The Worst Money Mistakes We Make In Our 30s

The Worst Money Mistakes We Make In Our 30s

After a decade of frivolous spending and trial-and-error, most of us have figured out how to navigate the most common money mistakes by the time we hit 30. However, then we face a whole new group of challenges that have the potential to ruin you financially. From spending too much on your wedding day to putting your kids’ education before your retirement, here are 11 common pitfalls to avoid.

We consulted the experts and found out that money mistakes still run rampant after the roaring 20s, especially as major life changes are coming around, such as raising kids and purchasing a home. Here are 11 of the worst.

#1 Saving too much in the wrong places

Investing is important, but oftentimes people in their 30s have placed too much emphasis on building a retirement nest egg or other types of retirement plans, and have neglected to save for other big purchases, explains Brandon Moss, certified financial planner and VP of wealth adviser management at United Capital.

“You definitely want to maximise [superannuation matching] or other types of plans,” he explains, “But there are other major purchases coming along, especially if you’re starting to have kids or looking to buy a house, that you want to have savings for.”

Contribute money towards a retirement fund, but don’t forget to set aside money for other things, such as a house, car, vacation or your children’s education. Moss recommends setting up multiple savings accounts to start saving for specific purchases. Check the online interface of your bank and see if it will allow you to create sub-savings accounts.

2# Prioritising your kid’s education over your own retirement

While focusing too heavily on retirement is a common mistake, not setting aside enough money also remains a big issue, especially when kids enter the picture.

Obviously, your child’s education is important, but “your number one priority in your 30s — even if you have a family — still has to be retirement,” says Michael Egan, certified financial planner and partner at Egan, Berger & Weiner, LLC. Think long term, he advises; if you don’t set aside enough money for your own retirement, your child may have to support you in the future, which could end up being more expensive in the long run than student loans would be.

“Make sure you’re on pace for a decent retirement before you start setting aside money for college,” he says. “Once you’re on pace for that, and you have extra funds that you can set aside for a goal like college, definitely do that.” Put your retirement first — then your kid’s education. Here’s one method that will allow you to give them a head-start without spending a fortune.

#3 Neglecting insurance

Insurance in general — health, life, home, and disability — often gets put on the back burner, for two main reasons: “It’s not something that’s fun to talk about, so it often gets put off longer than it should,” explains Moss, “And many times, people don’t get great insurance advice. Oftentimes, people are advised to just get covered — it doesn’t matter what type, just get something — but years down the road when they’re in their late 40s and 50s and something happens, they find that they don’t have the proper type or amount of insurance.”

Moss advices you put in time to research insurance plans, or talk to a trusted adviser. Take a look at the types of insurance you should buy at every age.

#4 Not having injury insurance

One type of insurance that gets neglected more so than others is personal injury and sickness insurance, says Egan. This is meant to provide income should you be disabled and unable to work, which is more likely to happen that many of us may think.

Remember: if you get injured in your everyday life or become seriously ill, your employer isn’t obligated to support you and any disability payments you’re entitled to are unlikely to cover your financial needs.

“A lot of people will pick up group life insurance, which will cover you if you die,” he explains. “But they don’t think about injury insurance — and that’s your bigger risk. You’re not dead, but you can’t work, so now you have to watch yourself go broke.”

#5 Not talking about money when you’re planning to get married

It’s not a fun or easy conversation to have, but discussing your personal finances, spending patterns, and financial plan with your partner is crucial, both Moss and Egan say. Egan finds that couples often have this conversation too late in the relationship (or not at all). “By the time they’re finally sitting down to discuss it, there’s already a big emotional investment in the relationship, which causes couples to overlook major financial differences.”

The conversation must happen, and the earlier the better. First, you have to understand the financial background of your partner, says Moss, which allows you to understand how they make financial decisions. Next you can move into the conversation about whether or not you want to separate finances if you’re both working; if you decide to combine them, you must agree on how to spend the joint money. It’s not the easiest conversation, but it’s necessary.

#6 Spending too much money on the wedding

Too many people are spending an absurd amount of money to have a huge wedding, Egan says. Today, the average Australian wedding costs a whopping $36,200.

Egan recommends hosting a smaller wedding, and putting the extra money towards a down payment on a house. Pulling off a great wedding under $5000 is possible if you plan on a budget.

However, it does come down to personal preference; if a big wedding is important to you, that’s fine — just start saving for it early on.

#7 Going all out on the first kid

When the first kid comes along, what tends to happen is that new parents will overspend on top-of-the-line cribs, bottles, clothes, and nursery accessories.

“Spending issues that we tend to see in 20-somethings will level out until the kids come along,” Moss says. “And then it explodes.”

You want to raise your child in a comfortable environment, but check yourself before dropping a couple grand on that fancy stroller and draining your savings, as there are bound to be unexpected costs to arise. A child is no different to other financial commitments: you need to spend responsibly.

