I'm not quite 30 yet, but I'm more than familiar with the notion that this age is the new benchmark for people to get their lives together.
There are books, blogs and Twitter accounts dedicated solely to helping people cross that line in the best shape for their future. They do this by telling you to get rid of debt, stop shopping so much, start a 401(k) and brace yourself for wrinkles.
But in my opinion, it takes a lot more than a healthy bank account and nice skin to live a full and happy life, whether you're 29 or 59. Most of us know how to succeed, we just happen to let ourselves –– and a few convenient lies –– get in the way.
1. So long as my job pays well, it's OK if I hate it.
The job market may not be what it used to be, but by age 30 no one should be toiling away at a job that leaves them stressed out and dissatisfied with life.
We were inspired by a young woman who wrote about turning her back on a lucrative job on Wall Street when years of 14-hour work days made her overweight, burnt out and miserable.
"I’m a few months into my new job [as an asset manager for a nonprofit] and it’s made my life richer. I’m making an effort to breathe, smile, eat healthier and have positive thoughts about my future," she wrote.
"I took a pay cut of about 30% to change positions, but I don’t think that I should be applauded for making the choice to accept less pay – I don’t view it as a sacrifice."
2. If I turn a blind eye, somehow my finances will figure themselves out.
The worst thing I did in my early 20s was ignore financial red flags when I saw them.
I didn't check my bank account for fear of how low the number would be; I left my credit report untouched for five years; and I didn't realize my first job even offered a matching 401(k) until I quit because I stuffed that folder in my desk and never looked at it.
Look: If you're broke, you might as well know it and own it. It's the only way you'll ever truly be able to do something about it.
3. I should get married because it's the 'next step.'
I'm a few years shy of 30 myself and it baffles me how many couples –– men AND women alike –– tell me they're planning on tying the knot by 30.
There are few people my age who can actually afford the $27,000 the average American wedding costs these days.
Why kick off your lifetime union with a massive pile of debt that will only cause stress and inevitable arguments down the line? If you're truly in love, chances are The One will still be around by the time you're both financially fit to face those bills together.
4. Banks and bill collectors will get their way no matter what I do.
At some time (and for a lot of you, many times), life eventually will get in the way and you'll find yourself on the wrong side of your bank or, worse, a bill collector.
Stand your ground. I've been negotiating my way to lower credit rates, health care, cable bills, and bank fees since I took out my first line of credit at age 18. I do it mostly by phone and by monitoring my accounts dutifully, and I rarely take no for an answer.
If you're ever in doubt, think about Kenny Golde, a 40-something Hollywood producer who managed to negotiate $220,000 worth of debt down to $70,000.
5. I should buy a home because that's what grown-ups do.
Researchers from the San Francisco Federal Reserve found people who earn 10 percent less than their neighbors are 4.5 percent more likely to commit suicide.
The key word here: Neighbors. Where you choose to live can have a big impact on how you view yourself, not to mention your financial well-being. Don't make the move till you're prepared.
Real estate expert Scott Sheldon points out that consumers aren't ready for homeownership until their debt-to-income ratio falls below 45 percent:
— Calculate your DTI: Proposed mortgage payment + all minimum monthly debt obligations ÷ gross monthly income.
— Calculate your maximum mortgage payment: Gross monthly income × .45 (45 percent DTI) − all minimum monthly debt obligations.
6. If I start dipping into my savings now, I'll have plenty of time to make up for it later.
If you've managed to build a 401(k) with your employer, now is not the time to start chipping away at all that hard-earned retirement cash.
For starters, you'll be charged a hefty fee for early withdrawal. It's also tantamount to stealing from yourself in old age. When times are tight, trim your spending, reevaluate the purchase you intend to make, or find ways to supplement your income. You'll thank yourself later on when you see how much your savings grow.
7. I'm too inexperienced to start investing.
When I started earning enough to consider long-term investing, the biggest hurdle was figuring it all out with zero prior knowledge. I started small with a savings account, then built my way up to a 401(k) and Roth IRA through my employer.
