How much to save for retirement in my 30s? (and other burning questions)
Your 30s are a big deal. You may be starting a family or planning to make major purchases, such as a home. It's also a time when many begin to ask this critical question: How much to save for retirement in my 30s?
The short answer is most experts say you should be socking away 15% of your gross income by your 30s — that's your income before taxes and other deductions. But before you max out your company 401(k) or fund an IRA, it's also critical that you set aside cash for emergencies, at the very least $1,000 but preferably three months of living expenses. Going without this cushion could force you to turn toward debt during a financial setback. Becoming a steady and determined saver will also put you ahead of the pack when it comes to home-buying and college saving.
Experts advise that your 30s are a great time to fight against lifestyle inflation — this happens when you increase your spending with every bump in pay. If the 30s are a time of rapid career advancement for you, bank as much of each raise and/or bonus into emergency savings or your retirement accounts.
You will also need to eliminate any lingering money management mistakes.
Here's how one Get Rich Slowly contributor Suba Iyer navigated her 30s and what you can learn from it:
As I venture into my early 30s, I think I've become pretty careful about our finances. I certainly know not to continue on with the mistakes I made in my 20s like buying more car than I can afford or not paying myself first. But something happened last week that made me go, “Uh-oh.”
Now that spring is here, I went shopping to look for new clothes for my daughter. After a while, my husband looked at all the stuff and asked me, “Don't you think you're going a little overboard here? Why so much stuff?”
- Start by building an emergency fund first
- Aggressively add to your retirement whenever you get a raise or bonus
- Eliminate any lingering bad habits around saving and spending
I started to justify why we needed each item. And after a bit, I realized I was actually repeating myself: “Well, this looks pretty. And this is very pretty.” I could see the look on my husband's face. I just stopped. I had to admit that she only needed half of what I was going to purchase. She is a baby after all; she doesn't care about being pretty, only about being comfortable. Uh-oh, I am making new money mistakes!
When we reach our 30s, many of us have our careers on a steady path; most of us are married or are getting married; some of us have started traveling more, purchased a house and might even have a baby or two. But it's not a time to become complacent with our finances. If we aren't careful, we can make new money mistakes.
I guess that is true for every stage in our lives — we keep making new mistakes. But we can also keep learning from each other and avoid as many mistakes as we possibly can. Isn't that why we read this blog in the first place?
So here I am, compiling a list of potential money mistakes my 30-something peers and I should avoid. On the eve of my 40th birthday, I don't want to be thinking “I wish someone had told me this 10 years ago.” I will start with the one that served as my wake-up call and got this thought process going for me in the first place:
- Buying too much for your child. I think every parent makes this mistake. In fact, compared to what I see other moms in my local mommy groups purchasing, I seem to buy very little. And what I buy is more than plenty. So I can only imagine how much money people are spending on cute clothes, shoes, blinking and screaming toys, even educational apps. I (and other parents) should just save that money and start a college fund.
- Getting married without talking about finances. Maybe money is a touchy subject for people; but by the time you have reached your 30s, you should be more capable of negotiating difficult discussions. It is extremely important to be on the same page with your spouse when it comes to money. Otherwise, it can become a major source of conflict in your married life and potentially the reason it ends in divorce. Talk about finances with the person who will share your life and develop your monetary goals together.
- Still having consumer debt. I have heard of excuses like “If only I were single, I would have paid off all this debt” or “I was paying off my debt, but we had a kid.” There will always be some new event in life; some exciting, some unfortunate. But if we choose to ignore our debt, it can become an obstacle that prevents us from pursuing opportunities that might better our lives. Take charge of your debt! Budget aggressively, earn as much as you can, and pay it off.
- Buying more house or car than you need. A lot of people move when they have children, thinking they need more room with a kid than they did before. They take the same approach with cars, trading in their sedan for a big SUV. Why? We don't need giant homes or huge cars to raise kids!
- Keeping up with the Joneses. Speaking of giant homes and huge cars, people of all ages seem to be afflicted with the desire to keep up with the Joneses — but unfortunately, it seems especially common among 30-somethings. Maybe it's the subconscious messaging of television advertising or the desire to be accepted in our social groups; but no matter what the reason, it is important to keep our spending within our means, forego lifestyle inflation, and chart our own financial course.
- Ignoring a will. If you have a significant other or any children, please make out a will or set up a living trust. It may be unpleasant to think about death in your 30s; but you don't want your loved ones to go through the hassle of fighting the State to get what is theirs. While you're at it, get a durable power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney too!
- Not having enough life insurance. Again, no one wants to think about death; but if you have anyone that depends on your income or your time, you need life insurance. And you have to get enough life insurance to cover the needs of your dependents, not just the minimum offered by your employer.
- Not having long-term disability insurance. In your 30s, the chances of becoming disabled and not being able to work are higher than death. Most people have long-term disability insurance from their employer; but you should calculate how much you need and then purchase supplemental insurance. When it comes to insurance, life or long-term disability, it is better to get your own policy and not depend on your employer (unless getting your own policy is prohibitively expensive for some reason). If you change your job, you will lose that insurance and then replacing it will be that much more expensive. This type of insurance is less expensive in your 30s than it is later in life.
- Not re-evaluating your retirement goals. In your 30s, you have a new lifestyle; hopefully your income is different now than it was 10 years before when you started saving for retirement. If your income has increased since you formulated your retirement goals, have you done the calculation on how much you need in retirement with your new income and lifestyle? If not, now is the time.
- Not paying attention to how your investments perform. You might have started your 401(k) with a very basic money market fund with the intention of learning about investing and doing a better job. Have you done that? Have you studied how your investments are performing and adjusted them based on your current goals and tolerance for risk? If you need help, now would be a great time to find a fee-only financial planner and see if you are on the right track.
- Neglecting your children's education. If you have a child and intend to pay for at least part of their education, you need to start putting money away for college now. At the very least, start saving money in an online savings account until you fully research college savings plans.
- Putting too much importance on your children's education. You should save for your children's college tuition but not at the expense of your own retirement. Make a budget, fund your retirement, and then find ways to save more money to fund college.
- Going back to graduate school for the wrong reason. I am all for getting a graduate degree if it propels your career to new heights. But if you are going to graduate school after a job loss to avoid job-hunting or if you are going to grad school because you can't find a job with your undergraduate degree — particularly if you have not researched job prospects after a graduate degree — then you are making a huge mistake.
- Not diversifying your income. It used to be that you stayed loyal to your employer and in return they took care of you. For example, each of my parents had one job throughout their working years. When they retired from their jobs, they each had a pension. But since that isn't the case today, we need to find ways to maximize and diversify our income. If you have a hobby that can make some money, pursue that. Try to generate income from sources other than your job. After all, job loss is no longer an uncommon occurrence and the only person who cares about your future is you.
Related >> Money Mistakes to Avoid in Your 40s
Related >> Money Mistakes to Avoid in Your 20s
Those are the mistakes of which I am aware. Some of these are things I notice myself doing and others I see happening with my friends. But unlike the mistakes we are likely to make in our 20s, these are born more from complacency, not necessarily naivete. The good news is that we 30-somethings can wake up, take charge of our finances and still hope to achieve our financial goals.
What mistakes do you think people should avoid in their 30s? If you see yourself in any of these items, do you see a way to change what you're doing?