What You Should Be Thinking About Financially In Your 40s & 50s

Why It Matters:

  • Life is full of important events that can also have significant financial implications.
  • Getting serious about financial decisions in your 40s and 50s can help create the kind of retirement you deserve.
  • If you’re a little behind, it’s not too late to get started.

Jeff Maciolek tkc.profilePicture Written by: Jeff Maciolek | Transamerica
June 20, 2019

5 Min readClock Icon

Life is full of important events. And each one brings with it a series of financial decisions that can affect your finances for years — or even decades — to come.

For those in their 40s and 50s, you’re finally in your peak earning years. So why does it feel like there’s still never enough to do all the things you want to do? Responsibilities such as saving for retirement and your kids’ college funds can pull you in multiple directions. Trying to balance it all by yourself can leave you precariously perched like a three-legged dog in a high wire circus act.

Your midlife years are a critical time in setting the stage for retirement. You still have time to grow your nest egg, but your strategy should be a little more focused than it was in your 20s or 30s. Here are some key life events where you’re likely to be faced with major financial decisions. Make bad decisions and you could delay your retirement for years. Make smarter ones and your future self will thank you and appreciate the sacrifices you made along the way.

Saving for retirement

By the time you’re in your 40s, you’re probably abundantly aware you should be saving for retirement. Hopefully, you’re already participating in your employer’s retirement plan, such as a 401(k) or a 403(b), and contributing enough to get the full match. If you’ve already hit the big 5-0, you can make up for any youthful financial indiscretions by contributing an additional $6,000 a year to your retirement plan, on top of the 2019 contribution limit of $19,000.

But there’s more than one way to prepare a (nest) egg. Consider setting up a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA to help maximize your savings and enjoy the potential tax advantages that come with them. In 2019, the IRA contribution limit is $6,000, plus a $1,000 catch-up contribution for those age 50 and older. Also, you’ve probably seen a few pay raises over the years, did you boost your retirement contribution, too? If you’ve changed jobs, think about consolidating and rolling over any funds from an old 401(k) or 403(b) into a rollover account.

Saving for college

If you have kids, you’ve probably already encountered the age-old quandary of “do we fund college or our retirement plan first?” Ideally, you’d love to max out both. But, if you’re like most people, your resources are limited. A majority of experts will tell you to fund retirement first. It may sound selfish, but kids can get scholarships, grants, loans, and part-time jobs to help pay for college. But remember, there is no financial aid for retirement. Take care of yourself first.

If you’re able to put something aside for your kids’ college fund, a 529 plan is often a good place to start and may offer tax advantages. Even $20 a month can go a long way to fulfilling college dreams when they hit 18. Talk to a financial professional about how to open a 529 and how much you should be putting away to assist with college. The sooner you get started, the better.


In your 20s, it’s likely many of your friends were getting married. In your 30s, it seemed like they were all having babies. Sadly, in your 40s and 50s, you start hearing about many of those friends going through the big “D.” Divorce can create huge financial problems for both parties. Splitting up a household, bills, investments, debts, and everything else is best handled by the experts. Don’t try to go it alone. Seek financial and legal counsel to be sure what you’re left with is fair for everyone affected.

Career change or starting your own gig

Switching careers or starting your own business can be exciting. But before you make that leap, make sure you have a plan and a savings cushion. Odds are you won’t be bringing in the same paycheck when you’re first starting out. Also, check your vesting status at your current gig. If you’re only a few months away from being fully vested, you may want to consider waiting so you get everything that’s coming to you. And don’t forget about health insurance, especially if you’re going out on your own. Healthcare insurance is even more expensive when you’re footing the bill yourself.

Getting out of debt

Heading into retirement with debt is never ideal. Paying off high-interest consumer debt should be a top priority. If you haven’t paid down those college loans or credit card balances, look at ways to reduce or eliminate that burden weighing you down. That may mean putting less toward retirement, but it’s OK. You still have some time to play catch-up later.

Estate planning

Let’s face it: You’re not getting any younger. You’ve probably got a few aches and pains that remind you of that fact every morning. It’s time to at least start thinking about estate planning. It’s not just for the wealthy, and you probably have more than you think — a home, cars, savings, and kids that need to be provided for. A will can help take care of your loved ones and ensure your final wishes are known. Plus, it makes it easier on surviving relatives since they won’t have to guess about your intentions or fight over your assets.

The life insurance discussion

While you’re thinking about what your world looks like without you, you should probably review your life insurance to make sure you have enough to protect your family’s way of life should the expected happen before anyone’s expecting it. (You do have some life insurance, right?) Have your needs changed since you purchased your policy? Is it time to get more before you get older and it gets more expensive? Have your beneficiaries changed? Life insurance isn’t always a one-and-done kind of thing.

Protecting your nest egg

Many people think their most valuable asset is their home or retirement account. It’s actually your ability to work and earn a living. Disability insurance can help replace part of your income if you can’t work for an extended time period due to injury or illness. There’s also long term care (LTC) insurance to start thinking about. Someone turning 65 today has almost a 70% chance they will need some kind of long term care during their life.1 If you wait until you’re in your 60s or 70s to buy LTC insurance, you’ll likely wish you’d done it sooner.

Getting guidance

You’re no longer a kid anymore. The time remaining for youthful money mistakes is about as forgiving as a pair of yoga pants that are two sizes too small. Your 40s and 50s are about setting the stage for your retirement because your window of opportunity is getting smaller. There’s still time to create the retirement you envisioned. Seeking the assistance of a financial professional can help make it a reality and protect your quality of life along the way.

Things to Consider:

  • If you haven’t already, now is the time to meet with a financial professional to make sure you’re on track to retire when and how you want.
  • Put your retirement savings into overdrive, if you can.
  • Saving something is always better than saving nothing. Don’t give up just because your finances aren’t where you wanted to be at this point in your life.

1 “How Much Care Will You Need?,” LongTermCare.gov, accessed May 2019

Neither Transamerica nor its agents or representatives may provide medical, tax, investment, or legal advice. Anyone to whom this material is promoted, marketed, or recommended should consult with and rely on their own independent tax and legal advisors and financial professional regarding their particular situation and the concepts presented herein.



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