own investments over time.
Diversify your investments. One of the key considerations in investing is to diversify your investments. For example, if you are invested in stocks, you would want to diversify your equity holdings by including stocks from companies of various sizes (such as large, medium and small capitalization stocks), categories (like growth or value stocks) and parts of the world. By holding a diverse selection of investments, you are able to spread your risk and reduce overall volatility.
Start saving for college. If you have dependent children, you should begin saving for college expenses as soon as possible. If possible, beginning the day they are born. It may seem a bit early to get started, but college costs are going up. The sooner you start saving and investing for this major expense, the better off you’ll be.
Create an estate plan and will. You need to put in place the legal documents needed (such as a will) based on your state of residence to help you and your family in the event of your death or incapacitation.
In your 50s or 60s, you should additionally focus on the following matters:
Develop an income plan for how you are going to convert accumulated savings and investments into a lifetime income stream.
Make catch-up retirement contributions, if needed. Starting at age 50 you qualify for catch-up contributions, an extra amount that you’re legally allowed to contribute into your retirement accounts.
Determine that you have the funds or insurance coverages to pay your healthcare needs in retirement. Healthcare costs will likely be one of your largest expenses in retirement, costing nearly $300,000 for a couple aged 65 without considering long-term care costs.
Enroll in Medicare on a timely basis. At age 65, individuals are required to sign up for Medicare. There are numerous issues if you do not sign up on a timely basis.
Decide what you want to do when you stop working full time. What are you going to spend your retirement time and savings on? The answer may be harder than you think. You may have big dreams, such as traveling or writing a book, but they might not be enough to keep you busy.
Consider long-term care insurance. Most people do not know that Medicare does not cover long-term care needs they may have. If you are fortunate to have accumulated some meaningful investment assets, protect them from an accelerated spend down with long-term care insurance. A long-term illness can wreak havoc on an investment portfolio and permanently damage its ability to produce income.
Your Striving Stage years are the time to have financial discipline. There are important steps you must take to put your household on the path to financial security and success. With proper focus and planning you can take advantage of the luxury of time to build the life you want.
At the FinancialVerse, we work to make personal finance understandable for people of all ages. Our easy-to-read books provide you with ideas on how to better manage your money and work to achieve financial security.