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9 ways to hurt your finances in your 30s

April 06, 2015

By Maryalene LaPonsie | Money Rates Columnist

old financial strategy

Your 20s are a unique time. You may have gotten your first real job, but you may also have few financial obligations, allowing you to spend money -- and make minor financial errors -- somewhat freely.

But your financial life may become very different in your 30s. A mortgage payment could appear in your expenses. Old debts might begin to take a toll. Children may add significant new costs.

That makes your 30s a great time to leave those elementary financial mistakes behind for good. Here are nine money missteps that can derail the financial growth that should mark your 30s.

Mistake No. 1: Keeping the same old financial strategy

Andrew Meadows, consumer and brand ambassador for Ubiquity Retirement + Savings in San Francisco, says 30-year-olds often bring home increasingly large paychecks and have opportunities that weren't available to them 10 years ago.

"One of the biggest mistakes we make is not recognizing that change has happened," he says.

Instead, some 30-year-olds continue living like there is no financial tomorrow -- despite their new ability to both live comfortably and plan for the future.

Kelsa Dickey, owner of Fiscal Fitness Phoenix, an Arizona-based financial coaching firm, says there's no reason to let your old habits define your financial future.

"Your values change as you grow, and your spending should too," says Dickey.

Mistake No. 2: Starting a family without a plan

Getting married and having children aren't purely financial decisions, but they shouldn't be made without consideration of how they will impact your household's bottom line. Being a parent can be stressful enough without the added burden of financial shortfalls.

Meadows suggests couples look at whether they might want to delay having children in order to set more money aside for retirement or otherwise shore up their finances.

Mistake No. 3: Putting your kids' wants before your needs

When the kids do come along, they often bring a variety of expenses, particularly as they get older. Dickey says that while most parents want to give their children the best life possible, no parent should put their kids' wants ahead of their own financial needs.

She says parents need to focus on getting out of debt and funding their retirement before draining the bank account for voluntary kid expenses, such as enrolling in sports or pursuing other costly extracurricular activities.

Mistake No. 4: Overlooking your children's financial education

Another mistake 30-something parents make is failing to talk to their kids about money matters.

"It's so easy to have a conversation once in a while," Dickey says. "It doesn't have to be that complicated."

To help your kids gain critical financial knowledge, use everyday opportunities -- such as visiting an ATM or sitting down to calculate your monthly budget -- to explain basic financial concepts to your children.

Failing to do so might not hurt your finances immediately, but raising financially inept children can lead to significant costs down the road.

Mistake No. 5: Not talking to your parents about money

"We want to do it on our own," Meadows says. "But not talking to the rest of the family about finances is a mistake."

Meadows says that parents of 30-somethings might be able to share useful financial wisdom -- if their children are open to the conversation.

Also, some 30-year-olds may also believe that they are in line for a big inheritance or that money will be coming from their parents to help pay for their children's college expenses. However, without actually discussing these issues, they may be setting themselves up for an unpleasant surprise in the future.

Mistake No. 6: Planning for the best-case scenario

By the time they're in their 30s, people may begin to think life will only get better in the future: Incomes will go up, expenses will go down and their vision of the American Dream will become reality.

"Most people in their 30s are riding that upward wave," Dickey says. "They're not prepared for a setback."

Unfortunately, setbacks are a reality for many workers, whether that comes in the form of a lay-off, disability or natural disaster. Dickey says it's a mistake for 30-somethings to plan their finances around the best-case scenario. Instead, they should hope for the best -- but plan for the worst.

A strong emergency fund can be a good first defense against the unexpected.

Mistake No. 7: Not increasing retirement savings

Ubiquity Retirement + Savings specializes in 401(k) and retirement accounts for millennials, and Meadows says he sees some young adults take the "set it and forget it" style of retirement savings a little too far.

Specifically, he says 30-year-olds may neglect to update the contributions to their plan.

"Retirement savings should evolve along with paychecks," he says. "Make one small change to put more in when you get bonuses and raises."

Mistake No. 8: Trying too hard to impress on social media

In the past, it was called "keeping up with the Joneses." Today's electronic twist on this phenomenon might lead some 30-somethings to squander their raises and bonuses on items designed to impressed their friends on Facebook or other networks.

"It's always the splurging," says Meadows about what he sees as 30-somethings' biggest financial mistakes. "It's getting that crucial promotion and buying that thing you didn't need."

Mistake No. 9: Failing to take budgeting seriously

Dickey says young adults shouldn't worry about creating a yearly or even a monthly budget right from the start. Instead, they should begin with a single paycheck and decide where every dollar from that check is going.

Meadows adds that this knowledge can have the side effect of reducing the number of sleepless nights related to financial uncertainty.

"As long as you know where (your money) going, you'll feel so much better in your day-to-day life," he says.

Progress over perfection

Although avoiding all mistakes is the ideal, Dickey says it's unrealistic to think that you can always manage your money perfectly. Fortunately, she says there is no such thing as a dumb mistake -- provided you only make the error once.

"What's dumb is not learning from the mistake," she says.

More from MoneyRates.com:

The best savings accounts: What savers should know

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Synchrony Bank’s Perks rewards program (formerly Optimizer Plus): A review

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