Turning the big 3-0 can come with a bunch of unwanted social pressures, whether it’s questions about when you’ll tie the knot, landing your dream job (and finding work bliss) or even the amount of cash you’ve been able to bank. Though it’s pretty tough to control exactly how your love life or career path unfolds, your financial future is another story. To get a sense of the things you should *definitely* know before officially entering your third decade of life, we chatted up Ashley Feinstein Gerstley. A money coach and the founder behind The Fiscal Femme, Ashley helped us demystify some key things about managing money. Read on for the smart scoop.

woman with money

1. Money is just a tool. Wait, what? Ashley says, “Though it’s a super taboo topic that we don’t talk about (and sometimes don’t learn about growing up), money at its core is just a tool for us to use to maximize our happiness in the short and long term. That’s it!” She suggests giving yourself permission to let a complicated love-hate relationship with money go.

2. Money is more than numbers. While chatting with Ashley, we learned that the math around personal finance is actually very simple — it’s our behaviors and emotions that can get in the way. She notes, “It’s addition and subtraction. Money earned minus money we want to put toward our goals equals money available for our lifestyle. If it were actually as easy as following math, the average American wouldn’t have less than $400 in savings.” By 30, you need to know how your feelings and habits contribute to your cash flow.

3. We can only use each dollar ONCE. It doesn’t matter if you’re a billionaire — you can only spend each dollar once. Ashley tells us, “You need to make sure that you allocate your money in the ways that maximize your happiness in the short AND long term. Just like with anything else, there’s an opportunity cost to spending.” We totally get how understanding this can serve as a solid baseline for choosing which experiences qualify for “treat yo’ self”-type of moments.

4. Cash grows *exponentially.* You may have heard of compounding interest when it comes to your 401(k) at work, but do you really understand it? Ashley breaks down the concept into super simple language for us. “The earlier you start investing, the earlier your money can start working for you. Compound interest is interest that grows on top of interest.” You need time to reap the benefits — especially if you aspire to be a millionaire one day!

woman finances

5. Don’t wait until you feel “ready.” There’s so much confusing info about money floating around the interwebs, and trying to learn how to manage it can be so overwhelming that you give up. Ashley says not to. “There’s NO progress without action, and you at least know that getting started leads to compound interest. So it’s much more important to take steps toward learning more on your money journey than to wait until you feel like you know everything.” To educate yourself, talk with friends or the HR department at work, or subscribe to a few credible newsletters that deliver actionable advice.

6. Money is easy to lose track of. “‘Where’s all my money going?!’ is one of the most common phrases I hear,” Ashley admits. “It’s so easy to lose track of your cash, especially with one-click online shopping, credit card swiping and apps that make it so simple to spend that you never actually have to acknowledge that you’re paying for something!” Instead of falling victim, Ashley suggests keeping a money journal to actually write down what you earn vs. spend. Not only will it keep your cash flow top of mind, but will help you form great habits before you hit the big 3-0.

7. You can actually create money yourself. Sound crazy? Ashley swears it’s true. “One of the easiest ways to create money is to ask for it. If you want to earn more, you will have to ask. Negotiating can sound daunting, but it really comes down to asking. It’s something that we do naturally in our everyday lives, and the worst that can happen is they say no.”

8. Planning matters. A lot. You might think of a budget as super restrictive or a major bummer, but Ashley says to make a mental shift. “Budgeting can be really freeing and powerful,” she tells us. “I actually call budgets ‘happiness allocations,’ because they’re a great tool to help you allocate a set amount of money in a way that’ll bring you the most joy.” Use yours to plan for your goals, bigger expenses and, of course, fun spending.

What other money matters do you think young people should know before 30? We’d love to get your input on Twitter @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)