By Lauren Phillips/Real Simple
July 30, 2019

Traditionally, life comes with a set of milestones or financial goals, major events that most people plan or hope to reach at some point. Think getting married, buying a house, and retiring. Many people even have a certain schedule in mind for reaching these financial or life milestones. But the reality of it is that reaching these milestones tends to cost money, and if money is in short supply before or after reaching the milestone, financial stress sets in.

A new survey from tax services company H&R Block takes a closer look at the relationship between major life milestones and financial stress, and even considers the average ages when milestones should be reached.

The survey of 2,500 U.S. adults found that, on average, people think the best age for getting married (for the first time, at least) is 26 years; the best age to start a family is 27. Next comes buying a first home, at age 29, and expanding the family with more children at 30. Financial independence should be reached at age 32, and the survey found that the consensus on the best age to build a forever home is 37 years. People feel the most content at 38, and then retire at 63. And that’s life.

So there you have it: Your life, neatly mapped out by a survey of 2,500 strangers. In all honesty, these milestones are more guidelines than anything, especially considering that not everyone is interested in marriage, or having children, or buying a home.

If you do have a pretty traditional plan for your life, though, don’t start panicking about being behind. Even the people who helped determine these ages for reaching milestones struggle to reach them on time: 49 percent of survey respondents say their financial struggles have prevented them from reaching their life milestones sooner—and likely by these best ages. Thirty-six percent still put significant pressure on themselves to reach those milestones, though, even when economic factors such as outrageous student debt, lack of adequate health insurance, and a skyrocketing cost of living make it much, much more difficult.

Plus, reaching these major life milestones doesn’t guarantee financial happiness. It doesn’t even guarantee overall happiness—remember that people expect to feel most content at age 38. If you do manage to save up a down payment on a house by the so-called ideal age of 29, you still won’t feel truly content for another nine years, according to the survey. As far as financial satisfaction goes, 33 percent of new homeowners wish they’d felt more financially prepared before buying a house, and 54 percent of new homeowners say they constantly worry about money. The numbers are even higher for newlyweds and new parents, proving that getting married and having a baby don’t lead to financial peace, either.

So what can you do? Focus on the milestones that matter to you and your household. If you’ve already reached some, great! If not, don’t stress that you’ve fallen behind; taking a different timeline or approach to major milestones isn’t a bad thing.

Focus on smart financial moves such as establishing a rainy day fund and then an emergency fund; from there, pick the next milestone that matters and work toward that knowing that you have a financial safety net. And if you feel behind, don’t: It’s not worth added stress on top of, you know, the regular financial stress of being able to pay bills and save for retirement and everything else. When in doubt, choose the milestone path of less stress.

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