How to think smarter and plan better in money matters at all stages of life, from tots to retirees.
Good financial habits start early. Here are tips on what family members need to think about and plan for at all stages of life, from childhood to retirement.
Children: It’s important to teach children that every dollar they receive is not a dollar they can spend, says Manisha Thakor, personal finance expert for women. Kids should learn to divide allowances into three buckets: one for savings, one for charity and one for spending. Fiddle with an online allowance calculator at to come up with a weekly sum that’s reasonable.
Teens: As kids approach their teenage years, they can start to grasp the truth in the old adage “money doesn’t grow on trees.” Thakor tells teens to think about how many hours they would have to work to earn enough to buy an item they want. Encourage a teen to find a part-time job, and share your views on money matters and saving and spending.
College students: Fortunately for young credit users, credit card reform measures that started rolling out in 2010 make it more difficult to overload on credit and debt, requiring anyone under age 21 to show proof of income or get parents to co-sign in order to get a credit card. College students shouldn’t avoid credit cards completely, however. A student should get one credit card in his or her name; monitor his credit record at the three major agencies; and pay off the bill every month.
Newlyweds: A new couple’s main financial goal should be to build a solid foundation that includes an emergency fund to cover three to six months of living expenses, Thakor says. However, this should happen only after each partner pays down any debts they may have accumulated before marriage. Thakor urges newlyweds to conduct financial check-ins on all assets at least semi-annually.
Married with a family: Once the storks start dropping baby bundles at the doorstep, it’s time to think about life insurance. Whole life insurance is expensive and unnecessary in Thakor’s opinion. She suggests acquiring term life insurance instead, which provides coverage for a set time period at a fixed rate.
In your 30s and early 40s: “The challenge as you enter into these years is to avoid lifestyle creep,” Thakor says. “It’s very easy to start living beyond your means” This presents a big problem for savings for a couple’s retirement and their children’s college education. Thakor has noted another dangerous trend in this age bracket: risky investments. An investment portfolio at this age should be a low-cost, high-quality mix of stocks, bonds and mutual funds that grows over time.
In your 50s: “Fifty is the time of preparation and a time of opportunity,” says Julie Jason, author of an AARP retirement guide. Make catch-up contributions, an extra amount those over 50 can add to 401(k) and other retirement accounts. At age 59 1/2 you will no longer be hit with tax penalties on withdrawals from retirement accounts, but leaving money in means more time for it to grow.
In your 60s: The minimum age to receive Social Security benefits is 62, but delaying to a later year will mean a bigger monthly benefit. Generally, government-sponsored Medicare health insurance is available to those age 65 and older. At 66, those born between 1943 and 1954 are eligible for full Social Security benefits.
In your 70s: At the outset of retirement, people assume that healthcare will be their greatest expense. It turns out that the largest expense is most often taxes. Plan to begin taking minimum withdrawals from most retirement accounts by 70 1/2 or you may be charged a penalty.
80s and beyond: Healthcare and legacy planning should come into the picture around age 85, Jason says. Long-term care for husbands and wives should be determined. “At a certain point you have to bring in your spouse and see if you’re in sync with each other,” Jason says. She reminds retirees to include the desire to leave an inheritance in their planning.
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