The family finance game no longer just entails paying the mortgage and other bills each month. With budget planning, college and vacation savings, and making smart investments, knowing the ins and outs of your financial situation is vital for a healthy home and a healthy future.
Too many people, women especially, ignore this area of home management. Their spouse will take care of the finances while they take care of the home. This is all well and good, but it’s important not to keep yourself in the dark. Knowing where you are right now financially is the first step in knowing where you want to be, and how you’re going to get there. Be part of the decision making process – it’s what being partners is all about!
So, how do you dive in and get up to speed on family financing?
Make A Budget
The most important first step you can take is to make a budget for yourself. Most people have no idea how much they spend on what each month, and knowing where your money is going is essential.
Write down all your monthly bills: mortgage, car payments, utilities, cell phone, internet, etc. Also keep track of how much you’re spending on groceries and ‘invisible purchases’, like that $3.95 latte you get every morning. Track your spending for a month and you’re guaranteed to be surprised at where it all goes!
After you know where your money is going each month, you’ll know how much you have left over for savings and investments. Having very clear goals about what you’re saving for is essential to successful saving.
Instead of just vaguely putting money into a CD or savings account, sit down and look at what you want. Do you want to take the family on a stellar vacation to Aruba next year? Do you want to be able to pay for college when your kids get older? If you know you’re trying to save up so your daughter can go to the school of her choice, it might make you think twice about that latte every morning. Coffee at home tastes just as good!
Think Before You Buy
Make conscious choices about what you buy on a daily basis. Making a real effort to mull over purchases will not only save you money but will also cut down on the clutter in your home! Ask yourself if you really need this, does it have a place in your home, and if you’re really going to use it.
Teach Good Habits
Don’t forget about your kids. Teaching your children to handle money responsibly will help them be financially successful adults. Give them an allowance (whether or not to have them earn it is a personal decision) and let them know that once the money is gone, it’s gone.
If they splurge their week’s allowance on video games and then want more the next day to go to the movies, don’t give in! This teaches them to budget their money, and will make them start thinking about their own purchases. If they can learn to ignore our society’s lust for rampant consumerism and make wise choices, they’ll be ten steps ahead of everyone else.
Pay Yourself First
Having money automatically deducted from your checking account every two weeks is a great way to make yourself save. If you never really see the money, you’re less likely to miss it. Many banks will do this free of charge, and setting up automatic withdrawals takes only a few minutes. It’s well worth it if it helps you save for your future goals. If you’re wondering how much to withdraw each month, first try 10% of your net income. If that puts too much strain on your finances, drop it down to 8% or even 5%. But never down to 0%!
Remember, having goals and knowing what you’re saving for will enable you to chart a clear course for where you’re headed. You can get there with some careful thought and advance planning.