Michelle Singletary’s money milestones for every age

Select a decade below for our personal finance columnist's take on some of the biggest financial considerations for that age group.


We have updated this project with additional content for those 90 and older. For more by Michelle, read her latest columns.

Young or old, personal finance is complicated. The knowledge and discipline needed to run your financial life can be overwhelming. How do you know if you’re on track? How prepared are you to weather an unexpected job loss or costly repair? Can you spot a scam? It’s hard to know whom to trust when so many people are after your money.

As The Washington Post’s longtime personal finance columnist, I’ve received hundreds of your questions, and I’ve compiled the most frequent ones in this guide. 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 to advice that applies at any decade. Each stage involves making decisions that can affect your short- and long-term goals. Identifying your money milestones can help you spend less, save more and build wealth at any age.

[Post Reports: How to be smart with your money at every age]

Because some financial deliberations are ongoing, certain topics appear in multiple decades.

Do I still need term life insurance?

You’ve hit 62. When should you take Social Security?

I want to invest, and not just for retirement. Where do I put my money?

You’re nearing full retirement age for Social Security. Now what?

What should you consider before moving in with a partner?

Why you might need a secured credit card

Learn to manage a checking and savings account

I’m turning 26. What do I do about health care?

Don’t give anyone money without consulting someone you trust

You’re finally making decent money. Here’s how much you should save.

No will? Get that done. Now!

Social Security benefits max out at 70. What are you waiting for?

What you need to know about your retirement account when you hit 73.

How to talk to your adult children about your finances

Do I really need all that money in an emergency fund?

Is it time to get a credit card?

Should I sell my home?

If you’re thinking about a wedding, here’s how to budget

What to do if you’re having trouble making your student loan payments

How much should you put in a retirement account?

What is FICA and why is it on my paycheck?

Am I being cheap if I want to be cremated?

I’m single, no kids: What if I need someone to care for me or my money?

Is a retirement community right for you?

What’s your financial legacy?

I’m still renting. Is that bad?

My credit is a mess. What can I do?

I’m still young. Do I need a will?

What percentage of my income should I spend on housing?

Should I be readjusting my retirement plan?

Should I prepay for my funeral?

Watch out for scams

Can I put my pet in my will?

How will a divorce affect my finances?

Should I get a 30-year mortgage or a 15-year loan?

When to meet with a financial planner

Got kids? Here’s the best way to save for college.

Should I merge bank accounts with a spouse or partner?

What should you do if you can no longer live on your own?

Should you put adult children on the deed to your home?

How do I budget for rising health-care costs?

Should you help grandchildren pay for college?

Should I pay off my mortgage before I retire?

At 65, don’t forget to sign up for Medicare Parts B and D

I’ve never owned a home. Is it too late to buy?

How you should prepare for long-term care

You’re 59½ and can tap your retirement account without penalty. Should you?

How do you know when you are ready for a child?

When is the right time to talk to my parents about their financial plans for retirement?

Should I get a reverse mortgage?

Is it too late to get long-term care insurance?

How do you decide what to leave your heirs?

Retirement is around the corner. How to play catch-up.

I’m in my mid-50s and don’t have much saved. Can I afford to retire?

Do I really need life insurance?

Is graduate school worth it?

Are you ready to be a homeowner?

I’ve been a saver all my life. How do I switch to spending?

Should you pay to freeze your eggs?

When it’s smart to still be living at home

Start investing for retirement. Your older self will thank you.

How to make student loan debt more manageable

About this project

Articles by Michelle Singletary. Illustrations by Jordan Kay.

Design and art direction by Cece Pascual. Development by Jake Crump, Frank Hulley-Jones and Semanur Karayaka.

Audio production by Charla Freeland.

Robbie Olivas DiMesio and Suzanne Goldenberg were the lead editors. Additional editing by Adrienne Dunn, Shay Quillen, Virginia Singarayar, Rivan Stinson and Jay Wang.

Additional support from Matthew Callahan, Hope Corrigan, Maite Fernández Simon, Kathleen Floyd, Michelle Jaconi, Jordan Melendrez, Angel Mendoza, Gwen Milder, Sarah Murray, Amy Nakamura, Alexandra Pannoni, Sarah Pineda, Kyley Schultz and Sophie Yarborough.