There’s no one right way to money, but having some general guidelines for those different life stages can be really helpful as you think through what’s going to work best for your life. If you’ve been wondering what are some financial goals you might want to hit in your 30s, I’ve got you covered.
This year I’ll be slipping quietly into my late thirties (with Joseph being three years behind me and I can’t help but think about what a difference the past ten years have made in our finances. Looking back on my twenties there was so much financial upheaval–finishing college and law school, moving halfway across the country and back, going through a divorce, having a baby.
Even if your twenties and thirties aren’t quite as crazy as mine were, they’re still a time of substantial change. Your thirties are where you really come into yourself both in terms of figuring out what you want your life to really look like and in finally having enough money to actually make that happen.
These are some of the major milestones that we’ve either already hit, or plan to hit in our thirties that are setting us up for success in our forties and beyond.
Now, before I get into this list, if you are reading this and you are already past your thirties and haven’t hit these yet, that’s okay. Just start working towards them now. It’s never too late to improve your finances.
HAVE A ONE YEAR SPENDING PLAN
When I first started budgeting, I used to budget by paycheck. My money was so tight that I even reconciled my expenses down to the penny every single day.
Now, many years and quite a bit more income later, I’ve quit budgeting by paycheck and instead have a one year spending plan. Our one year spending plan helps us forecast our cashflow through the entire year and beyond (because let’s be honest, I actually have a five year spending plan).
A one year spending plan puts you in full control of your money because it lets you decide how and when to spend your money based on your plan for your life over the next year. Even if unexpected expenses come up, you’re able to adjust your spending plan and see right away what impact those changes will have on the rest of your year.
Having this information is so empowering because then your finances stop being this black hole and instead becomes something that you can anticipate and tweak over a relatively short term.
HAVE A SIX TO 12 MONTH EMERGENCY FUND
At the very minimum, you should aim to have three month emergency fund as quickly as possible in your adult life–especially if your income is unstable. A three month emergency fund will help you whether small financial upheavals at least for the short term.
In your thirties, you should work to save an even bigger emergency fund. Ideally twelve months’ worth. Typically as you get get older you also have more financial responsibilities. You might have a house or a non-working spouse and children that you need to support. That means that your monthly spending will be higher, which also means that you’ll be making more money.
Since the general rule is that the more you make, the longer it takes to find a new job, having a larger emergency fund will take the pressure off of having to settle for a job you don’t want just because you’re desperate for the money.
The other massive upside to having a twelve month emergency fund, is that it can also give you cushion to do things like take a six month sabbatical or start a new career entirely. In other words, it just gives you freedom and space to move away from work for a little while if you need to.
Benefits aside, I know that this seems like a massive goal. But in reality, if you just save one month’s worth of expenses every year in your 30s, you’ll just about be there by forty. When you break it down into small chunks like that, it’s so much more doable.
PAY OFF ALL OF YOUR HIGH INTEREST DEBT
I am all for strategic use of debt. I’m also fully on board with the idea that people can choose to spend more to get what they want even if that means paying more in interest.
Choosing to include using debt as part of your financial strategy is a highly personal decision. But generally, high interest debt–I’m talking double digits here–is incredibly expensive to hang on to. That’s why you should pay this down as soon as possible.
Credit cards are some of the worst offenders when it comes to high interest rate debt, but they also have a lot of perks if used wisely. We put just about all of our expenses on a credit card and pay it off in full every month. Compared to my twenties where I regularly carried a balance largely from buying a whole bunch of unnecessary stuff.
There are several steps to hitting this goal in your thirties. First, you’ll need to create a budget based on your current income so that you stop overspending. Second, you’ll need to create and follow through on a debt pay off plan that you can actually stick to. And third, you’ll want to start planning for larger expenses that normally cause you to go into debt so that you are prepared with cash instead.
HAVE SINKING FUNDS FOR LARGE PURCHASES
When we’re first starting out in life, we don’t tend to have large stacks of cash just waiting around for those big expenses that pop up–like buying a car or replacing the roof on our house. Which means that we’ll often turn to debt to help us smooth out our cash flow.
As time passes and we start making more money, we’re in a better position to start anticipating and saving for those big expenses. That’s what sinking funds are for.
Let’s say that you know that you are going to want to replace your car in three years. You do a little research and decide that you want to purchase a brand new car (and yes, you know that it’s value will drop dramatically the minute you drive it off the lot but you want what you want and that’s okay) for $40,000.
With that goal in mind, you should start saving $1,100 for the next three years so that you have the cash ready to go when it’s time to buy that sweet new ride.
When the time comes to buy the car, you can then explore all of your options and see whether it makes sense to finance the car at a low interest rate or pay in full with cash. That puts you in full control of your money and of the financial transaction, which is incredibly empowering.
PRE-FUND YOUR RETIREMENT ACCOUNT
One of the things that gives me the most peace of mind in our financial lives is that we’ve already saved enough money in our retirement accounts that we’d be able to retire comfortably at traditional retirement age even if we stopped saving today. In other words’ we have pre-funded our retirement account.
Now, we fully intend to keep adding to our nest egg because we are hoping for a pretty luxurious retirement where we can travel quite a bit and also be in a financial position to bring our children and grandchildren. We also want to be able to donate in a substantial way to causes that we believe in. To do that we need to build our nest egg beyond just what we’d need for a comfortable retirement.
The general rule of thumb is that you should have three times your annual salary by the time you are forty. We are right on track to hit that by the time I turn forty in three years. And we will be quite a bit above that 3x rule by the time Joseph turns forty six years from now.
