Investing in Your 40s: Envisioning the Future


We've made it to the 40s in our running series on investing (if you missed it, check out previous posts for tips in your 20s and 30s), and, while some of the advice remains the same, you have a few more things on your plate at this age. Here's what you need to know:

Take Advantage of Your Situation

In most cases, 40 means you're a little more established in your career (but if you're not, don't worry. In this shaky economy, people are changing paths at 50, 60 and even 70 with a lot of success). You have a grip on your financial situation, whatever it may be, and probably some idea of your earning power in the future. That, as you can imagine, helps a great deal when it comes to your financial strategy.

"You've progressed through the post-college years of your 20s, the 30s where most people are starting a family, and by the time you're in your 40s, you're probably cash-flow positive, meaning your income exceeds your expenditures," says Eric Meermann, a certified financial planner and the client services manager at Palisades Hudson Financial Group in Scarsdale, N.Y. That allows you to shovel more and more money into retirement accounts. When you find more money in your pocket -- from a raise, a bonus, or paying off a debt like a car loan -- add it to the pot. Research shows that we automatically adjust to an increase in our income anyway, so why not make it work for you?

If you haven't quite gotten to this point yet, take a look at the leaks: Are you still paying off high-interest rate debt? Is your lifestyle more than you can afford? Go over your budget line by line and see where you can make cuts so more money is coming in than going out. Finally, an emergency fund is still important, no matter how secure you feel. At least six months of living expenses should be accessible in a savings or money market fund, in case you ever need it.

Start Envisioning the Future

Last week, we talked about using a calculator to figure out how much you need for retirement. At this point, you're probably a lot closer to knowing what you want that retirement to look like. Maybe you've found a job that you'd be happy working at well into your 60s and 70s, or you've decided that you'd rather pinch pennies now and completely relax later. You might have discovered a love for travel, or realized that you prefer staying closer to home.

All of these things will affect not only how much you need for retirement, but how your money should be invested. If you plan to continue working, you have a longer time horizon and you can get a bit more aggressive, says Meermann. If you want to retire early, it's all about saving now and managing your risk. And it goes without saying that extensive travel requires a bigger nut.

Double-Check Your Asset Allocation

This is a moving target, and you should check it about once a year, no matter how old you are. Shifts in the market can leave you too risky or too conservative, and as you age -- or events in your life unfold -- your risk tolerance may change. So you need to revisit your strategy and rebalance, which basically involves selling some winners and plowing those gains back into areas of your portfolio that haven't done quite as well. It sounds counterproductive (and painful) but it will actually help lock in your gains and make sure you're on track for the future.

Consider a Roth IRA Conversion

I wrote about this in detail not too long ago, so I'll direct you to that post for all the details. But I'll add that at this age, you may have switched jobs a few times, and it's likely you've rolled assets from a previous employer's 401(k) plan into an IRA. "If that money is still sitting there, you should definitely consider a Roth IRA conversion, especially because you still have a long time horizon to retirement age," explains Meermann. This year, anyone can convert a traditional IRA to a Roth, regardless of income.

Also in this series:
20s: Getting Started
30s: Boosting Your Health
50s: Getting Serious
60s+: Pacing Yourself