You’ve probably been on your own for a little while and you’re starting to get the hang of it (life that is). Hopefully you’re making more money now and — after some trial and error — you’re better at managing your finances.
But that doesn’t mean you’re exactly where you want to be. You might still be paying off student loans and credit card debt. That 401(k) is set up, yet it still might not be at the level you’d hoped. But that’s okay, says Daniel Sheehan, a financial planner based in Fresno, Calif. People in their 30s still have time to get their savings in line and start thinking about other things that felt less urgent earlier, such as writing a will and buying life insurance. “It’s never too late,” he says.
So, what should you aim for? Here are a few goals:
1. Kick your emergency savings into high gear. You may have started your emergency savings during your 20s, feeling comfortable with a few months’ worth of expenses in the bank. But in your 30s, when you’re probably earning more money and have more financial responsibilities — think kids or a mortgage — having an emergency fund is that much more important. For many workers, it’ll be smart to have about six months’ worth of expenses in the bank, advisers say. But the exact size of the fund will vary based on individual circumstances.
For instance, someone with unsteady income may need a bigger fund than someone with more predictable income. Likewise, someone with a mortgage might need more savings than someone with fewer financial commitments, says Scott Frank, founder of Stone Steps Financial. The point is that it might be harder to sell your furniture and move back with your parents if something goes wrong, especially if you’re a parent yourself now. So save up.
2. Up your retirement savings to 15 percent of your pay. A good rule of thumb is to save close to 15 percent of your pay in a retirement account, including any match you might be getting from your employer, Sheehan says. If you weren’t saving much in your 20s, however, you may want to save more than 15 percent to make up for that lost time, he says.
To get a better idea of how much you should save for retirement, you can go a step further. Your plan provider should offer online tools that project how much monthly income you might have, according to how much you’re saving today. It’s impossible to know whether that will be enough, but comparing it with how much money you have now and estimating how your expenses may change in retirement can give you an idea of whether you’re on the right track, advisers say.
3. Start an investment portfolio. Once your emergency fund is set, try to avoid letting extra cash pile up in your bank account. Instead, invest that money to help it grow more quickly and give you a better chance of meeting your goals, be it saving for a down payment or for a wedding. Even if you aren’t sure what you want to do with that money, creating a portfolio can still give your savings more room to grow until you know what you want to do with the funds, says Karen Carr, a financial planner with the Society of Grownups, a Boston-area company that offers financial planning and lessons for millennials. But having a specific goal in mind will help you better decide how the money should be invested, Carr says. For instance, if you want to save up for your child’s tuition, you can invest in a 529 account, which offers tax benefits.
Your 30s are a good time to start building wealth outside of your house and your retirement account. Young people who mix up their investments by starting a stock portfolio or launching a small business, instead of focusing primarily on a house, can set themselves up for greater financial stability in the long run, says Bill Emmons, senior economic adviser at the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Using index funds is a simple way to invest broadly in the stock market while keeping costs low. Still, portfolios can also come with more risk. Advisers recommend against investing money in the market if you’ll need it in the short term, or within five years.
4. Be (mostly) debt free. Hopefully you’ve made a dent in your student loans and paid off any outstanding credit card debt by now. But if you haven’t, it’s not too late to get serious about tackling that debt, Carr says. For credit cards, make extra payments on your highest-interest debt first, then use the payments that were going to that card to pay off your other cards, she says. Try to keep each card balance below 30 percent of the available credit limit, especially if you plan to apply for a loan. A balance above that threshold may ding your credit score.
Ideally, your 30s are a time when you are paying your credit card completely each month and just using credit cards to earn cash and rewards for flights, shopping discounts and other perks, Frank says. Try using your card to pay regular bills, such as your Internet or phone bill, then pay off the balance in full when your statement arrives, to avoid paying interest charges, he says.