My husband recently said to me, "Why has life become so complicated?" It's true—gone are the days when all I had to worry about was rent, a car payment, and where to spend New Year's Eve. Now that I have children, the weight of responsibility has settled heavy on my shoulders. Preparing for our financial future and our children's wellbeing has been a top priority. No one said that "adulting" is always fun, but as parents, it's something we all have to do.
Here are five things to think about as you embrace this whole "adulting" thing as a parent. Think of this as a checklist, and work your way through it in whatever time frame works for you. Security is priceless.
1. Start an emergency fund
You never know when you're going to have an accident, flood, dental work, or even replace a kid's broken glasses. It's good to have a little emergency fund. But how much is enough?
Ellie Thompson, CEO of Money Therapy recommends saving more than two months' salary. "An emergency fund should be funded to cover your family's income for 3-6 months. Start slowly and be patient with your savings; a fully-funded emergency account may not accumulate for a few years."
2. Contribute to your 401(k) or an IRA
401(k)s are one of the best benefits of working for a company. If you don't have retirement savings, you'll have to work longer than you might like or be able to. Thompson says, "One of the biggest financial stressors of today is not adequately saving enough for retirement—which can put pressure on you and your children if they are not equipped to financially care for you."
The maximum contribution you can make for 2018 (for those under 50) is $5,500. If you have a 401k from a previous employer, but can no longer contribute to it, you can roll your 401k into an IRA and still continue to make contributions to the new iRA. If you can, try to max out the annual contribution. Any time you get a raise, consider putting the extra money into your IRA or 401K. The money that you put into a retirement account when you are young is far more valuable than any contributions as a senior—that money has time to grow. Your future retired self will thank you.
3. Get life insurance
Life insurance can feel confusing, overwhelming and morbid. It's difficult to envision your own death and can be hard to sift through the many different types of life insurance to figure out what's best.
Check out this list of the best life insurance companies in the U.S. for some recommendations (and more information about life insurance in general). There is whole life, term and even life insurance that requires no medical exam (great if you have a pre-existing condition, but more expensive).
Life insurance is important, especially to cover the breadwinners in your household, should anything happen to one of you. Jason P. Veirs, Owner & President of Insurance Experts Solutions, Inc., says that term life is the best solution for most, which is lucky because term life is especially inexpensive right now.
4. Name a permanent and temporary guardian for your child(ren)
The best and most legally-binding way to name a permanent guardian for your children is in your will (you can even write your own). You should do this, especially if you don't want your "next of kin" to raise your children. Nothing upsets a parent more than thinking someone undesired will raise their child(ren), right? Get a will, especially if your family situation is not ideal.
But who will take them while that is sorted out? The answer is your emergency temporary guardian. This could be the same person as your permanent guardian, but if your permanent guardian is in another state, you may need a temporary guardian.
Kimberly M. Hanlon, an estate and business attorney with Lucere Legal, says that we should all have a temporary guardian in place. If you forget to pick the kids up, or (heaven forbid) were to go missing after a date, the temporary guardian will get notified instead of the police. This is a safer option for children if the unthinkable should happen and they lose their parents. What better than a close, trusted family friend or extended family member to help grieve?
Here is Hanlon's step-by-step instruction for putting a temporary guardian in place:
- Think of one to three people who know your kids well, and your kids are comfortable with AND who live within 20 minutes of your home.
- Ask them if they would be willing to act as temporary guardians if something were to happen to you until the permanent guardians could be appointed.
- Fill out a temporary guardian nomination form and get it legally executed. (Sign it before a notary—all banks have a notary available, and most will notarize your document for free or for a very nominal charge. It's important that you not sign it until you are actually in the presence of the notary and he or she watches you sign the document.)
- Keep a copy of the temporary guardian nomination form for yourself (with your other important papers) and give one to each temporary guardian so they have it on hand if needed.
- Complete a letter to your child's school or daycare giving authorization for them to call your temporary guardian(s) if you don't appear to pick up your kids, instead of the police. Make sure the institution has the temporary guardian(s) names and phone numbers in their records since they wouldn't otherwise remember to reference the letter in an emergency.
- Complete written babysitter instructions that give the sitter the names and numbers of your temporary guardian(s) and tell him or her to call those people if it seems like something has happened to you.
- Complete a little card that goes behind your driver's license that tells first responders that you are a parent of small children and that you want them to call your temporary guardian(s) if you are unconscious. List the names and phone numbers of your temporary guardian(s).
5. Educational savings account (ESA) or a 529 Plan
Putting aside money for education is a smart idea, but there is more than one way to do it. Ms. Thompson had a lot to say about these different plans and the information was so helpful I wanted to include it all. Here is what she had to say:
"ESA and 529 plans are both plans to use for your child's education. However, there is one main difference. An ESA account can be used for K-12 expenses while a 529 plan can be used only for college. Both the ESA and the 529 Plans are savings plans for educational expenses. Both are funded with after-tax dollars, are allowed to grow tax-deferred, and can be withdrawn tax free for qualified educational expenses. Both are preferential to a savings account because of these reasons.
"The main difference between an ESA and a 529 plan are the contribution limits. An ESA, or education savings account, has a maximum contribution of $2,000 per year per beneficiary. Unlike an ESA, 529 plans are allowed unlimited contributions until the maximum amount which is around $400,000 depending on your state. However, you do not have to contribute to your state's plan - you can shop around for any state's plan.
"You can establish an ESA in multiple places. You can go to your bank, credit union, mutual fund company, or brokerage firm." Click here for more information about ESAs, and here for more information about 529 plans click here. To learn more about the differences, click here.
Here's the bottom line: Life is uncertain. It is impossible to plan for everything, but the more that you can do to provide security for you or your children, the better.