Hopefully you started saving for retirement in your twenties when you started working. Saving small amounts over time can add up to really dramatic results thanks to compounding interest. But full disclosure, Joseph and I didn’t start saving until our late twenties because we both went to law school.
If you wait until your thirties to start saving for retirement, you’ll need to save a lot more money on a monthly basis than if you started in your twenties. But you’ll also be making a lot more money than you were in your twenties so the added savings might not hurt as much.
Pre-funding your nest egg in your thirties will take the pressure off of your 40s and 50s and give your money time to take full advantage of compound interest.
HAVE ALL OF THE INSURANCE YOU NEED
In my twenties I definitely skimped on insurance. And I ended up paying for it in my thirties. Because I didn’t have dental insurance, I let a toothache go for way too long, which resulted in thousands of dollars in root canals before I finally had the tooth pulled and replaced with an implant in my thirties.
Now I don’t play when it comes to insurance. Yes, it costs, but the peace of mind and protection of my assets is so worth it.
In my thirties, I’ve gone beyond the standard insurance types (health, dental, car, house and life) to insurance types I’d never even heard of in my twenties. Like we always get travel insurance for big trips–especially trips where we are leaving the country.
We have an umbrella insurance policy that goes above and beyond our already high auto and property insurance. We have short and long term disability insurance just in case something happens to us and we're no longer able to work. Of course we also have business insurance.
Having enough insurance to protect us and our family from most catastrophic losses is essential heading into our forties.
HAVE A FIVE YEAR LIFE PLAN
Creating a life that you want doesn’t happen by accident. At least not for most people. Getting into the habit of having a vision and plan for your life will make it more likely that your life will head in the direction that you want it to go, even if that direction changes over time.
When we’re young, we’re given a set path to follow through to adulthood. It looks a little something like this: graduate from high school, go to college, get a good job, get married, buy a house, have kids, work for several decades, retire.
As a general framework it’s totally fine. But there are millions of permutations when it comes to the details. What kind of work will you do? Where will you live? What do you want your life outside of work to look like?
Now, maybe more than ever before in history, we have the ability to actually create the life that we want to have. Thanks to the internet we can research industries and companies so we can find jobs in cities that we’ve never even heard of. We can build our own businesses that allow us to work from home.
Despite all of the possibilities, it also is still really easy to follow a path that doesn’t actually take us where we want to go. No one wants to wake up in their forties only to realize that they life that they’ve built doesn’t look like the life that they want.
Having a five year plan encourages you to really think about where your life is headed if you stay on your current path. It pushes you to think about what you enjoy in your life and what you want to change so that you can tweak things as you go.
BUILD AN INCOME THAT ALLOWS YOU TO MEET YOUR FINANCIAL GOALS WHILE STILL HAVING A LIFESTYLE THAT YOU LOVE
Depending on when you started working, you might already be deep into a successful career by the time you hit your 30s. This is also when you’ll be hitting your financial stride as you leave your cash-strapped twenties behind.
Over the past seven years, Joseph and I have lived in the suburbs and in cities, in apartments, small houses, and borderline mega-mansions. We’ve had long and short commutes, and car and public transit commutes. All of those experiences have helped us get a clearer vision of what our ideal life looks like and how much that ideal life will cost to have.
We know that based on the lifestyle that we want and the financial goals that we have, we need to make a certain amount of money. But we also know that quality of life and family time matter to us. Our goal then is to figure out a path that allows us to make the income we want while also being able to have short commutes and excellent work-life balance. The next step then is to brainstorm ways to make the life that we want a reality.
Each person has their own vision of what their ideal life looks like. Your thirties is a great time to figure out what that vision is and to create a career that allows you to afford it.
START TAKING BETTER CARE OF YOUR HEALTH
If you haven’t prioritized your health before, your thirties is definitely the time to start. In our twenties we could get away with a lot of late nights, a few too many drinks, and not exercising. But that all starts to catch up with you in your thirties.
The problem is that your thirties are also when you’re most likely to have lots on your plate like a demanding career, young children, a home that needs upkeep. And you’re less likely to have the surplus income to allow you to pay other people to take some of those tasks off or your hands.
The time and money crunch makes it easy to neglect your own health in the process by skipping workouts and eating too much take out. Joseph and I definitely struggle with this–especially on days when we have our three hour commute into the office.
The good news is that you don’t have to overhaul your whole life all at once to make substantial gains on our health and fitness in our thirties. Tiny habits can have a big impact over the course of your life.
Start with the basics like drinking enough water and getting eight hours of sleep every night. Look for simple ways to add in some exercise into your day, like taking a 15 minute walk with the kids after meals or getting a standing desk for your office.
Building these healthy habits in your thirties will help keep you fit into your forties and beyond, which will save you lots of money in health care costs in the long run.
TAKING CONTROL OF OUR MONEY IN OUR 30s CHANGED EVERYTHING
Joseph and I have been able to make some substantial progress on these goals in our thirties. Because of that, our finances are so much more stable than they were just seven years ago in our twenties.
I can’t say that we set out with these specific goals in mind. They’ve kind of just fallen into place as we’ve continued to rework our one year, five year, and retirement plans and continued to strengthen our finances. Being on track to have all of these in place as we head towards the last few years of our thirties gives us peace of mind.
So as you are working through your financial goals and plans, use these goals as a starting point to help you create a custom plan that reflects the life that you want.