12 Life-Changing Money Lessons I Learned In My 30s
“Wow, in my 30s, I’ll be like so totally sorted.”
I don’t think I actually said it like that as I am from the UK and not one of the Kardashians, but the sentiment was the same.
In my 30s, I’ll have my sh*t together.
I’ll be on a high rung of the career ladder, have a very stable life and be very clear on the direction I am headed.
Bahahahahahaha! Oh sorry, I just fell off my chair laughing at my naive 20-year-old self.
I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that we never know exactly what we want for the rest of our lives, but we need the courage to take risks and see where they go.
Life is too short to stay on one path, always wondering ‘what if?’.
Being in control of our finances and having a ‘money cushion’ helps to smooth the ride, to help us take risks when we want to and to rescue us from situations we didn’t see coming.
My 30’s have been a very interesting time as I have spent a big part of it learning about money.
How to invest, what to invest in, how to think about money, what to use it for, and also making mistakes (cryptocurrency anyone?).
Here are the 12 life-changing money lessons I have learned in my 30’s and how they can help you too.
- An ‘escape fund’ is the key to your freedom
You are likely to be questioning the path you have chosen, the career choices you have made and what you want from life once you reach your 30s.
Not in an existential crisis kind of way (hopefully) but more a pondering on want you really want to do as you watch your parents get older.
You see the haunted looks on the more senior people above you at work and really don’t aspire to be like them. You’d rather start a business and work on your own terms.
Or, you wonder when you are ever going to go on that 6-month traveling trip you never took.
If you spend everything you earn, these will forever be just musings.
Whereas if you have built an ‘escape fund’, and have the money to take 6 or 12 months off, those things you ‘wish’ you could do, suddenly become things you can do.
This is also called ‘F*ck You” money (I can’t take credit for that term as I didn’t come up with it, has a nice ring though).
It might be that you are happy with your career and life right now, but if something significant happens that changes your situation for the worse, you have the funds to do something about it.
So, if your boss suddenly decides to double your duties at work but refuses to give you a pay rise or your partner turns out to be the douche-bag from hell, you have the financial security to give them the finger and leave.
I used my escape fund to leave work and start IWMLBproject.
My work situation was toxic. Constant strategy changes, people ‘disappearing in the night’ — no they weren’t murdered (that would be a little drastic), but one day they were in the office, and the next day they were gone.
I was really stressed, unhappy and burned out. Luckily I had been saving towards financial independence for a while so I had a good chunk of change saved up.
I handed in my notice and left, it’s been a year since I did that and I can honestly say it’s the best thing I’ve ever done!
I now work on IWMLBproject and pick up the odd consultancy project and life is pretty awesome 🙂
- There is a dark side to frugality
If you have a type A personality, you might have a tendency to get a little obsessive about things.
When it comes to saving money, the temptation might be to see ‘how low you can go’.
Trying to save as much as possible, constantly using hacks and coupons, walking an extra 10 minutes to a different shop to save a £1, screaming at your partner for buying a £4 pizza cutter (ahem, I was very stressed at the time and may have been a little irrational).
All of these take a serious amount of mental energy and time.
There are loads of frugality bloggers (some of whom are very good) who spend virtually nothing and don’t find it a hard thing to do.
Personally, I got completely burnt out and miserable by trying to restrict spending in every area of my life.
Ironically, once I decided that enough was enough and I was not going to feel guilty about spending anymore, my month to month expenditure didn’t change at all.
I already knew what I wanted to spend on and what I didn’t, I just needed to take away the guilt.
I will always advocate tracking your spending and seeing where you can save so that you can invest instead.
Don’t make your budget so restrictive though that all you do is focus on the future rather than enjoying the present.
- Spend mindfully
Don’t get swayed by ‘spend-shaming’. Everyone has their own opinion about what is a good thing to buy and what is a waste of money.
If your gym membership card is well worn and you are on first name terms with all the staff, keep going. If Netflix is the only way you can relax after a hard day at the coalface, don’t cancel it.
It’s a bit like Marie Kondo’s The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. You hold (or think about) each thing, ask yourself whether it brings you joy. If it does, keep it, if it doesn’t, stop spending on it.
By really thinking about what you spend and what it means to you, you will naturally save money as you won’t be spending mindlessly.
