Turning the big 4-0 is a perfect time to reflect on how far you’ve come in life, the milestones you’ve surpassed, and the relationships you’ve built. But for some people — especially those who don’t have their financial ducks in a row — it’s a time when panic sets in.
After all, turning 40 can make you painfully aware that time is running out to fix any financial mistakes you’ve made in the past. At the same time, you need to get serious about your money if you want to enjoy your golden years without financial stress. That’s why financial advisers suggest a handful of money moves everyone should make before their 40th birthday.
1. Deal with consumer debt
Ryan Inman, a financial planner for doctors, says it’s crucial to create a plan to deal with consumer debt well before your 40th birthday. That’s especially true when it comes to high interest credit card debt. With the average credit card interest rate now over 17%, this type of debt can be difficult to pay off — and a big drain on your budget each month.
If your goal is paying off debt, there are multiple approaches to consider. You can attack it the old-fashioned way and pay as much as you can each month, or even try the debt snowball or debt avalanche methods. You can even apply for a balance transfer credit card that lets you secure 0% APR for up to 21 months.
Ideally, you should strive to have no debt other than your mortgage at this point in your life, says Inman.
While this may seem like a lofty goal, not having to make interest payments toward consumer debt will make it a lot easier to save more for retirement and play catch up on your investments if you’re already behind.
2. Maximize your retirement savings
It’s easy to think maxing out your retirement savings isn’t necessary when you’re young, but when your 40s hit, you become keenly aware of just how much more your nest egg needs to grow.
Financial planner Benjamin Brandt, who hosts a retirement podcast called Retirement Starts Today Radio, says he suggests anyone approaching 40 start maxing out their retirement savings. Remember that you’ll set your contributions up through payroll out of your pre-tax income, so it’s not as costly as it may seem. Also note that contributing the max to retirement will reduce your taxable income, which could mean a smaller income tax bill this year.
If you can’t contribute the max, Brandt says to try to contribute more than you are now and inch your goal up slightly every year until you get there.
Brandon Renfro, an assistant professor of finance and financial planner in Hallsville, Texas, says that, at the very least, you should make sure you’re getting the full employer match on your retirement plan. An employer match is the amount of money your employer might match when you save for retirement yourself. For example, your employer might agree to contribute up to 6% of your income each year as a match, but you have to contribute 6% to get the full amount.
Remember that your employer match is free money for the taking, and you should take advantage of any help you can get toward retirement savings as you approach your 40s.
3. Automate your finances
Certified Public Accountant Riley Adams, who also writes at Young and the Invested, says that your 40s are a good time to try to automate your investments if you haven’t already. With more automation and money moving on its own, you’re less likely to spend money on stuff you don’t need or end up in a situation where you’re inflating your lifestyle as your income grows.
“To protect yourself from yourself, learn to establish automated financial transactions to handle your money moves each paycheck,” he says. “Doing so takes the hassle out of your hands and also puts your money to better use.”
For example, you could set up an automatic bank transfer so a specific amount of money is transferred to a high-yield savings account every month. Or, you can set up automatic deposits into a brokerage account. Boosting your retirement savings in a workplace account can also be considered automation since the money is taken out of your paycheck automatically and invested on your behalf. (See also: 5 Ways to Automate Your Finances)
4. Purchase insurance based on your future finances
Financial planner Brenton Harrison of Henderson Financial Group says that, by your 40th birthday, you should also have your insurance needs squared away. However, you should strive to think of your insurance needs in future tense.
“It’s tempting to determine your needs based on your current income and net worth,” he says. “But for many people, their 40s are their peak earning years, meaning that the insurance needs you have before 40 might not be enough as your career progresses.”
Harrison suggests sitting down and thinking about where you’d like to go in your career and where you plan to be financially in 10 years. From there, buy insurance based on that financial picture.
“If you know you can and will achieve a certain level of success, don’t wait until you’ve reached it to start planning,” he says.
While the types of insurance you’ll need vary depending on your situation, think beyond the basics like homeowner’s and auto insurance. For example, you may want to buy an umbrella insurance policy that extends your coverage limits in certain cases.
Also, make sure to get proper life insurance coverage,” says financial planner Luis Rosa.
“If you have a family or are planning on having one in the near future, it is crucial to make sure that they are protected,” he says. And you’re much more likely to qualify for the coverage you need at a price you can afford when you’re in your 40s (or before) and still relatively healthy.
5. Build an emergency fund
If you’ve struggled with your finances over the years and dealt with credit card debt multiple times, chances are good it’s because you don’t have an emergency fund. While any amount saved is better than nothing, most experts suggest keeping a separate fund for emergency expenses or job loss that’s stocked with three to six months of expenses or more.
You never know what kind of roadblocks life will throw your way, but you’ll be prepared for almost anything if you have savings set aside. And if you can’t save six months of expenses, it’s still best to start somewhere — even if you can only squirrel away a few thousand dollars.
Put your savings in an interest-bearing account and keep adding to it, and you’ll eventually get there.