How Thirty-Somethings Do Money (And Life)

Happy Birthday!For my birthday last year, I was in Vilnius, Lithuania, studying both Fiction and Non-Fiction, and recovering from the shock of quitting my job to take a year off to write full-time. Turning 31 kind of got lost in the shuffle.

Turning 30 was a bigger deal, I guess, but my brother got married across the country right around then and also I was third-trimester pregnant and distracted by the octopus inside of me thrashing around looking for the door. There was some kind of party, maybe? I definitely remember writing “XXX” on the invitation, because that’s too good an opportunity to pass up. Don’t remember much else.

What I’m saying is, I haven’t had time to think about birthdays in a while, to really reflect about what being in my 30s means. I’m here without a plan! What should I have done by now? What should I do next? Help! 

In my 20s, I started doing my own taxes, set up an IRA, started an ING Orange high-interest saving account (RIP), learned how to cook and then cooked in bulk, ate a lot of leftovers, and brought my lunch to my five variously unfulfilling office jobs: entertainment, entertainment, publishing, start-up, non-profit. Fun fact: Half of those five workplaces no longer exist, at least not in the form that I knew them. To assuage my constant anxiety, I sought whatever consistency I could, bringing often the same lunch every day, because it was cheap, relatively healthful, and relatively filling. My coworkers ribbed me for it; but then, we also ribbed the coworker who assembled lunches for himself out of ingredients he could get at Jack’s, and kind of admired him at the same time.

Ben, the dude I’d been shacked up with since coming to NYC and had been dating since I was 18, proposed while we lived in a tiny Brooklyn studio. No doors to slam means you either learn to communicate or one of you tosses the other out the window. We got married at 25 shortly after he took the Bar exam. Our honeymoon to northern Japan during typhoon season doubled as his bar trip, so it’s extra funny that it rained the whole time and we both got sick. Back home, we continued to squirrel away as much money as possible, and just before I found out I was pregnant, we closed on an apartment. To make the down payment, I liquidated the ING account and handed over the lump sum. Bye bye, money! Hello, property!

I spent my 20s, in other words, in search of stability in the midst of the chaotic whirling darkness that is New York. I was even sort of somewhat successful: husband, apartment, baby. These things anchor you. But what are one’s thirties about? More of the same? It doesn’t seem like it. The husband is leaving his job to search for his true calling and it is a given that his heart’s desire is probably not to wear a suit everyday in exchange for a six-figure salary. It seems more like our 30s will be about Thinking Big While Also Planning for Retirement, trying to remain somewhat practical while also capitalizing on the youth and energy we’ve still got. And taking care of the baby.

This is a kind of inspiring list of people who found success through career change in their thirties, including Martha Stewart, Harrison Ford, and Julia Child. And for reference, here are some famous 32-year-olds:

+ Audrey Hepburn was 32 when she played Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s

+ Sally is 32 when the bulk of the action takes place in When Harry Met Sally (“And I’m going to be 40!” “When?” “Someday!” “In eight years!”)

+ Carrie Bradshaw is 32 when “Sex and the City” begins

+ Jay Gatsby is 32 (and Humbert Humbert is only 36!)

+ 32 is older than Blanche DuBois, who is tragic at THIRTY.

More, more! Surely there are more?

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8 Comments / Post A Comment

HelloTheFuture (#5,275)

To make a restaurant metaphor: the 20s are about going to a bunch of buffets and trying everything, and the 30s are about finding one restaurant you really like and becoming a regular.

Maybe.

Metaphors are imperfect.

tigerpika (#7,169)

Right out of university I had a couple of jobs that were fun, but short term (contract work for a conservation organization, working on the 2004 presidential campaign) and I settled into a job with charitable foundation and stayed there for years. Then I met my now husband and after dating for a few year I immigrated to Canada. This has been wonderful in many ways, but total hell on my career. I moved to Canada in December 2010 and I think I have made a total of $20,000 since then. But we have lived in three different provinces and seen so much cool stuff that it is hard to complain. I tell everyone that I did my 30′s in 20′s (steady job, retirement plan) and now I am doing my 20′s in my 30′s (traveling, unemployment, video games). So I can relate to this piece!

Oh god yes! Julie Child has been my inspiration for 32. Love, travel, food – she lived a full life. We should all be so lucky!

therealjaygatsby (#4,053)

Jay Gatsby :(

I’m 26 now. Honestly, I have no clue what I’ll be like at 30. I thought I had “figured myself out” at 22, and 4 years later I look back and wonder who that person really was. Sure, he is still a part of me and I him, but years are long and everything is changing. That’s life, right? A long series of transformations that can chew us up and spit us out or hold us and nourish us. Or perhaps it’s really a bit of both at the same time.

hollanding (#6,076)

I always liked this Awl piece on ’27′ and have a few more general “late twenties, this is it” and “here come your thirties!” pieces saved in my Self-Improvement folder: http://www.theawl.com/2012/08/twenty-seven

I’m going to keep that XXX 30th birthday party thing in mind for next year.

VelourFog (#5,077)

I’m an early 30s career switcher! I started out with a BFA and did design for 10 years for a bunch of really small companies. (The first was 3 people in a converted utility closet.) I’m now an MBA working for the Feds. I hope to be as successful as Harrison Ford.

Megano (#739)

I spent my 20′s at university: 4 year arts degree, 3 year masters degree, and three years working there. I’m turning 35 at the end of the month and it’s been SUCH a relief having a regular job and life! Although I can’t describe it as a career shift, it’s been such a change in lifestyle I feel like a different person now.

corner desk (#7,034)

@Megano I so agree! Last month I turned 30 and have received my master’s degree. I’m blissfully happy to say: SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER! No more time wasted on writing papers. No more memorizing for the finals. No more skimming tedious textbooks. No more attending to some dreadful classes at odd hours. No more stress. No more confusion. No more grades. No more asking stupid questions in class, like what’s the difference between bulimia and anorexia. NO MORE SCHOOL!

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