When you’re just starting out, getting married or having your first child, it’s common to take stock of your financial situation and to put some level of financial planning in place. But as your family grows, life gets busy. It can be easy to put that financial planning on autopilot rather than figure out how it needs to change over time.
As you go through life, there are some steps you may want to consider taking to ensure your financial plan grows along with you. Here’s your financial planning checklist for a growing family.
CHECK IN ON YOUR BUDGET
Some of us are fabulous at budgeting. But let’s be honest; even the best budgets can get a little (or a lot) out of whack over time. This is particularly true as your family grows and you need things like new clothes (which your kids seem to grow out of every other week), fees for sports and activities and, well, five meals at the drive-through instead of two.
What to Do Next: Take stock of where your money is going every month. This is a good chance to prioritize how you’re spending. You may find you’re no longer using old subscriptions and can drop them. Or perhaps you’re spending way more than you thought you were on takeout and can eat in one extra day a week. The goal is to be deliberate about what you’re spending so that you can free up money for the things that are most important to you.
REEXAMINE YOUR INSURANCE NEEDS
It’s not uncommon to put life and disability income insurance in place when you’re starting out, getting married or having your first child — and then forgetting about it. But as your family grows, your insurance needs may change.
What to Do Next: If your income has increased, you may want to add more life insurance and disability income insurance coverage. In addition, you may be able to convert some of your term life insurance into a permanent policy, which has unique benefits that you can use throughout your life.
REVIEW YOUR EMERGENCY FUND
It’s a good idea to set aside money to cover three to six months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund so that you’re not scrambling when the furnace breaks or you face some other unexpected expense.
What to Do Next: Does your emergency fund still have enough to cover your expenses today? It’s possible that it did at one point, but if your expenses are higher, you may want to set a goal to put more money into it. In addition, as you have a growing family, it may make sense to have closer to six months’ worth of expenses saved rather than just three.
PLAN TO TACKLE YOUR DEBT
As your family grows, it’s not uncommon to get into a little debt. If you’re in that situation, it’s okay and fairly common. But it’s a good idea to make a plan to get out of the debt you have.
What to Do Next: There are several strategic ways to get out of debt. The first step is to organize your debts and consider whether you can consolidate them in a way that lowers your interest rate. Then use a strategy like debt avalanche or snowball to pay down your remaining debt.
CHECK IN ON RETIREMENT
Retirement is still a long way off, but it’s getting closer. Hopefully, you’re regularly setting aside money so that someday you’ll be able to comfortably live off your savings. This is another easy one to automate and forget to check in on later. But now is a great time to make sure you’re saving the right amount — and that you’re saving for retirement in the right ways.
What to Do Next: If you need to up your retirement savings, increase the amount you save each year by a small amount (just like with the college savings — this works for any long-term goal). Before you know it, you’ll be saving 10 to 15 percent of your salary. And consider talking to a financial advisor about how you’re saving to make sure that you’re putting yourself in a good position to maximize what you get out of your savings when you get to retirement.
As your family grows, a financial plan can help you prioritize what’s important to you financially, today and in the future. It’s also a good idea to regularly review your estate plan — and create one if you haven’t — to make sure your beneficiary designations are still correct and to make sure any new assets are included (if appropriate) and titled properly. Your financial advisor can help you update your plan to make sure it continues to reflect the priorities of your growing family.
SEE IF YOU’RE SAVING ENOUGH FOR COLLEGE
When you first had kids, you probably had a thought or two about college someday. Maybe you set up a 529 college savings account or another type of account. The 529 accounts offer tax advantages that help you accumulate funds to use someday to pay for school expenses.
What to Do Next: If you have a 529 open, are you contributing regularly? If not, consider setting aside a regular amount each month. If you’re already contributing, do you want to put aside more? One trick to help you save more for a big goal is to automate contributions and slowly raise the amount you contribute over time, perhaps upping your monthly contribution by $25 each year. However, it’s important to balance 529 savings with retirement. There are loans for college; there aren’t loans for retirement.
Also see if friends and family would be willing to contribute to the account as part of their birthday or holiday gifts to your children. Depending on your state and situation, there may be tax benefits for people who make 529 contributions.
SET NEW GOALS
When you’re just starting out, it can seem like all your money is going to day care and diapers. But as your family grows, some of these expenses start to decline — all while your salary grows. That makes it a good time to take stock of new goals that you may want to start funding. Perhaps that means setting aside some money for a wedding someday or perhaps a major family trip.
What to Do Next: Open a high-yield savings account — one that’s separate from your everyday accounts — to set aside some money each month for goals you want to reach over the next five years. For goals that are more than five years off, you may want to consider investing your savings to help your money grow even faster.