Money Matters for All Ages – The Chaotic Thirties

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This article is part of the Money Matters for All Ages group writing project being conducted by the M-Network and other blogging friends. See the bottom of this article for the full list of participants and links to their articles. Please check back daily, as I will update the links as new articles are posted! Also, if you are blogger and would like to join into the discussion, feel free!

For me, I think the thirties is a chaotic decade for many of us. There are so many life events and important decisions packed into these 10 years. This is the decade where many of us buy our first home, get married, have our first child (or second, or third…), start savings for kids’ education, try to build retirement savings for ourselves, worry about our parents who are nearing or already in their retirement, and work hard to advance our careers. There are so many important events in this decade that it could be dizzying, or worse, overwhelming.

First Home

“40 percent of all home buyers in 2002 were first-time buyers. Their average age was 32”

Source: AZCentral.com, data (2003) from National Association of Realtors®

A lot of us don’t buy our first home until we are in our thirties First-time home buying is a big financial decision. I was lucky enough to have bought my first home when I was 25. Lucky, because I was able to get in while the price was low enough for it to be affordable with my income. In the past 10 years, we have seen explosive growth in the housing market and home sales value. This was fueled partly by easy mortgage loans, subsequently blew up as the sub-prime meltdown of 2007 — which is still going strong in 2008.

Buying a home early also has its disadvantages:

  • I felt rooted ever since I bought the house. I came across several attractive job opportunities outside of a reasonable commuting range over the past 10 years. Each time, I would think about the house and let the opportunity pass. It wouldn’t be so bad if I were the only one living at the house, but I have my parents with me — so moving to get the job was out of the question.
  • I was less inclined to take risks. Paying the mortgage each month is a big financial obligation. This prevented me from taking risks that I would otherwise. For example, I always wanted to start my own consulting business; however, I felt that I didn’t have enough financial flexibility to take the risk.
  • It’s not our home. When I bought the house, it was just my parents and I. I got married in 2005 and my wife moved in with me. Although she’s content, I know she still has that “it is not our home” feeling.
  • Conduciveness to children – When I bought the house the main considerations were proximity to work, amenities in the area, safety, and price. Other qualities that are now more important, such as school and outdoor space, weren’t considered back then.


Marriage is an important life event. Most people get married in their late 20s and early 30s. I was 31 and my wife was 25 when we got married. All things aside, marriage is probably the most important financial decision in our lifetime — and I am not talking about how much we spend for the wedding.

I believe that couples with compatible financial philosophies often have long and happy marriages. A supportive spouse not only makes you happy, but also greatly contributes to your success — financially or otherwise. On the other hand, did you know that money is the most cited reason for divorce? In general, divorce makes bad financial situation worse. I know a few guys who went through a divorce, and they are still paying for it to this day.

Children and Family

Our son was born last December. This was a life-changing event for us — by far, the highlight of this decade. Now we have something more important than anything else in life, including our lives. For me, everything becomes a great balancing act to give my family everything they deserve while I am still trying to do things like saving money for his education, saving money for our retirement, and keeping my career moving forward.

Also we now have more questions than ever:

  • Should we move to a different neighborhood with better school, friendlier neighbors, and more outdoor space?
  • How can we raise him to become a good and responsible adult?
  • Should one of us stay home to take care of the baby? Currently my wife is staying at home with the baby, but we are still debating what is the best arrangement for us.
  • And for increasing number of inter-racial and faith couples, how should the children be raised with respect to religion and culture? Although this doesn’t affect me directly, it affects many people that I know and love.

Saving Money for College

The birth of our son comes with a new financial concern about saving money for his education expenses. College is becoming more expensive every year. To get a head start, we started a 529 college savings fund for our son last October and we are planning to save about $250,000 in total. We believe this amount is enough to comfortably put him through 4 years of college at a good public school.

Of course, we will teach him to be financially responsible — i.e., live frugally, work while he’s in school, learn the time value of money, investing, etc. The nice thing about 529 is that if he manages to spend less than what we saved for him, he could use it for his graduate school, or we could transfer it to his children.

