No matter what your age, now is the time to improve your finances

improve your finances nowAs I was chatting with my friend, Gwen*, recently, she mentioned that, financially, she’s done most everything according to the books – she has no debt, started saving early, earns a good income, and is already investing. And she’s only in her mid-20s.

Gwen is a great inspiration for millennials. She’s proving the standard path of college, debt, work, more debt, and retirement at 65 isn’t the only way. Her journey to financial independence demonstrates that if you start young, you can gain the freedom to live life on your own terms.

On the other hand, there are those of us that didn’t learn those important financial lessons early. Many of us didn’t get the money thing figured out in our early 20s. And some of us don’t figure it out until our 40s, 50s, 60s or even later.

Does that mean it’s too late?

No. No, it does not.

Don’t fall for the “what the hell effect”. Just because you started later, made mistakes, and simply didn’t know then what you know now, doesn’t mean you should wave the white flag of surrender.

It’s never too late to improve your finances

15 years ago, Alan and I had a negative net worth. We decided to start taking control of our finances 10 years ago. Today, we are less than 10 years away from financial independence. We’re certainly not special in any way – we just started making changes and were consistent. Sure, we hit obstacles and back-tracked a few times, but over time, the changes added up and our lives have changed drastically – for the better.

Every step you take in the right direction will lead to less financial stress and more financial security. It doesn’t matter if you are starting to pay off debt in your 40s, 50s or later – starting on it right now will make a difference 1, 5, 10 years down the road.

You still have time to get it right, no matter how old you are. And there’s research to back that up.

The AARP and the Charles Schwab Foundation conducted a study to determine if financial education among people 50 and older would change their financial situation. And it did. Participants not only reported a significant drop in money-related stress, they set financial goals, took action and improved their finances.

Here’s what they found:

“Looking at other discrete indicators of change in financial behaviors, most significant post-training (6-month) change was found in the following “positive” behaviors:

  • calculating net worth
  • reducing financial fees
  • reducing spending and/or increasing earnings
  • prioritizing debt payment
  • reviewing credit card statement

Likewise, frequency of some “negative” behaviors declined significantly 6 months post, including:

  • being overdrawn
  • being contacted by a collector
  • taking out a payday loan”

Impact of Finances 50+ Training Classes on Individuals’ Financial Behaviors

Now is the time to improve your finances

Start today

And then do something tomorrow and the next day and the next.

You can do anything for 15 minutes, right!? Set aside 15 minutes today and get started. If you keep doing something to improve your finances 15 minutes each day, you will see results.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Keep your receipts for the day (or week) and record your spending
  • Check account balances
  • Learn about personal finance software (for tracking spending, net worth or budgeting)
  • Make a list of your debts
  • Sign up for a money management class (in real life or online)
  • Read 3 personal finance articles
  • Make a list of all your expenses
  • Eliminate an unnecessary expense
  • Gather together all your bills
  • Start a money binder (make a list of bills and track your spending)
  • Calculate your net worth
  • Set up an automatic savings transfer (and check out Digit)
  • Have a money conversation with your partner

Educate yourself

The research shows financial education changed participants’ financial behaviors and stress levels – in good ways.

If you are reading this right now, you have endless access to personal finance information. Google it, find some favorite websites and read them Every. Single. Day.

Here are some good places to start:
Your Money Toolbox from Money Boss
Free Education For All! (The best blogs on the planet!) at The Retirement Manifesto
Recommended Personal Finance Blogs from Be Net Worthy
Best Money Blogs from Rockstar Finance

Go to the library and check out books on personal finance. I recommend my favorites here.

Whatever works for you, take time each day to learn more.

Forget perfection

If you want the ideal financial situation, you’re going to give up before you even start. You have to start somewhere, even if it’s at zero (remember we started at less than zero).

One step at a time. One dollar at a time. Your goal may seem so far off, but each step you take will bring you more security and less stress. You will be better off 3 months, 6 months and 1 year from now.


What works for other people may not work for you. And that’s okay. If you’ve been trying one type of budget for a couple of months and it’s not working, rather than try harder to make that one work, try something different. Look for other options and don’t be afraid to try something new.

Sometimes it takes a little creativity to figure out how to reach goals. Ask yourself “how” you can get what you want. There is almost always an answer (or many answers). Think outside of the box to find the solution.


You will get nowhere fast if you don’t believe you can do it. Visualize what you want. Keep negative self-talk in check. Change “I can’t” to “I can’t yet, but I will”. You can.

Focus on what you can control

You can’t control what you charged on your credit card 5 years ago, but you can find ways to lower the interest rate and make extra payments to reduce the balance.

