9 MIN READ

Why Financial Independence is Within Your Grasp — Even in Your 30s

Side view of young woman walking on streets and taking pictures.
Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images


Do you get totally irritated and depressed when you see articles about people who retired in their 30s?

Can’t seem to scroll past them fast enough?

After all, your 30th birthday might be nothing more than a faint memory and the idea of retiring anytime soon is, well, a joke. If this sounds like you, stop beating yourself up. You are far from being alone in the financial abyss.

But why should you take my word for it? I’m glad you asked — I’m speaking from experience here, and I felt the exact same way just a few short years ago.

My husband and I are no strangers to financial missteps. We also didn’t start pursuing financial independence until we were well into our 30s, which makes me someone who knows what I’m talking about.

In fact, we didn’t even know there was such a movement until we stumbled upon one of those crazy FIRE/FIOR (Financial Independence Retire Early/Financial Independence Optional Retirement) articles.

Before finding our way to this offbeat, online community, my husband and I were pretty normal, meaning we were in debt and weren’t making our finances a priority because, you know, financial independence and early retirement is not reality.

Our reality was enjoying our relative youth while continuing to chase a bigger house, better cars and elaborate vacations. And that’s exactly what we were doing.

The last straw came when we nearly purchased a large home we couldn’t comfortably afford. We’d signed on the dotted line and were under contract. And then, the panic attacks started. My husband and I were waking up in the middle of the night worrying about taking on such a huge debt.

I mean, my salary was steady and predictable, but my husband’s was not. We were approved based on our income history, but what would happen if his work unexpectedly tailed off? Our income would do the same but the bills would remain sky high.

To say we were stressed about this is an understatement.

Our lucky day came when the home inspector came back with a shockingly bad report. There was mold — and lots of it. We took that golden opportunity to cancel our contract and commit to start making smart financial decisions.

We committed to stop being normal.

On that very day, I began frantically searching the internet for tips on how to take control of our money and build wealth. With a few clicks of the mouse, I found myself immersed in the concept of financial independence and early retirement.

With our new found knowledge and excitement, we embraced a frugal lifestyle, stayed in our small home, and maxed out our retirement accounts. And yes, we even cut the cable cord. Gasp!

Not surprisingly, the concept of FIRE/FIOR being attainable for normal people with normal salaries was completely fascinating. Almost immediately, we were hooked — and you can be too.

Let’s do this!

How to Become Financially Independent After 30

If you’re sitting there reading this with a retirement account that is pretty much non-existent, don’t be alarmed when I say you can still retire decades ahead of schedule by pursuing financial independence.

By making smarter financial decisions and tweaking just a few areas of your life, you can put yourself on the path to financial independence, quite literally, overnight.

By taking your money seriously, making a plan and sticking to it, you’ll start to build wealth on auto-pilot.

Here are a few actionable tips:

  • Start a budget. You need to know how much you’re making and spending.
  • Cut the fat. Stop paying for stuff you don’t use or value. Can you cut the gym, cable, or make your own lunches for work?
  • Consider adjusting home, health and car insurances for better rates.
  • Build at least a small emergency fund of $1,000 – $2,000 before diving into debt repayment.
  • Make paying off debt (all debt) a priority. You’ll never build wealth if you’re paying significant interest on debt.
  • Track your net worth. This is quite possibly the single biggest motivator for building wealth. Whether you’re paying down debt or investing, your net worth is going to go up. And when you see that, you’ll be more likely to stick to your financial plan!
  • If your employer offers a matching contribution to a retirement account, max it out. This is free money. Don’t leave it on the table. Increase retirement contributions each year when you get a raise until you’re completely maxed out. The current maximum allowable contribution for 401(k) accounts is $18,500. This goes up every few years so make sure you adjust accordingly.
  • After you’re at least getting the full employer match for your retirement account, consider contributing to an IRA or Roth IRA.
  • If you’ve taken care of all of the above, consider diversifying your investments into non-retirement accounts. This could mean purchasing stocks, bonds, real estate, etc.

Once you reach the end of this list, you’ll be joining the exclusive ranks of the FIRE/FIOR community in no time.

So instead of crying over all of those pumpkin-spiced lattes and spring breaks in Miami, pull yourself together and act like the responsible 30-something (or 40-something) you are, and resolve to take control of your financial future today.

And with that, let’s stand tall and consider a few of the benefits of pursuing financial independence after age 30.

