When you’re in your 20s, many people are usually having fun and often looking to 30-somethings as adults who have it all figured out. But once you arrive at your 30s yourself, you may feel unprepared and overly stressed by your responsibilities and future goals.
Maybe you had a plan to get married, have kids, land your dream job and buy a house by a certain age, and now that your 30s are here, these milestones may be nowhere in sight. You may see your peers on Facebook posting their highlight reel, leaving you feeling left behind in their dust. It also doesn’t help that millennials are worse off financially than previous generations, adding financial stress to societal pressures.
Here’s the good news: There’s no rule that you must do anything by a certain time, and there are still plenty of ways to make your dreams happen. Here are some of the common stressors people often feel in their 30s, along with advice on how to deal.
Choosing to (or not to) get married
As you get into your 30s, pressures mount to settle down, especially if you feel like the only one in your friend group who isn’t married. If you haven’t found a partner or gotten engaged yet, you may worry time is running out to settle down (or maybe your parents like to tell you that it is).
How to cope: Remember that a lot of the pressures are based on outdated social norms that are currently changing. In the last few decades, Americans have been getting married and having kids later. In fact, fewer people are getting married at all.
Stop and think about what you really want. Let go of the “shoulds” and consider what living life on your terms looks like. If finding a partner and getting married is what you want, there are plenty of dating apps, speed dating events and matchmaking services available to assist.
Deciding when to start a family
In addition to marriage, it’s common to feel a sense of pressure to have kids as you enter your 30s — especially if you feel like your biological clock is ticking and time is running out. It is true that fertility begins to wane once women reach their 30s, forcing many couples to decide whether to have kids and, if so, when they should start trying.
How to cope: Again, there is no age or timetable by when you “have” to do anything. No, you’re not necessarily “running out of time” — delaying starting a family can actually be better for your finances, according to Psychology Today.
Concerns about fertility are valid, though, but while getting pregnant in your late 30s or early 40s can be more challenging, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, it’s far from impossible. Plus, if you know you want to have children biologically but now isn’t a good time, consider freezing your sperm and/or eggs so you can try later on. If you do run into difficulty getting pregnant, there’s a litany of fertility treatments out there, and adoption is another option. Fertility and family planning treatments and services can be quite costly, though, so it’s wise to consider budgeting for them as well.
Buying a house
While those living in expensive cities like San Francisco or New York City typically don’t have the expectation of buying a home, it’s still considered part of the American dream in much of the country. You may feel stressed that you haven’t been able to save up for a down payment or anxious that you’re throwing away money by renting.
How to cope: First off, there’s no rule you have to buy a home, and it’s not always the case that renting is “throwing money away.” Homeownership comes with many expenses that renting doesn’t, such as property taxes, homeowner’s insurance, repairs and possible homeowner association fees. According to ATTOM Data Solutions, it’s only more affordable to buy rather than rent in around half of housing markets in the United States. If you do really want to buy, know that you don’t necessarily need a full 20% down to get a mortgage. For example, government-backed FHA loans allow for down payments as low as 3.5%, and some lenders, such as Wells Fargo, offer low down payment loans for first-time buyers, so you may be able to buy sooner than you think.
Actually planning for retirement
When you’re decades away from retirement, the thought of setting aside precious money every month for your golden years may feel unrealistic, especially if you’re struggling to make ends meet now. In June alone, surveys showed that nearly 20% of men and women alike were actually withdrawing money from their savings, rather than contributing towards it. However, if you can start saving for retirement at a young age, you can reap the benefits of compound interest.
How to cope: Because of compound interest, contributing even a tiny amount to retirement in your younger years can have a huge payoff later. It’s better to start small than not at all. Plus, if you work for a company with a 401(k) match, you should always try to take advantage since that’s free money that will help your retirement savings grow even faster. If you don’t work for an employer, or you’re totally perplexed by retirement planning, consider meeting with a certified financial planner to get some guidance.
Improving your credit
When you’re young, you may be reckless with credit cards or pay bills late, not realizing the long-term damage to your credit. It can come back to haunt you later if you’re denied loan applications or given sky-high interest rates on new forms of credit or even insurance. Employers and landlords also typically review credit.
How to cope: There’s plenty you can do to turn your credit around. Your payment history makes up the largest component of your credit score, so make sure you pay every bill — especially those for credit cards or loans — on time, every time. If you have a tendency to forget, set calendar reminders or enroll in auto-pay. If you can’t afford your payments, call your creditor and ask if they can work with you, or find places in your budget to cut expenses or earn more income so you can pay on time and keep your credit intact. If your credit isn’t bad, but you just don’t have much history, consider getting a credit card and using it a few times a month (then paying the bill in full) to help build a solid credit history.
Ever since smartphones and laptops came into existence, we’ve lost the ability to leave work behind when we set foot out of the office. We’re now connected at all times, and some workplaces don’t discourage (or even encourage) working outside business hours. This lack of boundaries and disappearing work/life balance can lead to burnout, a form of chronic stress. It’s not just about being tired; it’s a chronic sense of exhaustion and/or dread that can wreak havoc on your physical, mental and emotional health. In a Deloitte survey on burnout, a whopping 84% of millennials reported experiencing burnout at their current job.
How to cope: There are many ways to manage burnout. Yes, one could be quitting your job if you have a toxic boss or unsustainable work schedule. But there are other ways to reduce burnout and workplace stress, according to Harvard Business Review, such as finding ways to reduce your workload, creating boundaries and other ways to help you regain a sense of control (like no email-checking after 7 p.m.), seeking strategies to feel valued and improving relationships with your colleagues.
Creating a career plan
You may feel pressured to move up the ladder in your career, and while this often comes with bigger paychecks, it also usually means more responsibility and stress. You may also find yourself starting a new career, where you have to navigate a different field and learn the ropes.
How to cope: First things first: Do you really want to change jobs or careers? Make sure you’re doing so because you want to, not because you have to — just because you may earn $95,000 per year, doesn’t mean your level of happiness will magically increase. If you’re entering a new field and feel like you’re in over your head, seek out a mentor, either in your workplace or through a professional association for your industry. If you’re stressed because you want a career change but have no clue about how to make it happen, consider hiring a career counselor or personal coach to help you find the right path.
Your 30s can be a trying time, with social pressures telling you it’s time to settle down and have it all together. Cut yourself some slack and do your best. Be grateful for what you do have and know that if you strategize wisely, your 30s can be a time for success — on your own terms.