A midlife crisis might most famously involve a new sports car or an affair. But for many people between ages 35 and 45, it can also encompass a more general feeling of unease and the accompanying desire to do something about it, such as take a big trip or change jobs.
No matter what kind of change is involved, it often comes with a price. We enlisted the advice of financial and midlife experts to help you afford your next crisis along with whatever changes it might inspire. Here are six of their best suggestions:
1. First consider altering your current situation.
"The easy answer is to change your job, but I really emphasize drilling down into what it is that's not fulfilling. I try to fix that situation first," says Jim Weinstein, a life consultant based in Washington, D.C. If there's an aspect of your current living or work situation that you can change to reflect your new priorities, then that can help you avoid some of the big costs that come from quitting a job or going back to school, he adds.
[Read: How to Create Your Own Money Roadmap .]
2. Recognize that you can't always predict your future financial success.
Weinstein points out that if you don't enjoy your job, even if it's high-paying, then you might not excel at it, and you could even end up losing it. "You can't assume that if you stay in a career you're not happy with, that you'll continue to be earning more," he says. Likewise, if you shift careers or go back to school, you might experience a lower income at first, but then it could grow over time.
Weinstein also emphasizes that finances should not always dictate your choices. "Life satisfaction, fulfillment, engagement in one's work, making a difference in the world, autonomy -- all of these things need to be evaluated, and not just in terms of dollars and cents," he says. In fact, many of his past clients who have lived through midlife crises report back that they not only feel better, but they come to realize that money was not as important as they thought it was, after all. They might no longer be able to afford to send their children to private colleges, but they have a better relationship and more time to spend with them instead.
3. Change your life in significant but noncostly ways.
Bart Astor, author of "AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life," says when he hit age 50, he decided to train and complete the 350-mile AIDS Ride from Raleigh to Washington, D.C. "I figured it was a healthier way to go through my crisis than buying a Porsche or having a mistress," he says. If you're undergoing a major life change that does involve some level of financial risk, he urges people to look for ways to minimize that risk. Instead of leaving your job outright, for example, take a leave of absence or work part-time. Instead of selling your house, rent it out while you live elsewhere or travel.
4. Don't forget the basics.
Regardless of where your crisis leads you, look for ways to incorporate saving for retirement into your plans, especially if you haven't built up a significant nest egg yet, says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, author of the new book, "The Charles Schwab Guide to Finances After Fifty." "The nice thing is, we're living longer, and we're healthier. I don't think people should lose hope in terms of time, but they have to be honest with themselves and look at where they're spending and what they could cut," she says.
If you are preparing for any big changes or shifts, then her advice to store up three to six months of essential expenses in an emergency fund still applies. "When you get closer to retirement, then consider having a year's worth of cash to cover essential expenses," she says.
5. Plan ahead with number-crunching.
Before making any life-altering decisions, such as quitting your job or starting up a coffee shop, first do some math, Schwab-Pomerantz says. She suggests making sure you would be OK even if you lost all your startup cash for your business, since so many new small businesses fail. "It doesn't mean you shouldn't do it, but incorporate risk into your financial plan," she says. If it seems like too big a risk, then you can take a smaller step -- like volunteering on a vacation -- to help satisfy the desire to try something new.
6. Save long before your midlife crisis hits.
Lynne Martin, author of the forthcoming book, "Home Sweet Anywhere," about how she and her husband sold their house and started traveling full time, says being "fairly conservative" during her working years is part of what enabled her to take on such an adventure at age 70. She also made the necessary trade-offs so she could afford her new lifestyle. "We realized it would be impossible to travel full time and still maintain a home, with all of its expenses and responsibilities," she says, which is why they sold their home.
She urges others looking for a similar type of adventure to pair their crazy idea with some down-home advice on budgeting: "It really boils down to being willing to stay within a budget so that your capital is not at risk. At our age, we are not in a position to start again, so maintaining our nest egg is a primary concern," she says.
In other words, it's a lot easier to make what can seem like a wild and crazy choice if you've made other more humdrum financial choices along the way.
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