What does it mean to be “financially well” at different times in your life?  I get some version of this question every week on our Financial Coaching Line. Employees take a Financial Wellness Assessment, report their score to me, and anxiously wonder how they are doing compared to others their age.

The first thing I tell someone is that what matters most is how they are doing compared to their own goals. I can’t decide someone else’s life priorities for them.  “Financial wellness” is a dynamic state of financial health. It doesn’t mean that someone has a certain net worth or complete financial security.  Being financially healthy, like being physically healthy, is about enjoying daily life, maintaining balance and protecting yourself against devastating risks.

The second thing I say is that what financial wellness looks like is different at different ages. What’s robust financial health for a 26-year-old is different from a 45-year-old. Another way to look at it is by career stage. If someone started their career late – due to military service or graduate school – or is starting over after a career change, starting a family, illness or divorce, it could take a few years longer to achieve certain benchmarks.

Work through this checklist by starting at the beginning (the 20s) and moving as far through the list as you can. Check off the statements which apply to you:

Early Career (In your 20s) – Build a strong foundation

  • I have consistent income which covers the basics.
  • I have health insurance.
  • I have at least $1,000 in a savings account for emergencies.
  • I add to my emergency savings account every month with the goal of eventually getting to 6 months’ worth of must-pay expenses.
  • I have a spending plan/budget and I monitor my expenses.
  • I know my short-term and long-term financial goals.
  • I know my credit score and what affects it, and I work to establish, maintain or improve it.
  • I do not carry any high interest debt. I pay my credit cards off every month.
  • I am contributing enough to my retirement plan at work (401(k), 403(b), etc.) to get the full employer match.
  • I am using a Roth 401(k) or contributing to a Roth IRA.
  • I have a plan to pay back my student loans, if I have them.
  • If I’m a renter, I have renter’s insurance.
  • I know my investing personality (hands on vs. hands off) and have a simple investing strategy.
  • If I’m married or living with my partner, we have full financial disclosure and agree on how we manage money together.
  • By late 20s/early 30s, I am able to buy a first home if that’s my goal.
  • I have disability income insurance.
  • I know the impact of fees on my investments and minimize fees when possible.

Read the rest of Cynthia Meyer’s article at Forbes