Financial Planning by Life Stage Focuses on You, Not Your Age

Age-based financial planning makes sense for many people, but everyone’s life is different, so life-stage-based planning could work better for you.

A young couple work together on a laptop with paperwork strewn around them.
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Should a 39-year-old, child-free adventurer and a 39-year-old mother of three have the same financial plans? No. But many of us often approach financial planning with this age-based mentality. Many times, that makes sense, but not always.

In these instances, I like to think of planning in terms of life stages vs ages.

I’d like to present you with financial planning elements to consider based on your life stage and offer four stages and the elements that make up each.

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The foundational stage

The foundational stage is where you’re building the foundation of your financial future. In this stage, you should focus on simplifying and organizing. This is the time to invest in yourself to generate a bigger income, budget and plan for expenses, focus on your health and medical care and manage your debt, including managing your housing expenses (and planning for potentially buying a house).

This stage is really when people start to think about the financial planning process while building cash reserves equal to at least three months of their salary.

You may be beyond this phase, but note that any major life change — like a divorce or bankruptcy — can throw you back into it.

In this phase, you’re going to begin to think about medical, auto and life insurance policies to ensure you can pay for large expenses and your loved ones can cover expenses should something happen to you. You’ll continue to review and revise your coverage throughout the rest of these stages.

The stability phase

By the stability phase, you’re likely in your early or mid-career, financially stable and have achieved some professional success. You've probably saved some cash and accumulated some wealth. This is when you start to gain confidence and control over your financial future. You should be working to boost your savings, invest in your goals and solidify your insurance planning, retirement planning and tax optimization.

You’ve built your foundation, but now you are thinking about crafting or adjusting a financial plan that addresses your goals and risks. You might worry about the market, retirement, health care, savings and other concerns, even if you're doing well financially.

Individuals and couples in this phase might have young children and are thinking about planning for their future while also planning to reach their own retirement goals. Business owners who are reinvesting in their business and trying to find a balance between that and planning for their retirement fall into this phase.

At this stage, it’s important to ensure that your investment strategy and financial picture are in line with your values, morals and goals. And while the value of your assets may not be high right now, your ability to save and invest is. You will also want to increase retirement savings enough to get your employer's 401(k) match and explore IRAs or SEP IRAs if you run your own business.

You’ll continue to review your insurance coverage to ensure it’s still adequate or if policies are lapsing or coverage is ending. Here, you’ll also begin to think about medical care in retirement and a plan for paying long-term care expenses.

The strategic stage

The strategic phase is an exciting time where you focus on your family, community, gifting and making time for things that bring meaning to your life. The goal is achieving that financial freedom where your goals and timelines align with your aspirations.

In the strategic phase, retirement income planning is more important than ever — not just how much you have saved, but how to spend what you have when the time comes. During this time, you’ll continue to manage your debt and consider refinancing when it might be beneficial.

While in this phase, evaluate your net worth and cash flow, identify and address any gaps and optimize your tax planning. You might consider downsizing big-ticket items, like your car or home, and reviewing your insurance policies yet again.

Lastly, you’ll likely have enough saved that you need to think about how to limit taxes and begin to plan to transfer wealth to the next generation. To this point, you should have a team of financial professionals (like an estate planning attorney, a financial adviser or CPA) to help you with those goals.

The impact phase

This is the stage where you can focus on enjoying yourself while maintaining your financial stability and starting to think about making an impact. This is the time to reflect on how your life experiences might inspire you to give back through charity, philanthropy or social initiatives.

The impact stage is all about reflection and living out your values. Now, you can enjoy financial security without worrying about saving every penny. Instead, you can focus on improving your quality of life and reflecting on your legacy.

Plan for your situation

Your financial plan will most definitely evolve over time. Although it should consider today’s certainties, it should be flexible. Engaging in life-phase planning is best done with a financial professional who is acquainted with your unique situation.

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This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Jamie P. Hopkins, Esq., CFP, RICP
Director of Retirement Research, Carson Wealth

Jamie Hopkins is a well-recognized writer, speaker and thought leader in the area of retirement income planning. He serves as Director of Retirement Research at Carson Group and is a finance professor of practice at Creighton University's Heider College of Business. His most recent book, "Rewirement: Rewiring The Way You Think About Retirement," details the behavioral finance issues that hold people back from a more financially secure retirement.