They say that with age comes wisdom, but for many people in their 40s, even having a few decades of life experience doesn’t grant immunity from mistakes. While a new decade can be the catalyst for healthier life choices for some, others simply become even more set in their ways, making it easy to get complacent and continue repeating the same errors over and over and over again.
“Can you imagine knowing what you know now, at age 40 or beyond, in your teens, 20s, and 30s? All those silly breakups with boyfriends or girlfriends wouldn’t have mattered so much, you would have never started that career only because you thought it would make you a ‘ton’ of money, and you would have probably worn sunscreen, taken time out for yourself, and shown yourself more self-love,” says Dr. Jaime Kulaga, PhD, LMHC. “As we age, we tend to contemplate our overall life more, as a whole, than we do early in life. Early in life you are creating experiences that you will soon learn from. In your 40s and beyond you have often created so many experiences and learned so much that you now have time to begin reflecting on how these experiences and learning lessons have shaped you.”
So, how do you avoid looking back 40 years from now and feeling little more than a nagging sense of regret? We’ve compiled 40 mistakes you’re too old to make after 40, giving you a cheat sheet for a happier, more fulfilling life.
1. Not contributing to your 401K.
While it may seem daunting to contribute cash to your 401K if you’re already on a tight budget, not doing so is essentially just throwing free money in the trash, especially if your employer offers a partial match. If you make $50,000 a year and contribute 10 percent of your annual salary with a five percent match and seven percent rate of return, even if you don’t start saving until age 30, you’ll still have over a million dollars in your account if you retire at 65.
2. Living beyond your means.
Though there may be little you can do about your lackluster paycheck, there’s plenty you can do to keep from spending yourself into a hole. Regardless of how much money you make, by the time you’re in your 40s, it’s time to have a monthly budget in place so that those days of living paycheck-to-paycheck are over once and for all.
3. Getting into relationships to avoid being alone.
Whether you just haven’t found the right person yet, are recently divorced, or kind of see yourself as a solo flier, by 40, you’re wasting both your time and that of the people you date if your only reason for getting into relationships is to avoid being alone. While there’s still plenty of time to find a relationship that works for you in your 40s, it’s also well worth it to learn to enjoy your own company just as much as the company of others.
4. Jumping on fad diets.
It’s never too late to start working to improve your health, but by 40, it’s time to put the fad diets to bed. In addition to being stressful and hard to follow in the long run, researchers from UCLA have found that, while it is possible to lose up to 10 percent of your body weight on a diet, virtually all dieters gain the weight back over time.
5. Getting complacent in your career.
It may be easy to coast once you have a career that you enjoy, but doing so will never get you where you want to be in the long run—if climbing the ladder is your ultimate goal, that is. Over time, you’ll regret promotions you didn’t try for or raises you didn’t attempt to negotiate, especially when you consider how much of your life you spent working.
6. Not getting regular check-ups.
Your parents forced you to get to the doctor on a yearly basis as a kid, and rightly so. By the time you’re in your 40s, there’s no excuse to avoid your yearly checkup—in fact, making sure you get to the doctor for an annual physical, as well as when any new health issues arise, can mean the difference between life and death.
7. Basing your self-worth on what other people think.
It’s hard not to fall prey to the judgments of others, but letting what other people think of you will never let you figure out what you really want out of life.
“When you base your self-worth on what other people think of you, you’re giving up your control to outside factors,” says Kulaga. “You will find that you start chasing what you ‘think’ other people want. This takes you off your goal path, and it can lead you to superficial happiness that doesn’t last but a very short while—in some cases, only minutes (for example, waiting for ‘likes’ on social media to come in). When you do what you know is right for you and your life, you find long-lasting happiness and fulfillment.” And when your self-esteem needs a tune-up, start with these 70 Genius Tricks to Boost Your Confidence.
8. Skimping on sleep.
There are few things more refreshing than a good night’s sleep. And while your increasing work and family commitments in your 40s may make it harder to log those long hours in bed, it’s essential to at least try. According to researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, a lack of sleep is related to a reduction in lifespan, so if you want another 40 years to look forward to, there’s no time like the present to start getting eight hours a night.
9. Not wearing sunscreen.
Each year, 8.7 million cases of basal and squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year in the U.S. alone, in addition to 91,270 melanoma diagnoses. That is to say: if you’re not wearing sunscreen on a regular basis—that is to say every day, rain or shine—you’re putting your health at risk with a mistake you’re old enough to know better than to make.
10. Drinking too much.
The occasional glass of beer or wine likely won’t cause you harm, but by the time you’re in your 40s, it’s time to stop partying like a college kid. In addition to increasing your risk of esophageal, stomach, liver, and colon cancer, by the time you’re in your 40s, you’re well past the age of excusing your hangover at work as a matter of simply “not knowing your tolerance.”
