Your Financial Checklist for Every Decade of Adulthood

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Different seasons of your life call for different financial focuses. When you're young, you're in accumulation mode; as you age, your financial focus should be on preserving the money you've made. Wherever you fall on the age spectrum, here are the top financial moves you should make at every decade of life.

In Your 20s
  • Create a budget. Check out free online tools like Personal Capital that let you see all your accounts at a glance, or use budgeting worksheets to construct your ideal spending plan.
  • Build your savings. This includes an emergency fund of three to six months' worth of income and funds for any special savings goals like vacations, holiday gifts, etc.
  • Start saving for retirement. The earlier you start, the more time your money has to grow. Start off by opening a 401(k) or Roth IRA and see if your employer offers matching contributions.
  • Avoid consumer debt like the plague. Nothing you're thinking of purchasing is worth spending the next few decades of your life repaying. Find a way to pay for your purchases in cash, and avoid the "everyone has debt" mentality.
  • Get insured. Even though you're fairly carefree right now, you should absolutely have renter's insurance, health insurance, car insurance and life insurance. Don't cut corners; skipping insurance is penny-wise and pound-foolish.
  • Live within your means. Stick to a frugal lifestyle to make your money stretch as far as possible: furnish your first apartment with hand-me-downs, get a roommate to share the cost of rent, drive that old junker car into the ground.
In Your 30s
  • Up your savings game. Your savings goals are bigger now –- paying for a wedding, putting a down payment on a house, having a baby. Revisit your budget to see where you can free up room to put aside more money.
  • Review your insurance coverage. With more assets and more people depending on you, you may need more coverage. Review all your policies to make sure they're still right for you.
  • Continue your retirement contributions. Aim to put aside 10 to 15 percent of your income.
  • Invest. You don't need to be a stock market whiz. Simply split your portfolio among basic low-fee broad market index funds, exchange-traded funds and bond funds. As a general rule of thumb, 110 minus your age is the percentage you should put into bond funds, with the rest in stock funds.
  • Start estate planning. Create a power of attorney, healthcare proxy (also known as a living will) and a will that outlines who will get your assets should you pass away.
  • Avoid lifestyle inflation. As your salary increases, channel those funds towards goals like savings and retirement, not towards a more lavish lifestyle.
In Your 40s
  • Plan for your mortgage payoff. Calculate when you'll be down with payments and what that will mean for your overall financial strategy. If possible, make extra payments towards your mortgage so you can be debt-free by the time you turn 50.
  • Save for your children's education. If you haven't already done so, it's time to start, pronto. Open a tax-advantaged account like a 529 College Savings Plan.
  • Check your retirement goal progress. You should be able to replace 70 percent to 85 percent of your current income when you retire. Are you on track? Use an online tool to see how close (or far) you are from your retirement goals.
  • Maximize your tax savings. You're likely paying the highest taxes of your life, but you may also qualify for some great deductions. Meet with a certified public accountant to make sure you're claiming everything you can.
In Your 50s
  • Gather an advisory board. As you near retirement, you want to make sure all your ducks are in a row and your retirement and investment strategies are ready to take you through the financial stretch. Research and meet with fee-only financial advisers and CPAs for professional advice. Make sure your financial adviser is bound by a fiduciary obligation"to you, meaning that they legally must give you advice that's in your best interest, not theirs.
  • Evaluate your portfolio. Review your asset allocation-are you being too conservative (or taking more chances than you're comfortable with).
  • Discuss care for aging parents. Sit down with your spouse and siblings to discuss what you'll do if your elderly parents need in-home care or must be moved to an assisted living facility. Who will pay for it? How?
  • Consider longterm care insurance for yourself. This covers things like nursing homes and in-home care when you get older and can give you the piece of mind of knowing you won't be a burden on your loved ones.
In Your 60s+
  • Review your estate plan. Does anything need to be changed with your will, health-care proxy or power of attorney?
  • Create a retirement budget. You'll lose some expenses, like that mortgage you'll have paid off, but you'll gain others, like additional medical expenses or the need for someone to help you with the yard work. Work out a budget to make the most of your retirement funds in this stage of your life.
  • Plan out your withdrawals. How will you make use of your retirement assets? In what order will you withdraw your funds, and how much will you withdraw at a time? Sit down with your financial advisors to discuss what makes the most sense for tax purposes.
  • Downsize. Stretch your funds further by moving to a smaller home or apartment. You'll save on maintenance, property taxes, utilities and more.
Paula Pant quit her office job in 2008, traveled to 32 countries and became a successful real estate investor. Her blog Afford Anything is the groundswell of a rebellion against standard, tired old financial advice that says you should skip lattes and chain yourself to a desk for 40 years. Afford Anything is dedicated to crushing limits, creating riches and maximizing life.
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