When I turned thirty I sent an email out to my subscribers and asked readers age 37 and older what advice they would give their 30-year-old selves. The result was spectacular.
1. Start saving for retirement now, not later.
“I spent my 20s recklessly, but your 30s should be when you make a big financial push. Retirement planning is not something to put off. Understanding boring things like insurance, 401ks & mortgages is important since its all on your shoulders now. Educate yourself.” — Kash, 41
The most common piece of advice — so common that almost every single email said at least something about it — was to start getting your financial house in order and to start saving for retirement… today.
There were a few categories this advice fell into:
- Make it your top priority to pay down all of your debt as soon as possible.
- Keep an “emergency fund” — there were tons of horror stories about people getting financially ruined by health issues, lawsuits, divorces, bad business deals, etc.
- Stash away a portion of every paycheck, preferably into a 401k, an IRA or at the least, a savings account.
- Don’t spend frivolously. Don’t buy a home unless you can afford to get a good mortgage with good rates.
- Don’t invest in anything you don’t understand. Don’t trust stockbrokers.
One reader said, “If you are in debt more than 10% of your gross annual salary this is a huge red flag. Quit spending, pay off your debt and start saving.” Another wrote, “I would have saved more money in an emergency fund because unexpected expenses really killed my budget. I would have been more diligent about a retirement fund, because now mine looks pretty small.”
And then there were the readers who were just completely screwed by their inability to save in their 30s. One reader named Jodi wishes she had started saving 10% of every paycheck when she was 30. Her career took a turn for the worst and now she’s stuck at 57, still living paycheck to paycheck. Another woman, age 62, didn’t save because her husband out-earned her. They later got divorced and she soon ran into health problems, draining all of the money she received in the divorce settlement. She, too, now lives paycheck to paycheck, slowly waiting for the day social security kicks in. Another man related a story of having to be supported by his son because he didn’t save and unexpectedly lost his job in the 2008 crash.
The point was clear: save early and save as much as possible. One woman emailed me saying that she had worked low-wage jobs with two kids in her 30s and still managed to sock away some money in a retirement fund each year. Because she started early and invested wisely, she is now in her 50s and financially stable for the first time in her life. Her point: it’s always possible. You just have to do it.