For your thirtieth birthday, do yourself a favor and sit down with your spouse for a financial assessment. While it is a good idea to see where you are each year and how you’ve progressed since the prior year, once a decade or so, it is a good idea to assess yourself not just against your past self, but against a more objective standard.
Take five minutes and see you you’re doing in some key financial areas:
A Home: At age 30, it is about time to buy a home. If you’ve done so already, congratulations. That puts you ahead of the pack. If you haven’t purchased a home, do you have money ready for a down payment? You should be ready soon. If you have a significant portion of your down payment saved, you’re in good shape and on track financially. If you don’t yet own a home and don’t have the money for a down payment, you’re a bit behind the curve. Getting into a home should be a top priority for you over the next few years.
Credit Card Debt: You are at peak credit card spending age. You haven’t had a chance to build a big net worth, you don’t likely have lots of savings and so the temptation to acquire the stuff you want using a credit card feels overwhelming. If you are paying off your credit card balances each month, you’re ahead of the curve. If you have some small balances, totaling less than 10 percent of your annual household income, you’re in typical form for your age—work to get out of your credit card debt as soon as possible. If your credit card debt has gotten away from you, you need to make fixing that situation your top priority. It can overwhelm your financially and leave you perpetually struggling.
Retirement: Optimally, you’d have about half your annual income in retirement savings. If you do, you are on course for a retirement without worries and maybe even an early start to retirement. At your age, if you haven’t started to contribute to your retirement plan, you need to start. There are a lot of financial pressures on you now, but the money you contribute now will multiply about tenfold before you retire. Every year you wait to contribute will put greater pressure on your retirement savings later. Wait too long, and your retirement could really be impaired.
College Savings: If you have kids or plan to have kids, you need to be saving for their education. Presuming you have two young children, you should have several thousand dollars in the college fund already. You remember well how expensive college was and the cost is continuing to rise faster than the general inflation rate. If you want your kids to have the same opportunity you had to attend college, you’ll want to be saving. Paying for three or four kids to attend Ivy League schools could easily cost $1 million by the time they all finish. Just getting three or four kids through community college and a local four-year school will likely approach $100,000. If you are contributing about $58 per month for 18 years for each child, you should have the minimum required to the local state school college education.
Car: It is easy to focus on the sort of car you drive–the brand, the age, the model. Nothing could matter less to your financial future. The key is to drive a car you can afford to own without a loan. If you have a car payment now, promise yourself and your spouse that it will be your last. Use your savings judiciously for car purchases, drive your cars for a long time and take good care of them so they last. By driving cheaper cars, driving them for a long time and avoiding interest charges on debt, you’ll save thousands and thousands of dollars over your lifetime that can better be invested in a home, college savings and retirement planning.
Don’t be discouraged. There is probably no time in life more frustrating financially than your early thirties. Your career likely hasn’t fully developed; if you own a home, it likely doesn’t have a lot of equity in it, yet; your savings plans are likely weak and, perhaps, non existent. Don’t be discouraged by your situation; do what you can and if you’re patient, time will turn small investments into big savings, small home equity into big home equity and big debts into small ones.