Money for all seasons I: income, spending and age

This is the first of two posts in which the seasons of life and finance are outlined. In the next one, these are used to ‘profile’ and project financial health.

I have been joking that people have different pre-occupations in different decades of their lives. During their 20s people are mostly interested in ‘sex, drugs and rock-n-roll’ (well, I was anyway); in their thirties people start thinking about mortgages and children; in their forties people worry about pensions and insurance; in their fifties they move to varicose veins and elderly parents; in their sixties concerns are focused on retirement and haemorrhoids; and after that…well, I have not got that far.

Couple of days ago, it suddenly hit me that in fact the building blocks of our lives and our finances are also very different at different stages of our lives. Have to admit that the theme John and I have been focusing on lately – the differences between generations – did help me crystallise this idea. Meanwhile, it was obvious from the outset that it is not very helpful to un-pack the relationship between earning, spending and the stages in our life by decades – earning and spending patterns don’t fit in decades; also the periods are not really even – some characteristics persist for longer than others.

This is when, I remembered about the Wheel of Life. No, not the one that separates the different areas of life and is used by life coaches to make you consider your balance (my life is so out of kilter at the moment that any reminder of balance sends me into a fit of nerves and anxiety). The wheel of life I am talking about is the one painted by the pioneer of modern Bulgarian art in the Preobrazen monastery. It looks like this and the picture comes from a lovely blog called Zikata – if you would like to learn more about this monastery and the icon the link is here.

This Wheel depicts life as the four seasons: Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter. This made me wonder what would happen if instead of thinking about our earning and spending by the decades of our life we think in terms of the seasons in our life.


People are in the Spring of their lives between the ages of 18 and 30. In our society most of our Spring is taken by education – which is very productive not as outcome (income) but as preparing the conditions for our future (future jobs, income etc.). This, coupled with lack of experience, means that income is relatively low. Day-to-day expenses are also fairly low and people spend mainly on themselves since it is relatively rare that they already have dependents. This can change at the upper age limit of the period. A very big expense during this time is education; particularly in countries where university (college) education is expensive.

What to expect?

Spring is the time when:

  • Income is relatively low;
  • Day to day expenses are low;
  • Investment is mainly in developing competencies (education);
  • Cash flow during this period is either very low or negative.

This is the period for planting seeds and seeing some blossom. Spring is the period of your life when you prepare your future life and finances.

What to watch for?

‘Start saving young’ is a mantra of personal finance. In my opinion, Spring is not about saving and investing but about personal growth. Hence, the main thing is to:

  • Come out of Spring without or with little consumer debt.
  • Keep all other debt optimal (e.g. don’t take out student loans over what you absolutely need)


People are in their Summer between the ages of 30 and 50. As a rule, this is the period in peoples’ life when the seeds planted during Spring start giving early fruit. Incomes increase continuously and sharply. At the beginning of this period income is usually from employment; towards the end of it a substantial proportion of income can come from investments and other passive (or automated) income streams.

The bad news is that during Summer, expenses grow fast as well which means that cash flow is still fairly low. It is important to ensure that cash flow is optimised and that it is used as the building blocks of passive income streams. It doesn’t matter how small or large the blocks are – just start building.

Expenses increase because this is the time of rapid liability accumulation: mortgages, car loans, children and all that goes with them (food, clothes, school fees, summer camps etc.). Hence, the pattern of spending changes and a large proportion of income is spent on dependents.

What to expect?

  • Increasing income.
  • Increasing expenditure.
  • Relatively low cash flow.
  • Accumulation of liabilities.

What to watch for?

This is the period when the foundations of financial health later in life are set. It is important therefore to:

  • Consumer debt: get rid of it by the end of this period.
  • Liabilities: have these mostly paid off or sold by the end of this period.
  • Make sure that your cash-flow increases and check this regularly.
  • Ensure that cash flow is invested to generate passive income.
  • Generate automated income.


People are in their Autumn between the ages of 50 and 70. During this time their incomes usually peak and their expenses decrease: mortgages are fully or nearly paid off, children have generally left home and some people decide to downsize. Income doesn’t come only from employment; in fact considerable proportion of it should come from investments and automated businesses if Summer has been fruitful. This is also the time when many get some inheritance.

During this period cash flow is at its highest and many use it to top up their pensions, increase savings and invest more in shares and property.

What to expect?

  • Lifetime highest income from variety of income streams.
  • Lowest expenses.
  • High cash flow.
  • Aggressive and prolific investing.

What to watch for?

This is potentially the most fruitful time in terms of financial health. People can be expected to have so much more than ‘enough’ that the single, biggest failing would be

  • Failure to invest aggressively and prolifically.

It is very tempting to spend the increased cash flow on supporting grown up offspring. This is very endearing but misguided – failure to invest will mean a hard winter and a great burden on the children you wanted to help.


People can be expected to enter the Winter of their lives when over 70 years old. During this period people retire and their income usually drops. At the same time, their expenses start creeping up but this time spending is not on drink and fun. People over 70 start spending a lot on medical bills, dentistry, osteopath, help in the house and ultimately care.

What to expect?

  • Lower income mainly from pensions and investments.
  • Higher expenses mainly on medical bills and care.

What to watch for?

During Winter cash flow has to be either positive or neutral. Negative cash flow is not an option.

  • Ensure that you are not your children’s liability.

In which season are you in your life and what is the snapshot of your life and finances?

48 thoughts on “Money for all seasons I: income, spending and age”

  1. Makes so much sense Maria – we are just limping to the end of one recession – but we are likely to live through at least three if not four in our lifetimes. This model allows for focused activity between periods of readjustment – very elegant.

