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Advice | Birthday Checklist: Get answers to your most pressing questions about money


I remember getting my Social Security statement a few months before my birthday. It was the ideal time for me for many years to think about my financial future.

That more than a decade ago letters stopped coming because the government wanted to save money. Now, except in some limited situations, you go online to Sign up for your statement – which, by the way, has been redesigned in 2021 with lots of useful information.

But even without that annual reminder, you can turn your birthday into an opportunity to reflect on how you handle your finances. What should you do when you are 20? When you reach 40, ask if you retirement savings is on track. get to 60? The late or early debate about taking Social Security is before you this decade. You’re 80 and still don’t have a will. What is that about?

To help you with your financial self-examination, I, with a great team at The Washington Post, have created an interactive guide – money milestones for every age. You will find it at wapo.st/financial-birthdays.

Michelle Singletary’s financial milestones for every age

I’ve received hundreds of questions over the years from readers across the country. I’ve collected the most common in the guide, from credit to wealth creation to housing and health care.

There’s advice for every decade of your financial life, from over-20s just starting out to retirees enjoying the fruits of their smart planning.

There’s also a “Post Reports” podcast with a conversation with my two daughters in their twenties. We talked about their struggles with growing up. They have some stories. Get ready to laugh and cry as I discuss the money issues that dominate our lives.

Mail reports: how to be smart with your money at any age

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 people sway because of bad choices. But the decisions you have to make about your money can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to know who you can trust to help you make the right decisions.

“I’d say more of what scares me the most about growing up is there’s no mapped out path,” my youngest, Jillian, said during the podcast. “Do I want to stay in this job? Do I want to move to another state? Do I want to stay nearby? They are all big question marks. And that’s what I love about growing up.”

That’s saying a lot, considering she has a mom who spent much of her career writing about personal finance and an equally savvy dad who manages money.

What we’ve done is put together an overview of important financial questions in one place, combined with links to my columns over the years and other articles as resources. But when I put this project together, I knew I couldn’t tackle every problem in the beginning. So this is where I need your help.

To improve the project, we will add questions from readers. What do you think about your money?

“In your excellent money milestones column, I didn’t see anything about funerals,” emailed Jim Ward of Alexandria, Virginia. “Do I have to pay for my funeral in advance?”

I will update the project next month and add Ward’s question.

Many people think they have paid for their funeral expenses with prepaid funeral and burial contracts, only for their family to discover after their death that there is more to pay. That is if they can find the information for the ‘preneed scheme’ as they are sometimes called.

“I 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 paperwork, we found nothing.”

What came next was a hunt for the policies they thought were in place.

6 joyful steps for end-of-life planning

“We contacted the funeral home that his church uses and found he hadn’t arranged anything,” Ward said. “The funeral home contacted the church cemetery and we found out he had bought a plot.”

Ward ended up paying the funeral expenses out of his own pocket.

A friend pointed out something else that was missing from the project: a section dedicated to people in their 90s and older.

There are 2.4 million people in the United States age 90 or older, including 2.3 million people ages 90 to 99 and nearly 98,000 centenarians, according to the Census Bureau’s one-year age estimates as of 2021.

In a 2011 release, a demographer from the bureau said: “Traditionally, the cut-off age for what is considered the ‘oldest senior citizen’ is 85, but more and more people are living longer and the elderly population itself is getting older. Given the rapid growth, the population aged 90 and older deserves a closer look.”

In 2016, there were 81,000 centenarians in the United States. That figure is expected to rise to 589,000 by 2060, according to census estimates. By 2050, people over the age of 90 are expected to make up 10 percent of the population, consisting of seniors aged 65 and over.

We’ve discontinued the advice for people in their 80s. I thought Americans over 80 would benefit from the same advice that was given over the past decade. But they deserve their own section, which will be combined with centenarians.

As with any endeavor of this depth and breadth, there is something inevitable left out. But I’ll do my best to answer more of your most pressing financial questions. And you may disagree with my advice, but the goal is to facilitate conversation so that you are mindful of your money. I hope I have, and that you will be an active participant in helping me identify topics to add to this project.

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