Here are some money tips for dads out there that wants to get their fiscal house in order. Obviously, nothing will replace a full-blown budget and financial game plan. These are just 5 important things you need to address immediately for the financial health of your family.
1. Figure out where you are financially
This is going to be a painful step for many. Before you start an exercise program it is often advised that you talk to a doctor. Well, if we want to get our family financially healthy we have to know what shape we are in right now. Go get all your bills. Get credit card statements, mortgage statements, utility bills, cell phone bills, insurance, etc.. Separate the recurring ones like utilities, cable, and phone from the ones that can be paid off like credit cards and mortgages. Now total up all the debt you have including those student loans you may have forgotten about. Now take the payments you are making on the credit cards and the monthly recurring bills and add them up. Now total all your monthly income. The income number should be higher. If it isn’t, you have a problem, but at least you know. If it is, then this is the amount of money you have to work with.
2. Eliminate expenses
Look at your recurring expenses and figure out which ones can be eliminated or lowered. Be ruthless here. Question everything. Do you really need every movie channel on cable? Do you need to be able to see every sports game on Sunday? Do you even need cable TV? Do you really need unlimited minutes on your cell phone? Can you increase the deductible on your auto insurance and lower your premium? Are paying for a gym membership and never go to the gym? Get the picture! Slash unnecessary expenses because you want to have as much free cash available for the next few steps.
3. Set up an emergency fund
Now that you know what your expenses are you need to set aside an amount equal to 3-6 months of expenses. If you could do a year that would be awesome, but for baby steps lets start with 3 months. Say your expenses are $4,000 month, then $4,000 x 3 = $12,000 MINIMUM you need in your emergency fund. Figure out what, from the difference in step 1, you can commit to this fund. If it is $1,000/month then it will take you 12 months to reach your goal. Make it automatic. If you get paid twice a month then have $500 from your check, or $250 from your check and $250 from your spouse’s check, direct deposited into a savings account. If you don’t make it automatic you will likely never reach the goal. Tip: If possible put it in a different bank than your checking account so you are not tempted to transfer the money from one account to another.
4. Get term life insurance
Life insurance really has the wrong name. If it insured that you were going to live, everyone would buy it. It should be called income replacement insurance. It is designed to replace your income should you not make it home one day. Most experts agree that 8 – 12 times your annual income is about the right amount. So if you make $50,000/year you need between $400,000 and $600,000 of protection. The best option for 99% of people out there is level-premium term insurance. Level-premium means the premium never goes up, it stays the same for the term of the insurance. Depending on your age, and the company you deal with, you can get all the way up to 35 year level term today. Now term insurance is for a period of time, the “term” part of term insurance. In the next step we will make sure that you no longer need the insurance when the term is up.
5. Save for retirement
The next day you are at work go the HR office and ask if you are enrolled in the 401k plan. If you are, GREAT! Find out how you check your balance and get your statements. If you are not in the plan, ask if you are eligible (there may be a waiting period if you just went to work there), if you are, ask when the next enrollment period is. Many plans only allow you join at certain times. Get that date, mark it on your calendar, put it on the refrigerator, tape it to the bathroom mirror, write it on a piece of paper and stick it to the ceiling so it is the first thing you see when you wake up. IT IS THAT IMPORTANT. You need to start investing in your 401k as early as possible and put the maximum allowed in. It may be painful, but if you start from the beginning you will never miss the money because you will never see it in your check. If you don’t put money in your 401k you will NEVER be able to retire. I’m serious here. If you wait to do this it will be very painful and you may not have enough time to save what you need to retire.
*I’m aware that many people have seen their 401k plans decline by as much as 50% in the past couple of years. Unless you are retiring right now there is a silver lining here. The mutual funds you were investing in are now at rock bottom prices. Every dollar you invest is purchasing many more shares than it did in the past when they were at their peak. This means when they turn around, and the market will eventually turn around, your growth will be that much more impressive because it is a larger number of shares growing.
There are many other things we can do financially for our families but I believe these 5 are the most important you can do right now. If you do these 5 simple steps, notice I said simple not easy, you will be ahead of most people. For your families sake don’t just read this list and say one day I’m going to do those things, do them now.
Chris Johnston is a social media consultant and recovering financial professional