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The 11 worst money mistakes to make in your 30s

Kathleen Elkins

(Here's to a successful decade.YouTube/The Great Gatsby Trailer)
After a decade of experimenting, failing, and learning from those failures, most of us have figured out how to navigate, or avoid, the most common money mistakes by the time we hit 30.

However, then we face a whole new group of challenges.

We consulted the experts and found out that money mistakes still run rampant after the roaring 20s, especially as major life changes are coming around, such as raising kids and purchasing a home.

Here are 11 of the worst:

1. Saving too much in the wrong places.

Investing is important, but oftentimes people in their 30s have placed too much emphasis on the 401(k) or other types of retirement plans, and have neglected to save for other big purchases, explains Brandon Moss, certified financial planner and VP of wealth adviser management at United Capital.

"You definitely want to maximize the match in your 401(k) or other types of plans," he explains, "But there are other major purchases coming along, especially if you're starting to have kids or looking to buy a house, that you want to have savings for."

Contribute money towards a retirement fund, but don't forget to set aside money for other things, such as a house, car, vacation, or your children's education. Moss recommends setting up multiple savings accounts to start saving for specific purchases. Check the online interface of your bank and see if it will allow you to create sub-savings accounts. 

2. Prioritizing your kid's education over your own retirement.

While focusing too heavily on the 401(k) is a common mistake, not setting aside enough money for retirement also remains a big issue, especially when kids enter the picture. 

Obviously, your child's education is important, but "your number one priority in your 30s — even if you have a family — still has to be retirement," says Michael Egan, certified financial planner and partner at Egan, Berger & Weiner, LLC. Think long term, he advises; if you don't set aside enough money for your own retirement, your child may have to support you in the future, which could end up being more expensive in the long run than student loans would be. 

"Make sure you're on pace for a decent retirement before you start setting aside money for college," he says. "Once you're on pace for that, and you have extra funds that you can set aside for a goal like college, definitely do that." He advises starting with a 529 savings plan.

retired river arkansas

(Put your retirement first — then your kid's education.Flickr / Doug Wertman)

3. Neglecting insurance.

Insurance in general — health, life, home, and disability — often gets put on the back burner, for two main reasons: "It's not something that's fun to talk about, so it often gets put off longer than it should," explains Moss, "And many times, people don't get great insurance advice. Oftentimes, people are advised to just get covered — it doesn't matter what type, just get something — but years down the road when they're in their late 40s and 50s and something happens, they find that they don't have the proper type or amount of insurance."

Moss advices you put in time to research insurance plans, or talk to a trusted adviser. Take a look at the types of insurance you should buy at every age.

4. Not having long-term disability insurance.

One type of insurance that gets neglected more so than others is long-term disability insurance, says Egan, but not having it can be extremely risky. Disability insurance is meant to provide income should you be disabled and unable to work, which is more likely to happen than many of us may think. It's estimated by the Social Security Administration that over 25% of today's 20-year-olds will be disabled before retirement.

"A lot of people will pick up group life insurance, which will cover you if you die," he explains. "But they don't think about the disability — especially if it's not paid for by the company — and that's your bigger risk. You're not dead, but you can't work, so now you have to watch yourself go broke."

5. Not talking about money when you're planning to get married.

It's not a fun or easy conversation to have, but discussing your personal finances, spending patterns, and financial plan with your partner is crucial, both Moss and Egan say. Egan finds that couples often have this conversation too late in the relationship (or not at all). "By the time they're finally sitting down to discuss it, there's already a big emotional investment in the relationship, which causes couples to overlook major financial differences."

The conversation must happen, and the earlier the better. First, you have to understand the financial background of your partner, says Moss, which allows you to understand how they make financial decisions. Next you can move into the conversation about whether or not you want to separate finances if you're both working; if you decide to combine them, you must agree on how to spend the joint money.

boring conversation diner couple break up

(It's not the easiest conversation, but it's necessary.rorobito/flickr)

6. Spending too much money on the wedding.

Too many people are spending an absurd amount of money to have a huge wedding, Egan says. Today, the average wedding costs a whopping $26,000.

Egan recommends hosting a smaller wedding, and using the extra money to put toward a down payment on a house. Pulling off a great wedding under $5,000 is possible if you plan on a budget

However, it does come down to personal preference; if a big wedding is important to you, that's fine — just start saving for it early on.

7. Going all out on the first kid.

When the first kid comes along, what tends to happen is that new parents will overspend on top-of-the-line cribs, bottles, clothes, and nursery accessories. "Spending issues that we tend to see in 20-somethings will level out until the kids come along," Moss says. "And then it explodes."

You want to raise your child in a comfortable environment, but check yourself before dropping a couple grand on that fancy stroller and draining your savings, as there are bound to be unexpected costs to arise. To get an idea of what you might need to cover, read about the costs new parents didn't see coming.

8. Overspending on cars.

Another area the experts see overspending is cars. "People get bored with cars quickly. They always want a new car and so they're always dealing with a car payment," says Egan. "But it's a hugely depreciating asset. You don't want to be putting a lot of money into something that's going to be worth nothing after a certain number of years."

Egan says to space your cars 10 years apart. After buying a new one, be sure to pay if off in five years; that way, for the next five years, you can build up other savings. After 10 years, hit the dealerships again. If you took good care of your previous car, you may even be able to trade it in, which will help with the payment of your next one.

Another option is leasing a car. You can determine whether or not this is a good option for you by following this flow chart. Also, consider foregoing the brand new car all together and buy a used car, which could save you a substantial amount of money. Check out Kelley Blue Book to get an idea of how much you should pay for a used car.

wealthy person car

(Live below your means.Flickr/Ben)

9. Going to graduate school for the wrong reasons.

Graduate school comes with a hefty price tag, which is why you want to be positive you're going back to school for the right reasons, especially if you're paying for it out of your own pocket.

It should definitively aid your career track, Egan says. He gives the example of getting your MBA: "If you don't know what you're targeting to do after you get the MBA, that's not the right path. If getting your MBA will help you secure a position that you want for your long-term career, then it's a perfect solution."

He also recommends treating graduate school as a second job, and not taking time off work to earn your degree, if possible.

10. Taking a job for the short-term money.

You're preparing to enter your peak earning years by your mid-30s, and it's important to prepare for this phase of your life, Moss says.

"You don't want to just be taking jobs for the money at this point," he explains. "You want to be taking the job that is going to prepare you to make a lot more money in your late 30s and early 40s."

11. Assuming you'll have more money in the future.

While optimism is a good quality to have, too much optimism can be dangerous, especially when it comes to money, warns Egan.

People tend to assume they'll be making significantly more money in their 40s, he explains, which they use to justify overspending in the present moment.

"The rule of thumb should be to live below your means," emphasizes Egan. "If you can't afford to buy the new car, then buy certified pre-owned. Savings first should be your mentality: Save for retirement first, and spend with whatever is left over. What people typically do is the opposite of that, thinking, 'I've got to buy this, this, and this, and whatever's left, I'll save.' Pay your future first, and make sure your present is secure."

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