How to Build Wealth in Your 30s with 5 Money Habits

These money habits will help you avoid debt, save more, and plan for the future.

By Bobby Hoyt, Founder of Millennial Money Man
Sponsored by Regions Bank, Member FDIC. All thoughts are my own and I'm not a Regions client.

Bobby Hoyt

When I was in my 20s, people told me that I’d have everything together in my 30s. I’d know exactly what I want out of life and how to get it. What I found to be true about your 30s is that you start to get more comfortable with who you are and your priorities for the future come into focus.

Whether your experience is similar to mine or completely different, your 30s are a great time to learn some new money skills that can help you take control of your finances. These money habits can help you avoid debt, save more, and create a solid plan for your future.

5 money habits to build in your 30s

1. Spend less than you make

Many people start earning more as they get older. At least, that’s the idea. But something can happen as you start earning more: you start spending to match your income. This is sometimes referred to as lifestyle creep or lifestyle inflation.

The idea is that as you start to make more money, you can spend more of it on non-essential items… a nicer car, eating out more, more expensive clothes, etc.

After years of budget living, it feels good to finally make enough to afford some small luxuries.

Trust me, I get it. I recently took up golf, which is probably the least budget-friendly sport out there.

There’s nothing wrong with spending a little more on yourself as you begin to earn more money, but the problem is when you put those extras before the overall health of your financial life. Some people will even find themselves still feeling broke and unable to save money even when their income allows for it.

Here are some ways to avoid lifestyle creep and focus on spending less than you make:

  • Keep a budget: Your budget will help you prioritize paying off high-interest-rate consumer debt and making regular contributions to your retirement savings.
  • Be smart about how you reward yourself: Rewards motivate you to keep working hard, but instead of thinking you need a new car or expensive vacation, think about a nice dinner out or a special bottle of wine.
  • Stop trying to keep up with your peers: I say this a lot about people in their 20s, but I still see it in my 30s – we love to compare ourselves to others our age. Don’t let how your peers spend their money influence how you spend yours.
  • Gradually increase your spending: When you do start spending more on extras (as long as you’re still meeting your savings goals), make incremental changes. For example, instead of buying all new furniture for your entire house, focus on one room or one piece of furniture that needs to be replaced.

2. Pay yourself first

I mentioned in the last section that you need to prioritize your savings, and one of the easiest ways to do that is to pay yourself first.

This is the kind of personal finance advice your parents may have given you, and you’ve probably seen it mentioned in other places, too. It’s one of those things that seems too simple to be effective. The reality is that it’s one of the most effective ways to save money.

Here’s how it works: every month before you pay any other bills, put some money in savings. That’s before you buy groceries, pay your mortgage, and even before you make your student loan payment.

It’s like skimming a little money off the top. Instead of waiting until the end of the month to save what’s leftover, you save first.

There are a couple of different ways to pay yourself first:

  • Use direct deposit for your paycheck – setting up direct deposit is easy and so helpful for saving money. You can also split your direct deposit into multiple accounts, so some of it goes towards savings, and some goes into your checking account.
  • Set up an automatic transfer so money is moved from your checking to savings as soon as your paycheck hits your account.

The magic of paying yourself first, and why it’s such a good habit to build is because it teaches you that your financial future is the most important thing. It allows you to build wealth so that you’re better prepared for emergencies, able to save up for retirement, and ready to reach your future financial goals.

This is truly one of the times when future you will be grateful that you put in the work.

3. Talk about money with your partner

By your 30s, you might be married, in a long-term committed relationship, or heading towards one. And you and that person are going to need to get comfortable talking about money.

What works for my wife and me is that we have a money date once a month. She’s pregnant right now, but before that we’d sit down with a bottle of wine and go through all of our accounts – personal, brokerage, and business accounts. It feels less like a chore this way.

We use our money dates to talk about our goals, make adjustments to our spending, and keep each other looking towards our shared financial future.

This has been a huge help throughout our marriage, and I even remember the money date when I told her I wanted to quit my teaching job to blog full-time. The look on her face was calm, and she said, “Okay, let’s make a plan.”

If you’re not doing something like this yet, build it into your routine. Find a time that works for the two of you and go in with an open mind and speak honestly about your concerns and goals.

Regions offers great guidance for talking about money with your partner, from setting an agenda to what to do if things get heated.

