Advisor Insight

Got married? Hit 50? Here's your year-end to-do list

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As we all know, life continuously changes — sometimes in a big way. Major transitions, whether planned or not, usually mean adjusting to a new financial reality.

Landing that first real job, getting engaged or getting divorced are among the highs and lows in life that should prompt us to rethink our approach to personal finance. asked advisors to touch on the issues they are discussing with clients as they sit down for year-end meetings. Here's what's on their to-do list for clients who have seen major life changes in 2016.

Posted 7 December 2016
— By Anna Robaton, special to

First real job

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If you landed your first real job this year, congratulations. Now get to work. Don't procrastinate when it comes to making a budget and starting to save — even if that means starting slowly by putting away much less than the suggested 10 percent to 20 percent a year for retirement.

Tracking your spending for a month or so may help you identify ways to cut back on discretionary purchases and free up money to save for retirement and emergencies, said Jon Ten Haagen, a certified financial planner.

"Plan to pay yourself as your first bill each month," said Haagen, founder of Ten Haagen Financial Group. "Take an amount off the top [for savings] before any other bills" get paid.

Don't forget to take advantage of your employee benefits, particularly a 401(k) plan with a company match. Some large employers also offer student loan repayment programs, a perk that is likely to appeal to debt-laden millennials.

Newly engaged

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Money is one of the top reasons for marital conflict, which is why it's important to have a frank discussion about finances before tying the knot. Don't keep your betrothed in the dark about your debts and your assets, including any student loan debt.

It's also important to discuss money-related values, such as your attitudes about saving and spending, said Matt Cosgriff, a certified financial planner who specializes in working with young professionals.

"Discuss what your financial life looks like now and how you, as a couple, start to combine that," said Cosgriff, an advisor at BerganKDV's Lifewise.

First-time parents

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Many new parents spend lots of time reading baby books and buying gear but often neglect one critical, less-pleasant matter: making wills. A simple will usually contains a guardianship provision that spells out who will care for minor children if both parents die.

It's also important not to procrastinate when it comes to saving for college. This is likely to ring true for millennial parents, many of whom are still struggling to pay off their student loans. Saving for college shouldn't come at the expense of saving for retirement, but making some trade-offs — such as pushing off when you plan to retire — might make it easier to do both, said Matt Cosgriff, a certified financial planner who specializes in working with young professionals.

"Have an honest conversation [with your partner] about what's important, and make those difficult trade-off decisions," said Cosgriff, an advisor at BerganKDV's Lifewise.

The big 5-0

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The late poet Victor Hugo once said: "Forty is the old age of youth; 50 is the youth of old age." It's not surprising, then, that turning 50 leads many people to think harder about whether they are on track for retirement.

The good news is that it's not too late to make course corrections, although they might be difficult. Consider ramping up your 401(k) plan contributions to maximum the allowable amount, living a bit more frugally in order to save more or tweaking your portfolio's asset allocation, said Chris Chen, a certified financial planner and wealth strategist at Insight Financial Strategists.

To get a sense of where you stand, try using an online retirement income calculator. "There are things you can do at age 50 that you can no longer do when you are, say, 66 and retiring," said Chen.


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As if getting divorced isn't hard enough emotionally, many people, especially women, also take a financial hit. That's why it can be a good idea to get help from an advisor before signing a divorce agreement.

Some advisors specialize in working with people who are going through divorces, to help them understand the financial ramifications of their impending legal split. Their goal is to help clients make more informed choices — such as whether to try to keep the home they shared with their spouse.

"A lot of people come to the realization that they're not going to live the same lifestyle anymore, unless they earn the same level of income as their soon-to-be ex-spouse," said Niv Persaud, a certified divorce financial analyst and managing director at Transition Planning & Guidance.

Even in the aftermath of a divorce, there is often a long to-do list, which should include updating your will and account beneficiaries, said Persaud. Alimony payments, she noted, can impact your tax bracket.

Reaching retirement

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Retirement brings newfound freedom and, in some cases, difficult financial choices, too.

If you are newly retired, for instance, you may need to decide whether it makes sense to begin collecting Social Security as soon as possible — which is age 62 — or to hold off until later for a larger benefit.

"Often, people will just take the cookie right away," said Matt Cosgriff, certified financial planner and advisor at BerganKDV. "Being strategic about how and when you take Social Security is huge."

How you approach your portfolio after you are no longer collecting a paycheck is also critical. Early in retirement, you don't necessarily want to hunker down in cash, but you should take a somewhat conservative approach to investing, said Cosgriff.