Creating a Future-Focused Family Budget

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It’s 5:45 p.m. and I still haven’t heard from my husband. He usually calls me as soon as he leaves the office, but he hasn’t yet today. My mind races. Could something have happened at work? Did he get into a car accident in traffic? Do I even want to check the news?

My husband walks in five minutes later and I just about lose it; I am so happy to see him but so angry at him for not calling. In those minutes of waiting I convinced myself something bad happened to him. I also realized in my panic that I have no plan and not enough savings if something awful did happen. After all, who wants to think about the what ifs?

What about you? Do you have a plan? How about savings? If you’re not sure where to start, budgeting and is ground zero for setting yourself up for a financially secure future, no matter how big or small your family income. And the key financial goal for most young families is SAVING. Here are several areas to think about and discuss with your partner:

Budget Basics

One of the hardest things about “growing up” is budgeting. I recommend using Microsoft Excel (or an online service) to put together a rough budget of your current lifestyle with income and expenses. You can see more in the sample below but here’s an idea of what you should be considering: after-taxes income, variable expenses including groceries, shopping, any expenses that come up or change monthly, and then fixed expenses that are generally the same month to month and include rent/mortgage, daycare, phone bill, car payment, etc. If the money coming in (income) is less than than the money going out (expenses), it will be important to have a frank conversation with yourself and partner about better budgeting and where you can make cuts. Check out this basic sample budget.

Dissecting Your Paycheck

I remember getting excited about my job after becoming a mom. I was going to make a lot of money. Or not. After taxes, your paycheck may go down substantially. It’s good to calculate your after-taxes paycheck but also plan on putting some aside. Many medium to larger companies give you the option to direct deposit your paycheck in more than one account. Ideally, you should be putting 10-15% into savings. One thing that has helped me is opening a separate bank account for which I do not carry the ATM card. For example, you can ask your company to put 15% of your paycheck into a separate account that you have with a credit union or into online banking. Also, talk with your HR/benefits manager about incentives like HSA, FSA, 401k, EAP and life insurance. To give you a quick run down on those, here’s what to know:

  1. Healthcare and Flexible Spending Accounts (HSAs and FSAs): Per Wikipedia, these are tax-advantaged savings accounts available to taxpayers; the funds contributed to an account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. They allow you to put money into accounts specific to expenses. For an HSA (Health Savings Account), this can go toward medical expenses. For an FSA (Flexible Spending Account), this can go towards childcare or parking and transit depending on your employer plan. For example, every year, my paycheck deducts $416.66/month. This money goes into a savings account with my employer. At the end of the year, I submit my childcare receipts for the year (totaling $5,000 or $416.66 x 12) and I get a reimbursement of $5,000 the following year. The same goes for health expenses. If you foresee any expenses such as eye surgery or braces, you can set aside a certain amount of money in your paycheck to sit into a Health Savings Account (HSA). The most important question to your employer is rollover. Basically, if you have $1,000 set aside and the year ends and don’t have any medical expenses, you could lose that $1,000 if the employer policy is no rollover.
  2. 401(k): Employers also offer a retirement savings plan, known as a 401(k) in for-profit companies. This allows employees to save and invest their monthly income (before taxes) for retirement. Generally, companies will match your contribution for a certain amount, and it’s good to contribute how much they will match. For example, employers may match your contribution up to 4%. If you contribute 4% of your salary, they will give you another 4% toward your 401(k). This is essentially free money. Take it! 401(k) plans do have some restrictions like when you can actually take the money (higher tax penalty if taking it earlier than retirement age) but it’s a great way to save.
  3. EAP – Employee Assistant Program: Many companies are invested in the health and well-being of their employees (your health can cost or save them significant dollars). Many offer Employee Assistance Programs and wellness programs that may include free counseling sessions or help with dealing with major live events or issues with substance abuse. Some sessions could be free or offered at an aggressively discounted rate. Take advantage of them!
  4. Life Insurance: When I started my first job at DC Comics, I could contribute 2x my salary to my loved ones if I died. The 22-year old in me laughed – why would I ever need this and why does it matter? Ten years later, I immediately go to the life insurance section of my benefits enrollment, with the social security numbers of my family members ready to go. It’s not an exciting topic but it’s important. Many employers offer the ability to pay a small monthly fee to have a higher life insurance payout if needed.

Budgeting Tools (Mobile Apps & Other Resources)

Personally, I am a fan of Mint.com, but everyone has a different preference. Mint.com allows me to sync my bank accounts and credit card accounts to see my month to month activity. Other apps include Expensify, GoodBudget, Mvelopes, and BudgetPulse. If you have other favorite tools, share them below in the comments!

Be a Financial Role Model

I was fortunate enough to be raised by bargain hunters. If it wasn’t on sale, I couldn’t buy it. This mentality, while exhausting, encouraged me to be smarter about spending my money on things of value. If you encourage your children to save or be strategic about what they want to buy, you are furthering their financial education so they can spend savvy. I was lucky that my kid sister bought my son a mini bank for him to start saving his money (it’s actually a hamster cage make shift piggy bank). You should also consider opening a separate bank account for your child, and let them deposit their own piggy bank stash!

piggy-bank-621068_1280

Speak With a Professional

I am NOT a financial planner, but it would be a very good idea to meet with one. Not only can they help you better understand what I’ve outlined above, but they can also help you navigate investment opportunities, the world of 529 college savings plans, and more. Also, you should meet with them on a regular basis to make adjustments to your plans as you add children and move through different stages of life and parenting.

So, how would you rate your saving strategies today? Do you need to find additional ways to save or additional streams of revenue? Do you feel prepared financially if something happened to you or your partner?

Share any other tips you’ve found helpful below, and good luck with your budgeting, saving, and planning!

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Nadia has worn many hats in her personal life and career: mom, matchmaker (professionally and personally), marketer, recruiter, teacher, daughter and sister to name a few. Her true passion is helping people by developing their personal and professional skills so they can be successful in their career. Motherhood has had a different plan for her as she navigates poopy diapers, colicky babies and messy houses. Now, she balances working as a recruiter/career counselor with her toddler son and baby girl.

2 COMMENTS

  1. I could relate to the beginning of your post. The panic of someone being late whether it is your child or husband can send your mind racing. I remember going so far as having the funeral planned and how was I going to tell his mother. As far as the financial piece, it is always good to have a plan b. Savings, retirement and insurance is necessary but so often layoffs happen in all sorts of economic times and often it does not take long to see all of your savings vanish at a much quicker rate than it accumulated. After going through my third layoff I had to start thinking about a plan b. Even though I am searching for yet another job I realize I need another stream of income that will continue whether I am employed or not. This extra income can help fund my savings at a quicker rate. I have found a company that allows me to establish residual monthly income to help create peace of mind now and for whatever the future holds whether the economy, the health of my family or unexpected financial challenges that may come.

    • Amy,
      Thanks for your response! For some of us, worry is in our blood but it’s always scary to think of how prepared we actually are for such things. Sorry to hear about the layoffs but happy to hear your business and plans are going well. Good luck!

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