When you’re first getting your financial act together, the advice you’ll get pretty much boils down to:
- Create a budget
- Build up emergency savings
- Pay down debt
- Contribute enough to your 401(k) to get a company match, and fund a Roth IRA as well if you can
You built up a solid career, got out of debt, started saving for retirement…in short, you’re doing everything right. Congratulations! You’ve just graduated from Adulthood 101: Surviving the Cereal-For-Dinner Years.
Welcome to Adulthood 201: More Money, More Problems
Your life is more complicated than it was when you were 22. Now you’re 32, and you might own real estate — or you might be married (or plan to get hitched soon). Perhaps you even have a child (or plan to add to your family in the next few years). And your parents are getting a little older, so you’re preparing to help with their care one day.
Just yesterday, it seems, you were chasing the best happy hour deals. Now, you and your friends chat about the best local school districts. Are you just one bad decision away from wearing Mom Jeans?
Never! (Listen, there’s no excuse for Mom Jeans.) I’d be happy to guide you into the next phase of keeping your financial life healthy. Now that you have some assets, there are many ways to make your money work harder. You have the power to build serious wealth in your 30s and beyond.
Up the Retirement Ante
If you’ve been contributing just enough to your 401(k) to get the company match, and fully funding your Roth IRA each year, you are awesome. But I’m going to challenge you to contribute beyond the minimum to get company match.
Look at your take-home pay and subtract necessary monthly expenses. If you have money left over, use some of that to up your 401(k) contributions even more.
Why focus on this account? Boosting contributions works for you in two ways. First, money you contribute to your 401(k) is pre-tax, so the more you contribute, the less you pay in taxes. Second, more money + time + compound interest = your retirement savings growing exponentially faster whenever you contribute more.
Save More Aggressively
If you’re right in the sweet spot of earning a good salary and not having too many financial responsibilities yet, now is the time to save aggressively toward your short-term goals. If you know you’re just a few years away from home ownership, wedding planning, and having kids, save more than just the recommended 10% of your salary.
10% of your gross income should serve as a baseline to get you started with saving. But you’re ready to move up to the next level — which means it’s time to up your savings game, too. Now is the time to consider 15% to 20% of your gross income as your new minimum.
If you plan to use this money in the next five years, keep it in a savings account that earns you some interest, but allows you quick access to your cash.
If you have money available that you don’t plan to spend for at least five years, consider investing it. If you’ve never bought stocks or funds beyond your retirement accounts before, this can be intimidating. But there are some easy entries into the world of investing.
Start with low-cost index funds or Exchange-traded funds (commonly called ETFs). Funds are a great way to diversify your investments quickly — and not putting all your eggs in one basket is a great strategy for minimizing overall risk.
But don’t go into investing blindly. Keep an eye on fees when you’re picking investments. Look at a fund’s expense ratio, which is a percentage that indicates what fee you’ll pay per $10,000 you invest. There are options out there that will cost you less than $10 per $10,000 invested.
Also look for no-load funds, which don’t charge you a commission when you invest. By sticking to low-fee investments, you can grow your investments without spending a lot to do so.
The Scary Stuff
There’s nothing more adult than planning for the bad times. It’s very important to make sure you have adequate insurance coverage. This is more than just health insurance — I’m talking renter’s or homeowner’s insurance, car insurance, and disability insurance. You need to protect your home, car, body, and even your ability to earn an income.
Additionally, talk to an estate planning attorney about creating a living will (also called an advanced directive), which specifies who can make medical decisions for you if you’re unable to make them yourself. You need a regular will, too. This specifies how your estate should be divided upon your death, and who should care for your minor children if you have any.
My last morbid piece of advice? Write down all account numbers and passwords anyone would need to tie up loose ends for you. Leave them in a safe place and let a few trusted people know about it.
Give Yourself Some Credit
Making your money work harder for you includes making your spending work harder for you, too. If you have an excellent credit score but you’re still using the no-frills credit card you’ve had since college, look into rewards cards. You can earn cash back, stash points to apply toward discounted travel, and more.
These cards usually come with a higher interest rate, so they’re best for people who pay their bill in full each month. Many also have annual fees, but those can be worth it if the rewards you reap are greater in value than the fee.
Now that you have more cash to spare, consider creating a budget for charitable donations. Whether you want to donate to your alma mater, your house of worship, or the shelter where you adopted your cat, you now have the power to give back.
Don’t Forget to Enjoy Yourself!
Saving money is important, but it’s also there to help you enjoy your life. What have you wanted to do that you couldn’t afford to do before? Maybe you want to take up an expensive hobby, or go on a great vacation once a year. Maybe you’re a foodie who can now treat yourself to the occasional expensive restaurant.
Whatever your cup of tea is, you can afford it now. Enjoy the fruits of a few years of hard work and strict budgeting.
Up Next: Adulthood 301
Life gets even more wonderfully complicated as you reach your 40s and beyond. Take advantage of this time where you can make the next series of smart financial choices. Ten years from now, you’ll be glad you did!