10-20: Work at a job for money. Put some of your paycheck in a checking account. Start a savings account. Buy your own clothes. Learn about average salaries for different careers, and about how much different things cost. Make important decisions about which college to attend and what to study – not strictly on the basis of cost, but with realistic finances in mind. Get a credit card with a low borrowing limit and use it regularly, but pay it off monthly.
20-30: Learn to invest. Learn to budget. Continue to feed your savings, and start a retirement fund. Organize a repayment plan for your student loans. Prioritize among all the things you want or may need at this age – from couches to cribs to career suits. Keep your credit report clean by not defaulting on debt or paying bills late. Learn to make credit cards work for you by choosing a good cash-rebate card, using it for everything and paying it off monthly. Set up a rainy day savings fund so that you build it automatically via payroll deductions. As soon as you have children, buy life insurance. Do your own taxes at least once. Learn to track all of your money in a program like Quicken or on your own spreadsheet if you’re so inclined.
30-40: Continue plowing as much as possible into retirement vehicles. Buy a house. If you have children, set up a college-savings plan for them. If you haven’t already, switch your various insurance policies to high-deductible plans – you’ll save money every month on premiums and should have accumulated enough savings by now to cover the deductibles. Build your investing expertise by learning about exchange-traded funds, individual stocks and bonds. Diversify your investments to make sure you have some money in some of these categories: real estate, commodities, foreign stocks. Boost your skills – either by pursuing an advanced degree, or taking courses, or spending money on the tools that will make you more employable. Follow the performance of your investments in a portfolio-tracking program.
40-50: Create an investment account that is separate from your rainy day savings, your retirement fund and your kids’ college-savings vehicles. Put it on autopilot so money is deposited routinely from your checking account. Max out your retirement savings to the extent possible. Use some money for something you’ve always wanted to do – take the big family trip or get the swimming pool installed. Talk to some financial advisers – you may find one that you want to work with, or you may decide you can manage your investments by yourself. Talk to your own aging parents to make sure you understand their finances, what you would have to do if they needed care, and what you will have to do when they die.
50-60: Do the pre-retirement math so you have a rough idea of how much money you’ll have when you retire and how much you have to save between now and then. Pay off all your debts, except for a low-interest fixed-rate mortgage. Consider buying a vacation or retirement home. Educate yourself about programs like Old Age Security and any pension benefits you might have coming to you. Invest some money in your future self – building a hobby shop or taking classes to prepare for your next act.