Managing money is tricky, especially when you’re in your 20s and just starting your adult life. Between low starting pay, student loan debt, and the pressure to keep up with your friends materially, your finances are usually anything but perfect.
As you learn the financial ropes, it’s only natural that you’ll make some mistakes along the way. I certainly did — because nobody’s perfect, and our 20s are a time of self-discovery where we learn the dos and don’ts of money management. Alas, while you can get away with a few financial screw ups as a young adult, your 30s are the time to get serious about your money. You can no longer afford rookie mistakes.
To help you advance to the big league, here’s a look at five financial mistakes to stop making by age 30.
1. Not Getting Serious About Budgeting
As a 20-something adult, you might live at home with your parents or share household expenses with a roommate. As a result, maybe you’re able to spend money frivolously and you don’t have to pinch pennies. If you get into any financial messiness, you can easily dig yourself out of a hole, leaving you feeling like a budget is unnecessary. Except there’s one little problem: You’ll eventually be on your own.
By age 30, it’s time to put impulse buying and bad habits behind you and get serious about managing your money. A budget is one of the best ways to maintain control of your finances. You’re able to assess exactly where your money goes, and allocating a certain amount for different spending categories reduces the risk of overspending and ensures there’s enough cash for other financial goals (building an emergency fund, saving up to buy a house, paying off debt, etc). You’re an adult now, and you need to treat your money like one.
2. Using a Credit Card to Satisfy Your Wants
It’s smart to apply for a credit card in your 20s. A credit card jumpstarts your credit history and provides access to funds during an emergency. Unfortunately, some 20-something adults rely too much on credit and accumulate massive debt. (You’re not alone; I did it too.) But by the time you hit 30, it’s time to give credit cards a rest and live mostly on cash.
Using a credit card to satisfy your wants doesn’t end well. The more debt you have, the harder it becomes to save for the future, and high minimum payments make it difficult to afford basic living expenses, like a mortgage or utilities. In your 30s, a credit card should be the exception, not the rule. If you use credit, make sure you’re paying off the balance every month.
3. Ignoring Your Retirement Savings
Thinking back to my 20s, saving for retirement was the last thing on my mind. Maybe you feel the same way. In your 30s, you can’t afford to put off saving for the future. For every year you delay saving for retirement, that might be an extra year you have to work later in life — and who the heck wants to do that? Talk to your employer about joining the company’s 401(k) plan, and consider diversifying your retirement savings with an individual retirement account.
4. Relying Too Much on Your Parents for Support
I know from experience that making it on your own as a 20-something adult can be brutal. Entry-level salaries don’t always keep up with the cost of living, and making ends meet might require some financial assistance from your parents. There’s no shame in asking for help, but once you’re in your 30s, you need to stand on your own two feet.
This doesn’t mean you’ll never need financial help again, but instead of running to your parents every time you hit a financial roadblock, attempt to solve the problem yourself. What would you do if your parents weren’t in a position to help? You could possibly sell items you don’t need, ask your employer for overtime work, or downsize if you’re living above your means.
5. Skipping Health Insurance and Other Insurance Needs
Some 20-something adults remain on a parent’s health insurance plan until age 26. But once they’re on their own, some feel they don’t need insurance because they’re healthy and only visit a doctor once a year for a physical, which is free under the Affordable Care Act. But just because you’re healthy today doesn’t mean you’ll be healthy tomorrow. The older you get, the more likely you’ll develop health problems, and it only takes one trip to the emergency room to wipe out your savings account. Even if you can’t afford the best health insurance plan, some coverage is better than none.
You also need to stop ignoring other insurance needs, such as disability insurance in the event you’re unable to work for more than two weeks due to an injury or illness, and renter’s insurance, which covers the replacement cost of your belongings in the event of fire, theft, or other damage to the property. Life often throws us curveballs when we’re least expecting, so it’s best to be as prepared as possible.
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