When you become an official 30-something, the constant advice from parents, friends, and money experts to start investing in your future may sound like a broken record that you want to turn off. But they’re right. While you might think you still have plenty of time to start saving, consider this — one in three U.S. employees expects to work past age 70, and only 26% expect to retire before age 65.
Those are sobering statistics, especially when predicting how they might look for today’s young workforce. The good news is that even if you spent your 20s with a cavalier attitude toward finances, it’s not too late to shore up your long-term financial goals.
And just imagine following a financial strategy that takes you right back to that carefree lifestyle when you’re in your golden years — instead of having to take a part-time job to make ends meet.
Here is a list of 10 financial milestones to strive for during your 30s that can kick-start your savings, but let’s be honest — some of this might hurt a little. Saving money means sacrifice, compromise, and diligence, but always remember the end goal. Retirement. Complete, fully unemployed (unless you just really want to work), worry-free retirement.
1. Establish a Good Credit Score
We put this at number one because good credit can lead to better results with everything else finance-related. It determines the interest rate you’ll pay on a new car or house, (see number three), and how much you can save if you refinance your student loans (see number two). Bottom line, a good credit score equals cash saved.
And even better news? It doesn’t have to be perfect. A target score of 740 or more will put you into favorable range for lenders. If you have no credit or low credit, educate yourself on ways to improve your credit score. Find your current score via a number of free websites, including Credit Karma , and learn ways to better manage your debt.
2. Pay off Your Student Loans
This is a huge one. By the time you reach 40, you’ll be almost 20 years out of college: It’s time to graduate from that payment. One thing to note is that you don’t have to stick with your original payment plan.
Refinancing your student loan debt could lead to considerable monthly savings, even if the interest rate drops by just half a percentage point. SoFi’s student loan advisors can help you map out a way to refinance your debt, and remember that the higher your credit score, the better your rate will be.
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3. Get Rid of the Credit Card Debt
High-interest credit card payments are among the most likely financial hurdles to keep you from getting ahead. If you are paying on several high-interest cards at once, SoFi can help you make a plan to get out of debt and stay out. A number of free debt calculators are available online to help you get a solid picture of your overall debt.
4. Invest in your Retirement
It might be one of the most frequently asked questions about retirement: How much savings should I have? The answer is based on your retirement goal, so a good way to answer that question is to start at the end and work all the way back to a monthly investment goal. Once you have that number in mind, take every opportunity to meet that number, and exceed it where possible.
Many employers offer 401(k) matching programs, and it’s a powerful tool for supercharging your investment. Consider contributing at least up to the amount of your employer match. Another easy way to invest is a high-yield savings account, which is a growing trend. If you’ve managed to eliminate or lower some monthly debt payments, consider putting at least a portion of your newfound cash into retirement instead.
5. Create an Emergency Fund
Living paycheck to paycheck can work for a while, but life is inevitably bound to happen. Unexpected medical bills, storm damage, sudden job loss, and a host of other scenarios could add a financial burden to your household if you aren’t prepared.
A good goal for an emergency fund would be six months’ income, and a high-yield savings account can help you get there faster. The key to a successful emergency fund is to resist the urge to dip into those funds for everyday use.
6. Establish a Monthly Money Routine
Especially if you are the type who can’t remember where all the money went last week, consider creating a budget for monthly management, and stick to it. A host of budgeting apps are available to meet your needs or your style, so set one up, turn on the notifications and make it your most-used app.
Think of it like calorie counting: Nothing goes in your body (or in this case, out of your bank account) without being logged. It creates financial discipline and good habits quickly, and may even become a fun challenge. As part of that routine, set reminders to stay on top of your bills, because late payments can negatively affect your credit score.
7. Become a Homeowner
The cost of a house down payment when your career is young can seem unachievable, but becoming a homeowner in your 30s, or even buying a house in your 20s, could be a smart investment. And it’s not as difficult as you think.
One way to start saving money would be to take any cash you save from refinancing student loans or consolidating credit card debt and set it aside for your down payment. If you’ve already learned to live without that money, it could be a relatively painless transition. SoFi’s home buyer’s guide has even more tips and advice to help you get started.
8. Protect your Life
Find out whether your employer offers life insurance and take advantage of it. Often, it is only a few dollars (if not pennies) per month, which is a small amount to pay for peace of mind. If you have family (or even if you don’t), also consider supplemental life insurance as well.
Establishing a life insurance plan in your 20s, when you’re the picture of health, can be a lot more affordable than waiting until health problems start to creep up.
9. Protect your Income
Signing on for your employer’s disability insurance plan pulls double duty because it not only gives you time off to get the medical help you need, but it also protects your job. Like life insurance, short-term and long-term disability plans can cost mere dollars per paycheck. Combined with the Family Medical Leave Act, you can be confident that your salary is secure. Think of your income as your biggest asset, and work hard to protect it.
10. Budget in Some Fun
Saving money can be a painful process that requires a lot of self-discipline and focus, especially when your friends are all meeting at the new restaurant in town and you’re staring at a frozen lunch. But hard work deserves reward, and money shouldn’t be all business.
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