11. Not reading.
The most interesting person in any given situation isn’t necessarily the one with the wildest stories—it’s the person who’s read the most books. Unfortunately, according to the Pew Research Center, a staggering 24 percent of U.S. adults haven’t read so much as a single word in a book in the past 12 months. And considering that reading has been shown to reduce stress, improve your vocabulary, and even reduce your dementia risk, forgoing books is hardly a mistake you can afford to keep making after 40.
12. Putting work above everything else.
Work may occupy a large percentage of your time in your 40s, but prioritizing it over your relationships or health is a mistake you’ll come to regret. No matter how much you enjoy your work, your job will never love you back, and you’ll never get the time you spent sitting behind that desk.
13. Not exercising.
While getting up early to hit the gym in the morning may not be the most fun you have all week, if you’re not getting regular exercise after your 40th birthday, it’s a mistake you’ll live to regret. In addition to reducing your risk of heart attack and stroke, research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that regular exercise can help you live significantly longer, even if you don’t start working out until later in life.
14. Having children to feel fulfilled.
Having children can be a joy—if you’re doing it for the right reason, that is. For some people, hitting the big 4-0 can leave them struggling to find purpose, only to imagine that children are the answer they’ve been seeking. Instead, what they get are real-life human beings with needs beyond being a project for someone else—and 18 years of stress and bills to go along with it.
“If you’re having children because society tells you that’s what you should do, you might end up miserable. Don’t have children just to feel fulfilled—just like you don’t want to get married just to feel fulfilled. These things can add to your happiness in life but are not the sole cause for overall life happiness,” says Kulaga.
15. Neglecting your mental health.
While you may make your physical health a priority, if you’re over 40, it’s high time you addressed your mental health, too. Considering that mental health issues can affect your relationships, your work life, and your physical health, there’s no time like the present to have them addressed by a professional.
16. Ditching your birth control.
Though fertility does tend to decline in your 40s, that doesn’t mean you can play it fast and loose with your birth control. In fact, while birth rates continue to drop in the U.S., there’s only one group with rates on the rise: mothers over 40.
17. Dwelling on your mistakes.
It’s hard not to ruminate when you feel bad about a past decision you’ve made, but doing so may be a bigger mistake in the long run. While a little introspection can undeniably be a good thing, beating yourself up over things you can’t change can keep you stuck in a pattern of negative thoughts you may find it difficult, if not impossible, to break out of.
18. Not having an emergency fund.
Whether it’s an unexpected car repair or surprise medical bill, we could all benefit from having a little extra money squirreled away for a rainy day. In fact, according to a survey conducted by GOBankingRates, 69 percent of Americans have less than $1,000 saved for a rainy day, with 34 percent of that population claiming to have no savings to speak of. And when those bills start piling up, you’ll definitely regret not stashing a little extra cash.
19. Thinking you’re too old to do the things you want.
They say age is nothing but a number, and in many ways, that’s true. However, for many people entering their 40s, it also means they suddenly assume they’re too old to do all the things they had planned for themselves. “When you assume you are too ‘old’ to embark on that dream, all you do is put off happiness for another month, year, or decade. You’re in charge of your life. Society isn’t. If you want to go back for your four-year degree at 60, do it. You can dream at any age, and, you can make dreams come true at any age,” says Kulaga.
20. Getting behind the wheel after a few drinks.
While you may think you know your tolerance pretty well, there’s no excuse to get behind the wheel after you’ve had a couple of drinks, especially decades after your 21st birthday has come and gone. However, considering that approximately one percent of licensed drivers—and countless others who haven’t been caught—have been busted for DUI or DWI, it’s clear this lesson hasn’t caught on as much as we might have hoped.
21. Not spending enough time with your family.
By the time you’re in your 40s, your parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents are likely getting up there in years. And with that in mind, there’s no time like the present to start making more time for them if you have healthy relationships with them. You’ll never regret making time for them before they pass.
22. Sitting all day.
Hitting the gym for a few hours a week may not be enough to keep you healthy in the long run. If you’re over 40, it’s essential you break up those hours spent sitting in your chair with some movement. Considering that sitting for too long has been linked to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and even early death, it’s time to break things up with a standing desk or under-desk exercise machine. It’ll also work wonders on any lower back pain you might have.
23. Not having life insurance.
While 40 may be relatively young by most standards, tragedies happen all the time. An accident or illness could mean that your loved ones are no longer able to pay their bills, but a good life insurance policy can help you prevent that doomsday prophecy from coming true.
24. Keeping abstract financial goals.
Saving for the sake of saving is fine, but if you want to make the most of your money over 40, it’s time to get a more comprehensive plan in order for your finances. Making a defined list of the things you want to save for—like retirement, a new car, or paying off your mortgage—can help you define how much you should be putting away and on what schedule.
25. Letting your eyesight deteriorate.
While wearing glasses isn’t exactly the end of the world, letting your eyesight go unchecked in your 40s is, without a doubt, a pretty major mistake. Getting your eyes checked on a regular basis can keep those minor eye health issues from turning into debilitating ones.
