Many of us spent our 20s working relentlessly to build our careers. We started out in low-paying jobs and struggled to make ends meet. We were relentless in our hustle, networked to expand our contacts, and worked hard to set us up for success in our thirties.
As a result of this hard work, many of us experience the steepest income increases in our career during their 20s and early 30s. My income more than tripled by the time I reached 30 — a feat that I’m not sure I’ll be able to accomplish again in my career!
When my income grew, I indulged more than I should have, spending money on things that didn’t deliver lasting value. I purchased more shoes than I can reasonably wear and fell prey to countless impulse purchases that I ended up donating to charity. Since then, I’ve revisited my expenses and have been more intentional about spending my hard-earned money.
Learn from my mistakes. Here are twelve things you should be spending your money on in your 30s!
1. Ongoing Education: Professionals that are agile, well-informed, and understand industry trends are invaluable to their employers. Invest in ongoing education, which can take many forms: newspaper or magazine subscriptions, podcasts, coding classes, executive education, and seminars. We’re busy in our thirties, but if we don’t invest in our knowledge, we’ll fall behind quickly and become less valuable to our employers and clients.
2. Charitable Giving: Now is the time to identify the causes that you’ll more intentionally (and significantly) support with your hard-earned money. Giving is uniquely personal, but I urge you to donate automatically to at least three nonprofits, on a monthly basis. You may not have the time to volunteer as much as you like - but you can put your money to work for the causes that matter most to you.
3. Travel & Time Off: In the United States, 54% of workers left unused vacation days on the table in 2016. If you are lucky enough to have PTO as part of your benefits, it has real monetary value...which you’re ignoring if you don’t take it. Here’s everything you need to know about PTO and why you should use it - in a nutshell, time away from work allows you to re-charge, stay healthy, and contribute more meaningfully when you return. Further, travel expands horizons by changing your perspective and is one of the most valuable investments you can make in yourself.
4. Time with Friends. In your busy thirties, it can be costly and time-consuming to meet up with friends. You may need to splurge on a taxi to squeeze in a quick drink at a bar near your best friend’s firm before rushing home, or hop on a plane to spend time with your college roommate. However, these investments (of time and money) in relationships are both rejuvenating and empowering. There’s a special power of female friendships - don’t let yours wither because you couldn’t find the time.
5. Skincare. In your 30s, you begin to experience slower cell turnover and sun damage from your earlier life begins to reveal itself. To be clear: I’m disgusted by unrealistic beauty standards, but I am a fan of health, and skin is our body’s largest organ. It protects, regulates temperature, and allows us to experience sensations. In your 30s, invest in a regimen that protects (including daily use of quality sunscreen), moisturizes, and is fit for your skin’s unique needs. A great dermatologist can point you to quality drugstore brands.
6. Your Network. As you grow in your career, you gain amazing experiences. You also get more senior, which means jobs can be more challenging to source given your higher salary requirements. This is where the power of a great network comes into play; a knowledgeable contact can refer you into her company, or a fellow alumnus can alert you to an opportunity before it is even published. Building and maintaining quality networks requires money and time to participate in alumni events, or take a colleague out to lunch. However, spending money on high-quality relationships can pay off in surprising ways. If you’re not sure where to go beyond your college network, consider Ellevate Network, which provides a wonderful, supportive community of women that I’ve enjoyed being a part of. Further, LeanIn Circles provide a more intimate, focused environment in which to build your connections.
7. Your Hobbies & Passions. In your frenetic thirties, it can be easy to let your hobbies fall by the wayside. Your personal passions are a huge part of what makes you unique! I urge you to find a way to invest in the things you love - even if it is at a smaller scale than you used to in your early twenties. If you used to run marathons, consider trying to find a local 5k to train for. If you are inspired by art, invest in a weekend class or a museum tour to ignite your creativity.
8. Health Care. Many of us spent our 20s under-insured or struggling to find healthcare. In our 30s, we have an opportunity to use the health care benefits many of us are lucky to have and invest in preventative care, including regular annual physicals and OB/GYN visits, dental and vision exams, and skin checks with our dermatologist. Insurers and research organizations have helpful guides and checklists that outline vaccinations, screenings, and other preventative care guidelines based on age. Now is the time to ensure you’re investing in your health.
9. Wardrobe Basics. Many of us chased trend after trend in our twenties, and finally center on our personal style by our thirties. I suggest reflecting on the things you adore wearing and ensuring you have great quality wardrobe basics reflecting your style. This may include fabulously-cut sheath dresses, well-fitting jeans, or amazing accessories - but for the first time in your life, you’re in a financial position to invest in the few things that you consistently find central to your wardrobe.
10. Your Future. Yes, that’s right - you need to be spending money on your future self. This means investing - early and often. If you haven’t started investing for your retirement, then this is the time to start. Here are the need-to-know basics to help you begin. In your thirties, you should be investing automatically, monthly, to support your future financial health. I have many resources on investing beyond the basics, and have found that once women get their key questions answered, we are fabulous and thoughtful investors.
11. Fitness. As we get busier, with bigger jobs, growing family responsibilities, and endless adulting, fitness can fall by the wayside. In our 30s, we can benefit greatly from the stress- and anxiety-reducing effects of exercise, not to mention the long-term health benefits. Experts suggest 2.5 hours of moderate activity weekly, including strength training. This is 30 minutes daily, and if you’re struggling to fit that in, take a page from Dr. Katherine Milkman. She suggests we apply “temptation bundling,” or the concept of only allowing an indulgence (like listening to our favorite podcast, binge-watching a show, or reading a great) if you’ve completed something you struggle to do - like exercise.
12. Your Family. In our 30s, we should be investing in time and experiences with our family. Everyone’s family is uniquely different - these may be the people you grew up with, your closest friends in a new city, or the family you’re starting with a new partner — but in our fast-paced thirties, we should carve out space to explore life with those we love most. This can be as modest as a day hike road trip with our loved ones, or a once-in-a-lifetime international vacation. Life moves incredibly fast; you won’t regret spending your money on family experiences that create amazing memories.
I’d love to hear if you have any other things that you view as “must have expenses” in your thirties! For many of us, it is the first decade that we have a little financial wiggle room, and can put our money towards the things we love most.
The Feminist Financier is on a mission to help women build wealth and own their financial independence, by improving financial literacy and taking the mystery out of money. Ms. Financier is also a shoe addict, travel fanatic, and wine enthusiast.