There are plenty of mistakes we make when we are in our 20s, right? We’re young, inexperienced, and besides, we have plenty of time on our hands to correct any mistakes we might make. Then our 30s roll around faster than we imagined. Now, all of a sudden, it’s time to start settling down with a family and a career and those partying days of yesterday seem far behind us.

Unexpectedly, it seems like our finances become a key component of our short- and long-term goals. Perhaps we are contemplating buying our first home or starting a business? One thing is for sure, we need to come to terms with the fact that our days of careless spending are done. Like it or not, now is the time to start making sure our financial houses are in order and yes, even begin saving for retirement.

Here are some of the mistakes many of us commit in our 30s that we can avoid if we get ahead of them. Think of this as a cheat sheet for personal finances.

Not saving for retirement. Whether it’s an IRA or a 401k, now is the time to set up a retirement account. You can do this through your job or on your own by opening up a traditional or Roth account. A 401k is usually automatically set up by your employer, all you have to do is pick the plan you prefer. Whether you are a risk taker or more conservative, find an investment plan that best suits your personality and know that the higher the potential return on the plan the higher the risk, but also the greater the gain if your investments go well.

Another option is to open an IRA ─ either ‘traditional’ or Roth ─ with your bank or other provider. The money that you invest in a Roth is after tax, so you won’t get taxed again later on when you are ready to cash out. A traditional IRA is free of income and state tax while in the account, but you will be taxed once it is withdrawn. However, your contributions to a traditional IRA are tax-deductible, which is not the case for a Roth IRA. Ask your financial planner or tax preparer for greater details on both, including income requirements.

No funds for emergencies. Don’t forget the emergency fund, which is vitally important. You never know what is around the corner of life, like a broken car, a job loss, or a serious illness. Make sure you put some money aside from your paycheck toward this fund. Do this BEFORE taking out money for anything else. Make it easy for yourself by setting up an automatic plan where a set amount of money is taken out of your paycheck every week. Trust me on this. You won't even know it's missing. You will just see your emergency fund grow and grow.

Not having a 529 plan. If you have children, it’s important to explore a 529 plan. This educational savings fund helps families save for future college costs. It is operated by a state or an educational institution and individual states can set contribution limits, etc. By going to, you can see as many as 112 different plans by state. A 529 plan works similar to Roth or 401k plans in that you put the money in a mutual fund or similar investment account. Contributions are not tax deductible but the great thing about these plans is that the money you put in it grows tax-free and, as long as the funds are used for college expenses, you will not get taxed on the withdrawals. Again, review your state’s requirements and select a plan with input from your tax preparer or financial planner to find out which is optimal for you.

Carrying too much debt. Too much consumer debt is not good for your finances. Take the bull by the horns and cut down your debt, first thing! Attack the credit cards or bad loans that have the highest interest because they are eating away at your income. Pay the debt down systematically, and try to avoid putting more consumer debt on your plate for now. You don't want to sink into the red; you want to swim out of it. If you are considering making a new purchase at this stage in your life, like buying a car or a house, consider starting small by buying a ‘lightly’ used car and a smaller home in a modest neighborhood for now until you pay down your debt.

Not having a vacation fund! So you think that your fun days are over? Just because you have reached the ‘responsible years’ doesn’t mean you have to stop having fun. Save for that vacation you’ve always dreamed about. All work and no play is not living. Go ahead and have some fun. You worked for it. The savings-reward balance can keep you mindful and motivated as you tackle your next financial objective. 

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