By Tony Collins, CFP®, AIF®, Associate Wealth Advisor
This is part two of a multi-part series on specific financial planning challenges and considerations that many people face over the decades of their adult lives. We hope you’ll find these perspectives valuable.
In our experience, the widest range of personal and career growth seems to occur among people in their 30s. Some who have started early are becoming well established in their career of choice. Others who have prioritized other things may still be figuring out their path. On the personal side, we see many people who have started families young – but it is not atypical for others to start families later on or not at all.
This variance presents a unique set of challenges. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach for those in their 30s, here are some of our top tips for success.
Rent or buy?
For many, home ownership represents the pinnacle of adulthood. In today’s low interest-rate environment, it can be easier than ever to afford a home. However, there are some considerations that you need to weigh before deciding on a home purchase.
First, what is your reasonable expectation of staying where you now live? Due to career uncertainty, family needs, or other personal reasons, renting may be a better option if there’s a good chance you will not stay in the area. Pricing wise, we have seen quite frequently that in high-cost-of-living areas, renting can be very competitive. Plus, many professionals do move jobs and locations quite frequently – and the recent work-from-home trend has added to the mix, inspiring a migration of professionals to areas where they can enjoy a greater quality of life.
Rather than undergo the expense and hassle of selling and buying homes, they elect to simply rent – and are able to spend more time doing the things they enjoy. The funds that would have been tied up in home equity are invested in a more flexible and liquid investment account. Ease of maintenance is a big win: letting a landlord deal with an issue rather than being in charge of any repair, big or small! Think of the peace of mind when the water heater breaks or the dishwasher needs fixing. All to say, this is a massively important decision. The pride of home ownership and ability to build equity and capture capital appreciation is a big benefit, but it’s not always worth the cost.
Here are two quick examples that show positive outcomes on both sides of the decision:
First, a family we work with lived in a very high cost-of-living area. Some years ago, they decided to move to a more affordable area. However, they weren’t sure if they wanted to purchase or rent because they hadn’t determined exactly where they wanted to live within their new city. They did end up purchasing a house instead of renting a few years back, and are very pleased that they did. Because of COVID, their area has been a huge draw for new residents: Property prices have doubled over the last two years. There is no way they would have been able to purchase their current home today as its value has gone up so much. This turned out to be a great decision for them.
On the other hand, we work with another individual whose job allowed him to move across the country for an exciting business prospect. During that time he chose to rent while he figured out if this venture would pay off. Since then he has reconsidered his move. With today’s remote working environment, he has the opportunity to buy a home in a different state with a lower cost of living and higher quality of life. His decision to rent was sound despite the big increases in home values across much of the U.S. Purchasing a home when you’re unclear about a new job working out presents a significant degree of risk.
If you have kids, or are even thinking of having kids in the future, it’s never to early to get started on a plan for helping fund their college education. Compound interest adds up and higher education isn’t getting any cheaper. There are a lot of good options out there, but some are better than others. We typically recommend a type of account called a “529,” which can offer tax benefits, flexibility, and overall is pretty hands-off.
If you don’t have a child yet, you can actually make yourself the beneficiary to get a jump start on contributions. We have seen clients successfully save for their children’s education time and time again with a clear and disciplined savings plan. Any unused funds can be rolled to another beneficiary.
Taking the time to make sure you are properly insured is imperative to safeguarding your finances at every age. Check your car’s coverage to ensure you are well protected. Don’t just settle for the state minimum requirements. Additionally, consider adding UM – Uninsured Motorist coverage. There are so many drivers out there who opt for the cheapest coverage available (or no coverage at all). If you get in an accident with one of these drivers, you may be stuck with a broken car and little recourse available without Uninsured Motorist coverage.
If you own a home, consider an Umbrella policy, which adds liability coverage over and above your car and home policy. Car and home policies do have some level of liability coverage, but an umbrella policy will kick in if you suffer an event beyond what your car and home policies can provide. If you’re still renting, it would be wise to look at getting a renter’s policy to protect your property.
Retirement Plan Contributions
It’s OK if you aren’t able to maximize your 401(k) or other retirement account contributions. It is, however, important to contribute on a regular basis. A good rule of thumb is to increase your contribution % every time you get a pay increase. Before you know it, you’ll be maximizing those retirement accounts every year!
While this is not an exhaustive list, we hope it’s a helpful start. There is so much more to be addressed during this crucial stage of life. In my next blog, targeted to those in their 40s, we’ll be discussing more challenges and considerations that people face over the decades of their adult lives. Estate Planning will be a big theme from now going forward. Even those in their 30s who have kids should definitely be taking steps to ensure that their kids’ best interests will be attended to if the unthinkable happens, so stay tuned!
We would welcome the opportunity to discuss any of these tips with you – and more – to help you set yourself up for a healthy financial life.
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