Just Starting To Save In Your 30s? It’s Not Too Late

19 Comments

I’ve often said that every dollar you save in your 20’s is worth $7 in retirement. Because it is. That’s the magic of compounding. It’s also the magic of not buying dumb shit during the decade when it is most tempting to do so. We all know that if you set your finances up right in your first decade of adulthood, you’ll reap the rewards for your lifetime. Financial savvy in your twenties will translate to a lifetime of wealth. Honestly, you might be burdened by student debt, working part-time for low hourly pay, and haven’t got a dollar saved, but the fact that you’re even reading this post on this website suggests that you will likely NOT be that way for long. (I mean it, if you’re PF-nerding it up, your financial woes will be short-lived)

But what if you miss it and don’t clue in about money management until your 30s? I spend a lot of time advocating for getting your financial shit together by the big 3-0, insisting you pay off all your debt and bank $25,000 for retirement in order to place yourself in the best possible financial circumstances for the rest of your adulthood… but I’ve been keeping a secret from you:

If you spent your twenties racking up student loans, partying like a rockstar, and not saving a dime, all hope is not lost.

…. but that might not even be it either. That narrative is the Parable of the Saver, As The Single Dollar describes it, and I think it’s something we say too often even though it might not be true. She notes in her post:

the version of the parable of the savers that drives me craziest is the one that involves the late starter starting late because he/she blew through everything partying in his/her early years.

I think we all know that this is in fact untrue: some of us are late starters because of heavy student loan debt, others because we have or had low-paying jobs in important, societally necessary fields like education, nursing, food preparation, social work, and so on.

Why The Parable of The Savers Drives Me Nuts (Or, Late Boomers & Humanities Majors Are Not Doomed) via The Single Dollar

Maybe you didn’t start saving in your twenties because you couldn’t — and that’s ok! Yes, some money is lost. Probably $150,000 to $250,000 in long term wealth is missing from your balance sheet in retirement because you didn’t take care of your finances in your twenties. It’s not a small chunk of change, but remember this: it’s not a major piece of your long term wealth either. We know that every $1 you save in your twenties is worth about $7 in retirement, so if you spent the money instead of saved it, hopefully it was on something worthwhile. Now it’s time to get serious.

Every dollar you save in your 30’s is worth $3 to $4 in retirement.

No, it’s not the $7 that each dollar bought you in your 20’s, but it’s still nothing to sneeze at. Starting to save in your 30s is still worthwhile. Besides, now you have something else working for you: you actually have money to save. I’ve written before that your twenties might be the most expensive decade of your life, not the least of which is because you probably spend some of the decade in school, and then you start out at the lowest salary you’ll probably earn over the course of your working lifetime. Even if you’re still lugging around student loan debt in your thirties, chances are you’ve been making the minimum payments for a few years, so the balance has probably decreased somewhat. Maybe you even lucked out and work at a company that offered some kind of employer matching when it came to retirement accounts, which got you, oh reluctant saver, to put away a bit without even noticing. But there’s something even more important happening. In your thirties, you’re more likely to work for the entirety of the decade without the interruption of school, and you’ll earn an every-increasing salary that’s already buffered up by the work experience you logged in your twenties.

This means where you may have only had $25 or $50 to save each week or month during your twenties, your higher disposable income in your thirties probably means you can comfortably set aside hundreds, even thousands of dollars towards your financial goals each payday.

So if you missed any savings opportunities in your 20’s, there’s still time to make up for lost ground. With enough discipline, you can even undo all the financial mistakes you made in your 20s — it will be like all those music festival tickets and  Friday night beers you charged to your student line of credit never even happened!

The path to getting your financial shit together in your thirties is the same as it was in your twenties: pay your debts, start saving for retirement, begin investing in the stock market, etc. There are no shortcuts. There are no secrets. It’s going to be hard, but the rewards of wealth and financial security are worth it.

