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6 Ways to Regain Control of Your Finances in Midlife

By Marisa Cohen
January 17, 2023

Midlife is often the power decade for women, when you’re settled into your career and confident in your abilities. But it’s also a time when you may face new financial decisions or challenges. You may be paying for your kids’ college tuition while also supporting elderly parents. You may be thinking about launching your own business, switching careers, or starting the countdown to retirement.

Before you can figure out your next steps, though, you need to assess where you are. “This is a good time to review your financial position, since you have had a few decades to provide some insight into the success or challenges of your path,” says Marge Schiller, a certified financial planner in Sarasota, Florida, who advises women as a volunteer with the Savvy Ladies Free Financial Helpline.

Here are six ideas to consider to strengthen your financial situation after 40:

1. Familiarize Yourself with Your Finances

It’s crucial to know exactly where all your assets are and how to access them if needed. If you’re married or partnered, be sure to share the responsibility of financial planning.

“Make a monthly date with your partner to talk about your finances,” recommends Judy Herbst, the executive director of Savvy Ladies. “In addition to discussing the unromantic details about your income, assets, and debts, be sure to talk about your long-term lifestyle goals.”

Regardless of your relationship status, make sure you know how to access any accounts you will be responsible for in the future, whether they belong to you or someone else in your family. Allison K., 52, of Jericho, New York, wishes she had asked her parents for this information earlier. “When my mom died and my sister and I had to settle the estate, it took months to sort out where all the bank accounts were and figure out the passwords,” she says.

“I never thought of myself as a financial person,” says Susan Shapiro, an author and professor in New York City. “When I was growing up, my dad handled all the family money, so I always thought my husband should handle it—and besides, I’m a creative person, not a numbers person.”

But Susan says she uncovered a talent for personal finance in midlife. “I realized that even though my husband is better at making money, I’m actually better at investing and managing it,” she says. “We had money in savings accounts making nothing, so I moved a lot of it into bonds and real estate, and we did really well.”

2. Enlist the Help of a Pro

There’s much more to financial management in midlife than simply saving. A trained professional can help you identify benefits and opportunities to save and make money.

“Get a pro on your side to help you see your blind spots,” suggests Toronto-based financial educator Kelley Keehn, author of Rich Girl, Broke Girl: Save Better, Invest Smarter, and Earn Financial Freedom. “A certified financial planner can help you find tax credits, government grants, and employee benefits that you might not realize existed. This is free money being left on the table that can help reduce your financial stress.”

3. Make a Dent in Your Debts

If you’ve been maxing out credit cards to stay afloat, now is the time to take stock of what you have and what you owe—and start cutting expenses so you can pay down the debt.

This can be easier and less daunting than it sounds. Keehn suggests this 30-day challenge: “Write down every dollar you spend in a 30-day period, without doing anything else differently,” she says. “By the end of the month, you will see where the waste is going—for example, excess subscriptions, meal delivery, interest costs, etc.—and it will be easy to cut back.”

4. Lose What You Don’t Need or Want

Midlife is a good time to consider whether some of the choices you made in your 20s and 30s still make financial sense for you now.

Start with your living situation. Lori B., a 55-year-old divorced mom of two in the San Francisco area who works in design, was carrying the costs of renting a large apartment she had moved into with her ex-husband years ago, when her daughters were young. With her daughters out of the house, the extra space was no longer worth the cost.

“Now that it’s just me, I realized with the money I had been spending on rent, I could pay the mortgage and maintenance on a cozy apartment half the size,” she says. “It’s a new adventure for me, and I’m building equity for my future.”

5. Prepare for Emergencies

To be prepared for emergencies, Keehn recommends making sure you have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved in a liquid account that you can access immediately. First and foremost, this can save you from plunging into crushing debt. The emergency fund can also (literally) buy you some time to make a wise financial decision.

Take the example of Gwen W., 54, from Montclair, New Jersey, who suddenly lost her job. After working in event management for 17 years, the venue she worked at closed down, thrusting her back into the job market for the first time in almost two decades.

“It really came as a surprise, but luckily I had stashed away money the entire time I was working,” says Gwen, who is single and owns her own home. “This way, I can make sure my next job is something that matches both my interests and my abilities, and isn’t just something I need to take for financial reasons.”

6. Save for Retirement

According to research by the U.S. Census, almost 50% of women ages 55 to 66 have no retirement savings. This puts them in a highly vulnerable position.

The good news is that it’s never too late to start building up your retirement funds by opening an IRA or maxing out your employer-provided 401(k). Talk to a financial planner about what other options you may have to fast-track your savings.

Now Is the Time for Financial Wellness

There’s no time like the present to get your money in order. “If you wait until your 60s to assess your finances, the timeline is much shorter to resolve problems before retirement,” Schiller says. “It’s better to review your path regularly to allow a gentle nudge as changes are needed.”

Getting all your financial ducks in a row in your 40s and 50s may take some work—and some belt-tightening—but the rewards will be well worth it when you’re ready to enjoy the next exciting phase of your life.

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