You Messed Up — So What

 Ice cream on the ground.
Sayan_Moongklang/Getty Images

Now that you’ve lived a little, experienced some good times (and bad times, too), and can clearly envision what you want from your life, you have a much better understanding of what you need to do (and not do) to build wealth.

Having a few years on the books means you likely experienced some combination of poor money decisions relating to credit card debt, student loans, and car payments. And that’s okay.

Fortunately, the best part about messing up is that experience is a great teacher.

I made almost every poor financial decision you can make. I took out unnecessary student loans and had a sports car and super expensive payment to go along with it.

I charged dinners out with the girls and new clothes to high-interest credit cards, and even borrowed money from my 401(k).

Yep, I’m pretty much a pro when it comes to doing everything wrong with money.

But you know what, I’m okay with all of it. Without my experiences, I wouldn’t realize what it takes to do the right thing with money.

I found out pretty quickly that doing the right thing with money is way more rewarding. So if you’re sitting there with a few poor decisions under your belt, don’t worry, you can turn it around starting today.

The old adage of hindsight being 20/20 still holds true. Sure, having a degree from an expensive school is nice, but you now realize you might’ve landed in the same spot had you opted for the less expensive state school.

And of course you loved buying new clothes and taking fancy vacations years ago, but now you look at your retirement savings and understand the term, “missed opportunity.”

Yeah, you messed up. So what? Recognize your past but don’t dwell on it.

Messing up in your 20s means you’re less likely to mess up now. And that’s a good thing, because now is when you’re choosing to make your finances a priority.

The Big Picture

Now that you’re a full-fledged adult, it’s a great time to assess your current life situation, past choices, and your hopes and dreams for the future. No judgment, please.  

You see, the best thing about being a bit older is you might actually know what you want out of life.

I know I sure didn’t know what I wanted when I was a bright-eyed college grad in my 20s. But as time passed and I experienced more, both personally and professionally, the big picture became crystal clear.

For instance, if you prefer to work as a freelancer and live in an RV or van, you’re not going to need to save as much money to reach financial independence as someone who wants to have four children and travel to Europe every summer.

So I’m going to go out on a limb and assume you also have a bit more clarity at this point in your life, too. Let’s use that clarity to answer some key questions about your big picture.

Key questions to ask yourself:

  • Which career is more appealing? A stable job or freelancing?
  • Do you prefer being in a relationship or remaining single?
  • Are children a possibility? If so, do you want to stay at home to raise them?
  • Is extensive travel a priority, or do you like staying in one spot?
  • Are you interested in retiring as soon as you save enough money to meet the 4% rule, or do you want to build legacy wealth for future generations?

If you can answer at least some of these key questions with confidence, you’ll be in a much better position to plan for your financial future and actually reach your goals.

Naturally, our lives are fluid and we all reserve the right to change our minds, but these questions present a good starting point.

The Incredible Benefits Of Pursuing FI After 30

Traveler woman legs walking carrying a suitcase in an airport
AntonioGuillem/Getty Images

So with your answers in hand, let’s check out the incredible benefits of pursuing financial independence after age 30.

  • You know what you want from your life — and how much money you need to achieve it
  • You have a better idea of whether you’re pursuing FI with one income or two
  • Past mistakes have made you a better decision-maker
  • You have experienced debt and will do anything to avoid it
  • You want options because you know how it feels to not have them
  • Staying on-task is much easier with clear life goals

Obviously, there are plenty of other benefits of pursuing financial independence after age 30, but these sum up the major ones.

Our personal lives are just that, and our finances are complementary. Pretending one is independent from the other is just silly.

Contrary to popular belief, money is not the root of all evil — it is the root of all opportunity.

To name a few…

  • The opportunity to work or not work
  • The opportunity to move wherever you want to live
  • The opportunity to start a business

Whatever your dreams, money will provide you with the opportunity of pursuit.

Now that you understand the benefits of pursuing financial independence after age 30, don’t be afraid to embrace your mistakes and chase the dream.

Oh, by the way, hoarding this incredibly powerful knowledge is just plain wrong. Pass it on!

Lisa is the founder and resident blogger at Mad Money Monster, a personal finance and lifestyle blog chronicling her family’s journey from doing money all wrong to doing it all right. If you want to follow along, sign up here.

The Penny Hoarder Promise: We provide accurate, reliable information. Here’s why you can trust us and how we make money.