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Investing in Your 30s: 3 Goals You Should Set Today

It’s never too early or too late to start investing for a better future. Here’s what you need to know about investing in your 30s.

Articles by Alex Benke, CFP®

By Alex Benke, CFP®
VP of Advice and Investing, Betterment  |  Published: January 7, 2019

When you’re in your 30s, set up: (1) an emergency fund; (2) a retirement goal; and (3) major purchase goals for any large planned expenditures, like a house or a car.

Try to max out your IRAs and contributions to any employee-sponsored retirement plans to help reap the full tax benefits available to you.

If you have, or plan on having, kids, start thinking about life insurance, estate planning, and college savings plans.

In your 30s, your finances get real.

Your income may have increased significantly since your first job. You might have investments, stock compensation, or a small business. You may be using or have access to different kinds of financial accounts (e.g. 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, HSA, 529, UTMA). In this decade of your life, chances are you’ll get married, and even start a family.

Even if you’ve taken this complexity in stride, it’s good to take a step back to review where you are and where you want to go. This review of your plan (or reminder to create a plan) is essential to setting up your financial situation for future decades of financial success.

Ready to review your investments?

Don’t Delay Having a Plan: Three Goals for Your 30s

As always, the best thing to do is start with your financial goals. Keep in mind that goals change through time, and this review is an important step to make updates based on where you are now. If you don’t have any goals yet, or need some guidance on which investing objectives might be important for you, here are three to consider.

Emergency Fund

Sometimes your plan doesn’t go as planned, and having an adequate emergency fund can help ensure those hiccups don’t affect the rest of your goals.

An emergency fund (at Betterment, we call it a Safety Net) should contain enough money to cover your basic expenses for a minimum of three to six months.

You may need more than that estimate depending on your career, which may or may not be one in which finding new work happens quickly. Also, depending on how much risk you want to take with these funds, you may need a buffer on top of that amount. Read more about how to calculate your target amount, or follow this simple formula:

Monthly Expenditures x Re-Employment Period = Baseline Safety Net Amount

As you review your goals, make sure you have established a safety net account. Good options for this include a high-interest savings account, a low-risk investing account like SmartSaver, or a Betterment Safety Net. Then, make sure you have enough saved in it that account (or are regularly saving into it to build up the balance).


Most people don’t want to work forever. Even if you enjoy your work, you’ll likely ramp it down as you age, presumably reducing your income. To maintain your standard of living, or spend more on travel, hobbies or grandkids, you’ll need to spend from savings.

Saving for your retirement goal early in your career – especially in your 30s – is essential. Thanks to medical improvements and healthier living, we are living longer in retirement, which means we need to save even more. Luckily, you have a secret weapon – compounding – but you have to decide to use it. Compounding can be simply understood as “interest earning interest” – a snowball effect that can build your account balance more quickly over time. The earlier you start saving, the more time you have, and the more compounding can work for you.

In your goal review, you’ll want to make sure you are on track to retire according to your plan, and make savings adjustments if not. You’ll also want to make sure you are using the best retirement accounts for your current financial situation, such as your workplace retirement plan, an IRA, or a Roth IRA. Your household income, tax rate, future tax rate and availability of accounts for you and your spouse will determine what is best for you. Use Betterment’s Retirement Planner, which helps answer all of these questions.

Also, if you’ve changed jobs, make sure you are not leaving your retirement savings behind, especially if it has high fees. Often, consolidating your old 401(k)s and IRAs into one account can make it easier to manage, and might even reduce your costs. You can consolidate retirement accounts tax-free with a rollover.

If you have questions about your plan or the results using our tools, consider getting help from an expert through our Advice Packages.

Major Purchases

A wedding, a house, a big trip, or college for your kids. Each of these goals has a different amount needed, and a different time horizon. Our goal-based savings advice can help you figure out how to invest and how much to save each month to achieve them.

Take the chance in your goal review to decide which of these goals is most important to you, and make sure you set them up as goals in your Betterment account. Our goal features allow you to see, track, and manage each goal, even if the savings aren’t at Betterment.

Get Started with Betterment

It’s easy to set up your Safety Net, Retirement, and Major Purchase investment goals on Betterment. Our customer support team is available seven days a week to answer your questions. Get started now.

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Explore your first goal

Safety Net

This is a great place to start—an emergency fund for life's unplanned hiccups. A safety net is a conservative portfolio.


Whether it's a long way off or just around the corner, we'll help you save for the retirement you deserve.

General Investing

If you want to invest and build wealth over time, then this is the goal for you. This is an excellent goal type for unknown future needs or money you plan to pass to future generations.

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