The days when you could bury your head in your work and assume everything would work out for you financially are long gone. Employer-based safety nets like steady advancement and traditional pensions have grown threadbare. You're pretty much on your own when it comes to earning, saving and investing. So make a plan early and check in often. Those who have a realistic plan are far more likely to achieve their financial goals. Yet half of all investors either do not have or do not know if they have a realistic plan, AARP found. So don't wait around to age 55 or 60 to assess your wealth situation or lack of it. Start a plan at 30 and adjust it every five years. Is your 401(k) balance growing fast enough? Remember, both you and your employer are making regular contributions; your balance should be building even in a terrible market. Over the past 10 years, a period in which stocks went nowhere, those who stuck to a saving-and-investing program saw their retirement account balances rise 150%, Fidelity says. Take advantage of any job retraining, certification, educational or even volunteer opportunities to stay abreast of the latest skills and trends in your industry. Get a handle on your monthly interest expense. Re-evaluate your tolerance for risk. Tally your net worth. As you near retirement, set realistic expectations for your future lifestyle by examining all income sources and fixed expenses and adding 3% a year for inflation. Make sure you understand your Social Security benefits. Check out the inflation calculator at moneychimp.com and estimate your Social Security benefits at ssa.gov.