4. Regularly contribute to your retirement account

Here’s the hard truth: Being in your 30s means you’re about halfway to retirement age. If you actually want to retire one day, you need to be making regular contributions to your retirement savings and investing in your 30s.

Retirement accounts build your savings using compound interest, which is the process of earning interest on interest. It’s how you see exponential growth in your savings. With compound interest, time is on your side.

That doesn’t mean that if you haven’t started saving for retirement now that you’re out of luck. Instead, it means you need to make a plan to start saving now.

I highly recommend that you check out this guide to saving for retirement. It explains the following steps:

  1. Set long-term goals: Think about what you want retirement to look like so you know how much you need to save.
  2. Understand compound interest: Learn more about how it works and why it’s such an important factor.
  3. Review your options: This is how you will draw retirement income – an employer-sponsored retirement plan, IRA, pension, etc.
  4. Check your company benefits: Learn how to review your company’s 401(k) and how to approach them when you start and leave a job.
  5. Learn about Social Security: Most 30-somethings won’t be able to rely on Social Security, but it’s still important to make sure you understand it.
  6. Start budgeting and saving: This is how your current income and spending can affect how you save for retirement.
  7. Adjust your goals as needed: As your life changes, so will your retirement plans.

5. Keep an eye on your credit score

Your credit score is one marker of your financial health and how lenders determine how risky it is to let you borrow money. The higher the risk (low credit score), the more expensive it is to borrow money. The lower the risk (high credit score), the less expensive it is to borrow money.

Having a decent credit score is increasingly important in your 30s if you’re thinking about buying a new house, refinancing your mortgage or student loans, or taking out any other kind of loan. Because your credit score directly affects the interest rate and terms of your loan.

I used the mortgage comparison calculator to see how much it would cost to borrow a $250,000 30-year fixed-rate mortgage. I ran two different interest rates based on credit scores:

  • Loan 1: Fair credit score (620), interest rate of 4.5%, you pay $206,016 in interest over the course of the loan
  • Loan 2: Excellent credit score (800), interest rate of 2.7%, you pay $119,804 in interest over the course of your loan
  • In this example, a better credit score saves you over $86,000!

    So yes, while it’s good to avoid taking on debt, we don’t live in a world where the majority of people can pay cash for major purchases like a house. You need a decent credit score to save money when you borrow.

    Learn more about understanding your credit score.

    The best thing you can do to grow your score is to always make on-time payments and watch your credit utilization rate (this is how much debt you have).

    The final word on how to build wealth in your 30s

    I’m really enjoying my 30s right now – amazing wife, baby on the way, and a job I love, but that doesn’t mean that being in your 30s isn’t stressful at times.

    We have a growing list of responsibilities, and future plans like retirement are only getting closer. With the money habits I’ve explained here, you can build a healthy financial life for yourself now and in the future.

    About Bobby Hoyt

    Inspired by a mentor to reach for more after starting and paying off his loans, Bobby Hoyt began a pursuit of all things personal finance. Unsatisfied with the financial condition of his fellow millennials, he applied his knowledge as an educator to his blog.

    His mission is to encourage fellow Millennials (and generations beyond!) to adhere to four main principles:

    1. Live below your means until you don’t have to anymore.
    2. Don’t finance stuff you don’t need.
    3. Let your friends pass you up (don’t try to keep up with the Joneses)
    4. Work really hard, then make your money work for you.

    Through his work on Millennial Money Man, he hopes to help change the face of personal finance in Gen Y by challenging his readers to slay their debt, increase their income, and plan for their future.

    Since quitting his band director job after earning $3 in ad revenues (a tactic he doesn’t recommend to students of his blogging courses) he has grown his blog to reach over 2 million readers each year. He’s a regular personal finance columnist for the American Psychological Association and has made appearances on major media outlets such as Forbes, CNBC, and MarketWatch. A firm believer in the importance of the side hustle (and an educator who values sharing his knowledge), he partnered with former high school classmate Mike Yanda to teach others how to grow their income by running Facebook ads, along with two other active blogger-focused courses at Laptop Empires.

    Bobby lives in the Houston, Texas area with his wife Coral, their wonderfully strange dog Strider, and can usually be found on the golf course, or boating on some body of water when they aren’t traveling.