When you think of a mid-life crisis, you might picture a middle-aged man or woman buying a fancy red car or suddenly sporting a different significant other. In mid-life, it’s natural to go through a period of self-reflection, questioning if you are on the correct path. Mid-life has its dangers, including the ones that come from having more money. If you have it, it’s easy to blow it, and some people are just one bad financial decision away from losing it all. 

I’ve seen some of my clients come dangerously close to mid-life mistakes, and a handful make some catastrophic errors. I’m not a psychologist, but I can tell you that some emotionally driven moves have nasty financial consequences. I’ve written down a handful of ideas based on what I’ve seen that might help people stay on an even keel.

1.  Love people, not things

A red sports car, 20-foot yacht or Harley will eventually start collecting dust. People who are prudent with their finances do not allow their emotions to cloud their judgement when they make big purchases. Though in the short term you may feel good driving that expensive new vehicle, you’ll likely pay a greater price for that decision in the long run. The happiest clients I know spent less money on things that could never love them back and more time with people who did.

2.  Focus less on the outside and more on the inside

Botox, liposuction and face lifts are definitely good for the pocketbooks of plastic surgeons, but they can be a strain on yours. I am not saying that you shouldn’t be concerned with your outer beauty, but be more concerned with your inner beauty. Being polite, kind, honest, loving, patient, and self-controlled doesn’t cost you a dime. Easier said than done, right? But if you won’t listen to me, consider Albert Einstein’s advice: “A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

3.  Stay married. If you split, keep it civil.

Sometimes there are good reasons for a divorce. But if you think the decision comes without a cost, think again. The average cost of a litigated divorce is around $15,000. Also keep in mind that the process of divorce not only carries a high financial cost, but an emotional cost. So, if the spark is gone, don’t do what comes naturally in our consumer society by upgrading to a newer edition. I’ve seen couples in my practice helped by counseling. Consider investing in professional help, either for yourself or as a couple.  If you are not happy with yourself, a new partner can’t do it for you.

4.  Volunteer more

The people who are the most joyous and satisfied with their lives are not always the people who have the most stuff. Often, they are the biggest volunteers. When I look around at my mid-life and later clients, I see that the happiest ones are those who give a lot of their time. It doesn’t have to be formal, either. The little things that you do in other peoples’ lives can make a big difference. Mow your neighbor’s lawn, serve lunch at your local soup kitchen, or visit a stranger at a retirement home. When you volunteer, you will become aware of others’ misfortune, which will help you stay focused on what’s truly important in your life. Even better are the positive feelings you will experience afterwards. Volunteering might stretch your comfort zone, but consider trying it, even for just one day.

Financial planning is essential during times of transition, when you are most prone to making mistakes. A CFP® professional can help you look at your life through a financial lens and understand the cost of emotionally driven decisions.