One of the things you might struggle with most is changing old habits. If you’ve been spending your entire paycheque for the better part of a decade, it will be hard to commit to saving 10%+ and/or allocating even more about debt. Coming to terms with painful realities like you own a car you can’t afford or the rental property you thought would produce income is actually costing you money will be hard lessons to learn. Perhaps you also have the costs of raising a family or taking care of ageing parents. You might even feel discouraged enough to quit. If you’ve already done this much damage and it’s going to take you years and years to fix it, why even bother? Because you’re probably going to live five more decades, ok? That’s why. Stop whining.

Saving $500 per month starting at age 30 will grow to over $500,000 by retirement at an average rate of return of 5%.

Have cash to spare? Double that commitment and save $1,000 per month, and you’ll retire with $1.1 million.

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Having $1.1 million still on the table is about as good reason as you’ll find to care about your money in your thirties. Someone starting in their forties doesn’t have the opportunity for even half that, so don’t tell me everything is over for you. A lot of people like to think “that ship has sailed”, because it gives them an excuse to avoid the hard work of organizing and bettering their finances. However, not taking control of something as important as your money now, means you’re in for a whack of pain later. It’s far better to trim your spending until you’re just a little bit uncomfortable in your thirties, than it is to struggle on not enough income as a retiree with no other options.

So if you missed the boat in getting your financial life together in your twenties and feeling glum about it, chill. The best is yet to come.


19 Comments

  1. Aleksandra Sagan

    I think it’s totally important to recognize, like you did, that sometimes savings has to take a backseat while student loan payments are dealt with or precarious employment situations are overcome.

    I graduated in May 2012 with more than $28,000 in student debt. After a sweet three-month summer gig, I ended up at a job that paid me a stipend that amounted to less than minimum wage. I side-hustled and within a few months found my way into a better paying job that was better suited to my skill set. It took my nearly two years to pay off all that debt, and while I saved meagre amounts into an RRSP and TFSA during that time, it sure as heck wasn’t much.

    Ever since I paid off my student debt, I am saving aggressively to make up for lost time. I swear I will have more than $25,000 in my RRSPs before I turn 30 (in 1.5 years roughly).

    Sure, I’m not 30 yet, but I still find this post very uplifting. It’s all too easy to just shrug and say, “Well, I haven’t started saving yet, and I can’t.” But it’s important to figure out a way to do it, and 30 is definitely not too late. 🙂

  2. Thank you for the link! And I greatly appreciate the more realistic math in this post 🙂 You are so sensible; I always love your posts because you never beat around the bush about math or excuses, but you do it with humor and compassion and humanity. I’m looking forward to your book!

  3. Susan

    This legitimately makes me feel so much better. I still have two years before I turn 30 but I only recently got into a job that paid more than minimum wage. On top of my employer automatically taking out pension contributions I’m putting the same amount into a TFSA so I’m pretty close to $1000/month on average.
    I am planning on pushing a Masters in the future but I’m using the time now to make sure I can put away the funds in addition to my current savings plan.

    • Beth

      What do you do that your job is putting away $1,000 a month?!

      • Bridget Casey (Author)

        Anyone earning $50,000+ per year can do this assuming the rest of their financial house is in order.

        If you have lots of debts you will need to earn $60,000 or $70,000+ but it’s still doable.

        • Beth

          I guess that makes sense. I also read it wrong the first time – thinking what your work puts in is 1,000 a month. Mine puts less then that a year so I was floored. Time for a new job! 😉

  4. Jordan

    Are you sure the 20’s are perhaps the most expensive decade in your life?

    I get the point or the article about saving early but I am not sure I get the grasp of where you get expensive in terms of spending particularly when it comes to mortgages, kids, RESP contributions, RRSP contributions, TFSA contributions, day to day spending and on and on.

    With this article I am not sure that you have context of the financial life cycle people go through. I must admit, I very much agree with where you are at this point in time and how you plan to get ahead, but do question the future being a 20 something.

    Just my questions that I to pose to you as you mention you are just getting married and don’t have kids and don’t have a house.

    I admire your blog and where you are at. I was much in the same place where I was your age. Now being almost 35 I can tell you that my 20’s we no where near as expensive adn nor did I save no where near as much.

    Just my thoughts.

