Make today the perfect opportunity to reflect on how well you're taking care of yourself — and your finances. This financial health check-up can help.
Just as your doctor keeps you on track with age-appropriate health checks and tips, you should practice financial fitness for every stage of your life.
While some financial health checks should happen continuously throughout your life — like protecting your credit and monitoring your bank account balance — other financial services make more sense at different times throughout your life.
Make today the perfect opportunity to reflect on how well you're taking care of yourself — and your finances. This decade-by-decade checklist for a financial health check-up can help.
The keys to financial health, by decade
It's easy to guess when you might need basic financial literacy development versus when you might need assistance selecting Medicare options. As you age throughout your life, there are areas of your finances that might need your focus and attention.
Find your decade and see if your financial goal for you now aligns with what's to come in the following decades.
In your teens
It's never too early to start setting yourself up for success. The habits you start young will serve you all the way through your life. Let's start with a good rule of thumb: if you're old enough to earn your own money, you're old enough to save your own money.
Choose a financial institution — even if it is the same place where your parents' bank — and have a bank account. If you're under 18, an adult will need to be a custodian on your account. But it's your money, so take action to be in charge of your financial education.
Once you start putting in hours at your first source of income, you are responsible enough to manage those dollars. You can enjoy having a little bit of spending money, but don't forget to start thinking about your future, too.
When you have a steady source of money incoming, you can open a free checking account — it's literally free — and your money is safer than that jar in your room. Also, by setting some aside, it becomes easier to save. If you carry cash around with you, it's much easier to spend.
If it helps, choose a goal and save for it. Maybe that's a phone, car, computer, or gaming system. It's easier to see the benefit of savings when there's a reward at the end of the road.
Put aside 10% of what you earn just to get in the habit (you'll be surprised how fast it can grow). It's easier to have stronger financial control throughout life if you start saving now.
Start tracking your expenses, whether that's through your account online or simply keeping a ledger. Having money is great, but knowing where it goes and seeing it add up helps you understand its value.
Use your student ID for discounts and savings. It's not just for college students, a high school ID will usually do.
If your post-high-school plans are to start working and get your own place, start with a budget. Look at apartments online to get an idea of the costs of housing. Include buckets for utilities, transportation (including fuel, insurance, and monthly car payments), fun (yes, that's a budget category), and your emergency fund. Those first years on your own will be easier if you prepare for your independence now.
If you are college-bound, look into financial aid for your education. College is expensive and student loan debt isn't free money. Loans can be pretty big burdens later in life if you aren't prepared to start paying them off after college. You'll want to explore all your financial aid options as closely as you do your college options.
In your 20s
Welcome to the (confusing) world of managing your own finances. We know it can be overwhelming with your daily expenses, and big-ticket costs such as education, housing, and health care. This is the time when you might start to feel financial stress. Here's a secret tip: good financial health is the best treatment for your financial well-being.
You may have heavy debts if you take the college route, but that shouldn't stop you from focusing on your long-term goals and future financial security, including your ridiculously distant retirement. If you are just trying to get your budget to match your income, you might start to make decisions that move you from paycheck-to-paycheck spending.
Shop around for the best deal on a checking account. You may have outgrown the one your parents opened with you back in your teens. There are some pretty great rewards ("rewards" as in extra money) now that you're using your checking account regularly.
Open a savings account and start putting money away for a rainy day. You don't necessarily need to be saving for a specific goal. Truth: you're getting ready for the unexpected. Life comes at you fast now that you're adulting.
Build your credit score with smart credit use, like paying credit card bills in full each month. Good credit is the key to unlocking the money you need later in life, like when you need to borrow money to buy a house or new car.
Know that it's okay to say no, that includes vetoing outings with friends that aren't in the budget. Set your own cash flow priorities for how you want to be living your life and align those with your budget.
If you're ready to take on a side hustle or a second job to increase your savings, it's a good time of life to tackle that before you have additional obligations and family responsibilities. Consider this a time to start increasing your savings, not just your spending.
