21 Financial Commandments to Follow in Your 30s

When you hit your 30s, it’s more important than ever to take care of your health. But are you paying enough attention to your financial health?

Welcome to your 30s! Do you have a 401(k) yet?

As you stride confidently into your fourth decade on this planet, it’s time to get serious about money. The decisions you make now will have a major impact on your future. Here are 21 expert-recommended ways to help your finances grow up.

Get Realistic About Money

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Are you spending more money than you make? That might seem like a basic question, but way too many people make it through their 20s without realizing that they’re living beyond their means. The first step to financial maturity is taking a hard look at your current spending habits.  

Break the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle

When you live paycheck to paycheck, it’s difficult—if not impossible—to grow your wealth and establish a foundation for your financial future. Breaking the cycle starts with reframing your attitude toward money. Are you approaching it from a position of scarcity, where you feel compelled to spend cash as soon as you get it?

Understand Your Credit Score

How is it possible that one little number can have so much power over your life? Your credit score will be a deciding factor in where you get to live, what kind of car you drive, and even your job in some cases. If you haven’t already pulled your credit report and checked it for issues, do so now.

Invest in Yourself

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Savings and budgeting are important, but so is investing in yourself. After all, you’re the driver of this vehicle, and only you get to decide the destination. Whether you decide to head back to school, amp up your networking efforts, or make time for a healthy work-life balance, it’s an investment in your future.

Save More Than the Max

This financial commandment assumes that you’re already contributing to a retirement account. If not, then get started! If you’re already on top of your 401(k) but only contributing 6%, you may not be able to reach your retirement goals by 67. Experts advise that you raise your retirement savings to 15%.

Budget for Needs First—But Don’t Neglect Wants

Budgeting doesn’t have to be an exercise in self-denial. The ideal balance of your budget should be 50% needs, 20% savings, and 30% wants. Entertainment, dining out, hobbies, fashion, travel—those things make the time you spend working feel worthwhile. You know what they say about all work and no play.  

Check Your Coverage

Insurance! Everybody needs it, but not everyone understands it. Sit down and review your health, vehicle, renters or homeowners, and life insurance policies. If you see a term you don’t understand, look it up! The internet is the world’s most incredible source of information, so make use of it. You might find that you’re over- or under-insured.

Balance Your Checkbook

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Balancing your checkbook is a dying art—but there are some things that computers and apps just can’t replace. Even if you don’t have an actual paper checkbook, you need to get in the habit of tracking your purchases. You can get a simple ledger or make a spreadsheet to update your debits and deposits at the end of each day.

Never Pay a Late Fee Again

Paying bills on time is the hallmark of a responsible adult. Getting hit with late fees, on the other hand, is just throwing away money for literally no reason. Maintain an updated calendar with the due dates of all your monthly bills, and schedule automatic payments if you’re concerned about missing a deadline. Make a commitment to never paying another late fee again.

Increase Your Emergency Fund

Do you have an emergency fund? Great! Does it have at least three months of living expenses in it? A personal emergency fund should ideally have enough in it to pay for three to six months of rent, insurance, food, gas—in other words, to keep your household together. If you’re a homeowner, however, you should have an additional fund for repairs and other unexpected expenses.

Take Care of Your Health

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Emergency funds are important, but preventing disaster is also a key strategy. Taking care of your health pays off in the long run in a multitude of ways. Regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, managing stress—these lifestyle habits can all help you live a longer, happier life. In addition to those habits, staying on top of routine checkups and other preventative healthcare is a smart investment as you enter your 30s.

Diversify Your Investments

Once again, this tip assumes that you have investments to diversify. As a responsible adult, the bare minimum you should be doing is contributing the max to your retirement account. However, building a portfolio of stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments with a variety of risks and rewards will help grow your wealth. As a younger person, your focus should be on long-term investments that will continue to grow until you reach retirement.

File a Will

Everyone over the age of 18 should have a will. Yet most people don’t even start to think about estate planning until retirement is already on the horizon. Life is unpredictable, and at the very least, you should file a basic will using a template—it costs about $70 online. Isn’t peace of mind worth it?

Buy Quality Over Quantity

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Pop quiz: Would you rather have one pair of shoes or twelve? As you get older, it’s smart to start thinking about quality instead of quantity. A single pair of well-made shoes can last decades if you take care of them. Even if they get damaged or worn out, they can be repaired. Cheap shoes, however, are designed to be disposable. The cost per wear might even be higher than the more expensive pair in the long run.

Educate Yourself About Interest

Do you know how compound interest works? Don’t be embarrassed if the answer is no. Plenty of us reach 30 (or beyond) without an understanding of how the financial systems that shape our lives actually work. Here’s a tip to get you started: When you have a debt or an investment that’s subject to compound interest, a percentage of the total will be added to the principal at regular intervals. That’s why it’s really important to pay off high-interest debts as fast as possible.    

Practice Delayed Gratification

Part of becoming an adult is accepting that you can’t always get what you want. However, once you’re in charge of your own finances, you can amend that lesson to be that you can’t always get what you want right now. Instead of making impulsive purchases, practice delayed gratification. If you still want whatever it is by the end of the day, week, or month (and it’s financially feasible to get it), then go ahead and treat yourself.  

Pay Off Debt Fast

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Paying off consumer debt as quickly as possible should be a top priority for people of every age. There are no benefits to carrying this type of debt, but there are plenty of drawbacks. Most experts recommend paying down either your smallest or highest-interest balance first.

Learn to File Your Taxes

If you don’t already know how to file your taxes, then make this your year. There’s software available to walk you through every step of the process, even if your taxes aren’t simple enough anymore for a 1040-EZ. If you’re still nervous about filing, then sit down with a professional accountant. Just remember to bring all of your paperwork—and don’t expect to get an appointment a week before the last date to file taxes.

Balance Liquid and Illiquid Assets

What does that even mean? There’s no way illiquid is even a word… right? Simply put, liquid assets are cash and anything that can be quickly and easily converted into cash without penalty, such as certain stocks. Illiquid assets are everything else you own, such as real estate, vehicles, and long-term financial instruments like bonds and certificates of deposit. When you’re younger, most of your assets will be liquid. As you get older, that will change—but don’t neglect to keep some cash on hand for emergencies.

Start a College Fund

Even if your kids are way too young to know if they want to go to college, start a fund for them anyway. A 529 plan allows you to establish a college savings fund with a ton of tax benefits for both you and your kids. And here’s a pro tip: 529 plans have no age limits, so technically you can start saving for your own education with one of these funds. Remember–investing yourself is worthwhile.

Talk Openly About Money

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When you’ve got marriage and family on your mind, you don’t have time to waste on relationships with people who don’t share the same goals. It’s not shocking to talk about those goals during the first few dates with a new person, yet discussing money is still seen as tacky or taboo. Normalize talking about finances with your loved ones. Nothing says “Responsible Adult” like having open, honest conversations about money.

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