As we age, our financial priorities change. In our 20s and 30s, we focus on building a decent future. From 40 to our mid 50s, it's about making wise finance decisions and living a little. Those ages 55 through 69 are concerned about protection -- both of assets and their family's well-being.

So there you have it, a money management blueprint: Build. Provide. Protect.

Putting it down on paper is another thing. Not surprisingly, though, the more money folks have and the older they get, the more likely they are to formalize their financial affairs.

Young whippersnappers could learn a thing or two from their elders. According to a Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards survey, those who don't have a formal plan in place are less likely to feel satisfied with the management of their financial affairs. They worry about being financially prepared for retirement and tend to doubt the money decisions they make.

A financial plan -- a good one, at least -- gives you a very specific snapshot of your current financial picture, an accurate accounting of your future money needs, and a well-mapped guide on how to get from point A to point B. It helps you project future costs, see how your current savings match up with them, pinpoint current and future financial issues, identify weak spots, and provide a much-needed wakeup call regarding savings, spending, and orthodontia costs.

If you haven't committed your money matters to paper, consider test-driving TMF Money Advisor for 30 days for free. A one-month deadline can work wonders for your finances.

It's often a life-changing event that lights a fire under our behinds so that we pay attention to the important stuff. Receiving an inheritance or financial windfall prompts 72% of folks to seek help, according to the CFP Board survey. Complex investments and making asset distribution decisions follow closely behind.

Don't wait for a major life event to drive you to scramble to come up with a financial plan. With some preparation and forward-thinking you can dampen the effect of things like a midlife crisis, the car going on the fritz as you're on the first leg of a long-awaited road trip, or even a major market downturn.

Having a financial plan -- one that you consult on a regular basis -- can take the guesswork and stress out of managing your finances at every turn and with every new gray hair.