I remember getting my Social Security statement a few months before my birthday. It was, for years, the ideal time for me to think about my financial future.
But even without that yearly reminder, you can make your birthday an occasion to reflect on how you’re handling your finances. What should you be doing in your 20s? When you hit your 40s, ask whether your retirement savings are on track. Hitting 60? The late-or-early debate about taking Social Security is facing you this decade. You’re 80 and still don’t have a will. What’s that about?
To help guide you on your financial self-examination, I’ve created, with an amazing team at The Washington Post, an interactive guide — money milestones for every age. You can find it at wapo.st/financial-birthdays.
I’ve received hundreds of questions over the years from readers across the country. I’ve compiled the most frequent ones in the guide, from credit to creating wealth to housing and health care.
There’s advice for every decade of your financial life, from 20-somethings just starting out to retirees enjoying the fruits of their smart planning.
There’s also a “Post Reports” podcast that includes a conversation with my two 20-something daughters. We talked about their struggles with adulting. They’ve got some stories. Get ready to laugh and cry as I discuss the money issues that dominate our lives.
I wrote this project with you in mind. Whenever I read a poll or study that says Americans are financially illiterate, I want to scream “It’s not their fault!”
Yes, some folks are flailing because of bad choices. But the decisions you have to make about your money can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to know whom to trust to help you make the right decisions.
“I would say more of what scares me most about adulting is there is no laid-out path,” my youngest, Jillian, said during the podcast. “Do I want to stay in this job? Do I want to move to a different state? Do I want to stay in the area? It’s all big question marks. And that’s what about adulting freaks me out.”
That says a lot, considering she has a mother who’s spent much of her career writing about personal finance and an equally savvy money-manager father.
What we’ve done is put in one place a roundup of significant financial questions, paired with links to my columns over the years and other articles as resources. But as I put this project together, I knew I couldn’t hit every issue starting out. So this is where I need your help.
To improve the project, we’ll be adding questions from readers. What’s on your mind about your money?
“In your excellent money milestones column, I didn’t see anything about funerals,” emailed Jim Ward of Alexandria, Va. “Should I prepay my funeral?”
I’ll be updating the project next month and adding Ward’s question.
Many people believe they’ve taken care of their funeral expenses with prepaid burial and funeral contracts, only for their family to discover after their death there’s more to pay. That’s if they can find the information for the “preneed arrangement,” as they are sometimes called.
“Just buried my brother, whose grave was prepaid, but not his funeral,” Ward wrote. “My brother had talked about pre-planning, but after going through his papers, we didn’t find anything.”
What came next was a hunt for the policy they thought was in place.
“We contacted the funeral home his church uses and found he hadn’t made any arrangements,” Ward said. “The funeral home contacted the church cemetery, and we discovered he had bought a plot.”
Ward ended up paying the funeral cost out of pocket.
A friend pointed out something else absent from the project — a section dedicated to people in their 90s and beyond.
There are 2.4 million people in the United States 90 or older, which includes 2.3 million people ages 90 to 99 and close to 98,000 centenarians, according to the Census Bureau’s single-year age estimates from 2021.
In a 2011 release, a demographer for the bureau said this: “Traditionally, the cutoff age for what is considered the ‘oldest old’ has been age 85, but increasingly people are living longer and the older population itself is getting older. Given its rapid growth, the 90-and-older population merits a closer look.”
In 2016, there were 81,000 centenarians in the United States. That figure is expected to increase to 589,000 by 2060, according to census estimates. By 2050, people 90 and older are expected to reach 10 percent of the population comprising seniors 65 and older.
We stopped the advice for people in their 80s. My thinking was that Americans older than 80 would benefit from the same advice offered for the previous decade. But they deserve their own section, which will be combined with centenarians.
As with any endeavor of this depth and breadth, something is inevitably left out. But I’ll do my best to address more of your most pressing financial questions. And you may disagree with my advice, but the goal is to facilitate a conversation so that you are intentional about your money. I hope I’ve done that, and that you will be an active participant in helping me identify topics to add to this project.
B.O.M. — The best of Michelle Singletary on personal finance
If you have a personal finance question for Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary, please call 1-855-ASK-POST (1-855-275-7678).
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