When you hit your thirties, you might still feel young and invincible. The scary truth is that you are halfway to retirement. It is time to put the money foolhardiness of your twenties behind you and master these top financial habits.
1. Actually Stick to a Budget
Most twenty-somethings have played around with the idea of a budget, have used a budgeting app and have even read an article or two about the importance of creating a budget. However, very few individuals actually stick to a budget. Once you turn 30, it's time to ditch the wishy-washy process of budgeting and start allocating where every dollar you earn goes. This means that if you only want to spend $15 a week on coffee runs, you'll have to cut yourself off after your third latte for the week.
The overall point of budgeting is to know where your money goes in order to make sound decisions. Keep in mind that one dollar here and one dollar there adds up in time. It's fine to spend money on shopping or fun trips, as long as these purchases fit into your budget and don't detract from your saving goals. Knowing your spending habits will help you discover where you can cut expenses and how you can save more money in a retirement fund or money market account.
2. Stop Spending Your Whole Paycheck
The wealthiest individuals in the world did not get where they are today by spending their entire paycheck each month. In fact, many self-made millionaires spend their income modestly, according to Thomas J. Stanley’s book “The Millionaire Next Door.” Stanley’s book found that the majority of self-made millionaires drove used cars and lived in average-priced housing. He also found that those who drove expensive cars and wore expensive clothing were actually drowning in debt; their pricey lifestyles could not keep up with their paychecks.
Start by living off of 90% of your income and save the other 10%. Having that money automatically deducted from your paycheck and put in a retirement savings account ensures you will not miss it. Gradually increase the amount you save while decreasing the amount you live off of. Ideally, learn to live off of 60% to 80% of your paycheck while saving and investing the remaining 20% to 40%.
3. Get Real About Your Financial Goals
What are your financial goals? Really sit down and think about them. Write them out and figure out how to make them a reality. You are less likely to achieve any goal if you do not write it down and create a concrete plan. For example, if you want to vacation in Italy, then stop daydreaming about it and make a game plan. Do your research to discover how much the vacation will cost, then calculate how much money you will have to save per month. Your dream vacation can be a reality within a year or two if you take the right planning and saving steps. The same is true for other lofty financial goals, such as paying off your debt or saving enough money for a down payment.
4. Figure Out Your Debt Situation
Many individuals become complacent about their debt once they hit their thirties. For those with student loans, mortgages, credit card debt and auto loans, repaying debt has become another way of life. You might even view debt as normal. The truth is that you do not need to live your whole life paying off debt. Assess how much debt you have outside of your mortgage and create a budget that helps you avoid gaining any more debt.
There are many methods to pay off debt, but the snowball effect is popular for keeping individuals motivated. Write down all of your debts from smallest to greatest, regardless of the interest rate. Pay the minimum payment for all of your debts, except for the smallest one. For the smallest debt, throw as much money as you can at it each month. The goal is to get that small debt paid off within a few months and then move on to the next debt.
Paying off your debts will have a significant impact on your finances. You will have more breathing room in your budget, and you will have more money freed up for savings and financial goals.
5. Establish a Strong Emergency Fund
An emergency fund is important to the health of your finances. If you do not have an emergency fund, then you are going to be more likely to dip into savings or rely on credit cards to help you pay for unplanned car repairs and health expenses. The first step is to build your emergency fund to $1,000. That is the minimum your account should have. By putting $50 of each paycheck in your emergency fund, you will hit the $1,000 emergency fund goal within 10 months. After that, set incremental goals for yourself depending on your monthly expenses. Some financial advisors recommend having the equivalent of three months living expenses in the fund – other recommend six months. Of course, how much you are able to save will depend on your financial situation.
6. Don’t Forget Retirement
Most people either enter their 30s without having a single dime contributed to their retirement, or they are making the minimum contributions. If you want that million-dollar nest egg, you have to put in the savings now. Stop waiting for a promotion or more wiggle room in your budget. In your 30s, you still have time on your side, so don’t waste it. Make sure that you are benefiting from your company’s matching contribution. Many companies will match your contributions up to a certain percentage. As long as you stay with your company long enough to become vested, this is basically free money for your retirement – and the earlier you start, the more you'll earn in interest!