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Even after we’ve passed that significant 30-year-old milestone, which many feel is symbolic of becoming wiser, and perhaps more money savvy than our 20-something selves, there is still much to learn.

The 30s bring with them a whole new set of money issues that can have a real effect on one’s future. Let’s take a look at some of the most common financial challenges people may face during this decade:

1. Having the assumption your bankroll will always grow

Don’t let the thought you’ll have more money in the future cause you to overspend and/or skimp on saving during your 30s. Some people in this age range assume by the time they are in their 40s, they’ll have a significantly larger salary and therefore have ample funds to catch up on what they neglected to save during the previous decade.

Instead, your life motto should always be to live within your means. Ask yourself before each purchase and trip whether or not you can really afford it. If you commit to saving first (I recommend designating 20% toward savings and investments) and spending whatever is left over, then you’ll be in good shape. Unfortunately, many 30-somethings have the opposite mentality.

2. Attending graduate school for the heck of it

You probably know that graduate school isn’t cheap, which is why you make sure there’s a clear purpose behind your choice to enroll. Some 30-somethings attend graduate school simply because they’re not sure what they want to do with their lives and they hope it will open some new doors. But without clear vision behind your degree—like how you will use it to further your career—grad school may turn out to be an expensive mistake.

If you do feel graduate school could be the key to helping you secure a position for your long-term career plan, treat it as a second job and avoid taking time off work to earn your degree if possible. You may also want to inquire to see if your current employer may cover some or all of your graduate school costs, as some companies view advanced education as an asset.

3. Making frivolous vehicle purchases

I’m sure you’ve heard this before: a car is one of the most depreciating assets you’ll own. So why do so many young people still overspend in this area?

The answer is rather simple: boredom. Since a car is something you drive every day, it’s easy to become tired of driving the same one for a long period of time. But always having a new car means you’ll also be faced with a perpetual car payment. The bottom line is you don’t want to be putting a lot of money into something that’s going worth very little after a certain period of time.

I recommend buying a car every 10 years or so. If you buy a new one, try and pay it off in five years. That way, for the next five years you can put away funds toward a down payment on another vehicle. When you return to the dealership, you’ll have those funds, plus extra money you may receive from your trade-in, to help pay for your new vehicle.

4. Neglecting to discuss money with your future spouse

More people are waiting to get married in their 30s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean more are having serious conversations about money before walking down the aisle. Too few people realize how crucial it is to discuss personal finance, spending patterns and financial plans with their  partner. Will you keep separate bank accounts? Put everything together? How will you handle all your household bills? These questions can foster a discussion that will be extremely beneficial for your future as a couple.

Being open and honest about money sooner rather than later is good both from an emotional and financial standpoint. Unfortunately, research reveals that money can also ruin marriages. In fact, according to some experts it’s the number one problem in marriages and the number one cause of divorce. The more willing you are to talk about it and work through any issues, however, the better chance you’ll have at a healthy relationship.

5. Failing to obtain proper insurance

Let’s face it: insurance—whether it’s health, life, home or disability—isn’t exactly an exciting topic to discuss. For this reason, it’s often put on the back burner by 30-somethings, and the result is either a mediocre policy, or no policy at all. If this sounds like you, it’s time to take control of your life. Dedicate some time to researching insurance plans or talk to a trusted financial professional about your various options and the types of insurance you should buy at every age.

The decision to purchase a long-term disability policy, in particular, is often one that gets put off, especially if it’s not paid for by your company. Not having this particular insurance is extremely risky, however.

The Social Security Administration estimated more than 25% of today’s 20-year-olds will be disabled before retirement, and yet without disability insurance, you would have no guaranteed stream of income while you are unable to work.

6. Focusing on your child’s education over your retirement

Even if you have a family, your first priority in your 30s should be your own retirement. Think of it this way: if you’re not planning for your future, your child may end up having to take care of you someday. Providing long-term care for a parent can be much more costly than student loans.

Meet with a financial professional about whether your retirement savings are sufficient, and then establish a goal such as college savings when you have the extra funds to do so. Check out my previous blog about saving for your child’s education with a Roth IRA.

7. Putting too much emphasis on certain saving methods

There’s no doubt investing is important, but make sure you’re putting the right amount of focus on your retirement plans. Talk to a financial professional about what percentage to contribute to investment accounts versus how much to put aside for your emergency savings account, as well other big purchases such as a downpayment for a home, vacations or vehicles. Consider setting up multiple savings accounts in order to achieve your goals for specific purchases.

Author Ron L. Brown, CFP®

Ron is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ and President of R.L. Brown Wealth Management. He specializes in retirement, estate, and business planning for professionals and entrepreneurs. Ron assists his clients with creating a financial plan to ensure they are able to live their ideal lifestyle during retirement and leave a strong legacy for their family. Ron has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, US News, Yahoo Finance, Investopedia, and numerous other high profile financial publications.

More posts by Ron L. Brown, CFP®
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