    • Bridget (Author)

      In your twenties, you have the cost of your education coupled with the lowest salary you’ll ever learn in your lifetime. I spent nearly $100,000 on tuition, fees, and books in my twenties, and some years I didn’t even earn more than $10,000. Compare this to my 30’s where I’m unlikely to fall below $75,000/yr and don’t have to pay tuition anymore.

      Other major expenses like a wedding or putting a down-payment on a home are huge financial burdens for 20-somethings, especially on their aforementioned low salaries. At least in your 30s you’re settled into your home, see high earning power from your career, and have a headstart in savings.

      • Perhaps you are correct. Perhaps you are not. When I look about what you wrote, 100K in tuition is a choice and many others don’t spend anywhere near that much. Your 20’s don’t have to be as expensive for education, weddings, salaries, savings etc. Many can and do with less. What I am saying is that your own personal situation has made your 20’s the most expensive decade for you at this time.

        Things change. Being 34 now, I once too thought it was expensive in my 20’s. Nearly half way through my 30’s now has definitely been more expensive based on my own choices. For sure a mortgage, wife and kid have added up to the expense.

        I do agree that your 20’s are expensive if you go to school and maybe don’t make as much. However, the 30’s are equally as expensive if not more.

  5. The 20s are DEFINITELY the most expensive decade, hands down, for all the reasons Bridget already mentioned, plus the fact that people do often start their families in the 20s. If they do so, they are also more likely to be paying for daycare. Before the babies, not only are you paying for your own wedding, but also to attend weddings of a couple dozen friends. (So glad that part of my life is over.)

    My husband and myself are 31 and 32. Because we don’t expect to have children, but did collect 5 degrees, pay off 81k in student loans, did the whole engagement ring/wedding/honeymoon thing, AND moved a few times to advance our careers–all in our 20s–the first decade of adulthood was amazingly, crazily expensive. The 30s are a cakewalk by comparison.

      • Nope. Rent in a HCOL area for almost 3k per month. We are saving a 20-25% down payment for a property–since it’s just the two of us and our pets, we’ll be living/buying small, especially since spouse is a physician. Luckily, he isn’t hauling around the 200k-400k of medical debt that is typical of US med students–he has never had any debt, ever, the lucky duck. If he did have more typical student loan debt, that would definitely make our 30s (and 40s…) the most expensive decade.

  6. Danielle

    This article is awesome, and so true! I spent most of my hard earned money during my 20s on having fun; vacations, music festivals, margaritas, etc. Because hey, you only live once, right? Now that I’m in my 30s, it’s time to buckle down, and I’m excited about it. And it’s nice to know that it’s not too late. I’ve already noticed a difference in my spending habits and the more I save and invest, the more obsessed I become with continuing to save and invest. Thanks for the great read!

  7. Great article, Bridget. At least of people like to make every excuse under the sun not to save. “Oh, I didn’t start saving in my 20’s, so what’s the point of saving in my 30’s?” The bottom line is, the sooner you start saving, the sooner you’ll start reaping the rewards.

  8. As someone in their 30s who didn’t concentrate on saving in their 20s, hearing that I’m not totally screwed makes me happy. Looking back though, it is a little sad to think how much further ahead I could be…

  9. I totally agree. It is never too late to save money and enjoy it watching working its ass off 24/7 without vacation. 🙂

    BeSmartRich

  10. Felipe RX

    Hi Bridgette. I am about to be 30 y/o in December 2016. I will be graduating in May 2017 and will be licensed by July as a pharmacist. I’ll likely earn 120-135k but have $165k in student loans and an expensive car (60k, did bad business and did not voluntarily repo to preserve credit). My question is what would be the best ways to save money? I plan on maxing out my 401 with Kroger (matched up to 4% – and no more than 16k/yr) but that’s about it for now. I plan on working additional shifts per month so I’ll be netting about 7k per month. Student loans 1k/month, car + ins 1k, housing + bills 1.3k, food and misc. 1k. How should I go about the other 2-3k? Thank you!

    • If you have retirement matching at work and are saving there, you don’t need to focus on saving. Focus on paying off your debt.

      Paying $1,000/mo in vehicle costs while carrying a $165,000 loan balance is crazy. You really need to get rid of those student loans. Put $3,000/mo towards that.