Debt Reduction, Everyday Living, Good Reading

I am not doing too bad, if I do say so myself

You have to love a financial article that has this tagline: “You’ve got the job, the spouse, maybe a child. Now it’s time to grow up.”

Yes, this article comes from my beloved MSN and it’s 6 financial milestones to hit before you turn 30. I’ve been 30 since the end of July, but I wanted to see how I match up to the suggestions of the article and I’ve gotta say … I’m not doing too bad.

The first suggestion in the article is to scale back the credit cards. Done and done. I may be paying off these bad boys for the next year or so, but I haven’t had a credit card since I was probably 27. Go me. Here’s a little nugget that also makes me painfully aware that I’m fitting in with the rest of folks in my demographic. “The average credit card debt among 25- to 34-year-olds was $5,200 in 2004, according to credit card research firm That is on top of the average $19,200 in student-loan debt carried by recent undergraduates.”

Second suggestion? Own a home — or have a game plan to acquire one. Check – Future Husband and I closed on our house a couple weeks after my 29th birthday. (Happy birthday to me …) But I’ll be honest – homeownership had been on my mind for a few years when I would become frustrated that my money was basically being tossed to rent without anything to show for it. But with my existing debt and no savings for a down payment I was not a candidate for owning my own home. Another thing people should remember about homeownership is the expenses that come with owning a house. Would it be nice to have new furniture in our living room? Indeedy – but it was more prudent to put a furnace in our house after our old one quit three times last winter. The article also cautions folks to buy what they can afford in a house – not what you love. Although FH qualified for a much higher house loan than what we ultimately spent, he was pretty good at remembering that adage while we shopped for our first home.

“You gotta have skills to impress the ladies,” or so sayeth Napoleon Dynamite. Truly, the third suggestion in this article was to have skills – to impress potential employers, not members of the opposite sex (although that probably helps too in the long run.) Huge disclaimer: I’m probably one of the luckiest people in the world when it comes to the wide array of weird stuff that I can accomplish during the course of a work day – whether it’s cater for a business event of 300 to teaching other people how to mail merge (it’s called “hit the buttons until you figure it out” people) – I think that I’ve shown my quality when it comes to my abilities. But given my tendency to have a two-year itch, I’m always looking to improve and learn new things that increase my marketability. Who knew that seven years of journalism would come in handy in the finance (my full-time gig) world? I’m still terrible with numbers, but my boss never hesitates to tell people that he has a former newspaper editor who works for him and is in charge of the company’s written words. And although I am 30 and I’m closer to being an old fogey than I am to my college days, I still talk about some of the experiences that I learned there. For instance, my résumé indicates that I spent a semester at the University of Malta as part of a study abroad program. Nearly 10 years after the fact, that still gets comments from prospective employers. I do not tell them that most of my time was spent at the beach or finding great, cheap local wines to swill (I was 20 – this was heaven at the time). I point out my experience with different cultures and how that makes me a better-rounded individual.

I’ve been pretty honest – this economy scares me right now and with the prospect of getting married and eventually having kids, if I lost my job because of downsizing, I’d be pretty screwed. However, I’ve also done a job search from scratch – I’m a bit more familiar with the lingo and I know how to sell my skills to my next employer.

Not to get all Biblical on you, but I’ve always liked that verse from the Gospel of Luke about “to whom much has been given, much is expected” (did I mention that I also minored in religion when I was in college? Oh yes, my experience is random.) Suggestion four in the article was to give money away. They’re not talking about the money you give to the credit card companies, hidden bank fees or my growing library fine. They’re talking about establishing a regular charitable giving plan.

This is something I’m going to work on for 2009 because right now there is no rhyme or reason to the money that I give to charity. The money I give to my company’s charity fund and to United Way is documented on my check stubs, but when it comes time to sit down and figure out how much I’m going to allocate, I don’t take 10% of my income and donate it. I pick a number, figure it won’t hurt if $5 is taken from my paycheck and poof! There’s my charitable giving. It would be nice to have an actual plan and budget around it. And it is also nice when that number can be deducted from a tax return.

I’m getting married in April, hopefully FH and I will be having kids within the next couple of years. Preparing our nest for a family and just getting our financial selves straight has been an ongoing goal for FH and I over the past couple of years – starting with the house, including the new furnace, paying off my credit card debt and thinking ahead to what kind of benefits we’ll need for our future family and who will be working where and at what job. Suggestion five in the article is know thyself. Once you have a grasp of who you are and what you want to accomplish and be, the article suggests that your money will start lining up with those parameters. And I can see that – I’m still the spender in my relationship, but I’m getting better about trying to save money and pay off existing debt so I can save even more.

Finally, the last milestone that a person should have before they turn 30 is to know smart people. The list presented by MSN includes people like financial advisers, a good tax preparation person, etc. For me, my list includes some of my much wiser friends and loved ones, starting with FH who is the frugal backbone to this family; my dear friend Raul, who has taught me more over coffee than most of the articles I’ve read from MSN and honestly? Some of the smartest people I’ve learned from are from the blogosphere. I’ve enjoyed reading other people’s hints, tips and stories about how they’ve turned their debt into savings and am continually impressed by their ability to stick with their goals.

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