- Cheap doesn’t always mean good
I’ve had a tendency up until recently to buy the absolute cheapest option when I need to buy something. which promptly falls apart about 6 months later.
Just because something has a discount or looks like a good deal, it doesn’t mean it’s a good option.
Sometimes buying less, but focusing on quality rather than price can be a better option in the long run.
This is minimalism, owning less in order to have a less cluttered life.
My partner is more of a minimalist than a frugalist (I don’t think that is a word) and I am slowly coming around to his way of thinking.
Although it may pain me not to plunder the depths of the discount websites to find what I need, I have to admit that spending a bit more sometimes makes sense (don’t tell him that though!).
- Slow and steady wins the race
We tend to start panicking about not having enough money when we want to make a major life change and we want to make it now!
The temptation is to jump on the latest ‘big thing’ and try to ride the wave upwards as quickly as possible (here’s looking at you, Bitcoin)
Unfortunately, there is no get rich quick scheme.
Yes, I know there are some Bitcoin millionaires, but most of them bought into it years ago, before the tabloid newspapers got hold of it, so they didn’t get rich quick either.
Although it’s boring, the best way to grow your wealth is by investing consistently over time into investments that earn interest (such as index funds).
That interest then compounds (hence the term ‘compound interest’) which means you earn interest on top of your original investment and the interest that is accumulating.
The best way to understand it is to play around with a compound interest calculator so you can visually see the difference between if you just invested without interest, or you invested with interest and let it compound.
- Lifestyle inflation now will restrict what you can have later
Your 30s can be the age that you start earning a good wage, it’s also the age when friends start to buy bigger houses in nicer areas, better cars and just nicer sh*t in general.
The temptation is to ‘treat’ yourself with nice things because you’ve worked hard, you deserve it and no longer need to exist on a diet of own brand beans and sliced white bread. Sourdough and avocados, get in my mouth!
This is called ‘Lifestyle Inflation’. Each pay rise you get, you inflate your lifestyle a little more to match it.
But what if you didn’t upgrade all areas of your life, what if you stayed in a smaller flat, kept your crappy car and continued to shop on eBay.
You’d be living well below your means and could save a really good chunk o’ change each month.
The choices you make now though are crucial to whether you can afford to save your ‘F*ck you’ money or get stuck on the 9–5 treadmill until you are 67 (see point below).
In all fairness, eating avocado on toast isn’t going to screw your savings, it’s the big expenses such as house, car, holidays and eating out that will really kill your ability to save.
- Retiring at 67 sounds sh*t
When I was in my 20s, 67 sounded so ancient that I didn’t even think about it.
Fast forward to 38 years old and having been in a career for 15 years, there is absolutely NO WAY I want to be working in an office for the next 29 years.
Just because retiring at age 67 is the norm, doesn’t mean you can’t retire WAY earlier than that.
And by ‘retire’ I mean, stop working in an office and do something else you like doing.
If you have other investments and income streams besides your pension, there is nothing to stop you retiring earlier.
Or starting your own business
Or taking a series of ‘mini-retirements’ (like a gap year but with less tequila and nicer beds).
- Only own a credit card if you can afford what you want in cash
I didn’t have a credit card for 10 years because I couldn’t trust myself with it.
Then I moved into a new house and needed a sofa, although I didn’t have much cash. I fell in love with a heinously expensive pastel blue one, so got a credit card and bought it — DOH!
I promptly cut it up (the card, not the sofa) and made myself a ‘pay debt off’ spreadsheet so that I could get rid of the payments as soon as possible.
That was 5 years ago and I only got another credit card about a year ago. And the only reason I use a credit card now is to get air miles so I can get cheaper flights.
The golden rules of owning a credit card (according to me)
- Only apply for a credit card if you could pay cash if you wanted to
- Set up a direct debit to pay off the balance in full each month
- Track all of your spendings so you have full visibility and control over what is happening with your finances
If you don’t feel in control of your finances and regularly spend above your means, DO NOT have a credit card.
The credit card company will be using you (for those lovely interest payments you give them each month) and not the other way around.
- You might need to compromise if your partner is not on the same money page
Oooh, this was a big learning for me. I entered into a very serious relationship at 34, prior to that I pretty much did what the F I wanted.
Once I was in the said relationship, I quickly realised that we did not have the same ideas about money.
