Your 40s and 50s can be a busy time — you’re likely advancing in your career, watching your children grow up, and starting to think about retirement. But if you don’t plan ahead, you could spend this time feeling tied down by your personal finances.
Fortunately, making smart money moves now can help you set yourself up for financial freedom down the road. Here are 16 tips to help ensure your financial stability during two important decades of your life.
Set long-term goals
What do you imagine your financial situation will be in your 40s and 50s? What do you want it to be?
If you want to achieve certain financial milestones during these years, you should set long-term goals. This will help ensure your finances stay top of mind and you remain focused on what you’re trying to accomplish.
The specific goals are up to you, but they could include paying off your mortgage or saying goodbye to your auto loans. If you want to make these goals realistic, create a detailed plan with steps on what you need to do over the relevant period of time.
Create a budget
One way to get started with achieving your financial goals is to set and stick to a budget. There’s nothing particularly fancy or sophisticated about budgeting, but there doesn’t need to be — because if you do it right, it works.
The aim of budgeting is to decrease your unnecessary costs so you can save money to put toward your goals.
To get started, collect information about all your monthly income and expenses, or everything coming in and everything going out. Budgeting apps can be helpful if you feel overwhelmed or think the process is too time consuming. Once you know exactly what you make and spend, it’s easier to identify where you can start cutting expenses.
Start your emergency fund
An emergency fund is meant to be used in financial emergencies, typically as a last resort. This type of situation could include losing your job or racking up big medical bills because of an unexpected injury or illness. In these circumstances, you might need funds in addition to what you have in your wallet or checking account.
There’s no set amount of money to save for an emergency fund, as it depends on your situation. But thinking about how much money you would need to replace lost income for three to six months isn’t a bad place to start.
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Create a rainy day fund too
An emergency fund and a rainy day fund sometimes get confused, but they are different. An emergency fund is typically for big financial emergencies, whereas a rainy day fund is for smaller unforeseen expenses.
These expenses could include replacing a tire on your car or fixing your washing machine when it’s on the fritz. Rainy day fund expenses often amount to hundreds of dollars instead of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.
Creating your rainy day fund can follow the same steps as creating your emergency fund. You could start by budgeting, finding additional funds in your budget, and then putting some of those funds into a savings account.
It would likely make sense to keep your rainy day fund in a separate account from your emergency fund so you only access each for their specific purposes.
Pay down or pay off high-interest debt
High-interest debt can come in many forms, but it’s often in the form of a loan or credit card debt. This type of debt can be financially disabling because it’s hard to pay it off if you only make the minimum payments. This is because your payments are mainly going toward the interest instead of the principal, which means it can be a slow and expensive debt to pay off.
To avoid this situation, focus on paying off high-interest debt quickly. A debt-consolidation loan or one of the best balance transfer credit cards could help you gather all your debt in one place so it’s easier to manage. In addition, these resources could also decrease the interest rate and save you money over time.
Pay down or pay off student loan debt
If you went to college in your teens, 20s, or 30s, could you have ever imagined you might still be paying off student loans in your 40s or 50s? At the moment, it might sound unlikely, but paying off student loans for 20 years isn’t an outlier — it’s the average for many Americans.
To beat the odds, use different methods of budgeting and saving money to pay down your student loans as quickly as possible. In addition, consider refinancing student loans to decrease the amount of interest you owe.
But be careful with these strategies. Budgeting and refinancing can make it seem like you have more money, which you technically do. But this is money that should be put toward your financial goals instead of unnecessary purchases.
Improve your credit score
Your credit score is important because it can open up financial opportunities that can save you money. This includes qualifying for loans with lower interest rates, as well as refinancing opportunities on student loans and mortgages.
In addition, a higher credit score can unlock better credit card products, such as the best rewards cards. Using a rewards credit card on purchases you were already planning to make is like getting a discount in the form of points, miles, or cash back.
If you want to build your credit, use different credit products on a regular basis. But make sure you use them responsibly. Make all your payments on time and in full or you could risk negatively impacting your credit because of late or missed payments.
Increase your retirement contributions
Retirement may be years away, but it’s still recommended that you start saving for retirement when you’re young. This is because the earlier you start, the more likely you are to build the funds you need for the type of retirement you want. Starting your retirement savings early could also help you retire earlier if that’s one of your goals.
