Oftentimes, reaching our 40s and 50s causes us to reflect on our lives, on what we’ve experienced and accomplished so far, and whether we might need to change our approach to some financial aspects of our lives to achieve the dreams we haven’t attained yet.
We may be in the prime of our careers, finally having enough experience to call some of the shots and earning more than we ever have before. We may also feel challenged by the number of responsibilities in our lives: along with our jobs, there’s taking care of growing children, aging parents, a home, and pets,.
To take care of yourself and those you love and to reach your goals — whether you want to start a business, spend time traveling, or help your kids pursue their favorite extracurricular activities — you need financial stability and a plan to build and grow your wealth.
The following strategies, aimed at adults in midlife, can help you do it.
Make sure you’re saving and investing
If you developed a saving and investing habit in your 20s and 30s, great. If you didn’t, now is a great time to start. You still have at least a decade or two to make a big impact on your future. And you don’t have to figure it out by yourself.
“We like to help our clients build wealth with a diversified approach to create a consistent increase in income and savings,” said Jason Applebaum, a financial professional with Coastal Wealth in West Palm Beach, Florida. This means devising and helping working-age clients adhere to a plan that will protect their current wealth and create a future of financial security and stability. (Related: 7 things financial planning does for you)
How do you stick with that plan day in and day out?
If your financial professional’s voice in your head isn’t enough, some advice from James Clear’s bestselling book, Atomic Habits, might help. Rather than focusing on your goals, he suggests that you focus on the process and your mindset.
When you’re about to make a financial decision, ask yourself:
- “What would my future self want me to do here?”
- “What would a financially savvy person do in this situation?”
Start with small but effective actions, like withholding 10 percent of your paycheck for retirement or using extra money to pay off your high-interest debt. Over time, your steady commitment to the process will likely lead to positive results. (Related: Why you can win with a steady investment strategy)
Along with those specific steps, revisit or establish your overall goals for building wealth. For many people in midlife, this is closely tied to retirement goals — when and how you’d like to live in your older years. (Calculator: How much do I need to retire?)
Then consider what you can do now to meet those goals. Would you delay retirement to work longer? Could you cut back spending now to save more? These are the types of questions that can help you set a wealth-building strategy. (Related: Saving for retirement in your 40s and 50s)
Get more conservative — or not?
While the standard advice is that you should reduce your allocation to stocks and increase your allocation to bonds as you age, you don’t necessarily need to invest more conservatively in midlife. It’s an individual choice, and one a financial professional is well-equipped to help with.
Jose L. Novoa, a planning associate with Madan+Associates, said there are several factors he helps his clients consider:
- Their current financial situation.
- Number and type of assets.
- Those assets’ role in long-term plans.
- Risk tolerance.
- Feelings about the future.
- Ability to stay the course during market turmoil.
- Current retirement projections.
“The idea of getting more conservative stems from the thought process of aiming to lock in what’s been earned and conserve what a client has,” Novoa said. (Related: Retirement savings goals for your 50s)
If you only have one retirement account — such as a 401(k) — then gradually reducing risk in that vehicle probably makes sense. But if you’re working with a planner and have created a strategy that includes several different buckets or vehicles, then you may have more options, he explained.
For example, if you have “safe” buckets like six months of liquid cash reserves, certain bonds, annuities, or cash-value life insurance, then you may have room to take more risk in your “growth” buckets like brokerage and retirement accounts.
You also want to have assets with a variety of tax treatments for different goals and purposes, Novoa said. This type of diversification will give you more options about which of your resources to tap and when. In short, accumulating savings and investments in different buckets can help you make the most of your money. (Related: Income tax diversification defined)
Don’t stop prioritizing your own goals
Even if you’re earning more than your 25-year-old self ever dreamed possible, midlife can be a challenging time to save and build wealth because you may have more financial obligations than ever.
- You may have traded a smaller home for a larger one to accommodate a growing family — and have the higher mortgage, taxes, insurance, and maintenance costs that probably came with it.
- You may have stepped back from your career or business opportunities at some point to take care of an aging parent — or pay someone else to care for them.
- You may have children you hope to send to college.
- You may be considering a career change or starting a business because the path you’ve followed so far hasn’t satisfied you.
It’s important that you don’t let present demands overwhelm you to the point where you sacrifice your future. For instance:
- It might be tempting to take out a home equity line of credit to pay for private school, family vacations, nice-to-have renovations, or Dad’s assisted living facility.
- Or to not adjust your budget to increase your life, disability, and liability insurance enough to protect the additional assets you need to protect and obligations you need to cover.
- Or to save money in a 529 plan for your children’s education at the expense of your 401(k) because you don’t want them to carry the student debt you have. (Indeed, more than half of parents say they’re willing to defer retirement to send their kids to college, according to a January 2022 survey from student lender College Ave.)
The problem is that we often don’t get to choose when we retire. The job market, our health, or our partner’s health will likely decide for us. (Related: How much retirement savings should you have in your 40s?)
So, it’s wise to periodically tactically review your savings priorities and protection measures in midlife as part of an overall investment strategy to build wealth. And if you’re a parent, consider strategies for cutting college costs and choosing the best financial fit college rather than sabotaging your retirement.
You have to take care of yourself first. Sacrificing yourself and your wealth-building goals for others just perpetuates the cycle of the older generation having to rely on the younger generation.
Building wealth in midlife requires revisiting your saving and investing strategy — or creating one for the first time.
It means reconsidering your risk tolerance and making sure your savings, investments, and insurance provide the right mix of protection and growth potential — perhaps with the help of a financial professional. And it means being a little selfish — not giving so much of time and income to others that you fall short of your own goals.
In the long run, all of these steps will help create security and stability for your own household as well as those you care about.
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