26. Avoiding the scale.
Watching your weight creep up as you approach middle age probably isn’t your favorite activity, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hop on the scale from time to time. While your weight may not define you, keeping an eye on it can help you from gaining too much or can alert you when you’re dropping pounds without trying—the latter a potential sign of a more serious health issue.
27. Holding onto meaningless grudges.
Those grudges you’ve been holding onto for years are well worth ditching by the time you’re in your 40s. In addition to putting unnecessary walls between you and people who’ve instigated some kind of perceived slight, researchers at Johns Hopkins University have even found evidence to suggest that holding on to grudges can increase stress and may even make you more likely to die prematurely.
28. Not telling people you love them.
Saying “I love you” may not always be comfortable, but doing so is a valuable part of any relationship, especially as you get older. “The moments and days go by so quickly that we forget to tell those we love that we indeed love them. We think ‘I love you’ is implied in how hard we work or that ‘they know’ we love them. But actually saying it, and going one step deeper here, looking at someone when you say it, can be so powerful. As we age, we begin to see that, while some days go by so very slow, the years fly by so fast, and there are many ‘I love you’ moments missed. Time isn’t promised. Tell someone you haven’t told in a while, ‘I love you,’” says Kulaga.
29. Spending time with toxic people.
By the time you’re in your 40s, your life may be reaching its halfway point. And unless you want to spend the next 40 years bogged down by bad relationships and struggling to remember why you got into them in the first place, cutting toxic people out of your life is key.
30. Overindulging your sweet tooth.
While ordering dessert from time to time probably won’t kill you, giving yourself free reign to eat any sugary thing in sight is a major mistake, especially over 40. While 9.3 percent of the total U.S. population—about 29 million Americans—have diabetes, the CDC estimates that one in four don’t know they have the condition and are continually putting their health at risk with high-sugar foods.
31. Quitting jobs without a backup plan.
It may seem like a dream to walk out the door of your dead-end job and never look back, by the time you’re in your 40s, it’s pretty clear that doing so without a backup plan is a mistake. Before you quit your job in search of greener pastures, it’s time to make sure you’ve got some reasonable possibilities lined up so you can keep the lights on—job hunting certainly doesn’t get easier after 40, after all.
32. Letting debt build.
According to the Federal Reserve, the average American household carries upwards of $16,000 in credit card debt. If you want to ensure a healthy financial future—even a possible retirement—it’s time to start paying off those balances at the end of every month, or at least attempting to save up enough to do so, or you might regret it going forward.
33. Neglecting mammograms.
Anyone born female and over 40 should take their medical practitioner up on offers for mammograms. In fact, the American Cancer Society suggests that all women over 45 have a yearly mammogram—and men over 40 should do regular tissue checks, too.
34. Never getting outside your comfort zone.
If you’re over 40, there’s no denying that you’ll come to regret not living the life you’ve imagined because you’re comfortable where you are. Whether you’re switching up your career path, embarking on a new relationship, or traveling the world, letting complacency win out will inevitably register as a mistake in the long run.
35. Ignoring your credit report.
Those numbers on your credit report may seem daunting, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. If you’re trying to buy a house, a new car, or take out a business loan, it’s essential that you have a decent credit score—and the first step to improving your score is knowing what it is.
36. Neglecting your ongoing education.
While you may have a great job as it is, it’s never too late to continue your education. Ask virtually anyone over 40 who hasn’t yet finished their high school diploma or college degree and they’ll tell you that they wish they had—in fact, one meta-analysis of 11 studies reveals that education-related regrets were the most common among adults.
While fewer Americans are smoking than ever, if you’re among the few who continue to light up, you’ll definitely regret it down the line. Even if you don’t end up suffering from emphysema, lung cancer, or any of the other ailments related to smoking, knowing that you neglected your health for so long is an undeniable mistake.
38. Not writing up a will.
Even if you don’t have much in the way of worldly possessions, not writing up a will is a major mistake, especially for those over 40. If you don’t have a will written up, you leave your family members and friends to divvy up your possessions after you’re gone—a heavy load for anyone, but particularly those grieving.
39. Sabotaging good relationships.
Sometimes, it’s hard to believe we’re worthy of the good things that come to us, but continually sabotaging healthy relationships because you’re worried something bad will happen is a mistake you can’t afford to keep making in your 40s. Whether your relationships are romantic or platonic, it’s important to nurture the good relationships in your life and avoid messing up anything good.
40. Forgetting those dreams you had as a kid.
Those dreams you had in childhood shouldn’t disappear just because you’ve hit a certain age. While you might not be the Oscar-winning-astronaut you’d hoped to be at 40, that doesn’t mean success is out of reach. And by continuing to fight for those dreams you had as a kid will definitely make the next 40 years feel a lot more worthwhile.