30-something financial checklist

While your 20s are often characterized by completing your education and choosing a career path, your 30s are often more focused on career and financial success. Many are looking to get married, buy a home or start a family. Though the 30-something experience can vary in many ways, it is not uncommon to have several financial goals to focus on. If you’re in this category, you’re not alone.

This guide will help you build your financial foundation and focus on the areas that are most important to your future.

The 30-something checklist

(click here to download the printable PDF)





  • Learn about investing
  • Get aggressive with student loans
  • Consider buying vs. renting a home
  • Set up a future goals fund
  • College planning


The Foundation

Before you can build the walls of a house, you must first build the foundation.  Before you plan on saving for a dream home, car or vacation, make sure you have established your financial foundation.

Build a budget and live within your means

The key to a good budget is to find one that works for your lifestyle – which is sometimes easier said than done.  Do all you can so that once you have it set up, it is on autopilot i.e. automatic savings and automatic bill pay. Never miss a bill and save before you have a chance to spend. 

Focus on establishing an emergency fund

Whether it be a flat tire, leaky roof, or loss of income, life can throw curve balls from time to time. That’s why it is important to have an emergency fund established to avoid borrowing money to cover these types of expenses.

Depending on your situation (e.g. if you have a non-working spouse or kids), you are going to need 3-6 months of your income saved up. If you have a dual income, it can be 3-6 months of the highest earner’s income. Don’t get overwhelmed trying to save all of it at once – it’s going to take some time, and that’s perfectly okay, focus on getting to 1 month of income before anything else. Put that money in a separate savings account so it’s out of sight, out of mind. Check out our emergency fund guide here.

Get rid of any remaining credit card debt

The first step to paying down any remaining credit card debt is to stop using them. Before increasing repayments above the minimums, make sure you have an adequate emergency fund built up. Then set up auto payments that are enough to pay all cards off within 5 years. Put any bonus or windfalls you get towards the highest interest credit card. If you have an adequate emergency fund (at least 3 months salary), consider using some of your savings or doing a 0% balance transfer to a new credit card.

Revisit Student loans

Each situation is different but don’t let your student loans fall in the back burner. What interest rate are you paying? If it’s a high rate, it might make sense to refinance. If you have a bunch of loans, does it make sense to consolidate them? Should you increase how much you pay per month now that your salary is higher? It’s annonying to revisit your student loans, but adjustments here can make a big difference down the road. 

Ramp up on retirement

Saving for retirement is one of the biggest goals you will have in your lifetime, so doing what you can now will have a huge impact on what your retirement looks like. If your employer offers you a 401(k) with a match, make sure you contribute enough to get the full match. That is free money that you don’t want to leave on the table.

If your employer doesn’t offer any retirement plans you can contribute to, open up an IRA. Check out our decision tree here to choose the best route for you. 

Consider whether you should do Roth or Traditional contributions. A rule of thumb is if you think your income could go up in the future, it is probably a better idea to do Roth. Watch out for income limits for contributions

Get life insurance – if you need it

If there are people in your life that are dependent upon your income (i.e. spouse, children) it is probably a good idea to get some life insurance. How much you need depends on your situation, but most likely you will only need term life insurance. 

Get disability insurance – if you don’t have it.

Let’s say you were in a car accident and were unable to work for 6 months. How would you pay your expenses? Disability insurance is a type of insurance that looks to replace a portion of your income in case you are unable to work. A disability includes an accident or illness that occurred both during or outside of work. Check with your employer to see if they offer this type of coverage or look to get a private policy in place.

Basic estate documents  

Don’t feel intimidated here, the vast majority of 30-somethings haven’t even thought of estate planning as an important step. The good news is that most of the items you should be taking care of are relatively simple to set up. Items like beneficiary and transfer-on-death forms can be set up at no cost and a living and last will can be established for very little. These items are increasingly important if you have children. 

The Future

Learn the basics of investing

Stocks? Bonds? ETF’s? Mutual Funds? Take the time to learn the basics of investing. Understand how the markets work. No need to be an expert investor but having a high-level understanding of how to grow your net worth over time will become a huge asset. Download our Guide to Investments 101 to get started. 

Think about renting vs. buying a home

Another big savings goal many 30-somethings have is buying a new home. A word of advice is to make sure you can own the home, and not have the home own you. Sounds simple enough, but just because you qualify to buy a certain priced home, doesn’t mean you can actually afford it. Making sure you not only have an adequate emergency fund in place but making sure you have a sizable down payment (10 – 25%) and the right type of loan, are very important in making sure you can afford your dream home. Don’t forget to watch out for various borrowing and closing costs as these can add hundreds of dollars to your monthly payment.

Get aggressive with student loans

If you have an emergency fund, no credit card debt, and are saving for retirement, then it might be time to get aggressive with paying down your loans. Start optimizing your student loans by slowing ramping up on your minimum payments. To learn more, check out our guide to paying down student loans here.

Future goals fund

Plan on getting married? Maybe taking a big vacation? In addition to your emergency fund account, set up a separate savings account to start saving towards this goal. This money can be dipped into for some of your other goals. Make your contributions a part of your budget.

College Planning

If you have your foundation set up and have reduced your student loans (ideally to $0), saving for a child’s college could be a great next goal. Consider opening up a 529 plan as they offer great tax benefits.

Consider working with a financial planner

Great financial advice should cost you much less in the long term than no advice at all. Aside from the costs of time and energy that go into managing your finances, the opportunity costs of not making the right financial decisions, in the long run, can be large. Working with an experienced financial advisor is no different than working with a top personal trainer in ensuring that you’re doing everything you can to reach your goals.

With Zoe you have access to the top 5% of advisors in the US – chat with us today about finding the right person for you.

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