Your 30s can be a pretty significant decade. It’s a transitional point in life in the wake of post-collegiate years where your career starts to take off and you begin to settle down a bit, maybe buying a home, getting married or having kids. Or you might be planning major life adventures, like travelling or writing that novel you always meant to pen. Or, perhaps, all of the above. Whatever your path, you likely face some significant money decisions, and the choices you make can end up impacting your finances for years to come.
A report released from the Pew Research Center earlier this month shows that millennials, the oldest of whom are just entering their 30s now, face higher student debt and unemployment levels along with lower income and wealth levels compared to previous generations at the same age. A tough hill to climb. At the same time, they are optimistic about their economic futures, with most (80%) saying they have enough money now or will one day to “lead the lives they want.”
To increase the chances that such an optimistic outlook comes to fruition, here are seven money moves from U.S. New & World Report that financial experts say you should consider in your third decade:
1. Save when you can.
“If you’ve gotten your salary up to the point where student loan debt is not wreaking havoc in your life anymore, but before you have a lot of responsibilities, that’s a great opportunity to super-charge your savings,” says Jean Chatzky, financial editor of the Today Show and author of “Money Rules: The Simple Path to Lifelong Security.” When parenting responsibilities and mortgage costs take off, for example, it can be hard to save more. “You want to take advantage of the opportunities you have to sock away some money so when the leaner years come around, you don’t beat yourself up,” she adds.
2. Create solid habits.
It’s also time to establish financial habits that will serve you well for the rest of your life. Kerry Hannon, personal finance expert and author of “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+,” says in her 30s, she maxed out her retirement savings accounts and even set aside a portion of her extra freelance income for retirement. “Those funds have served me well over the years as mad money to help pay for vacations and more. I still save outside of retirement accounts religiously in my 50s, too. It's a habit I started back in my 30s,” she says.
3. Plan out your goals and priorities.
“Hopefully you’re starting to become established in your career and can begin to contribute, if you’re not already, to an employer-sponsored retirement plan, and begin to think about other savings goals, too, like a home purchase or college savings,” says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.
Trent Hamm, founder of the personal finance Web site The Simple Dollar and a U.S. News My Money blogger, says at age 35, he’s now reflecting on his career goals for the next 30 years. “What would I like to be doing with my time and my life? I don’t want the rest of my life to be a repetition of what I’m doing now and then an abrupt retirement. I have dreams and goals, and right now is the best time to get started on them,” he says.
For many people, a financial advisor helps with that. Bart Astor, author of “AARP Roadmap for the Rest of Your Life,” says your 30s is the ideal time to sit down with a financial advisor and talk, which is what he started doing in his mid-30s. He says he and his advisor met once a year to review savings and other financial goals, especially since he and his wife were meeting their goals. “When I hit 40, the plan showed that we should have about $188,000 in assets based on our salaries, and we had over $200,000, and boy, did that make us feel good,” he says.
4. Talk about money with your partner.
If you have a spouse or partner, then getting on track together and working out any disputes can prevent conflicts later. “People often comingle finances with their partner, and open communication is key. Make sure you talk about your finances and life goals with your partner, and align on how you will get there together,” de Baca urges.
5. Get comfortable with negotiation.
Nancy L. Anderson, 52, a certified financial planner in Park City, Utah, says while she did a lot of things right in her 30s, including investing 20% of her income, buying a home, investing in rental property, and saving for her child’s college education, she also wished she had negotiated her salary more assertively. “If I’d negotiated a higher salary each time I changed companies in my career, I’d be wealthier today,” she says. Since most people change jobs about 11 times in their careers, negotiating those transitions can end up making you more than $600,000 richer over your career, she adds.
6. Be a good role model.
For those 30-somethings who are already parents, Beth Kobliner, author of “Get a Financial Life” and member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Young Americans, says it’s important to model smart financial choices for the little eyes watching you. “You lose all credibility lecturing your little kids about not needing every new toy or tech gadget if you, behind closed doors, have loud arguments with your spouse about not being able to keep up with your credit card bills,” she says. You don’t have to be a money genius, she adds, but it’s important to talk about money—making financial discussions as commonplace as soccer practice or Sunday dinner.
7. Shore up your cash reserves.
While many experts emphasize long-term investing and retirement savings, Tim Maurer, director of personal finance for the BAM Alliance of independent advisors, says he wishes he had kept more money in pure cash savings to give himself a better buffer for unexpected needs and expenses. “Much, maybe too much, financial planning is focused exclusively on the long, long-term," he says, "and while it’s true that real estate can be a great way to build wealth and one should start saving as early as possible for retirement, it’s the unexpected changes in life that often derail 30-something households. Our financial plans should address the short-term, too.”
Maurer points out that your 30s are often a time of “volcanic change” in your personal and professional life, and having a nicely padded bank account can help smooth over some of those transitions.