10 Tips for ‘Getting’ Your Financial Act Together Before Turning 30
Turning 30 is more than a number, it’s a state of mind, telling you to finally get your financial act together. Indeed, personal finance for your 30s adds a new sense of urgency to your fiscal mission that you might not have felt in your carefree 20s, when paying your bar tab or funding a three-day bender to Cabo or St. Lucia were the biggest financial concerns in your life.
To help you prepare and take care of what needs to be done, here are 10 “gets” to accomplish… before your 30s, like your 20s, become a distant memory. Here’s to more gets and fewer regrets!
1. Get out of debt
Talk about a ball and chain, holding you back. Does it make any sense to pay 10 percent, 20 percent or even 30 percent on every purchase you make just because you want something now? Well, that’s what happens when you finance purchases and pay the minimum finance charges each month.
Get out of debt by listing all your debts, in order from the smallest to biggest payoff. Then go to work on paying the smallest first. This may seem counterintuitive because the math would seem to tell you to pay off the highest interest debt first, but accumulating debt is as much a behavioral problem as a math problem, so get some easy wins under your belt by purging some easy debts first. Paying off a few easy ones early on will help you sharpen your axe to go after bigger, higher-interest game.
2. Get a budget
About 70 percent of all Americans don’t have a budget, but that doesn’t mean they’re right. Instead of thinking that a budget is restrictive, think of it as a spending plan to enhance your lifestyle — one that is free of debt and stress.
Capture all the ways you spend money by putting your expenses into different categories and assigning a monthly cost to every category. If you spend $1,200 a year for auto insurance, that’s $100 a month. If after totaling all your categories (including an “emergency fund”), you find your monthly income doesn’t cover your monthly spending, you need to revamp your spending plan, giving priority to necessities. Budgeting is more willpower than rocket science. But never sacrifice “savings” as one of your categories. It is a necessity and your reward — even if a very small one until you get control over your finances — that will keep you on budget.
If you’re someone who has multiple financial accounts to keep track of, consider using an online personal financial tool like Mint.com, which gives you the ability to see the activity of all of your financial accounts at once. The easier it is to see your entire financial situation, the more likely you are to take the necessary teps to manage and improve it. If you’re already familiar with Mint, you’re on the right track. Check out these five clever Mint.com tips to help you maximize your budget.
3. Get a good living situation
You can’t keep flopping down on friends’ couches after a night of closing the bars, especially now that half your friends are married off. You need your own space — not necessarily a place — to call your own. If your budget tells you that’s renting a room, or renting an apartment, buying a place or moving back in with mom and dad temporarily, listen to it.
If you’re unsure whether you should rent or buy, there are many wonderful online calculators you can consult, including one on MyBankTracker. Keep in mind, that the mortgage you take out on a house is as important, as the price of the house, if not more so. For example, to purchase a $500,000 house with 20 percent ($100,000) down, you could see quotes ranging from about $1,500 to $2,700. The reason for such a broad range all has to do with financing, which includes rates, terms, buying points, etc., so find a good lender who can explain all your options and continue to educate yourself more about the process on our mortgage page and other helpful housing and financial sites.
4. Get a career
First off, get over yourself in thinking that a degree is your ticket to a job. That thinking all went out the window in the Great Recession. A degree is not the same as a job offer. Hiding out in grad school for another year or two doesn’t guarantee to open any more doors, either, sorry to say.
The best path to steady employment is finding something you love and working really, really hard at it, so that when somebody who is paying needs a plumber, violinist, programmer, songwriter, videographer, or accountant, you’re on the short list of persons being called.
Be okay with taking “jobs” to pay the rent, but never lose sight of your passion and the resume building (taking classes, volunteering, etc.) required to keep you on your career track.
5. Get a mentor
Finding a mentor who can help you with your decision-making and further develop your skills for success will be priceless. Ideally, select a mentor who can counsel you about the field you’re most interested in. A personal supporter or counselor isn’t someone who wears a nametag emblazoned with “MENTOR” on it, rather it’s a person you respect and admire and whose judgment, advice and criticism you would trust and to take to heart.
How do you find such a wise person? You ask. If the person is the kind of person you think he or she is, the individual will be flattered and honored to help.
You’ll also need a financial mentor, as well. This is not as easy as it sounds because many big-name investment firms have shifted their focus to wealth-management, so unless you have $100,000 or more ready to invest, you might be too small a fish for them to care about it. You’ll fall through their nets.
Rather, start your quest by asking a friend, family or colleague for a recommendation. If you do get to the point of investing, invest a small amount at first, so you’re comfortable with your advisor and how he or she communicates.
A popular site for finding a listing of financial advisors that cater to novice investors is the Garrett Planning Network. MyFinancialAdvice.com is another site aimed at the middle class. Its certified financial planners work with clients over the phone and over email. Fees vary based on the planner and the client’s needs.
