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How to Save Money and Budget in Your 20s and 30s

By Jackie Lam
June 12, 2019

When I moved out of my mom’s house when I was at 23, my greatest fear was having to move back home – again.

In turn, I did everything I could to stretch my $1,800 a month take-home pay. By being frugal, taking on side hustles, and saving as much as possible, I was able to both squeak by and save money each every month. It was no easy feat, but it was doable. Remember: You don’t have to live in a van to budget wisely and save moneyEven small steps can help, like switching to a bank that doesn’t charge unnecessary fees and negotiating for a lower Internet bill.

Fast forward to the present. Now that I’m in my 30s, I know that my budgeting, frugality and hard-core money-saving ways paid off. Still, there’s so much I wish I’d known about managing money 10 years ago.

To up your budgeting game and start saving money in your 20s and 30s, read on. Your future self will thank you. 

 4 smart money tips for your 20s

Let’s face it: Adulting is hard, especially when you’re just starting out. These 4 tactics for budgeting and saving money will help guide you through your 20s in style.

1. Salary is important, but don’t forget about job benefits

You might not be making as much money as you’d like right out of college. But salary isn’t the only measure you should consider when evaluating a job.

Take a look at the entire compensation and benefits package. This includes health insurance, disability, and life insurance benefits, plus employee perks (like free gym memberships), and whether your employer offers a 401(k) match. Also consider this: Will there be opportunities to learn new skills, work with a mentor, or move up the corporate ladder?

I consider learning on the job as an added benefit. For instance, when I worked in the communications department for an entertainment labor union, my boss subsidized courses I took in graphic design and copyediting. These skills ended up being crucial to my future job opportunities and earning potential.

While I was fortunate as a 20-something to have steady jobs with robust benefits, I worked in niche industries without much room for growth. Looking back, I wish I’d spent even more time focused on growing my paycheck and my career potential.

2. Save money the new-fashioned way: automation

In your 20s, it’s not surprising that you may be stressed out about your money situation. That’s why one of my favorite money-saving hacks is to automate your finances.

You can automate your savings for an emergency fund, for a car, or for investment in a retirement account. If you’re a Chime Member, consider opting into the Save When I Get Paid feature.

And yes, while you have decades before you retire, the earlier you begin to save for this goal, the better. Why is that? Two things: time in the market and the magic of compound interest. Let’s say you begin saving $250 a month starting at the age of 25. You keep it up for 40 years until you’re 65. According to, if you earn an average of seven percent interest, you’ll have earned just shy of $600,000.

While I opened an IRA in my early 20s, I put in $100 and then stopped. Imagine how much I would have if I had continued putting money into it! And for one of my jobs, I failed to opt into the matching 401(k) plan until a year after I started. That’s money I left on the table. 

The takeaway: If you automate your savings, you’re essentially budgeting without having to think about it. You’ll be glad you did.

3. Track, manage, and reduce your daily spending

It doesn’t matter how much you earn: You can always get into the habit of saving. To start, try cutting back. Limit yourself to one restaurant meal per week. Try a no-spend Sunday. Or use a money management app to track your spending to see what your vices are.

After having a few spend-happy months this year, I’m focusing on two major problem areas for a month: food and clothes. When it comes to food, instead of overstocking my fridge, I’ve started checking my pantry before I head to the market. This helps me plan out my meals, stick to a weekly food budget, and cook in batches. As for clothes, now I wait 30 days before purchasing something I have my eye on.

4. Start paying off student loans and other debts

Sure, you wish your debt could just disappear yesterday. And while it’s tempting to ignore your student loans, credit card statements, car loan, or healthcare bills, you’re going to have to pay them off eventually. No matter what type of debt you have, your first step is to determine exactly how much money you owe, to whom, and what the interest rates are.

Next, come up with a debt repayment plan to help you budget, how much you can reasonably afford to pay off each month. After that, commit to making regular, timely payments.  Not only will this keep you on track to paying off your debts with as little accumulated interest as possible, it’ll also help you get the highest credit score you can manage.

3 smart money tips for your 30s

Whether it feels like a graduation or a funeral, the transition into your 30s means reevaluating career goals, income, and outstanding debts. But don’t worry: A few simple practices will put you on the path to sustainable financial health.

1. Make more money

While in your 20s, you were laying the groundwork to save money and invest. In your 30s, however, you’ll want to start thinking about growing your money.

There’s no single way to approach this. It depends on your personal situation, existing resources, and lifestyle preferences. For example, perhaps you want to buy your first home, or get serious about investing in the stock market. This is your time to make decisions to grow your money.

Although you can only cut so much of your living expenses, you can increase your earning potential. For example, it wasn’t until I job-hopped that I started making more money.  Another major wealth-building move for me was when I turned my side hustle of freelance writing and copyediting into a full-time gig.

2. Pay off your student loans & credit cards for good 

“Good debt” is loosely defined as debt for valuable assets that can grow over time. Traditional examples of good debt include a mortgage on a home or a business loan. “Bad debt” is anything that loses value over time, or has a high-interest rate, which can eat into your savings. “Bad debt” is normally thought of as credit card debt, student loans, and personal loans.

However, there are a lot of gray areas. Credit card debt can be a good thing. If you have a balance, but pay it off in full each pay cycle, this can boost your credit.

Live the life you can actually afford

As my friend Kristin Wong, author of “Get Money” likes to say, there’s a difference between living the life you can afford, and living the life you want.

As you continue to build wealth and establish your career, you may view your thirties as a time when you can abandon the responsible habits you spent your 20s, but it’s important not to slip into old ways. Make sure you continue saving money and assessing your income and spending habits, that way you can continue onto the next decade with an even greater feeling of financial freedom.

The perks of financial wellness are many — freedom from money stress, the resources, and knowledge to grow your money, and the ability to live your best life.


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