From classic lines in movies to memorable refrains in songs, you’ve heard it time and time again: Age ain’t nothin’ but a number.
But we beg to differ. Well, at least when it comes to your money.
That's because each decade of life ushers in a new crop of exciting opportunities to take advantage of—as well as a few unique financial obstacles to clear.
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Get started with a free financial assessment.
In your 20s, you're establishing yourself as an independent adult while probably also trying to figure out how to pay down your student loan debt. By the time you hit your 30s, your financial focus may turn to starting a family, as well as saving up enough to buy a home.
As for the decade that starts when you hit the big 4-0? Well, that's when things can get a bit more complicated. While you may feel more secure about your career and personal money habits in your 40s, it's not uncommon to also feel conflicted over just how much to financially support college-age kids and aging parents—a phenomenon that's earned this demo the label of "The Sandwich Generation."
And that's not all. "[This decade] is also a crucial turning point because you still have enough time before retirement to significantly affect your future—but if you miss the boat, there's not a huge window to make up for lost savings," says CFP® Jennifer Lane, author of "The Everything Book of Finances in Your 40s and 50s" and president of Compass Planning Associates in Boston.
So how does someone go about juggling it all?
To help you navigate money in your 40s, we've rounded up five key financial moves you should consider crossing off your to-do list in this decade, which can help get you in tip-top fiscal shape well before you reach those long-awaited golden years.
Money To-Do #1: Ratchet Up Your 401(k) and IRA Contributions
One benefit to being in your 40s is that you've likely put those pesky student loan bills to bed by now and hit a good stride in your career--which means you probably have some extra cash to funnel into your retirement savings.
"In your 40s, you really should think about amping up your retirement planning," says Mark J. Orr, a CFP(r) and author of Stress-Free Retirement Planning. "Otherwise, if you delay much longer, you're going to be fighting an uphill battle because you don't have the power of compound interest working for you."
If you're not already doing so, make sure that you're contributing enough to your 401(k) to fully benefit from an employer match if one is available to you, Orr says, adding that you should also consider maxing out a Roth IRA provided that your income doesn't exceed the IRS limits.
Parents in this age bracket feel inclined to contribute as much as possible toward helping kids pay for college—to the detriment of their own financial well-being in retirement.
Already checked these to-dos off your list and still have some money to spare? If you've maxed out your 401(k), research whether your company offers other tax-advantaged options, like a 457(b), an account that allows employees to defer their compensation by contributing pre-tax dollars to a separate savings account.
"Ultimately, now that you're in your 40s, you want to save, save, save, rather than spend any disposable income," Orr says.
For many, this directive makes perfect sense—until it comes time to send a kid to college. It's a conundrum that Orr sees often: Parents in this age bracket feel inclined to contribute as much money as possible toward helping their kids pay for college—to the detriment of their own financial well-being in retirement.
"You can't finance retirement, apply for retirement loans or do work-study retirement programs," Orr points out. "A wiser strategy for helping your kids with college is to start looking into merit-based financial aid and scholarships."
Not only will you be doing yourself a financial favor by properly setting yourself up for retirement, but you can also help save your kids from feeling the need to support you years down the road.
Money To-Do #2: Recalibrate Your Risk Tolerance
When you're in your early 20s, you can probably afford to take a more aggressive stance with your investments. But now that retirement isn't as far off, it's a good idea to consider dialing down your risk level.
"Given that time can help balance out the ups and downs of the stock market, how much risk you manage is largely tied to how much time you have before you'll need the money back," explains LearnVest CFP® Brandie Farnam. "One general rule of thumb to help you determine the appropriate mix of stocks and bonds in your portfolio—based on your age and time horizon until full retirement age—is the Rule of 120."
The premise is simple: You subtract your age from 120 to figure out what percentage of your portfolio should be allocated to stocks. So if you're 45, you'll want 75% of your investments to be in stocks and the remaining 25% in bonds. Generally speaking, financial planners used to recommend investors calculate their asset allocation by subtracting their age from 100, but they've since updated the rule to factor in people's lengthened lifespans.
But if the Rule of 120 feels too aggressive for you, Farnam suggests subtracting your age from 110 instead, as well as consulting a financial adviser for a deeper discussion of the right blend for you.
Once you've nailed down the appropriate breakdown, revisit your portfolio allocation annually, gradually shifting toward more bonds. "Bonds are typically considered safer investment vehicles than stocks because you're getting a fixed rate of return," Farnam says.
If any of the asset classes in your portfolio are more than 5% different than your target allocation, rebalance your portfolio to bring it back into alignment. "Then as you get closer to retirement, you'll want to boost your bond allocation by about 1% each year," Farnam says.
Or consider following an even easier suggestion. "To simplify portfolio management, you may want to consider using a target-date fund, which is an all-in-one fund solution that is fully diversified and automatically gets more conservative as you approach retirement," Farnam says. "Choose one with a date that's within five years of your projected retirement age."
So just how much are you likely to shell out for medical care in retirement? According to a recent survey, about $220,000 per year--not including nursing home care.
