- As a financial planner, I know my 30-something clients are facing conflicting financial priorities — paying off student loans, saving for a home, or saving to have kids.
- But many 30-somethings neglect saving for retirement, even though your 30s are an ideal time to invest.
- I recommend starting small with whatever you can, then trying to save as much as possible before having kids when cash flow becomes tight.
- If you’re balancing debt with investing, save up to your company’s match in a 401(k) then direct any extra cash to your high-interest credit card debt.
- SmartAsset’s free tool can find a financial planner to help you take control of your money »
In my experience, most people in their 30s are facing the daunting task of balancing large student loan payments, saving for a down payment on their first home, deciding when they can afford to have children, and trying to figure out how they might be able to put aside something for those children’s education.
Amidst all those daunting and conflicting priorities comes the most important task that is easiest to put on the back burner: saving for your own retirement.
If this sounds like you, here are a few considerations for readers in their 30s who want real, practical tips for creating a retirement plan around the ebbs and flows of life (even though retirement might be 30+ years away).
Compound interest is oftentimes referred to as the “eighth wonder of the world,” with good reason. Small contributions and investments in retirement accounts in your early years allow you to grow your portfolio substantially simply by allowing time to work its magic.
It can be tempting to say that you won’t contribute to a 401(k) account because your employer doesn’t match, or you will begin retirement savings “someday when you have additional money,” but the truth is that years can fly by and you will have saved almost nothing for your future if you aren’t mindful. By prioritizing retirement as early as possible, you can ensure that you have a solid base of contributions that will continue to grow if invested appropriately.
The consensus is that you should contribute 10-15% of your income to retirement accounts. Don’t let that higher number scare you if you haven’t gotten started, though. For now, at least contribute up to the company match to start with. After all, if you’re not doing that, you’re giving up free money!
Front-load retirement savings in your 30s before having children and cash flow is tight
One of the most common sentiments I hear from clients is that they want to control their money and their life, instead of the reverse. Essentially, most people in their 30s want their money to give them the life they’ve actively chosen and not be forced into a corner by their financial circumstances.
Since many people in their 30s have the benefit of two incomes in the home and may not have children yet, it is the perfect time to really lean into retirement savings. By contributing substantially to retirement early, while you have relatively more budget flexibility, you give yourself the flexibility to save less later. Essentially, you are buying yourself options by leaning heavily into your retirement savings as soon as you can.
Ideally, this would be before you have children and have to contend with high childcare costs or even before you purchase your first home. If you go this route, I recommend targeting 20-30% of pre-tax income to retirement through whichever retirement-savings vehicles you have available to you, such as a 401(k), 403(b), IRA, or HSA, just to name a few.
Balance debt payoff with retirement investing
I often hear from people who feel as though they cannot begin saving for retirement before they pay off debt. I completely recognize the struggle to pay off student loans and balance other priorities, because that was a struggle I faced for many years, too.
However, I really believe saving for retirement needs to be a nonnegotiable for people in their 30s. The truth is that there will always be conflicting priorities in your finances, and the longer you wait, the more you will have to save.
For those of you who are trying to decide how to balance paying down debt and saving for retirement, I recommend following a simple rule.
In general, I recommend people allocate 20% of their income towards financial priorities including debt. If you are struggling with high-interest credit card debt like many Americans, then contribute to your company retirement plan up to the point that your company matches and divert as much as possible of the aforementioned 20% to accelerate the payoff of your high-interest debt. If you are looking at student loans or other debt that is less than a 5.5% interest rate, then I recommend prioritizing retirement and putting as much of your income as possible towards that 20%. Your future self will thank you, I promise.
Your 30s are an incredible time to really lean into strategically thinking through retirement saving and investing. By leaning into this far-off goal, you really buy yourself additional budget flexibility in the future — to have another child, upgrade your home, or start that business you’ve always wanted to. Essentially, you are allowing time and compound interest to do most of the heavy lifting to achieve your goal of a secure and abundant retirement on your terms.
Anna N’Jie-Konte is a passionate believer in the empowerment of women and minorities in America. She is the founder of Dare to Dream Financial Planning, a fee-only, virtual financial planning firm.
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