Especially for two-income couples, the money coming in may well be at a level that ought to feel like prosperity. Yet with a mortgage, daycare, possibly student loan payments, and the boatload of other obligations that come with a growing family, money might well be flowing out at a rate that feels more like panic instead.
If you’re at this stage of life, then, the last thing you probably want to hear is that you absolutely need to be saving and investing. Coping with the financial needs of the present may be overwhelming enough without being expected to think about the future as well.
To help you start considering the financial future, here are a few things to think about.
1. When you realize the birth of your first child has yanked you into adulthood and there’s no going back, you may think saving for the kid’s education has just become a priority. Not really. Putting your own retirement first is a better investment for your kids as well as yourself. However, do consider how much, if any, of your kids’ education you might pay for, and make them a part of their own college planning.
2. The saving part of a financial plan includes three separate buckets. Bucket A is a standard savings account for expected but erratic expenses like home repairs and medical bills. Bucket B is a short-term CD or money market account for real emergencies such as losing your job. Both of these serve more as insurance against future needs than as investments. Bucket C is for wealth-building and retirement, a portfolio of diversified investments for your long-term financial security.
3. The first place to put retirement funds is a 401(k) plan if your employer offers one. The employer match is the best immediate return on an investment you’ll probably ever have. Next, open individual retirement accounts, or IRA’s. It’s important to understand that IRA’s and 401(k)’s are not investments, but buckets to hold investments that you choose from several available options. Look for funds that include the broadest number of asset classes, including stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, and alternative funds. Spend some time learning the basics of investing, which is a crucial but often overlooked life skill.
4. This is a time to do your first estate planning, including term life insurance for both parents in amounts higher than you think you need. One of the most crucial estate planning decisions is naming guardians for your children.
5. Another valuable piece of financial planning in your 30’s is to look at your emotional relationship with money. The beliefs, blocks, and biases you have learned around money have a strong impact on all of your financial behavior. Understanding your money patterns and learning how to change those that don’t serve you well can make a huge difference in your long-term financial well-being.
6. Start where you are and do what you can. Taking action even in small ways is better than feeling overwhelmed and doing nothing.
7. This isn’t just about the future. Working toward long-term financial health helps you build financial skills and confidence that will also serve you well now. When you actively manage and choose the financial direction of your life, you are better able to support your aspirations and build a life of financial and emotional well-being.