5 Critical Money Moves to Make Before Your 40s Are Over

Happy couple in their 40s sitting by the beach
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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 may even be close to being paid off. The kids are out of that 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 are tough for some people, especially if they are unemployed or underemployed. But whatever your situation, it’s not too late to make the most of your financial future. To do that, cross off the following five tasks from your must-do list before your 40s are over.

1. Save to avoid a retirement emergency

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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 retirement later.

Ideally, you would have been saving for years. If not, enroll right now 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) with a company like Vanguard Group or Fidelity Investments. For more, check out “7 Keys to Stress-Free Retirement Investing.”

2. Prioritize retirement over college

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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

African American family
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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.

Can’t afford life insurance? If your household income makes you eligible, you might be able to get free coverage through MassMutual’s LifeBridge program. It pays $50,000 toward your child’s educational expenses if you die before they finish school.

Another option to 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.

Some say you shouldn’t be without it; others are willing to roll the dice.

Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson decided to go without long-term care insurance. However, he stresses the importance of educating yourself on the ins and outs and considering your own situation very carefully before deciding.

4. Invest, even if you think you can’t

Jars of change with plants sprouting.
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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, aka YNAB. 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 fun as well as your funds.

5. Think — and talk — about the end of life

Man talking with elderly father.
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If you’re in your 40s, your parents are likely approaching retirement or have 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.

Awkward! They — or you — might want to put this talk off indefinitely. Don’t. Trying to figure out what your parents would want after they become ill or are injured is not the way to go about this. You need to know if they have plans in place.

Also, 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.

For more details, read “8 Documents That Are Essential to Planning Your Estate.”

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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