5 Smart Money Moves to Make in Your 30s

By Ellevest Team

Those of us in our 30s know it’s the decade when all the things happen. At work, you’re probably building on the momentum you started in your 20s with your eye on snagging promotions and working to the career highs that come later on. And away from work, you’re likely doing a bunch of other things, too — things like having kids and / or traveling (without a backpack this time) and / or partnering and / or buying a home.

Along the way, there are some smart money moves you can make now that Future You will seriously thank you for.

5 Smart Money Moves to Make in Your 30s

1. Build a foundation

If you have high-interest debt, or if you don’t have a full emergency fund saved up yet, get these basics set up first. (We recommend using the 50/30/20 rule as an easy-to-use budgeting approach to help you get there.)

(Mini) emergency fund

While we used to suggest starting with your high-interest debt, nowadays we recommend starting with up a little bit of a cash safety net to tide you over before you get to that part. One month’s take-home pay should give you enough security to deal with any unexpected expenses that might come up while you’re tackling those credit cards.

High-interest debt

For anything with an interest rate above 10%, it’s going to cost you too much in interest to hang on to that balance. This includes credit card debt, personal loans, private student loans, you name it. Once you have your mini emergency fund, we typically recommend chipping away at those debts with the “debt avalanche” repayment method: Pay the minimums across all your accounts, and put any extra cash you can find in your budget toward the balance with the highest interest rate. This technique is meant to help you pay the least amount of interest possible.

(Full-grown) emergency fund

Now it’s time to fill out that emergency fund you started — grow it up, if you will. Sometimes it rains, and sometimes it pours. (And sometimes it totally floods.) We like to say that three to six months’ worth of take-home pay is the target range, depending on how stable your income is. If you’re a single freelancer, you might want to do six months’ worth (or let’s face it, nine would be ideal). This will give you a little stability to ride out those irregular months, or worse, dry ones. On the other end of the spectrum, if you’ve been at your job for years and have another member of your household who helps pay the bills, then three months’ worth might be enough. Either way, keep your emergency fund in cash (aka an FDIC-insured bank account not dollars under the mattress) so that you can get to it when you need it.

Medium-interest debt

Finally, once you’ve got that rainy day fund squared away, turn back to any other debts you have — anything with an interest rate over 5%, that is. (Here’s why.)

2. Get on track for retirement

If you’re still establishing a solid financial base, keep doing what you’re doing. But no matter what, try to take full advantage of any 401(k) company match available to you. That’s free money, y’all.

Then, once you’ve got debt and your emergency fund checked off the list, you can turn your attention more fully to your retirement. The sooner you can, the better — a dollar invested “today” has historically been worth more than a dollar down the line.

So if possible, now’s the time to bump it up from “doing enough to get the match” to “doing enough to be on track to retire comfortably.” We recommend aiming to pay yourself 90% of your pre-retirement income.

OK, you might be thinking. How am I supposed to know today how much I’ll be making right before I retire? We’re glad you asked, because this is where we can help. We’ll use your savings, age, and earning power — and the fact that you’re a woman, because we retire with two-thirds as much money and live six to eight years longer — to project your pre-retirement income, including inflation. Then we tell you how much you need to save each month to get on track.

Btw, 90% may be higher than what you might see recommended elsewhere, but we like the idea of having wiggle room for things like fun, emergencies, and the rising cost of health care. You can always adjust that number up or down, depending on the lifestyle you expect to have in retirement.

3. Get ready for homeownership (if that’s your thing)

When we surveyed 1,000 women about their money goals and habits*, 56% of those in their 30s told us they’d either just bought a house or see it as a priority.

We’re totally here for you buying your dream home, if it’s right for you — but we also want you to feel confident about that before you decide to buy. (It’s not always the better choice, despite the adage.) Then, if you do decide to buy, check out our four steps to take before buying a home and three tips for getting a better mortgage.

Next, you can start investing for a 20% down payment, which is the gold standard. That’s because it seriously reduces your risk of owing more than you own, which is called being “underwater.” Usually, it will also save you from having to pay for private mortgage insurance, and possibly help you get a larger or lower-rate mortgage. Plus, 20% — or close to it — may actually be required if you’re looking to get a jumbo mortgage (>$450k in most parts of the US). We also recommend setting aside money for closing costs, which are typically 2–5% of the home’s purchase price.

And once you are in that dream house, we recommend setting aside 1% of your home’s value each year for maintenance costs. Because water heaters are expensive.

4. Prepare for kids and the cost of having them (if that’s your thing)

For the first time in history, more American women are having kids in their 30s than in their 20s. And in our own survey, 49% of women in their 30s told us that they have kids, and 15% said that having kids is a priority for them.

So if you’re thinking of having kids (personal choice, no pressure), now’s the time to prepare. That’s especially true if you’re planning to take a career break or don’t have paid family leave at work. Deciding whether to take time away from work is also a personal choice and can be wonderful if it’s something that’s important to you … but it does tend to be hella expensive. So the more you can do to get financially ready, the better.

Then, once kids are here, there’s a whole range of other costs. You can use our Kids are Awesome goal to help you invest for those extra expenses (summer camp, private school tuition ... weddings). By default, we calculate nine months of your take-home pay and help you get there in six years, but you can change that up if you want. Kids also tend to be good motivation to get term life insurance and put a will and power of attorney in place, if you haven’t already. (Actually, everyone should do that.)

And if it looks like college is in your kids’ future, consider investing in a 529 college savings plan. (But if you aren’t on track for your own retirement yet, don’t prioritize college over that. We know that it’s a tough trade-off, but remember: Education financing options exist ... you’re on your own to finance your retirement.)

5. Let your priorities guide the way

Debt, savings, retirement, home ownership, kids … you might be juggling a lot of priorities. But those aren’t the only goals that investing could potentially help you check off. Maybe you always dreamed of starting your own business. Or buying a condo in Hilton Head. Or taking a big 40th birthday trip to Rome. Or maybe you just want to build wealth. Slot those goals in with your other priorities and start investing as much as you can to make them happen.


The Ellevest 2018 Money Census (the “Census”) was conducted online between November 3-10 2017 in conjunction with Chadwick Martin Bailey. Base: Women (1,034), Men (1,009), Women of Color (231), Non-Women of Color (808), LGBTQ (200) and Non-LGBTQ (968). Participants are US residents who range in age from 22-65, more than 90% of whom are above the age of 30. All participants represented having personal incomes of $50,000 or greater and were involved in managing their personal or household finances. Not all questions were answered by Census participants. The Census was funded by Ellevest.

© 2023 Ellevest, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

All opinions and views expressed by Ellevest are current as of the date of this writing, are for informational purposes only, and do not constitute or imply an endorsement of any third party’s products or services.

Information was obtained from third-party sources, which we believe to be reliable but are not guaranteed for accuracy or completeness.

The information provided should not be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities, and should not be considered specific legal, investment, or tax advice.

The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives, financial situation, or particular needs of any specific person. Investing entails risk, including the possible loss of principal, and past performance is not predictive of future results.

Ellevest, Inc. is an SEC-registered investment adviser. Ellevest fees and additional information can be found at

A newsletter you’ll love

Get all the news, advice, and must-know info on women, money, and career.

Ellevest Team

Ellevest helps women build and manage their wealth through goal-based investing, financial planning, and wealth management. Our mission is to get more money in the hands of women.