7 Personal Finance Lessons Women Learn in Their 30s


The 30s have been my best decade yet. I've taken risks, experienced great accomplishments, and picked myself up from quite a few failures and tragedies. I've also learned a lot about personal finance in this decade, and these lessons from my 30s will carry me through all the years to come.

1. Manage Your 401(k)

Compounding is an important concept to learn and use. Putting away even small amounts of money now in a 401(k) or IRA can be your savior once you decide it's time to retire. Contributions lower your current tax liability by being deducted from your paycheck pre-tax, and target-date funds allow you to select an investment bundle based on the target year you'd like to retire and your risk tolerance. For example, at age 35, I'd choose a 2045 target date fund, such as this fund from Vanguard. Using the target retirement date, the account will adjust the risk of its investments automatically. If you can, max out your personal contribution and get your employer to match a percentage of your contribution.

2. Now Is the Time to Take a Professional Risk

If you have a professional risk you want to take, your 30s are the time to go for it. You still have plenty of time to work and save if the risk doesn't pan out, you're young and energetic, and you've got enough experience under your belt to have the confidence you need. I'm so glad I stepped away from my corporate career to work as an independent consultant and freelance writer. The projects I've worked on, skills I've gained, and portfolio I've built have put me in a strong position to continue doing the work I love as part of a larger organization.

3. Cash Is King

Having cash on-hand is crucial whenever you take a professional risk. I keep a nine month emergency fund for those unexpected (and unwanted!) events, and I also have another savings account as a float as I manage the invoices from my freelance clients. Having this cash on-hand has helped to keep worry at bay, so that I can focus on high-quality work.

4. It Pays to Have a 1099 Gig

A gig that pays you on a 1099 — whether it's your full-time job or a side venture — can result in a lower tax burden. Depending on the 1099 gig, part of your rent or mortgage, utility bills, cell phone bills, travel, and entertainment expenses may be tax deductible. Talk to your accountant to determine what's realistic and what records you need to keep for tax time.

5. Insurance Is Worth the Price

Whether it's health insurance, renter's or homeowner's insurance, or pet insurance, by my 30s I learned that emergencies happen. Being insured against the unknown has a cost, but the peace of mind and the help it provides in the event of an accident are far more valuable than any of the premiums I pay. Life is unpredictable; protecting yourself from financial ruin isn't.

6. To Own Your Place Is Divine

I've now lived in three states and moved nine times in my 30s, and I've still got over a year to go! Some of these times I moved by pure choice, and other times I moved because I had to. I am tired of moving, so I can't wait to actually own my own place and everything inside of it. From a financial perspective, owning your own place provides tax advantages, often allows you to build equity (rather than just paying rent), and you can avoid the expense of all of the costs of moving on a regular basis.

7. Play the Long Game

The most valuable thing we learn in our 30s is that our very best investments are long term, and involve making ourselves the best people we can be. Reduce your stress, make yourself happy, and you'll see huge benefits in the quality of your life and your longevity. Investing in your education, buying things you love that will last, and taking small steps to secure your financial future everyday will pay off in the long run.

The 30s are a fun and interesting decade. We're experienced and still hopeful. We're energetic and wise. We're grounded and still dreaming. Use these financial lessons above well and you'll find the financial foundation you've laid in your 30s fuels all of your days ahead.

What personal finance lessons have your 30s taught you?

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Guest's picture
Dan Hoffman

How did you get to renters and pet insurance before life and disability insurance??? On the priority scale, disability insurance is right after health. Women are working and earning, like all earners they need to protect their income. I think that was a big miss.