Focus on the things you have the power to control and improve the situation. You have control over your choices, your thoughts, and your behavior right now. Take that control and get started with those first steps.

Develop habits

Read about personal finance every day. Send an extra $5 to your credit card balance every day. Track your spending each week. Stop buying a coffee on the way to work.

The consistency of habits adds up to big changes over time. Those “small wins” will make a difference. Each step you take will bring you more security and less stress.

Don’t dwell on what went wrong yesterday, start making it right today.

“Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.” -Maria Robinson


Did you get a later start? What do you think is the best thing to do to get started on improving your financial situation? 


*Gwen shares her journey to Financial Independence (FI) over at Fiery Millennials. Click on over and check it out!

49 thoughts on “No matter what your age, now is the time to improve your finances

  1. LOVE this, Amanda. We didn’t start getting our financial crap together until our mid-forties. In a way we felt like it was pointless but we started anyway, and I’m SO glad we did. We are now well on our way to debt free and are building wealth, even though we started with a super dire situation that many said we couldn’t work our way out of. No matter what your age, start today!! Any improvement is better than no improvement.

    1. Thanks, Laurie! Your family is proof that it works! 🙂 Even though you weren’t confident you could make a difference, initially, you still started and have made huge strides. We were in our 30’s when we got started and it has been life changing.

  2. Awesome post! A few of the points match up with my favorite quote from Zig Ziglar. “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.”

    Alyssa and I have started using that philosophy in a few areas of life and seen a great shift in our ability to get back on the wagon after a setback. So many people avoid doing things because they’ve never been good at them in the past, but in reality the most sustainable changes are often gradual. Start by doing a little better each day and you’ll look back in a year from a whole new perspective.

    1. Thanks, Ryan! LOVE that quote! 🙂

      You make a great point – “the most sustainable changes are often gradual”. This is spot on. We started small and each month, each year, we up our game a little bit more. It’s true, we all have setbacks, but brushing off the dust and getting back up – that’s the key to success.

  3. I love this! It is never too late and it is also never too early to start working towards financial freedom. The time is now! I think a lot of people, especially young ones, forget that.

    1. Thanks, Rachel! You’re right, when your young, there is the tendency to think you have all this time to pay off the debt, invest, or whatever. But starting today, even if it’s starting small, will compound and add up to huge wins later on.

  4. Couldn’t agree more! The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now. The same goes for finances. Regardless of what has happened in the past today is the best day to get back on track 🙂

    1. Exactly. Forget the regrets. And focus on what you can change today. 🙂

  5. I know so many people around my age (in my 40s) who have zero clue what their net worth is and know they are in debt but refuse to look at the numbers because “they don’t want to be brought down by it.” I have one friend thousands of dollars in business debt and he has been on my skiing trips this winter than I have been in my entire life. He always finds a way to justify it. I know it’s his choice, but I can’t help but seriously worry!

    1. It can be hard to come face-to-face with those numbers. But, they aren’t going anywhere. Pretending like they aren’t can lead to devastating consequences. While I’m all about enjoying life today, I don’t believe you have to sacrifice tomorrow to do it. And the stress…even those who have their heads buried in the sand still have the nagging stress – they know it’s there.

  6. I’ve got a single income, live in an expensive city, have four kids, and got a late start on my finances. Then I lost my job for 14 months and was wiped out financially.

    I think the best thing you can do is *something.* Doesn’t matter what, just start paying attention to your finances and you’ll quickly figure out a plan that works for you.

    1. You are living proof that doing something works, Ty. You’re right – “start paying attention” – everyday. Things will, inevitably, start to change!

  7. I couldn’t agree more! I didn’t really get my financial act together until my late forties after my divorce. I had been earning decent money and been contributing something to my retirement, but most of the money was going out as fast as it came in. I changed my ways and set myself up for a better future. If you’re getting a late start, I think doing anything is a good idea, just get started. But if I were to pick one action to take, I’d say tracking your income and expenses…it’s an eye-opening experience.

    1. Thanks, Gary! It’s great you were able to change things and create a better financial future. I agree – tracking income and expenses/spending is the perfect place to start. That alone can spur so many positive changes.

  8. Hey, I checked out that Retirement Manifesto guy, he’s really good! (wink wink, thanks for including me in your awesome post!).

    Great reminder that it’s never too late to get started!

