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The importance of saving money for your 30s

Friday - 4/4/2014, 5:41am  ET

The 30s are a time of financial transition for many who purchase a house or have kids. Learn how much you should be putting away and when you should save for retirement. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON -- The 30s is a time when many young professionals envision "getting it together" after the fun, carefree days of their 20s.

But for today's 30-somethings, "getting it together," at least financially, can be difficult.

With 37 million young professionals burdened by $1 trillion in student debt, today's 30-somethings find it challenging to meet day-to-day expenses, let alone save money. The tight job market and recovering economy only make financial goals more difficult.

Kimberly Palmer, senior editor for U.S. News Money, says the best way to get ahead and build up savings is to put aside as much as you can, when you can.

"You should be aiming to save 20 percent, or even more when you look at both your retirement savings and your shorter-term savings," Palmer says.

That number may sound ambitious, but preparing for unforeseen expenses will help keep you out of as much debt as possible down the road.

Build a Buffer to Keep Debt at Bay

Planning ahead of time for major life transitions, such as buying a home or having children, is important to keep in mind, Palmer says.

You may feel like you have a lot of money when you save up cash for a down payment on a house or condo, but expenses do not stop there.

"A lot of people don't realize how expensive it is after you buy a house or have children -- some of these major transitions that happen in your 30s -- and there are big costs that come up," Palmer says. "There are times in your 30s when you will be very crunched, especially after big transitions and it will be very difficult to save."

Building a buffer of cash is a great way to ward off debt that may stem from these financially strapped moments in life.

How much cash should you have on hand? Palmer says it all depends on your lifestyle, but having three to six months of expenses covered is ideal.

Knowing what to plan for also helps when calculating how much money to set aside. For example, Palmer says most couples spend around $12,000 in the first year of their child's life. Having extra cash set aside for a time such as that can help ward off financial surprise.

Don't Rush into Big Expenses

Previous generations typically purchased homes and had children at a younger age than most do today. But just because your parents purchased their house at the age of 28 doesn't mean you should feel the stress to do so as well.

Natalie Taylor, a certified financial planner with LearnVest Planning Services, tells The Huffington Post that too many people rush into buying a house, and later learn they can't handle the monthly payments.

" Before buying a house, you should be financially stable. If that's not until your 30s or 40s, that's OK," she says.

Negotiate Your Salary, Take Advantage of Benefits

U.S. News' Palmer says it's common for most young employees to feel grateful they have a job in a challenging job market. This feeling can cause some to shy away from asking for a raise or negotiating salaries. However, she says, the 30s is not the time to hesitate when it comes to salary.

"It's something to really embrace, especially in your 30s when you are going through all of these potential career transitions and these potential new jobs," she says.

Palmer says switching jobs is the perfect opportunity to negotiate salary; it's the time when you have the most leverage to increase your salary.

Professionals don't take sufficient advantage of employee benefits either, Palmer says -- especially when it comes to building a 401k.

"That is one of the best things you can do to really boost your retirement savings. You, of course, won't get to enjoy that money in your 30s, but you're really shoring up your finances and you'll really be in a much better position down the road when you're ready to retire," she says.

Be Realistic: Know How Much You Need for Retirement

Financial planner Taylor says a lot of younger clients think they will be able to save more for retirement when they are older and make more money, according to The Huffington Post.

However, she says by the time you are older and making more money, chances are, you have more financial responsibilities: a mortgage, kids, college funds, etc.

Her advice is to get serious and start saving for retirement as soon as possible. U.S. News' Palmer says meeting with a financial planner can be helpful when it comes to figuring out how much you need to save for retirement.

Don't Skimp on Insurance

Palmer says it's important to know health insurance isn't the only kind you need. She says 30-somethings, and people of all ages, are extremely underinsured in certain categories.

For those who rent, Palmer says, renter's insurance is necessary.

"It's very affordable; it's very inexpensive, but it can really save you financially if something unexpected were to happen," she says.

Disability insurance is also worth considering. Palmer says this helps if anything happens to you and you are unable to work for a period of time.

"[It's important to] really make sure you do have the insurance that you need. It really serves to ensure that you can get through difficult, unexpected times that of course do crop up in your 30s and anytime in your life."

WTOP's Rachel Nania contributed to this report. Follow @WTOP and @WTOPliving on Twitter and on the WTOP Facebook page.

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