For many people, hitting the big 4-0 can actually be quite freeing.
You’re in or approaching your peak earning years, and your home is likely close to being paid off. The kids are out of the house — or nearly so — and you’re enjoying more of the other things life has to offer: hobbies, travel, restaurants that don’t serve french fries.
To be sure, the 40s can be tough years for some people, especially since the Great Recession.
Salaries may peak in that decade of life for some folks, but that doesn’t mean much if you’re unemployed or underemployed. Those who weren’t able to buy homes or who lost them during the recession may be seeing rent hikes rather than equity increases.
Regardless of your financial status, here are some things you must do in your 40s:
1. Save for a retirement emergency
Whether you’re riding high or barely making it, you should be saving for retirement. Fail to plan now, and you might find yourself scrambling to fund your retirement in your 50s and 60s.
Enroll in any company retirement plan at work. Then, save at least enough money in the account to get your employer’s entire matching contribution — that’s free money.
If there’s no match or even a company plan, start your own individual retirement account (IRA). The nuts and bolts of the most common retirement accounts can be found in “Confused by Retirement Accounts? Roth, Regular IRAs and 401(k)s Made Simple.”
2. Prioritize retirement over college
How lovely would it be to have both a healthy retirement fund and a 529 plan or other means of saving for your child’s college education?
If that’s not possible, you must prioritize your own retirement. The reality is that you can finance an education, but you can’t finance the last few decades of your life.
Be upfront with your kids so they can choose colleges accordingly. If you can offer little to no help, then it’s up to them to apply for scholarships and select affordable schools.
3. Prepare for the worst
If you have dependents, a spouse or anyone else who would struggle financially if you died, consider buying life insurance to cover their needs in the event of your death. You can cancel the policy once your dependents become financially independent.
Another option you should at least consider is long-term care insurance. This is coverage designed to cover the cost of daily support — helping you with things like bathing, dressing and eating — in the event that you become incapable of doing these things independently.
4. Invest, even if you think you can’t
Finding money to put away is a challenge, but it’s almost always doable. Not necessarily fun, but possible.
Start by tracking your spending, either on paper or with an online tool like You Need a Budget. Once you find your money leaks, start plugging them. Every dollar you don’t let trickle pointlessly away is a dollar that can go toward your retirement plan.
Being careful with your money does not mean you can’t enjoy life. You just need to get creative with your fun as well as your funds.
5. Think — and talk — about the end of life
If you’re in your 40s, your parents are likely approaching retirement or already stopped working. That means it’s time to have what may be the most uncomfortable chat you’ll ever have with Mom and Dad.
Yes, it’s worse than the facts-of-life talk. This time you’re discussing things like money, health care directives, power of attorney, wills and where your parents will live out their final years.
Speaking of the end of life: If you haven’t made your own will, do it now. Your loved ones will be traumatized by your death. Don’t make it worse by leaving zero instructions about who should get what and who should be in charge of distributing your worldly goods.
People with minor children must designate legal guardians for those kids in their wills. So, figure out who you’d want those people to be and to ask them if they’d be willing to do it.
What are you doing to plan for your future? Share with us in comments below or on our Facebook page.