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Financial decisions you should make before 40

Consider these seven financial points as you approach 40, and make sure you’re on track to be fabulous.

18 February 2019
6 minute read

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Forty is a fabulous milestone – and it comes by quicker than you would think! As the big four-oh approaches, one area you should take stock of is your finances. There are a few key things you should think about in the years leading up to this birthday, because how you deal with them could make or break your financial security for the rest of your life. Consider these seven points and make a plan for financial fitness at 40: 

1. A retirement plan Although you should have been saving towards your retirement from your very first pay cheque (financial advisors recommend putting away 10% to 15% from day one), approaching 40 is a good time to get serious about a future that’s not quite so distant anymore.

Work out how much you’ll need for your retirement and take stock of any current retirement funds you already have. Assess whether the current rate of saving and growth is going to meet your retirement needs and start making a plan to up your contributions if you’re falling short. It’s probably a rough time of life to do this, as people who are approaching 40 may have school fees, a bond and various other lifestyle expenses that require their more urgent attention, but don’t neglect your future security. Make compromises elsewhere – on new cars or holidays for example – to safeguard your retirement.

2. Saving and investment goals Your retirement isn’t the only future you should be considering. With 40 on the horizon, you should have short- and medium-term savings goals in place as well. These change regularly as the short term passes into medium term, but the point is that you shouldn’t be living from hand to mouth at each paycheque.

The short term is the next one to two years, and savings goals in that timeframe could include a local holiday or a new phone. The best place for these savings is a savings account, where you’ll earn some interest, but not experience any losses in the short term.

The medium term is three years and up, and savings goals could include a new car, a bigger house, overseas holiday or an education fund for your children’s university fees (tackled in greater detail in point 4). Since this time frame is longer, you could speak to your financial advisor about investing your money in a slightly higher risk investment product, so that you have the chance of earning greater returns.

Check in with your goals and your progress monthly and be sure to adjust your savings or investment plan if they change. If you are in a long-term relationship, you could schedule a monthly status meeting to check whether you are both on track or need to redo your plan or make sacrifices elsewhere to meet your goals.

3. Property ownership You may already own a home, or you may be renting, or home-sharing. There’s no rule that says that you have to own your own home by the time you are 40, but you should at least have thought about your longer-term property plan.

Absa’s latest homeowner sentiment survey showed that 67% of South African consumers are currently positive about the benefits of owning a home rather than renting one. While the general sentiment is overwhelmingly in favour of home ownership, you need to work out whether it’s best for YOU, taking into account your unique circumstances.

  • Are you committed to a city or a suburb for the long term?
  • Is the size of your family likely to stay the same for the foreseeable future (this includes the possibility of elderly relatives coming to live with you)?
  • Are you financially secure and in stable employment?
  • Can you face the maintenance and upkeep demands of home ownership?

If the answer to all four of these questions is yes, you are probably ready to buy rather than rent.

If you are considering upgrading your current property, you can use the same questions to work out whether the decision is right for you.

Read more: Questions you should ask before you buy a house

4. Educating your children If you have (or are planning to have) children, you should have given some thought to the long-term costs of educating them. Will you be sending them to private or government schools? And university? Would you like to offer them the opportunity to study in another city or even country? All of these choices come with associated costs.

As a starting point, consider what your child’s education is likely to cost. School fees vary so widely, it’s best to check out the website of the schools of your choice when making calculations. You can check out the costs of university fees in South Africa here. Bear in mind that the annual rate of education inflation is higher than consumer inflation, with some projections even anticipating 10% annual growth in the coming years. Once you start doing the maths, it’s clear that you’ll need to get saving sooner rather than later.

Speak to your financial advisor about the best investment account for the number of years still ahead of you. Even saving enough to pay one year of school fees in advance will allow you to benefit from the upfront discount that most schools offer.

5. A career plan For some people, their career path and professional development is mapped out from day one. For others, it takes a while for things to fall into place. But by the time 40 is on the horizon, you should have at least some idea of where you’re headed. This doesn’t mean that you can’t change your mind or that surprise opportunities won’t come up, but generally speaking, you should have a sense of what your next promotion will be, and what steps you need to take to get there.

Don’t only think about your current trajectory but consider whether you would like to take a different direction, and whether this is financially and logistically possible. Would you like to own your own business, for example? Or would you like to do something more meaningful or where there’s more opportunity for growth? Consider all your options and do what’s necessary to make the change that will be most satisfying for you.

6. The insurance products to meet your needs While a large part of your planning should revolve around the best possible outcomes for your career and earning potential, at the same time, you have to confront the possibility that things could go wrong as well. You could be faced with illness, disability or even death, and you need to have the right insurance products in place to protect yourself or your family from the financial implications of such an outcome. For this reason, you should have the following products in place:

  • Medical aid
  • Life cover
  • Funeral cover 
  • Short- and long-term dread disease and disability cover

7. Your parents Heard of the sandwich generation? These are people who are sandwiched between the young children they are supporting, and their parents, who also need financial support. You may be in the fortunate position of having parents who own their home and have their retirement all sorted out, but then again, you might not be. When your parents stop working, the shortfall in their own retirement plan could become apparent. Or as they age, their deteriorating health might mean that they need more support.

Try to gauge exactly how much help and commitment they are going to need in the coming years so that your financial plan and life decisions can accommodate their needs as well, within reason.

Financially fabulous 40 No matter how far away 40 might be, there’s no time like the present for getting your ducks in a row and finances in order. The sooner you start thinking about these crucial money decisions, the better your outcomes will be. So get budgeting and planning – and don’t forget to leave a bit of money over for those Fabulous Forty celebrations.

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