I'm glad I did. According to personal finance expert Kimberly Palmer, someone who begins investing at age 25 will only have to save $4,830 annually to reach $1 million by age 65, accounting for an annual return of 7 percent after fees. That figure triples to $15,240 if you wait until your 40s.
8. I'm a failure because I'm not getting paid as much as other people my age.
There's a reason older people are nostalgic for their 20s. They've got a mortgage and a brood of screaming toddlers and they miss doing whatever they pleased whenever they pleased.
Perhaps they've forgotten the first few years out of college –– that frenzied time when everyone was out for themselves, scratching, clawing their way to success?
There's such thing as healthy competition, but spending every waking moment trying to "beat" your peers is a quick way to wind up alone and miserable. Do yourself a favor and focus on your own path, not stalking your friends' career moves on Facebook and LinkedIn.
And take heart in this fact: It's been proven that the average person doesn't get any happier after they earn $75,000 per year.
9. I can still afford to eat like I'm 16.
No one can predict the future, but chances are yours involves a body that has far less tolerance for chili cheese fries and 4 a.m. taco runs.
Studies show that metabolism actually slows 2 percent for every year after you turn 30, and weigh gain can lead to a range of health issues later in life.
Do your finances –– and your belly –– a favor and change some of your eating habits now.
I'm not talking about whipping up five-course meals every day of the week. Niche grocery stores like Trader Joe's and Whole Foods post simple recipes on their websites to match their inventory, and there are even businesses that will send healthy 'meals-in-a-box' straight to your home.
10. I can still pull off the outfits I wore in college.
There's a saying career experts love to toss around: Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
It makes sense. Unless you've managed to finagle your way into your dream job by age 30 –– and are secretly hated for it –– part of the battle is making others believe you can handle it.
Leave the flip-flops at home, invest in a wardrobe that shows them you're ready for responsibility –– and the heftier salary that comes with it –– and you're already on your way.
11. If I get approved for new credit, obviously I can handle it.
Four months ago, I walked into Bank of America to make a routine deposit and walked out with a rewards credit card limit that was more than six times my usual.
It wasn't as if I hadn't earned it, I thought. I spent the last two years dutifully paying down each of my debts and it was high time I had something to show for it.
And then I went shopping. It started as a means of paying for furniture for my new apartment (points), then a grocery fund (points), and, when I went to visit my family for the holidays, it was the card I used for gas (points).
Before too long, I realized I'd bitten off more than I could chew. And now I'm paying for it. The point is that no matter how big your credit limit, or how fat a mortgage loan your bank offers you for a new home, that doesn't mean you have to take it. Know your limits and what you can afford. Then tell THEM how much you need.
12. I should have kids now because I want them.
"There is nothing more destructive to one’s financial future than bringing children into the world without having an established and stable means to support them," writes finance blogger Len Penzo.
He has a point. It costs nearly $240,000 to raise a child in the U.S. –– and that's not even counting college tuition once they leave the house.
And it's not just your finances that will suffer if you're not prepared, Len Penzo notes. "...it becomes extremely difficult to start a business, or gain the necessary experience, on-the-job training and/or education required for the type of career advancement opportunities that lead to significantly increased earning power."
13. I'm pretty much invincible.
It's too bad that youthful sense of invincibility doesn't wear away with age. I'm lucky enough to have insurance and I still practically have to force myself to set up annual physicals and checkups throughout the year.
And these days, it's becoming disturbingly common for consumers to skip medical treatment simply because they couldn't afford it.
Preventative care is crucial, and as The Daily Finance's Nadine Cheung points out, that's still no excuse.
"Find free or low-cost services, like flu shots and blood pressure checks, at your local drugstore," she writes. "Many areas have local clinics that are free, or offer health care at reduced prices based on your financial status. Research and choose a location before you need medical care, as some may require eligibility screening before you can utilize the clinic's services."