Revving Up The Engine: How To Build Wealth In Your 30s

Rev up that engine

A few months ago, I published a post on building wealth in your twenties.  It was partially intended as a letter to my younger self, outlining all the things I wish someone told me 15 or so years ago.

Your twenties are the perfect time for exploration, growth and calculated risks.  The way I look at it, you are about to get on to the highway of life and gear up for a long and rewarding journey.

But you still have the option of making a U-turn, heading to the airport and jumping on a supersonic jet instead.

Once you’ve hit your thirties, that opportunity is probably gone.  You are now firmly on the highway.

And while it might be too late to get off, that doesn’t mean you can’t switch your Honda Civic for a Ducati, rev up the engine – and fast forward to the life you are dreaming of.

You, riding this baby all the way to FI!

Some of the points below should be no brainers – and you may well be doing them already, in which case you deserve a big pat on the back.  Some others might not even be on your radar (and yes, you’ll have to read on to see what I mean).

It’s time to start your engines. 

1. Develop A Career Strategy

Some of us get lucky and find meaningful, rewarding careers early on.  Most people (myself included) don’t.

So if you chose a field of study or a profession you ended up disliking, your 30s are the time to be honest with yourself – and act quickly.

If you are just starting out the decade, there is still time to go back to school and pursue an advanced degree in order to re-invent yourself.  I graduated from my MBA program when I was 31.  At the time, some people told me it’s too late to make a career change.

At times, I’ve felt that way as well.  But with the benefit of hindsight, it turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

If you are past your early 30s and still want to change your career trajectory, going back to school full time is probably no longer the best option.

Instead, you may want to consider a part-time degree or specialized courses/certifications that will help you augment your skill set and allow you to accelerate your career progression.

Quite often, employers will help you along the way by moving you to a different department or giving you a different role.  Such lateral moves can serve as a great launchpad for moving into a different industry or function.

But whatever you do, please make sure the program you are considering does what it says on the tin.  Very often, advanced degrees are just high-margin products for institutions that offer them.  Your money, effort and time are better off spent elsewhere.

2. Focus On Family

Unlike many other things in life, this one is at least partially outside of your control.  No one knows when they will meet that special person – or if that will ever happen.

Many people go through life in happy solitude while others prefer having someone to share the inevitable ups and downs.

If you happen to be in the latter camp and think settling down with that special someone is on the cards, you’ve got two key things to consider.

Firstly, make sure that you and your partner are fully aligned on financial matters.   You don’t need to see eye to eye on everything, but you need to make sure you’ve got the right ground rules that will help you prosper as a family.

Secondly, have a plan regarding children.  Whether you will have them, how many you would like to have and what is your ideal setup once you have them.

Do you want to continue living centrally?  Move out to the suburbs?  Does one person want to stay at home?  Do you want to send them to private schools or will a state education do just fine?

The biggest reason you need to have a plan for children

Raising children can be one of the most expensive endeavours you will ever undertake.  But if you have a solid plan, financial independence and children are not mutually exclusive.

3. Get On The Housing Ladder

If you haven’t yet, your thirties are the time to get on the housing ladder.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s the cheapest place in town and you need five roommates to help you pay the mortgage.

It’s going to be hard.  You’ll need to scrimp and save and borrow and maybe even take a part-time job.

But it’s a must.  If you are going to build serious wealth, real estate will play a big role and this first property is the cornerstone of your future empire.

Make sure to google “house hacking” – there are plenty of great resources out there to help guide you.  Many of them are US-focused, but the general principles apply everywhere.

Remember – you don’t need to live in your ideal family home before you have kids.  While they are small, a one- or a two-bedroom place will do.

Instead of looking to upgrade at the same time as you have a new addition to your family, try to build as much equity in your home as possible.  Ideally, you keep your first place and use it as a rental property when you buy a bigger home.

4. Start Investing

In addition to real estate, stock market investments account for the other cornerstone of your financial strategy.

If you are in the UK, your employer is required to enroll you in the workplace pension scheme – and to kick in 3% of your salary.

If you happen to be self-employed, you need to open up a SIPP (Self Invested Pension Plan).  You won’t get the employer match (which doesn’t really matter, as you ARE the employer) but you will still get the tax break from the government.

Then there’s the Lifetime ISA.  This is essentially free money from the government, and you can only open up an account until you are 39.  You snooze, you lose – so get on with it.

As with many things in life, the most important thing is to start investing, even if the amounts themselves are trivial.  Once you’ve got the habit in place, you can use a nifty mind trick called save more tomorrow to increase your contributions as your pay goes up.

Most importantly, remember – your pension and Lifetime ISA are just investment vehicles, not investments themselves.

Think of them as envelopes.  You can use them to hold anything you want – cash, gold, stocks.  But of course, nothing will ever beat the good old low-cost, well-diversified index tracker.

Worried about investing in the stock market? Then please do yourself a favour and read this.

5. Build Your Network

This is the bit that I think is missing from most, if not all articles on building wealth out there.  And yet, it might be the most important.

As you enter your thirties, your personal and professional network begins to shrink.

Life gets busy.  People move around.  High school and university buddies fade into the background.  You don’t keep up with former colleagues as much as you used to.  And now that you have family commitments of your own, you probably don’t spend as much time socializing and getting to know people at work.

In the long run, this will cost you dearly.

Like it or not, but life is a team sport.  You won’t be successful trying to make it on your own.

Whether its advice, support in tough times, help in finding a job or debating that bright idea you have, you will always be more successful if you’ve got a group of people you can lean on.

NOT the way to go about it…

The best way to establish that group of people is by being helpful to others.

Helping a colleague who is getting downsized line up a lateral move or a new job.

Being there for your friends who are going through tough times.

Supporting that brave person in your circle of contacts who quit her job to start a business.

Mentoring a university graduate who joined your department and is still finding his feet.

I strongly believe that helping others is the most underrated component of happiness.  It also happens to be a crucial component of your success.  And unfortunately, far too many people miss a beat on this one, much to their own detriment.

So whatever you do in your thirties, don’t forget to keep an open mind and an open heart.  Your life will be so much better – and your success so much greater.

About Banker On FIRE

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Banker On FIRE is a London-based M&A (mergers and acquisitions) investment banker.  I am passionate about capital markets, behavioural economics, financial independence and living the best life possible.

Find out more here.  You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter

2 Comments

  1. At 30-ish years old, this article speaks to me! Your first point is especially timely; I’ve been working in my field for 8-9 years, and I think it’s time for a change. I’m trying to do what I can to formulate a career strategy and figure out what I want to do for the next 10-20 years. Going back to university full-time is definitely not an option, but I may end up taking advantage of online courses.

    • That’s a very sensible approach. The biggest problem with going back to school full time is that even if everything works out career-wise post-graduation, the significant monetary + opportunity cost means you end up working much longer.

      It’s fine if you really love what you do, but going back to school or re-training part-time can be a much better option.

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