6. Get a health plan
Now that you’re 30-plus or approaching the dreaded 3-0, you need a health plan more than ever — and with the passage of the Affordable Care Act in 2010, it’s now required, or you’ll started being docked on your taxes.
More than that, you could experience one major medical event, such as a burst appendix, which if uncovered by insurance, could set you back thousands of dollars. If you leave the bill unpaid, you’ll wreck your credit and seriously hamper your job prospects because employers monitor credit histories. Deadbeats don’t make popular hires.
If your current employer offers health insurance, take it. If not, go to your state’s health insurance marketplace and enroll. Many plans offer subsidies and tax credits, based on your annual income. If you already have health insurance, be sure you’re cutting costs so you’re not overpaying, either.
So don’t delay. You’re not 20 anymore!
7. Get a savings plan
Again, if you’re employed, enroll in your company’s 401(k), if one is offered, especially if it offers a matching contribution feature. That’s free money. Barring this option, set up a direct deposit program with your employer that automatically deposits your paycheck into the bank and the savings/checking accounts you designate. The savings bite might be a little painful at first, but after a while, you’ll probably inevitably eye the deduction no differently than the deductions taken out for IRS withholdings, Social Security and Medicare.
And if you’re self-employed, the No. 1 person you need to pay — even before all your vendors and creditors — is you. If you can’t, find a new business or career. You’re not 20 anymore. I think we said that already, but it bears repeating!
8. Get serious about investing
If you don’t feel as if you’re investing for the future, it’s hard to get fired up sacrificing in the present. Living paycheck to paycheck is like that monotonous wheel rats spin on all day. To get off that endless and hopelessly debilitating loop, you have to invest in something that outpaces inflation, which means you have to do more than dump money into a savings account.
To get your hands on a fistful of cash to jump-start your investing, sell something valuable that’s been collecting dust in your attic, garage or curio cabinet. Maybe you won’t get exactly what you want for your collection of Barbie dolls or baseball cards, but by selling it, you’ll start putting some cash to work. Similarly, if you get a bonus or make an extra sale, invest the proceeds in a stock or bond fund or even a business partnership. When you’re in your 30s, you need to broaden your investment horizon and think long-term.
When you have $1,000 saved up, and your emergency fund in place and your debts paid off or down, think about funding an IRA at your bank or online at a brokerage. The least expensive and most effective way to invest is to buy a balanced index fund. For example, the Vanguard Balanced Index Fund seeks — with 60 percent of its assets — to track the investment performance of a benchmark index that measures the investment return of the overall U.S. stock market. With 40 percent of its assets, the fund seeks to track the investment performance of a broad, market-weighted bond index. For the past several years, the fund has produced double-digit returns, a far better performance than any savings account, which is why you need to allocate even limited financial resources across different savings and investment vehicles. Even the biggest investors were once small investors.
For more investment advice, consult your mentoring financial advisor or go online to sites such as Vanguard, Fidelity or Schwab for more guidance.
9. Get credit
We live in a credit-driven world, even if you’re a pay-as-you-go person. For instance, you can hardly rent a car without a credit card, unless you’re prepared to sacrifice your first-born (or show the rental agency a slew of utility bills).
So, establish credit. If you’re currently renting a place with other people, volunteer to put a utility bill in your name. Faithfully, paying your bill each month will show credit card issuers, you’re creditworthy, and should you have to rent another place, you won’t have to put up another sizable deposit to get your utilities turned on.
MyBankTracker has written a slew on how to establish credit and which are some of the best entry-level credit cards to pursue to get your credit history rolling. In the meantime, keep paying your bills on time.
10. Get your arms around student loan debt
If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone when it comes to student debt. Some 40 million Americans have it, with the average grad carrying a debt load of $29,000. If you’re approaching 30, you’ve probably long since blown by your grace period. In fact, if you haven’t been paying your debt, you’ve probably been racking up interest charges and adding to your deficit.
No matter how many times you blink, it’s not going away. You can’t even discharge it in a bankruptcy, and the government has been known to garnish your Social Security in retirement to get you to pay it back.
There are options, such as applying for income-based repayment or loan forbearance. If you’re a private student loan borrower, petition your lender for a lower rate.
Whatever you do, start nibbling away at it. Debt affects your credit score and can hamper your job prospects as well if your potential employer conducts a routine background check, which includes your credit history. That said, this is No. 10 on our “get” list, because the interest rate on student debt isn’t as onerous as personal credit card debt, but we do find it a bit depressing that our list is bookended by debt!
Get used to the idea of growing older
Age and experience have their advantages. And you can prove it by taking some of the-personal-finance-for-your-30s tips listed above and implement them before you grow another day older.
Transform yourself into that vibrant, vigorous head-screwed-on-right, 30-plus person you want to be, so when people see you pass by, they’ll say, “Now there goes somebody who truly ‘gets’ it!”
Peter is a staff writer at MyBankTracker.com who covers banking, personal finance, investing and homeownership.