    1. I kinda like that Retirement Manifesto guy too! 🙂 Happy to share a great resource, Fritz!

  9. Wow! This post knocks it out of the park. So much great stuff here I don’t know where to begin. Let me start by saying that Mrs. G and I achieved financial independence ten years from the date we became totally debt free. The only problem was that we didn’t become totally debt free until we were 45. So I think a reasonable goal for those interested in FIRE is to become totally debt free by 40. Become totally debt free by the time you’re 40 and you’re setting yourself up for an awesome financial life. Second, I love your suggestion to read three personal finance articles a day. I can’t think of a better way to learn and stay motivated than doing that. The ROI on that one habit is off the charts. Bravo, Amanda. You are one groovy financial chick.

    1. Thank you, Mr. Groovy! I’m blushing. 🙂 You guys are another perfect example that starting a little later is so much better than never starting at all. You still retired many years earlier than the majority of people! You’re right, becoming debt free is a huge step toward attaining FIRE. And, the sooner the better…but it’s never too late to start – any step forward lowers financial stress. Reading about personal finance has really kept me on track and inspired me to do even more – and when I took a year off of reading pf blogs, I got off track, financially speaking. And it doesn’t take long to read 3 articles a day.

  10. Great post! We didn’t get finances in order until a few years ago (34 and 39), and we wish we had started sooner, but we’re better off now than two years ago! I sort of get the resistance to fixing financial mistakes because it can be brutal to see how bad things have become, but it just doesn’t make sense to keep hiding your head in the sand. I’m so thankful we got focused when we did, and I know we’ll do all we can to teach our kids so they won’t make the same mistakes!

    1. Thanks, Mrs. COD! Oh, do I ever wish we had started sooner – but I try not to dwell on it. It could have been much worse and I’m happy we started when we did. And I wholeheartedly agree – passing on the important financial lessons to our kids is one of the best things we can do! 🙂

  11. Love the info you shared here. Oh how I wish I had started younger, but have my plan written down, and I stick to it. Another post mentioned Zig Ziggler – ONE of my favorite people, got to meet him at a seminar. This post reminds me so much of him. Especially that you have to BELIEVE in yourself that it will work. I can attest to that fact. Maybe not as fast as I’d like, but I see it monthly working. I’ve found ways to cut I never thought I would, and haven’t suffered at all!
    Excellent article!!!

    1. Wow – two comments about Zig Ziggler! Awesome. 🙂 You really do have to believe you can do it. You are your biggest barrier to success if you don’t. If you can get through the obstacles and be consistent with changes, big things can happen. It’s great you’ve found ways to cut that haven’t affected you. The best thing we ever did was start tracking our expenses/spending and then really evaluate the spending to see how it lined up with our values and priorities – that made it very clear what needed to be cut. Thanks for the comment, Brad!

  12. It’s never too late for anything! I do wish we started sooner, and we still have a lot of saving to do, but just being debt free is a great feeling. It’s never to late to get out of debt, to save, and it’s never too late to learn something new! My husband is trying to learn to play the piano and it fills me with joy to watch him work on it!

    1. Completely agree, Linda. It’s not just finances, but everything in life. It’s never too late to make changes or learn something new. I LOVE that your husband is starting to play piano! 🙂

  13. I read a somewhat alarming study today that virtually every generation is having trouble managing their personal finances and are feeling higher stress levels than ever before. Regardless of your age you need to manage your money and continually pursue financial literacy.

    1. That’s the thing – not dealing with it, not becoming informed and managing finances creates stress that goes beyond money. It spills over into other areas of life – health, relationships, mental health, etc. Becoming financially literate can change your life, no matter how old you are.

  14. Glad to see you talked about Gwen because she really is on a great path starting to early. However, if you do not start early it is not the end of the world. Most people don’t start until their 30s or even later because they either do not have the knowledge or are consumed by what the media and their culture deems normal..,

    1. Thanks, Stefan! You’re right – it’s not the end of the world if you didn’t start early. Even if you’re starting later, you can make significant changes that will have a big impact on your life.

  15. For a long time, I chose to continuously make bad money decisions because I had the mentality “too late now. Screw it.” Ignorance is not bliss, especially in financial terms. One of the best things that kick started my path to financial independence was studying and practicing minimalism. Once you start to learn you don’t need all that shit under your bed and on top of your shelves, you realize you can damn near do anything.

    I love the “developing habits” idea you mention -Paying off a bill here or there, seeing credit scores go up, not mention bank accounts go up as well, you continue to be motivated or as you put it, “believe.”

    This is a phenomenal article that not only people just starting on the FI path can learn from, but also for instilling beliefs for those of us who have been on it for awhile.

    1. Thanks, Independent Hoosier! 🙂 You make some fantastic points! Minimalism is great for learning you don’t need stuff to be happy, which can lead to becoming more intentional with money (in my opinion).