Saving Money for Retirement

When it comes to saving money for retirement, it’s good to start saving and investing early. If you don’t believe me, look at the difference a decade makes when it comes to investing for retirement. I am fortunate I started my retirement savings and investing program since my early 20s. However, it’s not too late to start for people in their thirties — there are still about 30 years left to go. Whatever you do, don’t delay it any longer!

Decade difference

People who are new to the retirement savings game may wonder where to put their money. Here’s the general rule of thumb that I use:

  • Contribute to 401k, at least enough to capture all of the company matching contribution
  • Max out IRA. We use Roth IRA, and the limit this year is $5,000 per person. So saving $10,000 will not be easy. I recommend Larry Swedroe’s article to learn more about the difference between Roth IRA and Traditional IRA. Also, beware of the Roth IRA and Traditional IRA phase-out limits.
  • Contribute up to the maximum limit for 401k. In 2008, 401k maximum contribution limit is $15,500, plus $5,000 catch-up contribution if you are 50 or older.

Regarding, saving money for retirement versus saving money for college, I believe saving for college is secondary to saving for retirement. I won’t discuss it here, because I think this is also worth an article on its own.


My parents are nearing retirement age. In fact, they are old enough to start collecting their Social Security if they choose to. Parents of my friends and brother-in-law (my sister’s husband) are already in their retirement. So on top of everything else, many people in their thirties are also worrying about their parents. Personally, these are the concerns that I have:

  • Will they have enough money for their retirement?
  • When should they stop working and start collecting the Social Security payments?
  • Should they get long-term care insurance?
  • How should they handle medical coverage once they stop working and no longer have health insurance?

For other people, they may be concerned about:

  • Their parents’ estate
  • Living arrangement for elderly parents


Last but not least is our career. I think this is the decade that makes, or breaks, my career. Right now, I am a first-level manager inside a large corporation. I believe that if I can’t work my way to middle-level management by the time I get to my late 30s, my career would simply stall.

Although the thought of not making it into the middle-level management rank sadden me, it wouldn’t upset me as much as it would have a couple of years ago. My priorities have changed over the past years. Do I still want to advance my career and do the best I could? Definitely yes, but here are other factors that I now consider more important. For instance, instead of investing all of my energy into my career, I would rather…


I hope you can see why the thirties is so chaotic, yet one of the most rewarding and important decade. I hope you enjoyed this article. Here’s are the other articles in the Money Matters for All Ages series:

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Ryan Guina

Great tips, Pinyo! I especially like the visuals for investing and how it matters when you start. As you mentioned, the important thing is to start whenever you can!

Mrs. Micah

Ah yes, those lovely years. Micah will be hitting them soon…

Working out marriage and finance has been very important to us even at this early date. I can see how we could run into some major problems by not being on the same page!


I’m still working on saving for a home (maybe in my 30s), but I am saving for retirement (started at 24)…so I think I’m doing okay for my 30s…


The 30’s were a defining period for me.

Already married with two children and with zero savings.

The need to have savings started and mainly to ensure the kids education. From there it grew to retirement etc.


Us old folks sure know a thing or two!


I am just starting to feel comfortable with my situation as a home owner and spouse in my 20’s. I have a reasonable expectation of about $20k of headroom in my job (with limited options above that till 45+) and all of it will be gone to taxes and retirement if I am to max my Roth IRA and 401K. I have no idea where I will find money for diapers and a 529 plan. My wife and I want to have children but I just don’t see my income growing fast enough to balance all of the new expenses… Read more »

Mr. Stubbs
Mr. Stubbs

wow a great comprehensive article. life looks so simplistic when written in economic terms.


Starting early is key as patick mentions. The thirties are what I sometimes refer to as the neglect decade because we are all so busy with family life and enjoying ourselves (which we should) that we forget that the forties are just around the corner. Saving and making good investmets no are critical as it will make the different between a good or bad retirement.


It’s an interesting point that you make about buying your home when you are younger and then feeling trapped or risk averse. I think it’s a difficult balancing act, but later in life it hopefully means that you have paid the mortgage off!

Money Matters for All Ages – The Chaotic Thirties

by Pinyo Bhulipongsanon time to read: 7 min