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The transition from being a young married couple to becoming a young family is arguably the most daunting of all life changes. So much changes in terms of the relationship, finances, priorities, and the general pace of life. If you ask anyone who has raised a family, you will most likely hear that, although they welcomed the change, they weren’t fully prepared for it. And, if asked, almost everyone would offer at least one thing they would do differently to make their lives better.
That’s the benefit of someone else’s hindsight that young married couples or new parents should fully embrace; because, when raising a family, there is often no opportunity for hindsight or many second chances, especially when it comes to finances. Bad financial decisions can have a ripple effect that tracks well into the future and, while you can always learn from hindsight, it becomes much more costly if you're always on defense and trying to play catch up. Here are the seven things parents say they would do differently if given the chance:
Have A Smart Spending Plan
Most experienced parents will recall that their pre-family days were among the best times of their lives. They were able to enjoy the freedom and the excitement of married life without the responsibilities of a family (that’s not to diminish the joy we all feel with a family). But many will also recall their free-spending ways that don’t translate very well to parenthood. The decision to start a family brings with it a $300,000 price tag for each child, which will require a smart spending plan beginning well before the first child arrives. Your spending plan, or budget, needs to account, not only for the needs of your family while raising kids, but also for your future financial security.
Live Under Your Means
Living on a strict budget is the first financial discipline you need to master; however, you can live within a budget and still spend more than you should if you’re not able to save enough money for the future. If you ask anyone who has accumulated true wealth, they will tell you that living under their means was a cornerstone of their success. Young or expectant parents need to resist the urge to splurge and learn to embrace knock-off and generic brands. Living frugally can be a fun challenge, and you won’t really be missing out on much. You can still save for the occasional splurge as long as you’re on track for your more important savings goals.
Build An Emergency Fund
It happens to most parents. Everything is going fine; you’re paying your bills and living a good life when, suddenly, disaster strikes - a spouse loses his or her job, or one gets injured or sick and can’t work for a while; or the car engine blows up. The odds are something will happen and if you’re not prepared it will mean going into debt or doing without. As a couple, your top priority should be to build an emergency fund that can cover your living expenses for at least 12 months.
Avoid Going Into Debt
For many young families, debt can be a dream killer, especially when it is used routinely to fund a lifestyle. Credit cards have their purpose, but, unless you can pay off the balances completely each month you should avoid using them. It’s best not to make the purchase in the first place. Except, perhaps, for zero percent financing, new car purchases are a bad investment. It would be better to save for a car purchase and buy used to avoid paying for the depreciation up front. Every penny of debt you carry and pay for is worth a bunch of pennies of potential wealth lost in the future.
Watch Your Pennies
You can live by a budget, and even live under your means, and you can still be throwing your money away if you’re not accounting for every penny. It may not seem significant, but, for some people, those pennies can add up to ten or twenty dollars a day when spent on small extras such as a bottled water at the gas station, a magazine at the store, an unnecessary trip in the car. Even a few dollars a day in unnecessary purchases can add up to hundreds of dollars a year that could otherwise be invested in your future.
Have A Purpose For Your Money
Setting clear financial goals and having a purpose for your money enables you to make sound financial decisions each day. Any decision - large or small - should be guided by your purpose, especially spending decisions. If you can ask yourself if a particular purchase get us closer to your goals, you will likely make better decisions. People who don’t have any purpose for their money are more likely to chase a lifestyle than they are a goal.
Save Early And Often
The most valuable asset we all have is time, and the failure to use it wisely can be very costly. Consider a young couple that begins to save $100 a week as soon as they’re married. If they were to invest their money in a mutual fund earning 6 percent per year, their money would grow to nearly $700,000 when they are ready for retirement in 40 years. However, if they waited 15 years to begin saving, they would need save $300 a week to have the same amount of money at the same point in time. By waiting, and letting time slip by, the cost of your financial goals increase making them more difficult to achieve.