Parenthood is full of surprises for which you can never be properly prepared. There is no way to anticipate how you will handle the intensive lack of sleep, the joys of bodily fluids, and the constant question of how your baby knows if you are standing or sitting (somehow they can tell the difference!).
And though you may learn to keep the remote in your pocket and never to be caught without wipes, one thing that it is particularly difficult to prepare for is the financial part of parenthood.
Fairly few people are actually ready for the costs associated with aspects of life with a child. From daycare, diapers and formula to car seats and strollers to the latest plastic must-have, it is crucial to find time to think about your financial future and what can be done to make sure that your child will have security.
Below are some critical savings tips for parents that point out important strategies to work on in order to feel comfortable that you are making the right choices for your family when it comes to money.
Put it aside for a rainy season: Obviously, this is easier said than done, but the usual financial suggestion is to build up 6-9 months worth of what they term essential expenses as a savings buffer against unexpected. Basically, this means enough for your monthly bills, gas, and groceries for that amount of time. Loss of a job or unexpected tragic circumstances might sideline you and now that you have kids, you have to be responsible for something like that.
Pay the high-interest debts down: Now that you have to start adulting for another little human, it’s time to put your financial affairs in order. Ranking debts in order of interest rate is a great place to start. Financial advisors say, pay down high-interest loans first before worrying about other debts. Also, you may think you need to be out of debt completely to start investing, but many say it is a good idea to begin investing even with some low-interest loans like student loans still outstanding. Compound interest derived from your investments will help you build wealth and pay down your low-interest debts.
There’s no scholarship for retirement: It’s similar to the instruction for when you are flying with little ones: Adjust your own oxygen mask before securing the ones for your children. While it may be tempting to spend your 401k money on a college fund, financial advisors agree, it’s more important to save for own retirement than for your child’s education. Think of it this way, your own financial future is your child’s as well. After all, if you’re not secure in retirement, who do you think you will have to lean on? And while your child may be able to get scholarships to college, you won’t have that luxury in your senior years. If your work does not offer a 401k, consider monthly payments to a Roth IRA or traditional IRA where you can build interest pre-tax. Savings for retirement ideally should equal about 15% of your annual income but the most important thing is to make sure that you are getting the best match from an employer if they offer one. Then try to find a way to increase your percentages as time goes on in your job.
Life insurance is worth the investment: It’s unpleasant, and some feel a little morbid, to consider what would happen to your family financially in the case of your death, but having a family means having some uncomfortable conversations. Thinking about the repercussions on your family should you die is something you have to face head-on. Whatever life insurance policy you can afford will provide some peace of mind as well as potential stability. The cost of coverage grows as you get older, so start with this expense as young as you can and make sure you are prepared for it to go up slightly over time. Often, employers will offer low life insurance rates as part of your benefits package so make sure you take advantage.
Save on childcare: If you don’t know about the Child Care tax credit or the Dependent Care Flexible savings account (FSA) you need to do the research. The Child Care Tax Credit can help you earn 25-35% in savings from qualifying care costs up to $3,000 annually for one child or $6,000 for more than one. The Dependent Care FSA is an account set up by an employer that allows you to set up pre-tax funds in an account that goes to qualifying childcare expenses. Currently, you can put aside $5,000 annually, pre-tax, per household. Don’t let childcare costs overwhelm you—get what you can from these credits.
The children are the future: Once you have secured your retirement plan, then you can turn your attention to investing in your child’s education. A 529 college savings plan offers tax-free growth and some of the funds can be used for qualifying education expenses, even before college.
These six tips are smart ways to look forward financially, but obviously, everything here is contingent on you having the means to go forward with a plan. Don’t feel overwhelmed by these ideas or think you have to employ all of them simultaneously.
Whatever you can do to connect a current plan to a more stable future will be worth your attention. Try to block out a specific amount of time (one evening?) every month to think about budgets and financial matters. It might not be the most fun, but it will give you peace of mind for the rest of the month. That way, when you are playing with your children, you won’t have to constantly wonder what your next financial step might be.