Money To-Do #3: Prep for the Future With the Right Insurance
Let's start with the not-so-great news: At least 70% of individuals over 65 will require long-term care services during their lifetime. And more than 40% of them will need nursing home care, which the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services says costs an average of $5,000 a month.
But a 2014 Genworth survey finds that figure may just scratch the surface: Per their research, even a semi-private room at a nursing home runs about $212 a day, translating to a monthly bill of $6,400—or higher.
And chances are that you'll likely be responsible for covering these costs, Lane says, since insurance and Medicare only pay for care that actually improves your condition if you become ill or injured. So just how much are you likely to shell out for medical care in retirement? According to a 2014 survey, about $220,000 per year—not including nursing home care.
These facts are especially pertinent for women. "Since they tend to live longer than men, a common scenario for couples is that the husband will get sick, and the wife will care for him at home until he passes away," Lane says. As a result, when the wife has a health setback of her own, she may have no one to tend to her needs—and may end up with a pricey nursing home bill.
But here's the good news: By making smart decisions in your 40s, you can help ensure you'll be able to afford any medical assistance you may need down the line. That's why now can be a prime time to research long-term care insurance, which can help pay for such medical costs, as well as protect your assets should you require specialized services.
According to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance, a couple in their mid-50s can expect to pay anywhere from $2,000 to almost $5,000 a year in premiums—and those prices only increase as you age, which is why it's worth looking into a policy in your 40s. And this can be especially helpful if you anticipate needing extensive care—say, if you have a family history of Alzheimer's disease—or if you don't have family or friends who can take care of you.
Once you've crossed that to-do off your list, there's one other policy you should consider in this decade: life insurance.
"Many people in their 40s still have kids who depend on them financially, and you need to account for funds to fill in for their care should something happen to you," Lane says. "The premiums go way up once you reach 50, so lock in a 20- or 25-year policy now to carry you through to retirement."
Lane recommends electing coverage that equals between five to 10 times your yearly salary in order to help your loved ones sustain the lifestyle they're accustomed to without your income. "And both you and your partner should have a policy," Lane says. "Many people forget life insurance for a stay-at-home spouse, yet their absence will put a financial strain on the household too."
Money To-Do #4: Get Your Estate in Order
If you're among the 57% of adults in the U.S. who don't have a will, you should get one—stat. Now that you've likely amassed some serious assets, it's more important than ever to protect them.
A will gives you control over the distribution of your property, lets you designate who will assume custody of your children and pets, and helps ensure that your loved ones will be taken care of once you're gone. Without one, it's up to the state to decide who will inherit your belongings.
Many lawyers offer basic estate-planning packages for about $700 to $1,500, depending on whether you're single or married. They often include a will, power of attorney—the authorization for someone to legally act on your behalf—and a health care proxy, which designates who can make medical decisions for you.
"And make sure to review your estate plan every five years or so because life circumstances and priorities change," Lane says. "I also tell my clients to point out where it is—you'd be surprised how many people forget where their documents are!"
On that note, make sure to also put safeguards in place to help ensure your descendants have access to your digital assets, such as online bank accounts. Otherwise, certain assets may be inaccessible or undiscoverable once you're no longer around, which may mean your heirs won't be able to pay outstanding bills.
"Luckily, new services are coming to the forefront that facilitate the transition of log-in credentials to the executor of your estate," Lane says. She recommends SecureSafe, which allows you to designate a specific beneficiary to each piece of online financial information. Passwords and files will be passed on to these chosen individuals immediately and securely in the case of an emergency or death.
Make sure you know how to log in to your parents' online accounts—this is especially important if they have dementia or lack financial acumen.
Money To-Do #5: Talk to Your Parents About Their Financial Affairs
When you're in your 40s, your parents are probably in their 60s and 70s, so they're likely still independent and not exactly eager to discuss what will happen to them when they're no longer able to care for themselves.
And that's precisely why now is a good time to have a heart-to-heart-so you're well prepared when the time does come. "You're going to be responsible for them down the road, so for their benefit and yours, get their affairs straightened out," Orr says.
Make a list of everything you need to discuss with your parents before you tackle these conversations—starting with the money moves you've just made for yourself. Do they have a will, durable health care and power of attorney set up? What about long-term care and life insurance? Where are they planning to live, and who will tend to them, particularly if they're out of state?
"Then set up a binder, so that all of their insurance policies—like life and homeowner's insurance—are in one place," suggests Orr. "And do the same with their recurring bills and financial accounts."
And just as you'll want to make sure that your beneficiaries have access to your digital files, make sure you know how to log in to your parents' online accounts. This is especially important if they have dementia or generally lack financial acumen, in which case you or your siblings may also consider becoming trustees to their estate, so you have the ability to take control if need be.
After all, being in control of your finances is what these money moves are all about--and ironing out the details now will help set you up to tackle anything that may pass in the future.
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. Unless specifically identified as such, the people interviewed in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services, and the views expressed are their own. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other's products, services or policies.