Singles finance and family finance differ quite a bit. I've learned that well over the past 5 1/2 years (our oldest child is now 5 1/2). My personal experience has shown there are more spending pressures and overall expenses when you have a young family. Examples include birthday parties, swim lessons, dance lessons, clothes, toys, doctor's visits for runny noses and coughs, camps and trips to the ice cream shop.
As our children get older the needs and expenses are certain to change even more. My advice for singles who want to someday have a family (as well as for married couples without kids) is to take advantage of a less complicated situation and use this time wisely to set your finances in order.
Whether you're single and want to prepare for the future, or have a young family, Smart Money recently mentioned 6 mistakes young families make with their finances. I think if you can insure you have a plan around each of these areas, you're sure to be heading in the right direction.
Table of Contents
Carrying Too Much Debt
Smart Money says it's okay to have some debt, but to avoid carrying too much debt. I actually disagree with this approach. While most people have debt, it doesn't mean it's okay to have it lingering around limiting your ability to achieve other goals such as saving for retirement. Work to get out of debt and make a solid commitment to stop going into car debt or carrying over credit card balances from month to month. Strive to avoid debt rather than avoid carrying too much debt.
Budgeting always gets such a negative response, but it's just a matter of smart planning. Without a plan or budget people will tend to freely or impulsively spend and lose sight of saving, investing, giving and other important things to do with money each month. A budget helps stop impulse buying.
Could the absence of a budget be as a bad as debt? Well maybe not, but it definitely has an impact on spending and might result in using a credit card to make up the difference month to month.
A close cousin to the debt problem is poor budgeting. Young couples tend to underestimate their expenses by 20%
Not Saving For Retirement
Getting an employer match on your 401(k) is free money and should be the minimum you invest for retirement. However, you should only invest if you're able to make progress on getting out of debt and saving money for emergencies. Not having the ability to save for retirement is just another solid reason to get out of debt.
Many young couples just can't get their heads around the importance of saving for retirement. While they focus on short-term goals, such as saving for a new minivan, they fail to max out their 401(k), or even contribute enough to qualify for their employer's match
Not Having Enough Insurance
Life insurance can be tricky, especially if you're good buddy is trying to sell you a policy. Most families simply need term life insurance. The savings whole life suggests is typically at low interest rates that don't make it worth it.
There's a lot of bad advice out there on insurance. Perhaps that's why so many young couples are under insured. The most common error people make is that they buy expensive products, like whole life insurance, for too little coverage.
Not Saving For Children's Education
It scares me to think about the price of college in the future. This is an area we've personally lagged behind in as we've been wrestling with savings and getting out of car debt. But it's definitely an important savings step to get started as soon as you can. This goal should come after you have a well established emergency fund, are out of debt and maxing out your retirement.
SmartMoney.com projects that, in 18 years, a four-year private university education will cost more than $300,000.
Not Enough Emergency Savings
I can completely relate to to trying to build up an emergency savings while supporting a young family. It's hard sometimes with all the expenses I mentioned in the introduction. But, we're making progress. As I said, singles, get your savings established now as there will be more expenses to consider later in life.
You've heard it before: Everyone should set aside three to six months of salary for a rainy day. That way, there should be enough to live on in case of an unexpected job loss or medical emergency. Unfortunately, this can feel like an impossible goal for folks with small kids. Who has that kind of cash saved up after buying a new home or car or paying for childcare? Don't let the difficulty of the task dissuade you from trying. In a weak job market, it's more important than ever to create an emergency account. Remember, every little bit counts.
So, what do you think about these financial mistakes young families make? If you have a plan around each of them, would you feel more confident around your financial situation?