Keep up with your student loan payments, and get ahead if you can afford it. The sooner you get out of student debt, the more you save on interest and the more you can put toward your next goals.
Open a retirement savings account. Like ASAP. Time is money when it comes to retirement savings and compound interest is your new best friend. The difference between an extra ten years of savings can be hundreds of thousands of dollars (not a typo) by the time you reach retirement age.
Consider using a personal financial management tool, whether an app or an expert. Getting a bit of personal finance guidance in your 20s can set you up for a lifetime of financial independence, or even just what's to come in your 30s.
In your 30s
Your 30s are so important to your finances for a lot of reasons. In many cases, you've got a little bit of everything going on: children, buying a home, paying off debt, saving for retirement, saving for your child's education, and focusing on your own career advancement plans. Even if you aren't managing all of these life choices, there are still plenty of financial challenges to go around.
Because you still have several decades before retirement, your 30s are also a time when it's easy to lose sight of important goals. If you didn't get off to a running start in your 20s, there's still plenty of time to boost your overall financial health in this decade.
Get life insurance, even if you are single. More responsibilities in life mean more people to look out for and property to manage. Life insurance provides for the people you love in the event you can't. It also can provide you with a lot of peace of mind in a decade of increased financial stress.
One way to reduce the stress of your 30s is to prioritize getting out of debt so you can get busy saving. Mortgages, auto loans, student loans, credit cards, and personal loans are often necessary parts of life to afford what we need. Getting back out of debt fast is essential to your financial well-being.
Your 30s are a decade when you will likely see upward movement in your career, and your paycheck, so prioritize your savings goals. Paying ahead on your loans helps you save a ton of money over time in interest, which you can put towards your savings. It also helps you build equity and excellent credit.
Ready to buy a house? This is when building credit pays off. Taking out a mortgage is a big life moment, so shop around for the best mortgage deal to make sure you find the right mortgage for you.
If you are still whittling away at your credit card debt, good. Once you knock it out, keep your credit card open, but don't spend more than you can pay off each month.
Continue building retirement savings. Your real-life expenses may be adding up, but don't shortchange your future by cutting back here unless you have to. Take advantage of any employer contributions such as 401k funds or a health savings account.
If you have kids, start putting aside money for your children's college education, but only if you're already on track with both your retirement and paying off your debt. Continue building up your credit for expenses that may show up in your next decade.
In your 40s
This might be the decade where you finally start to feel like you've got a handle on your financial situation. If not, that makes you like almost everyone else. But this is the decade where you can look back and see how your personal finance choices are coming together. This is the point when many people really ramp up their financial wellness efforts.
You might think there's nothing new at this point, but as your kids start high school, there's more excitement, more activity, and more expenses. Everything from your grocery budget to the cost of auto insurance may increase, so take a close look at your expenses and your budget with an eye for growth.
Don't go into sudden financial shock at how it all multiplies. You are also entering a life stage where you'll see growth in your income, reduction in daycare costs, and expansion in your financial life.
Keep saving for retirement. As you earn more money and grow in your career, you should be contributing more, too. Max out your contributions if you can. Or, at the very least, make sure you're contributing enough to receive the full amount of any employer-matched contributions your company offers.
You might notice a theme here, but your debt should still come first. If you have a home mortgage, that doesn't mean paying down your house completely, but it is the time to prepare for big changes. An unexpected expense, such as a job change, is not uncommon in your 40s. To avoid financial difficulties, build up your savings to cover a lengthy period — say, six months — away from the job market.
Speaking of jobs, if you have changed employers and have 401k plans out there with extra money, roll them over into a single IRA.
During your 40s, your money might be going in a million different directions, so it might be a good time to consolidate your finances. If you still have outstanding debt from credit cards or pre-marriage debt, consider a debt consolidation loan to get those narrowed down and paid off.
Take time periodically to evaluate your spending. Cell phone bills, streaming services, health care premiums, and tax deductions all deserve an extra look with an eye for savings. Seek expert advice if you want to increase your financial control.
