Financial life stages: How do you compare?

Key Points

  • It’s common for Americans of every age group to experience a significant financial setback.

  • The causes and effects of each age group’s most common setback are different depending on cultural shifts and global events.

  • Those who take action to respond to setbacks overwhelmingly report they’ve overcome their financial obstacles.

According to the new Ameriprise Ages, Stages & Money study, 9 out of 10 investors with at least $100,000 in investable assets report feeling confident about their financial future.

You may be wondering how Americans can stay so optimistic despite global turmoil, tepid wage growth and a divided political climate. It seems that study respondents remain positive about their financial progress in spite of upheavals along the way: 8 in 10 can list significant setbacks that have negatively impacted their financial journey.

Top financial setback: Job loss

The study, which surveyed more than 3,000 Americans ages 30–79 with at least $100,000 in investable assets, reveals the top financial setback for younger respondents is a job loss or career issue. Market loss is the leading derailer older respondents cited.

The good news is that 6 out of 10 respondents say they’ve fully recovered from these events.  The upshot? Financial setbacks are inevitable — and recoverable — during every decade of life. Identifying major hurdles, knowing where you are in your financial life cycle and potential missteps to avoid can help you stay on track toward your goals.

“Investors at various ages and stages of life who are taking action to manage their money feel financially confident despite the obstacles they’ve faced,” says Marcy Keckler, Vice President of Financial Advice Strategy at Ameriprise Financial.

Major events can shape financial outlook

Major events can shape your financial outlook

Major events can shape your financial outlook

Coming of age: How you compare

Discover how your own experiences stack up against your peers in the survey.


Your age today
  In your 30s In your 40s In your 50s In your 60s or 70s
You came of age during... The housing bubble 9/11 Black Monday Vietnam and the energy crisis
A recent life milestone has been... Buying your first home Reaching your peak earning years Funding a child's education Retiring, changing health
Among your biggest challenges... Student loan debt Helping both your kids and your parents Maximizing your saving and investing to reach investment milestones during key earning years Rising health care costs
Good things to be thinking about include... Capitalizing on the advantage of time, saving smaller amounts over many years 529 college savings plans Diversifying assets to provide a buffer against future volatility Strategic withdrawal strategies to help your income adjust to market changes

Financial life stages aren’t just about age

Interestingly, age seems to be less of a factor in where people identify themselves in their financial journey. The study defined three life stages: Asset Accumulator, Asset Maximizer and Asset Sustainer. Conventional wisdom aside, Accumulators weren’t all in their 30s and Sustainers weren’t all retired. There was statistically significant age variance among the life stages.

How do you compare with others your age? Read on to see which life stage best describes you.

You may be an Asset Accumulator if:

  • you’re focused on increasing your income,
  • while balancing asset accumulation with managing debt.

You may be an Asset Maximizer if:

  • you’re ramping up your savings while optimizing existing investments,
  • and you have accumulated some assets and are focusing on growing assets in retirement accounts and achieving other long-term goals.

You may be an Asset Sustainer if:

  • you’ve achieved retirement,
  • and your priorities include determining drawdown strategies and adjusting investments to help make your money last longer.
Which life stage do you identify most with? Quiz

Select Asset Accumulator, Asset Maximizer or Asset Sustainer, and see how you compare to others we’ve surveyed.

of people in their 30s identify with this life stage, plus 10% of respondents over 50 according to our survey.

of people in their 50s identify with this life stage, plus 73% of people in their 40s and 31% of people in their 60s according to our survey.

of people in their 70s identify with this life stage, plus 67% of people in their 60s and 17% of people in their 50s according to our survey.

See how you compare to others in your age group

See how you compare


External events or personal missteps: The impact to your financial journey

Regardless of age, certain decisions have the potential to hinder investors’ financial futures. The most significant missteps reported were dipping into retirement plans and not protecting assets (i.e. not having long-term disability income or long-term care insurance).

Despite these hiccups along the way, most respondents have recovered from mistakes. With time, the savings gap between what each life stage thinks they’ll need to retire and the actual amount they have decreases: from a $1.3 million gap among Accumulators to an $875,000 gap among Maximizers.

It’s never too late to get back on track

No matter which financial life stage you're in, the study shows that it’s never too late to make course corrections or undo missteps along the way. Case in point: Many of the retirees who are currently invested in an employer-sponsored retirement plan reported that they started investing in it later in life.

These actions can help keep your finances in check regardless of age:

Set financial goals

  • As a first step, define your dreams for the future
  • If you’re married discuss your joint and individual goals, short and long-term
  • Prioritize your goals and determine what it will take financially to achieve them

Develop a financial plan

  • Create a plan to help you accumulate assets and identify investments that can help you meet your goals
  • Stay up to date on your investments, know your risk tolerance and how your portfolio should be allocated based on your life stage
  • Create a plan for the next 5, 10, 15 years

Live within your means

  • Keep track of expenses and outflows, manage your budget to avoid expenses that outweigh your income
  • Pay down debt

Prepare for the unexpected

  • Consider what insurance coverage you will need to protect your assets and help your loved ones should something happen to you
  • Have a cash reserve

Obtain professional advice

  • A financial professional can help you navigate financial milestones
The Ages, Stages & Money study was created by Ameriprise Financial, Inc. and conducted online by Artemis Strategy Group December 8-21, 2017 among 3,019 U.S. adults between the ages of 30-79 with at least $100,000 in investable assets. For further information and details about the study, including verification of data that may not be published as part of this report, please contact Ameriprise Financial.
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