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What Every Woman Over 40 Should Know About Money

Face it. The buck stops with you.

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yellow coin purse with money and coins coming out of it
Adam Voorhes/Gallery Stock
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Your ramen-eating, couch change–hunting days may be long behind you, but just because you’re finally bringing home an adult-size paycheck doesn’t mean that you’re approaching your finances like the — ahem — mature person you are. Now that you’re starting to round the bend toward retirement, you can’t afford to be blasé about your bank accounts. Here, money experts share their top financial rules for your 40s.

As life changes, so should your budget

What worked at 25 or even 35 may need an upgrade in your 40s. To figure out if your money plan still makes sense, try the 50/20/30 rule, suggests Alexa Von Tobel, founder and CEO of Learnvest, a financial planning site. Fifty percent of your net income should be allocated to needs (mortgage, groceries, phone bill), 30 percent to wants, and 20 percent to savings. As an old expense falls away — say you’ve paid off your car loan or you no longer have to shell out for summer camp for the kids — take the time to scrutinize how you’re spending that freed-up cash. Is it for fun stuff or do you need to start doubling down on savings?

When it comes to money, ignorance is not bliss

Many couples naturally default to one person managing the family accounts. (Hey, divide and conquer, right?) But over time, that division of labor can breed cluelessness. A 2015 survey found that nearly half of people don’t know how much their partner earns — and of those, 10 percent got that number wrong by $25,000 or more.

“Whether or not you are your family’s chief financial officer, you still need to know the important facts and figures of your financial life,” says Jill Schlesinger, a financial planner and host of the Better Off podcast. If not, you can’t weigh in on where your money is going. (Not to mention that you could be blindsided if you ever get divorced or your spouse dies.) Schlesigner recommends sitting down with your partner to create a master list of your financial accounts, balances and passwords. Also talk about how much each of you earns and how much of that is going toward retirement, cash savings and paying down debt.

Secure your own financial oxygen mask before helping others

Sure, you were happy to start brown-bagging your lunch to pay for your kid’s trombone lessons. But when it comes to bigger sacrifices — such as holding off on retirement savings in order to foot college tuition bills — you’ve got to focus on your own security first. “Remember, there are loans for college, but there are no loans for retirement,” Schlesigner says.

Can’t bear the thought of your first-born wobbling under a load of tuition debt?

Think about how it will play out 20 years down the road. “If your finances are shaky in retirement, it will be your grown children picking up the slack,” Von Tobel warns. If you’re not sure how much you can put toward launching your kids without torpedoing your own future, consider meeting with a fee-only financial planner to run the numbers. Then have some frank conversations with your kids about what to expect in terms of paying for college. Your future self will thank you.