Creating and reaching your financial goals is a lifelong journey that’s unique for each of us. We all have our own vision of our best life, as well as different financial challenges.
Still, having a general list of easy to follow tips and milestones for each age or life stage is a great starting point to help make sure that your finances are on the right track. Here are a few things that you should work toward doing for your finances before 35.
Develop a List of Dreams and Goals
Remember back when you wanted to be an astronaut or dinosaur when you grew up? That was a big dream and also was, most likely, the first time you ever set a life goal. While you may have decided later that dinosaur life wasn’t for you, that basic practice of having dreams for your life and figuring out what you want to do with it, is an essential step as you plan your finances in your thirties and beyond.
Knowing the “why” behind your financial goals can help you stay focused when it comes to the day to day of how you accomplish them. It’s one thing to tell yourself that you need to save money. That’s a very general goal that might not motivate you to stay the course. On the other hand, if you remind yourself that you are saving for that retirement home on a lake where you can watch the sunset behind the mountains, well now you’ve connected that savings goal to something meaningful. This works for small goals, like saving for your next vacation as well as bigger goals like paying for college for your future kids.
Start by setting your long-term life goals, things that take 10 years or more to accomplish. Then work backward to set your 5-year goals and your 1-year goals. Your goals should be challenging but realistic. Then you’ll want to assign an actual dollar amount to these goals. From there, you can work backward and calculate how much you will need to save to make your dreams a reality.
Master Your Budget
After setting goals, creating and sticking to your budget is the single greatest step you can take toward reaching your financial goals. Let’s say you’ve set a goal to retire by 45 and you know that you will have to save 40% of your income between now and then to make that happen. Well, your budget is where you create an actionable plan to make your early retirement dreams come true.
At its core, a budget is just the place where you decide how you want to allocate your money. You list your income and your expenses and divide your available funds into various spending buckets. Whether they realize it or not, everyone has a budget. Because even if you don’t write it down, even if you don’t keep track of it, money still flows in and out of your accounts month after month. But as the old saying goes, what gets measured gets done. Free budgeting tools like Mint can be a lifesaver for getting your finances organized.
The goal is to get better and better at directing your money exactly where you want it to go instead of wondering where it went. That way, by the time you are 35 you can set your money on autopilot if you prefer a more hands-off approach and still be confident that you are on track to reach your financial goals.
Build a Solid Emergency Fund
Once you’re supporting yourself financially, one of your very first priorities should be to start building an emergency fund. Having an emergency fund protects you from unexpected losses in income or increases in expenses so that you don’t have to resort to using credit cards or calling friends or family. It’s a great idea to knock this milestone out before you turn 35 so that you can focus on other financial goals like buying your first house or raising a family.
Ideally, you should aim to have at least three to six months of living expenses saved up. That means that if you lost all other sources of income, you could continue to pay your basic living expenses until you are able to find a new job. Calculate how much you’ll need per month by subtracting all non-essential spending from your budget (like your clothing budget and gym membership). Then multiply that by three. That’s the minimum amount you should aim to have in your emergency fund at all times.
The amount might seem intimidating at first, but all you have to do is break it up into manageable chunks. Focus on saving up your first month as quickly as possible so you have some protection and can celebrate your financial win. Then break the remainder up into a sustainable savings goal over the next year or two. You’ll have a fully stocked emergency fund before you know it!
Make Saving for Retirement a Habit
When it comes to retirement savings, the best thing that you can do is to get into the habit of saving early and often. Hopefully, you have already started saving for retirement, but if not, the next best time to start is right now.
Take part in any plan offered by your employer that includes matching and always contribute enough to receive the full matching contribution from the employer. That’s free money that you don’t want to miss. If you don’t have a retirement plan at work, then open an Individual Retirement Account or IRA and start investing for the long term. Tax-advantaged retirement accounts can help you build wealth even faster.
A good rule of thumb is to have as much as your annual salary saved by the time you are 30 and two times by 35. If you are a little behind, you can plan on saving more now to catch up. If you don’t know where to even start when it comes to investing your money, consider reaching out to a financial advisor that is a fiduciary or try out an investment app that can do the investing for you based on your financial goals.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average retirement lasts 18 years. Set yourself up for success in your golden years by making sure that you are saving enough in your nest egg now. That way you can spend your later years traveling and maybe spoiling your grandkids without having to worry about money.
Pay Off Your High-Interest Debt
High-interest rates can be very burdensome and hold you back from accomplishing other goals. The debt costs you more and takes longer to pay off because more of your payment goes toward paying interest rather than paying off the principle. Debt payments are also mandatory expenses which means your overall budget is larger and you’ll need to have more saved in your emergency fund to cover it.
Paying off your high-interest debt by the time you turn 35 will free up more room in your budget for you to start working toward bigger financial goals. There are many debt payoff methods out there. But if your goal is to save as much money as possible, you’ll want to focus on putting those extra payments toward your highest interest rate debt first. After that’s paid off, move to the next highest interest rate until all your debts are gone.
Depending on your financial situation, it might also make sense to refinance higher interest debt if the cost of the refinance is less than the amount you would have paid in interest on the debt. Plus it’s much easier to remember to make a single payment to one lender than it is to make 15 payments to different creditors. Turbo can help you see how your credit is doing and help you find the right financial products for your needs.
Plan for the End of Your Life (Yes, Even Now)
Although this may not be much fun to think about, it’s important to start planning for the end of your life. Everyone should have their end of life plans in place, at least for now, before they turn 35. And if you have children or a spouse before you are 35, then you should have a plan in place even sooner.
There are many resources online to help you get started. You don’t necessarily have to hire a lawyer but you should definitely consider contacting one if you have questions or if you have a complicated financial situation. Otherwise, it’s easy to get started with software like Quicken’s WillMaker Plus that walks you through the process and includes the most common forms you might need.
Once you’ve completed your documents make sure that you make several copies and tell your loved ones where to find them. It’s also a good idea to store a copy somewhere outside your houses like a friend or parent’s house or a safe deposit box. And check with your state or local county office to see if they offer will recording services.
Taking steps to plan early will help make sure that your loved ones are cared for after you are gone and that the assets that you’ve been working so hard to earn are protected.
Enjoy Your Life Along the Way!
Staying on top of your finances is wonderful and all, but there must be a “why?” for us to actually stick to the plans and accomplish all these things before we turn 35. So yes, while you are planning for and knocking out those financial milestones leading up to 35 and beyond, make sure that you are actually setting aside the time to enjoy your life along the way.
Remember that life is the thing that happens between your goals.
Find activities and people that you’re passionate about and pursue them. Don’t feel that you need to completely cut out all of the things that you want for your life now for the sake of reaching your future financial goals. Strike a balance that allows you to both enjoy your life now and also plan for your best financial future.
Accomplishing all these milestones by the time you are 35 will put you well on your way to reaching your other life goals.