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Couple in discussion with financial expert
Financial Literacy

By the decade: Financial resolutions to start thinking about

Whatever your age or circumstance, laying the foundation for financial goals early and regularly re-evaluating them is key to ensuring a stress-free future

Couple in discussion with financial expert Get talking with a financial expert or specialist before reaching your 50s to understand your risk profile and start planning for retirement (Getty Images/sturti)

Every stage of life brings shifting roles, responsibilities and demands. With that, it’s important to adjust your money management strategies to stay on track for financial success. The guidelines below highlight some of the financial goals that may make sense for you to prioritize. But remember, financial decisions and personal values will differ from person to person based on their situation. And it might not always be possible to tick everything off the list, since life happens and plans change.


People in their 20s are typically beginning their careers, pursuing their education or starting a business. At the same time, they may also be thinking about kids or saving for a home. “Start focusing on your goals and lifestyle, making allowances for change as things unfold,” says Stan Swartz, CPA, president, Infomoney Solutions Inc. in Toronto.

“The 20s are the time to learn to live within a budget and manage your expectations,” says Janet Treasure, FCPA, former CPA Canada senior vice-president, external relations and business development. [Listen to Treasure discuss her personal financial journey in the webinar, What I would tell my younger self.]

“These days a lot of people in their 20s are amassing heavy student loan debt, particularly when pursuing a skilled profession,” adds Treasure. “Paying off student debt should be a priority for them.”

Make a point of paying off credit cards every month, she adds. “Otherwise, credit card debt can be deadly, especially when juggling other loans.” [Pick up a copy of A Canadian’s Guide to Money-Smart Living and take control of your financial future.]

Anyone starting a family should be setting up RESPs to support the children’s education in later years, she adds. “Forget the toys and have parents and grandparents contribute to a child’s RESP. University is only going to get more expensive for parents.”

If buying a home is in the plans, consider channeling funds to the federal government’s new Tax-Free First Home Savings Account.

Treasure also suggests starting an RRSP when you have engaged in your first full-time job. “The best time to start is usually when you are in your 20s. Also start contributing to a TFSA as early as possible.” If there is not enough money for both, a TFSA might be a better option to start with as it allows investors to grow their funds tax free. It can also act as an emergency fund—an important backup—should the need ever arise.

This is also the time you should be looking at setting up insurance coverage and writing up a will, especially if you have children.


Once you start to accumulate savings, it’s time to start thinking about professional help. “It’s not wise to wait until your 50s to get a financial expert or specialist,” says Treasure. “This is the time to understand your risk profile and financial position, based on when you want to retire. That can start to shape your financial decisions.”

Re-evaluate your skills and resources and set key goals for the next 20 or 30 years of your life taking into account milestone events such as having children, paying for their university and your eventual retirement, advises Swartz. [Get a head start on planning with CPA Canada’s publications Raising Money-Smart Kids and The Procrastinator’s Guide to Retirement.]

“This is typically the time your earnings are improving, so you can focus on reducing debt and taking care of your children’s needs, as well as saving for your future. If you have surplus funds, invest them to build up your reserves or prepay existing loans when interest rates are favourable.”

If you haven’t done so already, you should review your insurance coverage to ensure it is adequate for coverage in all major contingencies, as well as continuing to maintain an emergency fund. “Look at what you have in the way of life, disability, or long-term care insurance,” says Swartz.

This might also be the time to consider aging parents’ financial situations and needs, he adds. “Discuss any plans and concerns with life partners and family members.”


By this time, you should be looking more deeply into the financial implications of your retirement planning. “Do you plan to downsize, purchase a second home or travel? How much will you need to retire and will your current investment strategy meet that target?” says Treasure.

In your early 50s, you should be assessing whether your current savings strategies will be able to support the lifestyle you want. What reserves do you have? Will you need financial support and how do you plan to draw on your funds?

If you have any remaining debts, formalize a debt reduction plan, advises Swartz. “If you have a business, determine its value and establish an exit plan.”

As you get closer to retirement you will need to solidify your strategies for drawing down funds based on your savings needs and goals.

It is also an optimal time to begin your estate planning in earnest beyond the drafting of your will. At this point you need to ensure your financial planning will meet your family’s needs, as well as your retirement lifestyle goals.

“What percentage of your estate do you want to leave them and how could that affect the lifestyle you want? What would long-term care cost? Will you be able to fund everything in your estate plan?” says Treasure. [Read The Last Act or watch the webinar, which cover all aspects of estate planning, from writing a will to settling and creating a trust.]

This is also the time to reconsider your investment income approach. Talk with an adviser to adjust your risk profile so it is more suited to your retirement goals.


Ensure executorships, wills and powers of attorney are up to date as family structures and relationships may have changed. “If you have significant wealth, consider distributions while you are still able,” says Swartz. It is especially important at this stage to have a trusted adviser who knows your complete situation.

Most importantly, be sure to discuss your estate plans with family members or other relevant parties to avoid any complications or misinterpretations.

While timing might differ depending on your circumstances, it’s important to review your financial strategies and goals regularly throughout the years.

“There is nothing wrong with seeking professional help at any stage,” says Treasure. “Financial planning is not just about putting money away. It’s about taking a holistic view of your life to determine what you want and what you need to do to get it.”


Stay on top of key financial issues with CPA Canada’s award-winning financial literacy resources, including the Mastering Money podcast and our innovative financial literacy publications, from surviving unemployment to planning for retirement and putting an estate plan in place.