Finances can seem like a real drag, especially if it means you have to cut into your clothing or travel or entertainment budget in order to save money for that nebulous thing we call "the future."

But there's also a sort of peace that comes with organizing your finances. You feel mature, you feel empowered, and you feel completely in control of your own pecuniary destiny.

We spoke to a couple financial whizzes about important financial lessons you should know before you turn the big 3-0. 


Save First, Spend Second

The formula “Income – Savings = Expenses” is the key to your financial success. “It always works no matter where you are in life,” says Martin Hurlburt, a financial behavioral expert. “No strategy, technique or amount of income can overcome it. Unless you commit to this formula, financial success and peace of mind will always elude you.”    


Open a Retirement Account Now

Everyone should have a retirement savings account, and everyone should contribute to it every month, even if it’s only $50. The earlier you contribute, and the more you contribute, the more you’ll have in retirement, thanks to a little thing called “compound interest.” 


Set Up Automatic Transfers

“Studies show that saving money in the future is easier than saving it right now,” says Hurlburt. “Set up an automatic transfer from checking into [a savings account]. It should be an amount that you won’t miss too much.” He recommends $50 to $500 depending on your current financial situation.    


Keep Increasing Your Contributions

If you get a pay raise or a loan gets paid off, use that extra income as an opportunity to increase your savings contributions, not your lifestyle.


Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for a Discount

photo: iStock/Todor Tsvetkov

Haggling prices shouldn’t be limited to garage sale adventures. Always ask for a discount, whether it’s your cable bill, a new TV, or a service. The worst you can hear is, “no,” and even in that case, you should politely ask, “Are you sure?”    


Don’t Loan People Money

You’re better off just saying, “no,” when people ask you for money, especially family or friends. If that’s difficult for you, explain that a loan doesn’t fit within your current budget, and that you don’t want to add a financial aspect to your current relationship    


Know Where Your Money is Going

“Save every receipt and take three to five minutes nightly to add it all up for two weeks,” says Hulburt. “This will give you insights you otherwise wouldn’t have.” There are also apps that track your spending habits.


Be Thoughtful About Real Estate Purchases

“Buy real estate because it is somewhere you would be happy owning or living in for years, not to make a quick profit,” says Matt Towery, author of “Newsvesting.” On that same note, don’t buy if you’re planning to relocate within the next five years, either.


Planning Goes a Long Way

Plan ahead and you’ll save big bucks. That can mean buying your Christmas plane ticket home further in advance than, say, November. That can also mean waiting for a retailer to have its annual sale, or buying a grill in December (when demand is low) versus the week of your big summer BBQ.    


Don’t Live Beyond Your Means

photo: iStock/gpointstudio

It’s easier said than done, especially when you’re trying to keep up with the Joneses. Splurge on things that are important to you, but splurge infrequently and thoughtfully.


Don’t Spend Money on Things You Hate

That bar your friends always try to drag you to? Don’t spend money there. That monthly subscription box that always disappoints? Cancel it. 


Have a Couple Credit Cards

Yep, credit cards are OK, and yes, you should use them regularly. They help you build credit, and you can reap loyalty rewards. The key is to pay them off every single month, and to avoid using more than 20% of your total limit.


Take Advantage of Reward and Loyalty Programs

Look into credit card reward programs, store programs, and any other loyalty program offered by a retailer or company. These are typically free to sign up for, and can save you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars over the years.


Switch to 0% Interest

Speaking of credit cards, if you’re maintaining a balance and paying it down, transfer that balance to the lowest interest rate possible. If you have decent credit, you can often transfer to a 0% interest account.


Don’t Buy a Brand New Car

photo: iStock/Antonio_Diaz

You’ve heard the saying that a car loses half its value after you drive it off the lot. It may not be a true 50% depreciation, but it’s a pretty substantial loss. Saving $3 on a latte four times a week is nice, but saving $10,000 on a car feels way better.


Negotiate Big Purchases

Speaking of car buying, don’t be afraid to negotiate on big purchases, such as cars or houses. These big purchases are where you can save the most money. For example, saving $3000 on the

price of a car may not seem like a ton based on the total price, but that’s a year’s worth of car payments.


Don’t Rely Too Much on Convenience

Buy the block cheese and shred it yourself – it tastes the same and burns a few extra calories. Make your coffee at home – it probably tastes better. Skip Uber and walk. All these things add up.


Love What You Do

The ways in which you can make money are numerous, but being happy and making money is not as easy to do. Towery says to “be sure you love what you are doing and feel like you can do it for decades.” If you’re not feeling it, get out and move on to what you enjoy. And yes, you can make that change even after you’ve established a career. You’re more likely to experience upward momentum, raises and bonuses if you’re doing what you enjoy.


Don’t Put Things Off

Suspect car trouble? Get it checked right away or it could turn into a serious expense. Go to your dentist every six months and your GP once a year. If the sink is clogged, get it fixed. Waiting can wreak havoc on your bank account.


Understand What You’re Investing In

photo: iStock/dolgachov

If you’re playing with stocks and other investments (which you should only do if you can afford to lose that money), make sure it’s a market you understand.


Spend Extra When it Makes Sense

Sometimes being a cheapskate can kick you in the rear. Spending a little extra on something that will last longer is better than wasting money on something that you’ll have to replace right away. Same thing goes for buying in bulk.


Don’t Tell People How Much You Make

Nobody needs to know how much money you make or how much you’ve got saved up. Maybe it’s a lot, maybe it’s not. Either way, it’s none of their business and keeping that information to yourself will save you a lot of headaches.


Companies Will Always Try to Keep Your Business

It doesn’t matter if they have a monopoly on your area, a company will always try to keep you happy. For example, Hulbert says to “call your cable or Internet provider and tell them you are looking at making a change. They will nearly always offer you a discount to stay. Do this annually.”


Always Comb Your Bank Transactions

You can save a lot of money simply by monitoring your transactions. For example, you may notice recurring charges you thought you cancelled, or even erroneous charges.


Read the Fine Print

fine print
photo: iStock/piranka

Whether it’s a credit card, a loan or a contract, always read the fine print with scrutiny. You don’t want to be surprised.


Generic is Often Just as Good

You don’t have to buy the brand name cereal or medicine or clothing. Buy generic when you can.


There’s a Coupon For That

Every retailer wants your business, and there’s almost always a coupon for what you want to buy. Follow your favorite retailers on social media, subscribe to their newsletters, and always research deals before you click buy.    


Don’t Defer on Loans

It may sound nice to skip a year’s worth of payments on, say, your student loans, but while you’re not paying down that debt, the interest keeps accruing. Pay down your loans and your debt as quickly as you can, isolating the highest interest rates first.


Don’t Worry About What Anyone Else Thinks

Don’t spend money because you think it will make you look cooler, or because everyone else is doing it. Rock the thrift store dress, order the house wine instead of the fancy bottle, and say no when you need to.


It’s OK if You Screw Up

If you start saving now and planning now, even if you mess up along the way, you’re still in a better situation than you would have been otherwise.