8 personal finance lessons you must master by age 40

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8 money lessons to learn by age 40
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8 money lessons to learn by age 40 |

8 money lessons to learn by age 40

If you've hit 40 and managed to avert a midlife crisis -- congratulations. That sporty red convertible at the dealer showroom can wait if you want to be smart about money management.

Bankrate offers 8 personal finance lessons that everyone should know by age 40. Young precocious adults who adopt these lessons early will not be sorry, and late learners still have time to catch up. Read on to learn the important financial facts of life.

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Money is freedom

Money is freedom |

Figure out your net worth and, after you get over the shock, have a recovery plan. You don't have to be wealthy, but you do have to have enough that you aren't a slave to the shortfall.

"After getting on a budget, a lot of people feel like they've gotten a raise even though their income hasn't changed," says Dave Ramsey, a Tennessee-based financial adviser and media personality, who bases his approach on mistakes he personally made.

Ramsey offers no-brainer personal finance lessons that most people can follow: "Do a written budget every month before the month begins. Give every dollar of income a name so you know where it is going. Include a line for how much you want to save each month. Then, stick to the plan."

No relationship is perfect

No relationship is perfect |

Working it out is usually cheaper than calling it quits. Even after the relationship is long over, getting along with your ex is cheaper than fighting over the kids or whether or not both spouses are paying their share.

"Divorce isn't good for your pocketbook. It is a long, messy and expensive process," says Jay Zagorsky, a research scientist at The Ohio State University who has studied the cost of divorce for nearly 20 years.

His research demonstrated that on average, divorce drops a person's wealth overall by 77%. "Wealth starts declining well before the final decree, and after divorce, people don't suddenly start with a clean slate," he says.

In other words, it's cheaper to keep her (or him).

You can't buy security

You can't buy security |

Insurance can help, but it wasn't meant to pay routine costs. Its purpose is to cover devastating financial losses.

"Many people tend to purchase coverage with low deductibles, which can be costly. Because states have low liability limits, people think they should start there. But for most individuals, those limits are woefully inadequate, so they end up paying a lot for insurance that doesn't cover enough," says Robert Hoyt, who heads the Risk Management and Insurance Program at the University of Georgia.

Someone with lots to lose -- a home, a car and future income -- is better off picking a plan with high deductibles, he says, and planning only to claim when there is a devastating loss that the insured can't pay for otherwise. In other words, you collect when the house burns down or the car is totaled or the accident causes major injury.

"Assess what you can afford with high limits of loss and then add a personal umbrella, which can be cost-effective and provide protection if you are faced with tens of thousands (of dollars) in losses," Hoyt advises.

Credit is a tool

Credit is a tool |

Becoming an expert at using credit will improve your life.

At this stage, you're likely dealing with a mortgage, car loans and children entering college. "A healthy credit score is vitally important to you," says Bruce McClary, vice president of public relations and communications for the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling.

If you examine your credit score and you don't like what you see, chances are you haven't paid your bills on time. "Paying on time counts for about one-third of your score," McClary says.

Committing to paying everything on time is the obvious solution to this problem.

It also pays to check your credit report carefully for credit killers, such as identity theft or inaccurate reports. "There are a lot of those problems out there," McClary says.

Check your credit report for free at myBankrate.

Finally, at your age, you ought to be working to pay off debt and keep balances low, he says. "Focus on power-paying those balances and getting rid of them as fast as possible."

This will give you more credit flexibility if you really need to borrow because you have a health emergency, want to start a business or need to replace the roof. "A solid-gold credit score will make borrowing for any of these easier," McClary says.

Keeping up with the Joneses is a no-win

Keeping up with the Joneses is a no-win |

Keeping up with the Joneses is a no-win

As humorist Will Rogers is credited for saying: "Too many people spend money they haven't earned to buy things they don't want to impress people that they don't like."

Envy was one of the "7 deadly sins" and a route to hell, says Susan Matt, chair of the history department at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, and the author of "Keeping Up With the Joneses: Envy in American Consumer Society, 1890-1930."

"Yesterday, envy was a sin; today, it is one of the fundamentals of our consumer-driven society," she says.

"People think the sky is the limit. When they get what they want, they want the next step up. People have never-ending desires, and they are never satisfied."

Is that bad? "It keeps our economy moving," she says. "But I don't think it makes people any happier."

You can count on uncertainty

You can count on uncertainty |

Trust us: Jobs don't last forever, and neither does excellent health.

The best hedge against poor health, job loss or other unforeseen setbacks is a financial plan that will help you navigate the shoals until you get back on your feet, says Chris Hogan, author of "Retire Inspired" and a popular speaker about personal finance issues.

"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result," Hogan says. "If you don't have a plan, you keep doing more of the same, and you never have anything to show for it."

To get around this conundrum, "you have to have an awareness of where you are now, an understanding of what it will take to get there and the determination to work your plan," Hogan says.

Everybody needs an ace in the hole

Everybody needs an ace in the hole |

You need a financial plan B that doesn't count on another person -- not even the love of your life. It's not disloyal to figure out an answer to the question, "How will I support myself if X happens?" whether X is divorce, death, disability or something else.

"'Everybody Loves Raymond' explained it best,'" says Cindy Hounsell, president of the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, or WISER.

Here's the exchange on the TV episode that she's referring to:

Debra: Ray and I were talking about wills, and he doesn't want to make one.

Robert: Oh, why not?

Debra: He thinks it's going to tempt fate.

Robert: No, no, silly. If you don't have a will, you're tempting fate. "I don't need a will. I'm gonna live forever." Manhole!

Ray: I don't know.

Robert: Raymond, listen to me. You need to have a will and eat a fibrous breakfast every morning and nothing can touch you.

Hounsell isn't so sure about the fibrous breakfast, but she thinks the will part is right, along with savings and insurance. "Anybody who is dependent on somebody else to make ends meet -- or even if you just depend on yourself -- you need a plan for what you're going to do when that goes away," she says.

Working forever isn't a retirement plan

Working forever isn't a retirement plan |

You just can't work forever.

Author Chris Hogan says, "I have a friend who was diagnosed at 48 with early onset Alzheimer's. He knows life has changed, but he can't do anything about it. When people say to me, 'I love what I do and I plan to work forever,' I tell them about my friend and ask them, 'What are you going to do if your mind or your body won't allow you to keep working?"'

Having a retirement savings plan is key. "The earlier you start, the longer your money works for you and the greater your chance of amassing a nice nest egg. It's a snowball effect. You start small and it builds," says Brian Hogan, director of small-business retirement products for Fidelity.

Or as Chris Hogan says, "It is never too early or too late to start saving."


Money and investing tips for all ages Your approach to saving and investing changes as you get older. Find out how to manage the moving parts.
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