      Belief and habits are huge. And, the great thing is, they build with time. Even if you start small, but are consistent, it adds up. Motivation grows and even more good habits are formed. It can take some time, but it’s so worth it to start!

  16. Great post Amanda! If you’re still living, it’s not too late to work on getting your financial house in order.

    Luckily we’ve never been behind the financial eight ball. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that we really brought our financial independence goals into focus. That has adjusted how we treat our disposable income, with much more going to savings each year.

    1. Thanks, Mr. Need2Save! We were never in a horrible money situation either, but we did have a continual cycle of consumer debt (in the form of auto loans) for several years with little savings. Thankfully, my husband started contributing to the 401k in our mid 20s (enough to get the company match) so that helped. Having that goal of FI has been incredibly motivating for us too!

  17. I immigrated when I was 30, so no long compounding of retirement accounts for me. Until I was 37 I kept any savings that I had in my savings account earning a magnificent 0.1%, I think. I started investing and discovered FIRE in 2016. I’m firmly in the better late than never camp. It is never too late for you to make a change for the better. And nobody else can do it for you.

    1. Great point, Mrs. BITA! No one is going to do it for you. It doesn’t just happen. You do have to start. And you don’t have to know it all to get started. I’m so glad you found FIRE and are well on your way to FI! 🙂

  18. Such an encouraging post! Something is always better than nothing!

  19. Definitely, it’s definitely never too late to start. It can feel very overwhelming at the start however just take the first step and you might find that it is not that bad! I like “Don’t dwell on what went wrong yesterday, start making it right today.” You can’t live your life living in the past, you need to keep moving forward!

    1. Thanks, T! I think the overwhelm is the biggest barrier to getting started, for most people. But, you’re right, just taking that first step isn’t usually that bad. Just 5 or 10 minutes, just one task, to get the ball rolling is a step forward.

  20. Great post, Amanda! Every step you take in the right direction is worth twice as much as one step in the wrong direction. Getting good financial results is all cumulative and each step counts! We didn’t start getting our financial act together until our 40s so I can attest to the fact that it’s never too late.

    1. Thanks, Mrs. Groovy! You’re so right, even the smallest step counts. You and Mr. Groovy are perfect examples. I love that you guys were able to turn things around so quickly and retire early. 🙂

  21. Love this Amanda, especially the part about “small wins”. So much great advice packed into this post! I actually just wrote a post this morning about taking time to celebrate the small victories, and how important they are in the big picture.

    1. Thanks, MMM! Those small wins add up – and they’re so motivating. Celebrating the small victories is really important for acknowledging where you were and how far you’ve come.

  22. It’s definitely never too late to start. Although it definitely makes it much easier if you start earlier 🙂

    I was a finance major in college and have been obsessed with investing since the dot come era. So while I made some mistakes along the way I have definitely enjoyed the subject for far too long 🙂

  23. The only way for things to change is if you change them, no matter you’re age. You can learn from your past mistakes, but dwelling on them or wishing things were different doesn’t make them any different.

    I think the best way to improve your financial situation is to start one step at a time.

    If you’ve never switched your gas/ electricity supplier there’s step 1.
    Not on the lowest mortgage rate, that could be step 2.
    Don’t know how much you spend on groceries? Tracking them could be step 3.

    DOn’t bombard yourself, you don’t need to know all the steps. But know the next step and take it!

    1. Love your comment, Sarah! 🙂 Fantastic advice. Just do one thing at a time – trying to do too much at once often leads to failure. And, you’re right, you don’t have to have every step mapped out – just the next thing.

  24. Love this. I started getting my finances figured out in my first year on my first full time job. Yay! It just happened to be after I racked up $250,000 in student loans. Boo! As with everything else in life, we cannot change what has already happened. And, as with everything else in life, we can put in the time and effort to make things better for the future.

    I have a post-it note on my desk that just says “Progress.” It is easy to get overwhelmed and give up or procrastinate taking that first step, but as long as you are working towards your goals and taking small steps every day you’ll get there eventually.

    1. Thanks, Matt! Once you start to learn and get the finances figured out, it’s natural to have some regrets about what has already been done (been there!) but, like you said, we can’t change the past. But we can influence our future.

      I LOVE the post it note idea! How motivating is that!? 🙂

  25. Thanks for the post. I was fortunate to start early. I do know a guy who did not start saving and vesting until he was 40. When he passed away at age 82 he had $2.5M in investments.

    1. Thanks, Dave! There’s proof that it’s not too late. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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