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6 smart money moves to make in your 30s that will pay off down the road

Essential things you can begin to do today to pave the way for a brighter future tomorrow.
by Larry Alton /  / Updated 
Image: 10 year old holding savings in jar
A good budget doesn’t just categorize spending — it actually tracks every single penny of income and allocates money accordingly.Peter Dazeley / Getty Images
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When you’re in your 20s, it’s easy to ignore the topic of money. As long as you have enough money coming in each month to cover rent and pay a few bills, everything is fine. But once you reach your 30s and adulthood becomes an absolute reality, there’s no more room for messing around. It’s time to get serious about money.

Get Smart About Your Money

If you didn’t take your 20s seriously, your 30s is when life gets real. Mortgages, marriage, children, and positions of leadership replace rent, late nights with friends and part-time gigs.

Whether you realize it or not, the financial decisions you make now will have a long-term impact on your future. And even if you don’t have a particularly high financial acumen, there are some things you can begin doing today to pave the way for a brighter future tomorrow. Take a look:

1. Create a Budget

Smart money management begins with a budget. It might sound boring and clinical, but how else are you supposed to know what money is coming in and what money is going out?

A good budget doesn’t just categorize spending — it actually tracks every single penny of income and allocates money accordingly. Once you recognize how much you’re bringing in, you’ll gain clarity on which expenses are important and which are non-essential.

43 percent of millennials have bad credit. That’s a far higher percentage than both generation X’ers (33 percent) and baby boomers (20 percent).

2. Improve Your Credit Score

According to TransUnion, 43 percent of millennials have bad credit. That’s a far higher percentage than both generation X’ers (33 percent) and baby boomers (20 percent).

If you have bad credit, you aren’t alone. The good news is that you can do something about it. The best place to start is with credit repair. Check your credit report; you may be able to identify errors like late payments. Removing these issues can lead to a noticeable bump and help you build some momentum. From here, your focus should be on paying down debt, paying bills on time and lowering your credit utilization rate.

The latter is a very important step. The same TransUnion report shows that millennials use an average of 79 percent of the credit that’s available to them, compared to 77 percent and 65 percent for generation X’ers and baby boomers, respectively. Getting that ratio down to 40 percent or less is ideal.

3. Build an Emergency Fund

Once you reach your 30s, living paycheck to paycheck should be a thing of the past. With each new raise you receive, you shouldn’t be increasing your expenses. Instead, you need to save even more. Specifically, it’s wise to build up an emergency fund.

An emergency fund is simply a liquid savings account that you store money in for emergency expenses that aren’t accounted for in your budget — such as sudden car repairs, home maintenance expenses, and medical emergencies.

As a rule of thumb, a sufficient emergency fund should contain enough money to cover three to six months of expenses. This ensures that, in a worst-case scenario where you lose your job, you’re able to keep paying bills until you find another source of income.

RELATED: How to Save More Money in 2018

4. Start Paying Off Debt

If you’re like most Americans your age, you accumulated a significant amount of debt in your 20s. This may include student loan debts, medical debt, car loans and a mortgage. Your 30s should be a time where you focus less on accumulating debt and more on paying it off.

Start with the easiest debts (i.e. the smallest) and work your way to the larger ones. With each debt you pay off or pay down, you’ll start to feel a sense of relief. You’ll also begin to free up cash that can be strategically applied in other areas of need.

5. Invest for Retirement

Hopefully you’ve already saved up some money for retirement, but now’s the time to get serious about it. Start by contributing as much as you possibly can to your employer’s 401(k) program (especially if they match a percentage of your contributions). If you get to a point where you’re maxing that out, fund a Roth IRA next.

When saving for retirement, the goal is to reduce your tax liability. While it doesn’t do you any favors right now, contributing after-tax dollars will allow you to keep all of your retirement savings — principle plus interest — when you actually start pulling money out. Saving for retirement is all about taking a slow and steady approach. A little bit of money invested now can grow into a large sum of money over the course of 20, 30, or 40 years.

6. Diversify Investments

Once you enter into your mid-to-late 30s — or as soon as you start to accrue significant assets — it’s smart to begin diversifying investments. In addition to fund-based retirement accounts, consider investing in some income-producing real estate. Not only do rental properties produce steady income, but the real estate appreciates over time. This sort of passive income and appreciation is exactly what you’ll want when you reach your retirement years.

Smart Money Beats Loud Money

Consider two individuals — we’ll call them Michael and Dan. Michael had a very successful career and, from the time he was 25 until the time he retired at the age of 65, he made an average annual salary of $125,000. Thus, over the course of his 40-year career, he made roughly $5 million. However, Michael isn’t exactly the greatest manager of his money. Not only did he save less than $1,000 per year throughout his career, but he’s still strapped with mounds of debt, even after retiring.

Dan, on the other hand, never made a six-figure salary in his life. From age 25 to retirement at age 65, he made an average annual salary of $60,000. That resulted in a total of $2.4 million earned over his career. Yet, despite earning a very middle-class salary, Dan has always been smart with his money and put away nearly $10,000 per year into savings and retirement. He also managed to pay off his house and get rid of all personal debt by the time he retired.

While most would rather be Michael on the front end, we’d all prefer Dan’s life on the back end. That’s because smart money beats loud money. It’s not how much you make or what title you have — it’s all about the financial decisions you make.

While smart money management is critical throughout your entire adult life, your 30s are arguably the most important years. Not only is this when your salary begins to pick up, but it’s also when you begin to formulate habits that will last you for the rest of your life. Take smart money steps and you’ll be rewarded for years to come.

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