#8 Overspending on cars

Another area the experts see overspending is cars. “People get bored with cars quickly. They always want a new car and so they’re always dealing with a car payment,” says Egan. “But it’s a hugely depreciating asset. You don’t want to be putting a lot of money into something that’s going to be worth nothing after a certain number of years.”

Egan says to space your cars 10 years apart. After buying a new one, be sure to pay if off in five years; that way, for the next five years, you can build up other savings. After 10 years, hit the dealerships again. If you took good care of your previous car, you may even be able to trade it in, which will help with the payment of your next one.

Also, consider foregoing a brand new car all together and buy a used car, which could save you a substantial amount of money. You can find some additional tips on buying and selling cars here.

#9 Going back to university for the wrong reasons

Graduate school comes with a hefty price tag, which is why you want to be positive you’re going back to school for the right reasons, especially if you’re paying for it out of your own pocket.

It should definitively aid your career track, Egan says. He gives the example of getting your MBA: “If you don’t know what you’re targeting to do after you get the MBA, that’s not the right path. If getting your MBA will help you secure a position that you want for your long-term career, then it’s a perfect solution.”

He also recommends treating graduate school as a second job, and not taking time off work to earn your degree, if possible.

#10 Taking a job for the short-term money

You’re preparing to enter your peak earning years by your mid-30s, and it’s important to prepare for this phase of your life, Moss says.

“You don’t want to just be taking jobs for the money at this point,” he explains. “You want to be taking the job that is going to prepare you to make a lot more money in your late 30s and early 40s.”

In other words, you should be looking out for jobs that have a career ladder in place and will allow you to progress through the ranks (especially if you’re still near the bottom rung).

#11 Assuming you’ll have more money in the future

While optimism is a good quality to have, too much optimism can be dangerous, especially when it comes to money, warns Egan.

People tend to assume they will be making significantly more money in their 40s, he explains, which they use to justify overspending in the present moment.

“The rule of thumb should be to live below your means,” emphasises Egan. “If you can’t afford to buy the new car, then buy pre-owned. Savings first should be your mentality: Save for retirement first, and spend with whatever is left over.

“What people typically do is the opposite of that, thinking, ‘I’ve got to buy this, this and this, and whatever’s left, I’ll save.’ Pay your future first, and make sure your present is secure.”

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.


  • I can attest to the insurance side of things. The amount of times I refused insurance on loans and stuff in the event of an injury or disability, kicking myself after finding out I had a brain tumour. I was left paying medical bills as well as all other payments and loans, while not being able to work and supporting a family of four. It was next to impossible and only got by because I had 16 years of long service and annual/sick leave. Definitely not how you want to be starting your 30s.

    • Thanks for reassuring me. I pay a ton on insurance for everything. Wondering if it’s worth it.

      • Definitely worth it, have it as peace of mind and hope you don’t ever need it. Problem with youth is you think your invincible

    • Yikes! I dare say a brain tumor is also not how you want to be starting your 30’s. Hope you’re beating it!

  • I had cancer aged 31, and now cannot seem to get life insurance of any kind, even though it was 17 years ago.
    Get life insurance, young, before something happens to you and makes it impossible to get. Once you have a family, not having life insurance makes you feel like a complete bum.

  • Spending a massive load on your wedding is the dumbest thing you can do. Years later, no one cares what you did on the day, only that it happened. No one is going to make your life worse if you had a small ceremony. But you end up with crippling debt that will delay buying that first home together, make it harder to save for your kids’ education, paying for all those financial things like insurance, building a nest egg for your retirement, everything on the list above.

    The only people who benefit from this are the wedding planners, photographers and support teams who play on your guilt to make it bigger and better than everyone else (but it’s an arms race that no one will win). Avoid them at all costs – they are sharks that only care if you can spend just a little more because they insist your wedding needs it or otherwise you’re a loser who doesn’t want to make their wedding memorable (no one will really remember the little details). Keep the money for your future, not blow it all in 6 hours.

    • Food and music matter the least in weddings. Go for a cocktail wedding with a CD player. Have a tab on the bar – make sure you have a half decent photographer.

      It’s the photos that will bring the memories to life.

  • Number 2 has a very American focus… In Australia where we have compulsory super most people’s number 1 priority in their 30s should be paying off their mortgage as soon as possible, given mortgage interest is not tax deductible. If you are on the 40% tax bracket and paying 4.5% interest on your mortgage, every dollar invested in that is earning an effective rate of 6.3% risk free. Similarly, setting up savings accounts to meet your financial goals is silly when you can put the money in your offset account against your mortgage and earn 6.3%.

    Americans don’t get compulsory super and don’t have to take huge mortgages to buy a house, get your house paid off your kids educated and then plow as much in to super to prop up your retirement savings.

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