Saving wasn't Amanda Schur's strong suit when she was in her twenties. "I didn't have a lot of money," the 38-year-old school counselor explains, "I found myself using credit cards much more than I should have."
As her thirties crept closer, she wanted to upgrade her car and travel more but didn't have the savings she needed to do so.
"I started to realize the importance of saving, using a budget, and knowing how much my bills were going to be each month," she explains. As she built her budget, Schur motivated herself by creating a list of things she wanted to buy and trips she wanted to take.
For many, the twenties are the first brush with financial freedom, while their thirties are all about planning ahead—and fixing the mistakes they made in their twenties!
Here are five tips for getting your finances in order as you enter your third decade.
1. Streamline your savings
Looking to save? It's a lot easier than you think. A host of apps make it possible to automatically set aside some money each week, which means you can build your savings without thinking about it. And, even if you start small—say, with $10 or $20 per week—getting in the saving habit will help you get ahead.
"The earlier you can get on autopilot with your savings, the sooner you'll be able to make larger financial commitments," says Ron A. Pac, a financial planner at Barnum Financial Group.
Simply decide how much you want to save each week, and the latest tech will take care of the rest. But before you download the most popular app, see what your bank has to offer. Some banks also have automated savings programs, which can make things even easier.
Your credit runs your finances, from your loans to getting a job. Stay on top of it.
2. Start keeping score
Your credit score may seem intimidating, but it's an important part of your financial life. "Your credit runs your finances, from your loans to getting a job," Pac explains. "Stay on top of it."
Start by learning about your credit score and checking your credit report regularly. According to federal law, you can receive three free credit reports every year, one from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian.
As for how to improve your credit? Start by making sure you pay your bills on time. After all, your credit history makes up 35 percent of your score.
3. Pay off your credit cards
As you've probably discovered, your credit cards aren't free money—and the impulsive charges you put on plastic in your twenties can follow you well into your thirties. Start this decade on the right foot by working to pay off your bills. Each month, commit to putting a fixed amount toward your credit card bill—and make sure it's equivalent or higher than the amount due.
If you open new cards, stay on top of them. "You need to have the discipline to pay them off every month," Pac explains. "That will help you build and establish credit."
4. Budget for the future
Whatever your hopes and dreams—starting a family, buying a house, opening your own business, or something completely different—your thirties will likely be packed with major milestones. And, while you can budget for some of them, you'll probably find that many expenses will catch you by surprise.
When considering a new milestone, look for the extra costs that could crop up. If you buy a new house, will you need new furniture? Movers to transfer your old pieces? If you're having a baby, how much will you need to spend on diapers? What about daycare? When you're preparing for your next big purchase, try to address all likely contingencies in your budget.
5. Enlist an expert
Understanding your money matters won't happen overnight. If you're just getting your financial footing, consider hiring an accountant or advisor—or talking to your bank. "Many employers now provide some financial education in the workplace," Pac says. "Look for a financial planner who can provide you unbiased, conflict-free advice."
Once you hit your thirties, it's time to start gearing up for whatever the future may hold. And once you've paid off your credit cards, improved your credit, and built a rainy day fund, you'll be financially prepared for some of life's biggest moments.