If you haven't looked into life insurance yet, rates start going up in your 50s. Getting a fixed rate at a younger age may make sense, depending on you and your family's situation.
Hopefully, student loans are a thing of the past and you're paying a little extra towards your mortgage. The equity you build is more money to your name if you choose to sell your home or take on home improvements.
Are your kids in high school? Maybe student loans will be making a comeback as you prepare them for college life. It's time to start researching financial aid options. It's definitely time to get them thinking about their own financial future, too. (If you skipped the above "In your teens" section, point them that way.)
By the end of this decade, your post-career life might be more tangible. Keep your financial life pointing in that direction.
In your 50s
Put your financial wellness front and center. Now it's time to eliminate debt from your life for good, if you haven't already. Save enough so that when you're no longer working you'll still have enough income from your savings and investments to live the way you want.
It's not too early to think about the transition from your work life to your “what's next” life. The idea of retirement as a fixed point may be far different from generations ago when a person worked for the same employer until they received their parting retirement gift and just stopped coming to the office. Today retirement looks completely different. If you plan to volunteer, work part-time for a social cause that is important, or just travel, this is the decade to hone that plan and structure your financial life accordingly.
Step up your retirement savings. Federal law allows people in their 50s to contribute more to 401ks and IRAs than younger folks can. Again, maxing out your contribution level should be the goal.
If you feel like you are on the verge of financial independence, hooray! It might be time to consider wealth building and finding ways to pay it forward.
Avoid taking on any major new debt. You may still have some big purchases — maybe a new car or a vacation cabin but keep it under control. There's also nothing wrong with using your credit card for spot purchases as long as you continue to pay it off monthly.
Regularly review your Social Security earnings. You can set up an online account with the Social Security Administration that lets you review your current earnings and projected monthly benefits at any time.
Start planning for your long-term healthcare savings and look into long-term care insurance.
If you haven't already done so, create a will. You've worked for three decades building up your net worth, make sure there is a clear plan as to where your money will go when you don't need to worry about it anymore.
In your 60s and beyond
Your 60s? When did that happen?
A comfortable, financially secure retirement — whatever that looks like for you — is a big part of the American dream for many people. It's important to take care of your financial wellness throughout your life, especially during these next few decades.
Put off collecting Social Security benefits as long as possible. If you wait until your full retirement age to draw benefits, you'll get the maximum amount you're entitled to when you do start receiving benefits.
At age 65, you're eligible for Medicare benefits, but you can enroll before your birthday. Medicare can reduce some of the financial burdens of healthcare costs since most people don't have health insurance through their employer after retirement.
When you hit 67, you've officially reached retirement age. You still have a bulk of the decade and hopefully a pretty big boost in the final few years of your 401k or retirement savings plan.
If you think you might want to downsize your home and plan on selling, be sure to determine all aspects of the sale: tax implications, how to maximize the profit from the sale, and the cost of where you plan to settle next. It may be a financially sound choice to stay where you are, too.
Keep a close eye on your investments to ensure they keep growing and provide you with income for as long as you'll need it.
Revise your household budget to ensure your nest egg lasts as long as possible. This may go hand-in-hand with your home plans, but it is also worth keeping on top of in the next several decades. You may enjoy having two cars as you cruise through your 60s but may not want the hassle of maintaining two cars once you are in your 80s.
It's doubtful you'll take out much new debt at this point, so avoid any purchases that set you back. Those decades of savings are designed to tackle upkeep, such as a new air conditioner or the trip to see your new grandbaby.
Work with an estate planner to ensure your finances and legacy are protected.
Oh, and be sure to thank yourself for all your hard work to get to this point.
Good financial health lasts a lifetime
The sooner you start prioritizing your financial wellness, the more prepared you'll be for later years. As an added bonus, it will also reduce your financial stress.
No matter your age, make sure you're getting in the habit of setting savings goals, paying down debt, managing spending, and planning for your future. Good financial health will pay you dividends in every decade of your life.