You make lots of plans for your loved ones: summer vacations, graduation parties, birthday celebrations and so much more.
But financial planning for families is, obviously, a bit more complicated. It starts with understanding your family’s total financial picture and what you’re trying to achieve together. This means you need to balance being able to afford your family’s regular expenses and lifestyle with making progress on both short- and long-term goals.
Here are a few steps that will help you get started.
LOOK AT YOUR BUDGET
Before you start a family financial plan, you need to know how much money is coming in and going out each month. If you’ve never created a family monthly budget before, start by:
Adding up each spouse or partner’s monthly take-home pay.
Adding up monthly fixed expenses (things like a mortgage, utilities, daycare, car payments and other essentials you need for daily life).
Tally up costs you don’t pay monthly (things like a quarterly water bill or school tuition) and divide by 12. Add this amount to your monthly fixed expenses.
Then add up how much you put toward financial goals on a monthly basis – things like money for an emergency fund, contributions to a college savings plan or any post-tax retirement contributions (like to a Roth IRA). This budget worksheet lays out typical fixed expenses and goal contributions.
Now add up how much you spend in a typical month on discretionary expenses — the “extras” like dinners out, entertainment, shopping, gifts or kids’ activities.
Is the total of all your fixed costs, goal contributions and discretionary spending less than your monthly take-home pay? If so, that’s great: Your family is living within its means. If not, then it’s time to take a closer look at your budget and make some adjustments so you don’t spend more than you make. Often, discretionary expenses are where you have the most flexibility to trim, but it’s still a good idea to audit all your costs to prioritize which are important to you.
Even when you’re spending within your means, knowing where your money is going will help you see if you’re making progress on your family’s goals. One general guideline is to have about 60 percent of your budget going toward essentials, 20 percent toward financial goals, and 20 percent to discretionary spending.
SET GOALS FOR YOUR FAMILY
Now that you have a clearer view of your budget, does it align with what’s important for your family? Here’s where you, your partner and even your kids can sit down and talk about what you want for each other in the years to come. Most of these things you’ll want to fund using the 20 percent of your budget dedicated to financial goal contributions.
Discuss both short- and long-term goals. Short-term goals can include things like parents taking a professional development class, a family weekend in the mountains or an extended college tour for your high schooler. Longer-term goals can include things like paying for college, funding retirement or leaving a legacy behind. You’ll likely want to invest for longer-term goals so that your money has time to grow by the time you need it.
And don’t forget about some of the basic goals you should always track in order to keep your finances healthy. That includes keeping a well-stocked emergency fund (build up to about six months of expenses) and a plan to pay off debt — especially high-interest credit cards. If you and your partner have a 401(k) match at work, also make sure that you’re both contributing enough to at least meet the match.
PROTECT WHAT YOU HAVE
That emergency fund is a great start, but it shouldn’t be the only financial protection you have. Life is full of ups and downs, and you want to be sure your family won’t be left in difficult circumstances should the unexpected occur.
For starters, do you have enough life insurance coverage to ensure your family would be taken care of if you or your spouse or partner were to pass away? Look into your options: term life insurance will offer low-cost protection for a set period of time, while permanent insurance offers coverage for life plus additional benefits you can access while you are alive.
Also, check in on what kind of disability coverage your work offers. Your work plan will likely cover 50 to 60 percent of your pay if you can’t work because of injury or illness, so consider whether it makes sense to purchase additional coverage on your own.
Finally, do you have an estate plan in place? An estate plan helps lay out your wishes for yourself, your family and your assets in case something happens to you, so it’s better not to delay putting one together.
If all this sounds overwhelming, don’t worry. A financial advisor can help you figure out the right financial planning for your family. They can look at your bigger picture and guide you with decisions like where to invest your money depending on the goal you’re trying to achieve, or whether you’re doing enough to protect your assets. And as your family milestones change, an advisor can help you adjust to meet any new goals along the way.