Once we hit our 30s, our financial planning takes a different tone. Spending becomes a little more serious, we’re (ideally) making a little more as we expand our businesses or climb the corporate ladder, and we might be saving for bigger goals like a home or family. That means this decade ushers in some new rules around money management.
1. Spend Strategically
If the word “budget” makes you cringe a little, that’s OK. But by the time we hit our 30s, it’s important to have the financial basics mastered—knowing exactly where our earnings are coming from and exactly where they’re going. Spending strategically means aligning our daily habits with our long- and short-term priorities.
2. Understand Your Insurance
We’ve all probably had some run-in with a health issue, car trouble, or apartment challenge that required using insurance. At this stage in our lives, it’s more important than ever to know exactly what these plans cover, how much we’re spending on them, and if our risks and lifestyle appropriately match what we’re paying for. Thinking of having children? Now’s a great time to review your available plans and know what might be covered down the road.
3. Have a Will
You, yes you, need a will. It’s not as complicated as you think, and some places even offer a quick draft for free. If you have assets, pets, or dependents and are in your 30s, it’s an important part of your overall financial plan. While it might feel a little stressful or early to think about in this life stage, it is an extremely compassionate gesture to be thinking about the future care of those you love.
4. Pay Down Debt First
High-interest debt robs us from making the most of disciplined savings efforts. If we’re in this camp as we move into adulthood, it’s helpful to start thinking about a structured plan to pay it off. Whether you subscribe to the snowball method or some other set of steps to successfully pay off debt, a woman in her 30s knows this is a financial priority.
5. Establish an Emergency Fund
Savings is the first pit stop after debt pay-down. A few thousand dollars can go a long way to bringing security around any unexpected life challenges. Experts vary on how much needs to be stashed away. If you have dependents, are in a volatile industry, or are planning a major future purchase, you might benefit from up to six months of living expenses saved. A good place to start saving is a small slush fund that can get you through life’s surprises.
6. Invest in Valuables
This life stage is a good time to start investing in more quality things in our lives. Be it furniture, travel experiences, or a wardrobe that helps us bring our best selves to work, our 30s are about spending for value. The next time we’re tempted to drop $100 at a fast-fashion retailer, keeping that mantra of “spending for value” can be a good way to check in with how well these purchases align with our goals at this stage of life.
7. Know Your Own Hourly Rate
Spending for value can also mean knowing when someone other than you is best positioned to take on a task. While we might be paid salaries, knowing your hourly rate can be a helpful benchmark for understanding when you might be better off paying someone else to do a task. Time is money! I used this tip recently in handling a major home move—I put a dollar amount to what it would cost me to take a day off of work versus the expense of hiring a few TaskRabbits to join in on a major project.
8. Diversify Beyond Your 401(k)
If you’re already crushing (read: maxing out) your 401(k) savings, well done. You might be ready to diversify your investments and retirement savings beyond a basic 401(k). There are a million different micro-investing apps out there that can make this more approachable. And advisers like Ellevest are specifically geared toward helping women think about investing. At this stage in our lives, we still have decades before retirement, so it’s a perfect opportunity to let the time value of money do its thing, even if we have small amounts of cash to contribute to other investing accounts.
9. Evaluate Your Financial Progress
Money management in our 30s often means that we’re working toward some big goals, and the only way to make sure we tackle those goals is to break them down into smaller steps and measure that progress often. If we’re in a relationship, this could look like monthly finance dates with our significant other (or something less formal). Even periodically peeking in on a spending or investing app makes sure we’re checking in on how we’re moving toward our goals.
10. Find a Money Philosophy
None of us have it “all figured out” by the time we hit our 30s, but we’re on the road to having a more clear sense of self in all parts of our lives. This can extend to our finances too! In the same way we start to know what we’re looking for in a partner, city, or job, we start to get a sense of what works for us in our financial philosophy.
Having some guiding principles around money gives us an opportunity to set our own rules. For example, my rules for this stage of my life include being really aggressive in my savings and investing targets, and then not nickeling and diming myself to death over other purchases. This belief led me to put some financial decisions on autopilot, like paying myself first and making automatic deposits to key savings and investment accounts on payday. Systems like this that support our own personalized money rules tee us up for future decades of financial success.