By the time you reach your 40s and 50s, you should have already started your retirement fund. Now is the time to increase your contributions, if possible, because you’re likely making more money than at any other point in your life. Do your best to max out your contributions, including taking advantage of the catch-up contribution amounts for individuals who are 50 or older.
Buy good life insurance
It’s recommended to buy life insurance when you’re young and healthy because you’ll have a better chance at getting the most competitive rates. You’re less likely to qualify for the same rates when you’re older as age brings on more health risks, which is an issue for life insurance providers.
But getting life insurance can be a good buy at any age if it’s beneficial for your situation. It not only brings peace of mind, but also gives a financial buffer for your loved ones if you were to die. If you’re married or have dependents who rely on you, consider checking out our list of the best life insurance companies.
Start earning passive income from a side hustle
Financial freedom isn’t always about earning more money. Depending on your situation, you could enjoy financial freedom with a lot less income than other people. But earning more money can open up more opportunities to put funds toward your financial goals, whether it’s paying off debt or starting an emergency fund.
It may take some work, but building a passive income stream or starting one of the best side hustles can help quicken the pace at which you reach your goals. You could earn passive income from investing in real estate or start a side hustle as a dog walker. The opportunities are out there, so look for ones that make sense to you.
Start looking at downsizing
If you want to cut costs for retirement, you likely need to downsize and start trimming your expenses. Downsizing can include physically moving into a smaller home. If your kids are out of the house by the time you’re in your 40s or 50s, you could consider getting a home with less space. This could cut down on maintenance costs, utility costs, lawn care, and more.
But you might also want to consider paring down other expenses, such as groceries, gas, streaming services, and other common costs. You don’t necessarily have to eliminate these costs, but using resources like the best money-saving apps could help reduce your overall spending.
Cultivate your career for success
The more you advance in your career, the more income you’re likely to have, which can be helpful for your financial stability. The vital steps you take in your career while you’re young can pay off when you’re in your 40s and 50s.
It may depend on your specific career and circumstances, but working hard to hone your skills and continuously learn new skills will often bear fruit. Remember to track your accomplishments and make sure your coworkers — especially your managers — know about them. You likely still have to push for promotions and raises, but you’ll have the evidence to back up your claims.
Build a college fund
Your 40s and 50s could be the time your child or children are headed off to college. Maybe they worked hard and saved enough money to pay their own way through school or earned a scholarship, but that’s not always the case.
If you think you might have kids headed to college one day, it’s best to learn how to invest money so you can have their college funds built and ready to go. Investing is inherently risky, but there are many different investing options available depending on how much risk versus growth you want and your investing timeline.
Set up your estate plan
Estate planning may seem like something you can put off until you’re much older, but that’s not the case. You never know what could happen, which is why it’s best to be prepared for the unexpected.
With the right documents in place, you don’t have to worry about what happens to your estate when you die. Of course, you should make sure whomever is in charge of your estate, including while you’re alive, is trustworthy and has your best interests in mind. These documents should also be regularly updated.
Live within your means
Most budgeting plans will typically work only if you stick to spending less money than what you’re making. This can allow you to put your extra money toward financial goals, such as saving or investing. But if you overspend and exceed your income, the chances of getting into a lifestyle of debt become higher and more dangerous.
Be sure to keep a close eye on what you deem necessary or unnecessary when tracking your expenses and planning future purchases. If you live within your means, you never spend more than what your income allows, which can help you avoid the slippery slope of debt.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, U.S. health care spending was more than $3.8 trillion in 2019, or over $11,500 per person. Health issues are inevitable and you might have problems even if you’re healthy, but maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help mitigate potential issues. Fewer health issues means fewer medical expenses and possibly more money kept in your wallet as you get older.
Financial freedom doesn’t have to be an unattainable goal or fairy tale. If you want to have a low-stress financial situation later on in life, it’s best to start putting in the work now.
Make a budget, learn how to invest, and set realistic goals for yourself. The strategies listed above aren’t going to happen overnight, so remember to be patient with yourself during your financial journey. Take things one step at a time and you could soon find yourself on the precipice of financial freedom.