    I am in Summer – I now have no liabilities apart from the mortgage and the blessing is my boys are relatively young and not very materialistic so the gap between income and expenditure is still firmly in the positive.

    This model suggests that I haven’t “fallen behind” in that I didn’t set up a pension plan at 12 LOL – but shows how as long as you don’t succumb to a lifetime of servicing debt you should still manage to enter Winter “ahead of the game” – there is indeed hope on the horizon

    1. @Elaine: Yes; it does. In fact, I believe that one of the implications of seeing it like this is that it shows how not meeting certain conditions during particular ‘season’ can affect you life but it also shows that several PF mantras may be misguided.

  2. Firmly in summer which is nice apart from the bit that says “Incomes increase continuously and sharply” as mine has stayed static and dh’s has dropped, then risen, then dropped and now risen due to major career change and shifts. But he is mega happy in his work now (only took him 43 years to find what he was made for 😉 )

    But overall is a great way to see life as seasons rather than decades – also means we have a few years to get our overpayments working to reduce liabilities before Autumn!

    1. See Dora – any increase at the moment would constitute a “Sharp increase” LOL.

      But soon DS2 will go to school and I can get busier – but by keeping our standard of living roughly the same we should accumulate positive cash-flow quite nicely at that point.

      At least -that’s what I am hoping

    2. @Dorastar: As any model this is a generalisation – not everybody will be experiencing what is described but this will make people think (I hope). So, if you are in summer (your hubby in the second half of it) you will have to pay more attention to growing income and controlling spending. Start investing a little (don’t go for private pensions; but this is another post). Invest in your children now so that they have a good start in the next decade.

      1. Sshh don’t tell anyone but I am also in second half of summer! And yes we are doing the income v spending thing, have a mini stash for icklies, but they will still be at home when autumn begins.

  3. Ok will let you have that one then if sharp means anything at all rather than meteoric in proportions – am off to gather evidence for my performance management in October in readiness for this huge increase 🙂

  4. Oh…that went through!!!

    Basically – agree with the “seasons of financial life” and am well aware that they have been postponed for post Baby Boomers. One subject for debate is WHY WHY do PTB (powers-that-be) seem to be trying to delay the “seasons of life” financially????? Not adult till 35!!! Not allowed to retire till geriatric!!!

    1. @Ceridwen: I am not sure whether the rules or life comes first in this one. Our lives are so complex that we do need more education. As to working till late, I wouldn’t mind – if I am financially healthy and it is my choice.

  5. My winter was pretty good financially but that’s more luck than anything. Summer is always better for me financially because many more clients are interested in seeing how sexy they look in photos. I just booked 2 the other day and it’s for the summer. 🙂

  6. We at the MN Blog are early Autumn. Your description fits us pretty well. I just don’t think I want to be in Winter. Ever. Too dismal. Is that an option?

    1. @Dr Dean: Unfortunately, we all have to get to Winter but I believe it doesn’t have to be dismal. It can be lovely and beautiful. My winter will be wild!

  7. I’m in spring! Definitely. Pretty much everything you said is spot on. Except, maybe it’s just me but there are a lot of “springs” in my circle of people I know that have kids and dependents.

    1. @Daisy: This is interesting. Dependents change things somewhat. However, for ‘life at a glance’ financial assessment and planning, having children in spring can be factored in.

    1. @Savvy Scot: If you plant early this means that you will have stronger saplings and early fruit in Summer. However, take care with the seeding: investing in the stock market early, for instance, may mean that your portfolio will suffer at least couple of crashes before you get towards the end of summer. And if you are not Buffett…but I am sure that someone has modelled this one.

  8. I’m in the the very early summer. It is interesting as what you have said for spring rings very true from my own experience.

    My wife and i don’t have children yet, so our expenses are pretty low, whilst incomes have grown, so our main objective is build up as big a deposit for our next home as possible, before those summer expenses kick in!

    1. @Donal: Glad you think this may be working and a good strategy to get as much deposit together as possible for your next home. And good luck with the summer expenses :).

    1. @Charlotte: Well done on paying everything off. You seem set for a lovely, beautiful and comfortable winter.We have sometime to go yet and loads to do in it!

  9. Summer Summer Summertime, is where I am. Unfortunately I still don’t make enough and I spend too much. Oh well, you only live once!

    1. @James: True, we only live once but we have started living rather long. Up your game! (sorry, I have this field-marshal streak in me; it will never come out again; promise.)

  10. This is quite a refreshing read as most normal advice dictates that you should save “hard and fast” (sorry, Vinnie) in the spring of your life and forever more. End of!

    For once, I’m doing something right 😉

  11. It looks like I’m in my mid-summer and rather behind schedule. Just wonder – do you think, Maria, the above principles apply to all economies we may possibly be growing and living in?

  12. Hi Maria, good to see you again on Saturday- I hope you enjoyed your swanky evening. I’m finally finding some time to run through everyone’s pages and yours was top of the list! Have you ever come across the ‘Life Cycle Permanent Income Hypothesis’ (a bit of a mouthful!) It basically says reinforces the above view- that people do and should smooth their consumption over their life more than their income. I posted a quick blog on it myself a while back with a nice graph- 

  13. Maria, having just turned 24, does that put me in spring? 😎

    Although I’m in school and the wife just graduated, we are attempting to have a jump start on summer. No debt coupled with increasing income is an excellent pairing for any season!

    1. @CashCowCouple: Yep, it does. You can make some advance but the main thing is: the best investments you can make at this stage are very likely in yourselves. If you have some spare cash invest it, by all means. But don’t worry of you don’t – just make sure you do things that really make you better (including travel :)).

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