|Credit: Maggie Smith|
Take me for instance: I once threw such a fit in a shopping mall that, as my dad carried me out, I started kicking and screaming violently. I’ve been told a cop stopped my father because the officer thought I was being kidnapped… until my mom could set the record straight. There was also a period where I perfected the art of throwing my pacifier under tables to the most difficult spot to reach possible. My proudest moment though, came when a cook at a Waffle House told my parents they would have to leave because their kid was “disturbing the regulars.” Hard to believe anyone could forgive that, but my parents forgave me, and in time, my whole family forgave the Waffle House chain. We laugh about it now.
I hear there is no greater love than a parent has for a child, and as I said, one day I hope to experience it. I look forward to laughing with my wife and children as our family grows and the years roll by, but I can also tell you from professional experiences that being financially responsible for a child is no laughing matter. Today, I’ve got a few quick tips for you after you start having children to make sure you’re not the one saying, “Wahhhhhhhhhh!”
- Increase your savings. Your cost of living just got more expensive. You may have gotten a new tax exemption, but the tax savings will come nowhere close to what having a child will cost. According to new government data, a middle class family may spend nearly $235,000 on a kid from birth through age seventeen. That’s more than most people spend on a house, and that figure doesn’t even include college! Because your living expenses are on the rise, your rainy day fund needs to be on the rise, too. I know formula and diapers are expensive, but even if you are temporarily becoming a one-income family, you have got to adjust to get your savings up to 9-12 months’ worth of living expenses. Your kid could get sick, your car could fail, or you could have a pipe burst in your home. I know increasing your savings will require sacrifice, but it’s not just about you (or even your spouse) anymore!
- Get adequate life insurance. I was fairly serious when I mentioned this last week after buying a house, but now I literally want you to envision me banging my fist on the table. If something happens to you and you can’t work, can your spouse and child live comfortably? How is your spouse going to earn money if he or she is staying home with the kid? How can your spouse keep working and afford for someone to look after your child during the workday? See the paradox your untimely death could put the people you care about most in? You can prevent this danger by getting enough life insurance to eliminate your debts, provide for adequate childcare for a number of years, and provide a replacement stream of income in case, due to unfortunate circumstances, you aren’t able to contribute. Life insurance premiums are often not as expensive as you might think, and can your family really afford you not having life insurance? You could get hurt instead of passing away, so disability insurance may also be worth some careful consideration.
- Get a will. Once again, you really should have taken care of this when you got married, but if you did not, now is the time. I say this not for you or for your assets; I say this because a will is how you name a legal guardian for your child. I don’t know about you, but I want to have some say as to who would look after my offspring should my wife and I pass away. Just a thought, but if you’re going to pay an attorney to draft a will, you might as well finish your estate plan with power of attorneys and health care directives while you’re at it.
- Start saving for college. As I mentioned in a previous post, there are many effective ways to pay for college, but the most important thing is to start saving sooner rather than later. I personally recommend 529 qualified tuition plans as the best technique, as they are relatively easy to set up, and many investment platforms have an option for your investment allocation to change automatically from more risky to more conservative as the child gets older. After the initial setup, all you have to do is save and watch your plan assets, and your child, grow. All that being said, let me reiterate that your retirement plan is more important than saving for your kid to go to college. Putting your child in a situation years down the road where you do not have the assets needed to sustain yourself in retirement can be a lot more emotionally difficult and financially burdensome to your child than asking him or her to apply for scholarships or to pay off their own student loan.
- Teach your kids about money as they grow. This needs to be an ongoing process from not always giving a quarter for every gumball machine, to offering an allowance in return for chores, to encouraging your child to get that first job. Everyone is different, but the “money messages” my parents instilled in me as I grew up to always live within my means, to save whatever I could, and that I could be whatever I wanted, but would have to earn every inch and dime are still with me today. These lessons taught me that I would one day have to spread my wings and fly, and they have molded me into the person I have become. I’ve heard it said that, as parents, you need to remember you are not just raising kids, you are raising adults.
Don’t worry. The diapers and screaming will quickly turn into borrowing your old car and dating. Follow the above steps, teach your kids a little about life and finances, and love them a lot. One day your kids might just fly away, make you proud, and come off your “payroll!”