The Lost Years: The Untold Truth About Your 30s

Jan 22, 2024

Your 30s tend to be a decade ripe for big life changes. During periods of rapid or constant change, it’s easy to lose sight of goals. How can you combat these changes and graduate from your 30s with your finances intact?

Onslaught of Big Ticket Items

The majority of my clients are in their 30s and 40s. If I’m lucky, I get to work with them while they go through life’s most exciting milestones, such as buying a home, planning a wedding, and starting a family. What people fail to talk about is how this phase of life is expensive and can easily throw a wrench into your financial goals – whether it’s saving for retirement or simply building and maintaining a solid financial foundation.

Let’s look at the numbers. The average wedding in America is hovering at around $30,000. Homeownership costs have skyrocketed due to pandemic demand, rising mortgage interest rates, and mounting material and labor costs. The median home price in Indianapolis is about $250,000. With 20% down and a 6.5% interest rate, you’re looking at a monthly principal and interest payment of $1,265, which doesn’t consider taxes and insurance.

Not to mention, the cost of infant daycare is often over $1,000 per month per child. When you factor student loans into the equation, that’s around another $500 per month, on average.

Something’s Gotta Give

How is it possible to take these life events in stride while maintaining stable finances, let alone saving for retirement? It’s common for those navigating this period to arrive at the same conclusion: something’s gotta give. They simply can’t absorb the expenses without going into debt, and typically, the first thing they choose to reduce is retirement savings. However, if that’s the solution, part of the strategy must include a timeline for retirement contributions ramping up. This is one of many reasons working with a financial planner can be helpful.

Those not ready to pump the brakes on saving for retirement tend to go back to the basics. The equation is simple: either increase income or reduce expenses. Figure out your non-negotiables (i.e., a live band at the wedding, a home with a two-car attached garage, a daycare within 3 miles of home), what you can afford, and set a budget. If there’s a deficit, figure out how to reasonably reach breakeven.

Are there nagging debts, like car loans or outstanding credit cards, that you can pay off entirely to free up cash flow? Can you ask for a raise or start a side gig? Can a non-working spouse enter the workforce? Consider your options. Often, the easiest answer is best.

First Lines of Defense

Life is sometimes like playing Chutes and Ladders, and those ladders can really set you back. I’ve heard handfuls of stories from people who buy their first house and immediately and unexpectedly have to replace a major system or appliance. You can prevent these setbacks, or at least make them sting less, by having an emergency fund.

There is no better way to prevent credit card debt than an emergency fund. Without it, you’re putting yourself one major disaster away from financial havoc. Aim to have 3-6 months of expenses in a separate, liquid account used only for emergencies.

An emergency can be a one-time expense like an HVAC replacement or mean keeping yourself out of credit card debt. For example, if your monthly credit card bill is $500 over what you normally spend, tap the emergency fund instead of letting the credit card balance roll over and accrue interest.

Another way to lessen the sting of disasters is by having adequate insurance. Depending on your stage in life, this can mean home, auto, life, and disability insurance. A good starting point is to review what types and amounts of insurance your employer offers and fill in any gaps with personally-owned coverage.

Take control of your estate by reviewing your retirement account and life insurance beneficiary designations after every major life event. These risk management tools and activities will act as your first line of defense when financial trouble is brewing, so don’t skip them.


If you’re feeling the financial setbacks of your 30s, know you’re not alone. Be nimble, be flexible, and have a pulse on your finances. The simple truth is that you can have everything, just not all at once.

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