This led to a lot of disagreements about which supermarket we should shop at or what kind of car we needed.
We butted heads on this for a good 3 years but have finally reached a few compromises that help us live a happy, non-shouty life.
- We keep our finances completely separate
I realise this may be controversial for some people but it works for us.
We use a joint credit card for purchases we make together and we share all bills etc, but aside from that, his money is his and my money is mine and we can spend it (or not) on whatever we want.
I’ll admit that for a long time, I still felt the need to give my 2 cents whenever my partner bought something, but I have stopped that now.
I’ve learned I can’t control other people and also his ‘wants’ are different from mine. As long as we both have enough to pay the bills and have our ‘escape fund’ money then we’re good.
- Agree to meet in the middle
One of the big things we used to argue over was where we did our food shopping (seems ridiculous I know). I’m a big fan of buying cheap at Aldi, Lidl, Tescos etc, whereas my partner loves Waitrose and M&S.
Eventually, we agreed on Sainsbury’s (mid-way between my preferred shops and his), as the food quality is good and they send regular discount vouchers, so we are both happy 🙂
- Shared goals are great for getting on the same money page
If one of you is a saver and one of you is a spender, having shared goals can really help to align your spending.
If you both want to buy a house together, or you dream of a life of travel, suddenly money becomes something to help achieve something you both want, rather than a source of disagreement.
- Educate yourself, but not too much
Educating yourself about money is a very smart thing to do and I encourage you to do it.
Sign up for personal finance blogs, read finance books and learn all you can about how money works.
But at some point you need to put your money where your mouth is and actually do something about it.
- Take the first step to creating a budget
- Open an investment account with Vanguard
- Finally, understand what your work pension is and how much you would end up with at retirement (and whether this is enough)
Just reading about money is passive action, whereas if you want to change your money situation, you need to take real action.
My favourite personal finance bloggers are below if you want to get started.
Most of these are Financial Independence bloggers but their thoughts about money, how it works and how to use it are invaluable.
- Mad Fientist (his podcasts are amazing)
- JL Collins
- Afford Anything
- Money Mustache
- Paid ‘educational’ seminars for investing are designed for you to give someone else your money, not invest your own
The best information I have found on investing and money has been free or very low cost.
Books on finances and money or blog posts or podcasts have been invaluable.
Paid seminars on property investing or investing in general on the other hand have been badly disguised sales pitches which prey on the needy and desperate.
My general rule is now to never attend paid seminars or meet-ups and avoid anything that promises an ‘easy and quick’ path to riches.
Trust me, I have googled ‘how to get rich quick’ many, manytimes and I’ve finally made peace with the fact that it takes time and compound interest.
- Hedging your bets is a good way to sleep at night.
‘Recession imminent!’, ‘Property investment is dead!’, ‘The sky is falling!’.
You’ve gotta love those sensationalist headlines. No matter where you stash your cash, if you want to take advantage of compound interest or passive income, there is a risk involved.
There is less risk when you spread those investments rather than chucking it all into one company or property.
You may decide that index funds are enough of a hedge as you are buying into such a large spread of the stock market.
Personally, I like to spread my investments across index funds, property and a 6-month emergency fund of cash.
If the stock market crashes, I still have rental income, if my tenants all move out, I have the stock market.
If the whole lot takes a massive dive, I have enough cash to keep me while I figure out how the hell to earn some more money.
Decide on what your investment vehicles are going to be (by educating yourself as we discussed above) and then work towards building your financial stability.
Your 30’s are the perfect time to get control of your finances. You have probably reached a more senior position at work and earn better money than you did in your 20’s.
Mastering your financial situation and having money work for you is the single most important thing you can do (in my humble opinion) as it gives you so many options.
You do not have to be ‘stuck’ with your life choices when you hit your 30s. There is still so much awesome stuff to be done and if it requires a major life change, so be it!
If you want to take that south-east Asia backpacking trip and you have the money to do so, do it. You’ll always regret it if you don’t.
It also means you can start to secure your financial future for later down the line.
This will give you enormous peace of mind rather than having this constant nagging thought in the back of your head that you’ll be working till you’re 376 years old.
And who wants to do that?!
The article is originally published on medium.com by Laura@IWMLBProject and is republished with the author’s permission.