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5 Best Financial Decisions in your 40s

Carla Fried · January 16, 2019 · 5 min read


When you land in your 40s, financial juggling skills would come in handy given all the goals (challenges) on your plate. Raising the kids. Raising your retirement savings. All while likely handling some big-ticket debts, from continuing to pay off student loans to a home mortgage.

Ace these 5 financial moves in your 40s and you will be in great shape to hit the big 5-0.

Push for prime earnings. After learning the professional ropes in your 20s, and moving up the org chart in your 30s, now is the time to make the most of your prime earning years. No waiting for a raise to materialize, or a promotion to be handed to you. This is the time to be proactive. If you’re not getting the responsibility and salary at your current job that you deserve, take your skills elsewhere. Waiting for your current job to miraculously get better runs the risk of landing in your 50s still stuck, and a bit less of a catch on the job market.

And don’t let up on keeping your job skills state-of-the-art. If you let this slide now you will land in your 50s needing to do a lot of catching up, or run the risk of being viewed as more dispensable.

Keep both hands on the retirement savings wheel. At this point you should be years into saving at least 10% of your salary. If you waited until your 30s to get serious about saving, you should be at a 15% savings rate to do a bit of catching up for those lost years.

There’s no give here. Wait any longer and you will likely be too deep in the hole to build the savings you will need in retirement. If you’re not yet at 10% to 15%,  contact HR to increase your contribution rate for a workplace plan.  If you don’t have a plan at work, save in an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) and have deposits sent automatically from your checking into your retirement account. That can be monthly, or quarterly, or whatever works for you. The key is to commit by making it automatic.  (If you’re self-employed, it’s easy to set up your own retirement savings plan.)

Check the lifestyle creep. Can’t imagine upping your retirement savings rate on your current salary? One of the problems may be that as your income has grown over the years, so has your spending. This isn’t about going back to the ramen diet, but taking a hard look at how you are spending your money. The nicer car. The nicer restaurants. The nicer vacation. The not saying no to the kids. If you are serious about building financial security, trimming your spending now can free up hundreds of dollars a month that can be re-routed into paying down debt or increasing savings. The less fancy car. The less expensive but still wonderful vacation. Setting limits and expectations with the kids.

Use Tax-Free Dollars to Cover Medical Costs. One of the best ways to stretch your spending dollar is to use dollars that aren’t taxed. For instance, how about paying for your health care with tax-free dollars?

Chances are your employer’s health insurance includes a high-deductible health insurance plan. While the prospect of being on the hook for a higher deductible may not sound too enticing, if you have a solid emergency savings fund, you can rest easy that you can make the deductible payment. Then, once you’re enrolled in the HDHP you are eligible to save in a health savings account (HSA). (If your employer offers to contribute to your HSA you should definitely consider this option; you’d never turn down a bonus, right?)

The payoff is that an HSA offers a triple tax break. Money you contribute is tax deductible, the money in your account is never taxed and then when you decide to use it for a qualified medical expense there is zero tax. You can spend the money next week, or five decades from now. If you don’t need to use your HSA to cover current health care expenses, your HSA can be a fantastic stealth retirement plan.

Hatch a family college financial plan.  The best college for your family is the school that makes it possible for the entire family to emerge from college in solid financial shape. Telling your kid –and yourself – that they should just get into the best college possible and you will figure out how to pay for it later, puts everyone at financial risk. You will feel the pressure to make costly financial tradeoffs such as cutting back on retirement savings to pay for college, taking on loans you can’t repay before you retire, or that leave your kid buried in debt as a young adult.

This requires working together as a family long before the campus visits start, to hatch a strategy of different types of schools: The dream school can be on the list, but with the understanding that your child will only attend if the school steps up with a very generous aid package that does not require you to go into debt or for your kid to borrow more than what is available in federal Stafford loans. But you also want to include schools where your child will be such a catch there will likely be a great aid package. And of course, at least one in-state school. The reduced cost of an in-state school ensure students can emerge from school with a manageable level of loans, and you will still be on track with your own long-term financial goals.

Financial Decision Series

Carla Fried

Carla Fried

Carla specializes in service journalism for news outlets including The New York Times, Money magazine, and For the past 15 years she has writen for traditional news outlets, ghostwriting books and articles for clients, creating content for major financial service firms, and editing investment newsletters and white papers.

Her work appears in The New York Times, Money Magazine, Barron's and Consumer Reports.

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Disclaimer: the content presented in this article are for informational purposes only, and is not, and must not be considered tax, investment, legal, accounting or financial planning advice, nor a recommendation as to a specific course of action. Investors should consult all available information, including fund prospectuses, and consult with appropriate tax, investment, accounting, legal, and accounting professionals, as appropriate, before making any investment or utilizing any financial planning strategy.



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