After a decade of experimenting, failing, and growing, most of us have figured out how to overcome the most common financial blunders of our 20s by the time we hit 30.
But as you enter a new decade, you’ll face a whole new set of challenges.
We consulted financial experts to help you avoid money mistakes in your 30s as you navigate homebuying, relationships, starting a family, and saving for retirement.
Original reporting by Kathleen Elkins.
Investing is important, but oftentimes people in their 30s have placed too much emphasis on the 401(k) or other types of retirement plans, and have neglected to save for other big purchases, explains Brandon Moss, certified financial planner and VP of wealth adviser management at United Capital.
'You definitely want to maximise the match in your 401(k) or other types of plans,' he explains, 'But there are other major purchases coming along, especially if you're starting to have kids or looking to buy a house, that you want to have savings for.'
Contribute money towards a retirement fund, but don't forget to set aside money for other things, such as a house, car, vacation, or your children's education. Moss recommends setting up multiple savings accounts to start saving for specific purchases. Check the online interface of your bank and see if it will allow you to create sub-savings accounts.
While focusing too heavily on the 401(k) is a common mistake, not setting aside enough money for retirement also remains a big issue, especially when kids enter the picture.
Obviously, your child's education is important, but 'your number one priority in your 30s -- even if you have a family -- still has to be retirement,' says Michael Egan, certified financial planner and partner at Egan, Berger & Weiner, LLC. Think long term, he advises; if you don't set aside enough money for your own retirement, your child may have to support you in the future, which could end up being more expensive in the long run than student loans would be.
'Make sure you're on pace for a decent retirement before you start setting aside money for college,' he says. 'Once you're on pace for that, and you have extra funds that you can set aside for a goal like college, definitely do that.' He advises starting with a 529 savings plan.
Insurance in general -- health, life, home, and disability -- often gets put on the back burner, for two main reasons: 'It's not something that's fun to talk about, so it often gets put off longer than it should,' explains Moss, 'And many times, people don't get great insurance advice. Oftentimes, people are advised to just get covered -- it doesn't matter what type, just get something -- but years down the road when they're in their late 40s and 50s and something happens, they find that they don't have the proper type or amount of insurance.'
Moss advises you put in time to research insurance plans, or talk to a trusted adviser. Here are the exact types of insurance you should have in your 30s.
One type of insurance that gets neglected more so than others is long-term disability insurance, says Egan, but not having it can be extremely risky. Disability insurance is meant to provide income should you be disabled and unable to work, which is more likely to happen than many of us may think. It's estimated by the Social Security Administration that over 25% of today's 20-year-olds will be disabled before retirement.
'A lot of people will pick up group life insurance, which will cover you if you die,' he explains. 'But they don't think about the disability -- especially if it's not paid for by the company -- and that's your bigger risk. You're not dead, but you can't work, so now you have to watch yourself go broke.'
Too many people are spending an absurd amount of money to have a huge wedding, Egan says. Today, the average wedding costs a whopping $US35,329.
However, it does come down to personal preference; if a big wedding is important to you, that's fine -- just start saving for it early on.
When the first kid comes along, what tends to happen is that new parents will overspend on top-of-the-line cribs, bottles, clothes, and nursery accessories. 'Spending issues that we tend to see in 20-somethings will level out until the kids come along,' Moss says. 'And then it explodes.'
You want to raise your child in a comfortable environment, but check yourself before dropping a couple grand on that fancy stroller and draining your savings, as there are bound to be unexpected costs to arise.
Another area the experts see overspending is cars. 'People get bored with cars quickly. They always want a new car and so they're always dealing with a car payment,' says Egan. 'But it's a hugely depreciating asset. You don't want to be putting a lot of money into something that's going to be worth nothing after a certain number of years.'
Egan says to space your cars 10 years apart. After buying a new one, be sure to pay if off in five years; that way, for the next five years, you can build up other savings. After 10 years, hit the dealerships again. If you took good care of your previous car, you may even be able to trade it in, which will help with the payment of your next one.
Another option is leasing a car. You can determine whether or not this is a good option for you by following this flow chart. Also, consider foregoing the brand new car all together and buy a used car, which could save you a substantial amount of money. Check out Kelley Blue Book to get an idea of how much you should pay for a used car.
Graduate school comes with a hefty price tag, which is why you want to be positive you're going back to school for the right reasons, especially if you're paying for it out of your own pocket.
It should definitively aid your career track, Egan says. He gives the example of getting your MBA: 'If you don't know what you're targeting to do after you get the MBA, that's not the right path. If getting your MBA will help you secure a position that you want for your long-term career, then it's a perfect solution.'
He also recommends treating graduate school as a second job, and not taking time off work to earn your degree, if possible.
You're preparing to enter your peak earning years by your mid-30s, and it's important to prepare for this phase of your life, Moss says.
'You don't want to just be taking jobs for the money at this point,' he explains. 'You want to be taking the job that is going to prepare you to make a lot more money in your late 30s and early 40s.'
While optimism is a good quality to have, too much optimism can be dangerous, especially when it comes to money, warns Egan.
People tend to assume they will be making significantly more money in their 40s, he explains, which they use to justify overspending in the present moment.
'The rule of thumb should be to live below your means,' emphasises Egan. 'If you can't afford to buy the new car, then buy certified pre-owned. Savings first should be your mentality: Save for retirement first, and spend with whatever is left over. What people typically do is the opposite of that, thinking, 'I've got to buy this, this, and this, and whatever's left, I'll save.' Pay your future first, and make sure your present is secure.'
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