Ready. Set. Go for your goals.

What do you want out of life? Achieving the things that are important to you during each stage of your life will be easier if you plan ahead and take steps to secure your finances along the way.

Starting out

Live within your means. Avoid taking on debt to pay for things you don't really need and can't afford. Pay cash whenever possible, and limit credit card debt to a manageable amount.

Build an emergency fund. Put money aside for unplanned expenses (e.g., major auto repairs) and unexpected events, such as illness or unemployment. That way, you won't have to run up costly credit card debt in a financial emergency.

Start to invest for retirement. Open an individual retirement account (IRA) and/or join a retirement plan at work to get a head start on your long-term saving. If your employer offers matching contributions, take advantage of them — that's "free" money you won't want to pass up.

Building a life for yourself and your family

Prepare for the unexpected. Protect your loved ones with an affordable life insurance policy. As you earn more, you'll want to consider increasing the dollar amount of your coverage to make sure your family would be able to maintain their lifestyle without you.

Save for your children's college education. Given the ever-increasing cost of higher education, it's smart to start planning for future college expenses early. Any money you can set aside will help make college more affordable for your child.

Look into disability insurance. More than half* of Americans say they would be unable to pay bills and meet expenses if they became disabled and couldn't work for a year or longer. If you don't have adequate coverage through work, you can buy your own policy.

Preparing for the next chapter — retirement

Take advantage of "catch-up" contributions. Once you reach age 50, you can make extra catch-up contributions to your IRA. For 2011, the maximum IRA contribution is $6,000 ($5,000 plus $1,000 catch-up for eligible individuals). Your employer's retirement savings plan also may permit catch-up contributions.

Eliminate debt. Focus on paying off your credit cards, mortgage and any other loans you have. You'll want to carry no debt in retirement, if possible.

Review health insurance options. You can sign up for Medicare three months before the month you turn age 65. If you want to retire early, make sure you have access to affordable health coverage from another source.

* Source: National Association of Insurance Commissioners, Disability Insurance Survey

Securities offered by Personal Financial Representatives through Allstate Financial Services, LLC (LSA Securities in LA and PA). Registered Broker-Dealer. Member FINRA and SIPC, Main Office: 2920 South 84th Street, Lincoln, NE 68506, 877-525-5727. Life insurance issued by Allstate Life Insurance Company, Home Office, Northbrook, IL. In New York, Allstate Life Insurance Company of New York, Hauppauge, NY.

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