Just about when you’re supposed to be pulling it all together and having it all, life happens. Boy, life comes at you fast. My husband and I thought we had it under control with our teens, but when we added caring for our aging parents to the mix, things really got interesting. One thing I was really surprised about was how being part of the Sandwich Generation affected us financially. Just when our kids are needing more expensive things (hello, cars and car insurance, home school co-op and Community classes) our parents are needing more from us, too. When both my Dad and my Mother in law lost their spouses, they also lost the income that they brought in. Between visits, both across the country and across the state and helping wherever we can, our finances were stretched almost to the breaking point. After an emergency trip across the country to help out in an emergency, we found ourselves in a hole that we’re still digging ourselves out of. I went searching for some financial advice to help us dig out, and not to get further in trouble. I read financial advisor Elisabeth Dawson’s book Wealth By Design and got some great advice. Some of it I already knew but some of it I wouldn’t have thought about. Here are some tips she shared with me:
1. Limit Credit Card Use
Credit cards are so convenient. In fact, these days you don’t even need to take them out of your wallet – just wave it in front of the machine & you’re on your way! But have you ever stopped to think about why they’ve made it so easy? The problem with credit cards – even if you pay them off each month – is that spending often goes unchecked. It’s far too easy to spend without giving serious thought to your purchases, especially when it’s a simple as waving your wallet. Meanwhile, you’ll be much more conscious of you’re spending decisions if you know you only have a set amount of cash.
2. Create a Budget & Involve the Family
The hardest part of any budget is generally the follow through. However, by making it a family affair, you hold yourself and each other accountable, increasing the likeliness of your success. Get the kids involved and treat it as the invaluable life lesson it actually is. Ask for their help with tracking spending by keeping a log of every dollar you spend throughout the day. It’s a great way to learn about your family’s spending habits and find out exactly where your money is going. It can also instill an appreciation and respect for money in your kids, few other methods could. Talk about managing credit and teach them how to balance a checkbook. They’ll have a leg up (and maybe even avoid a few missteps) when they head off to college and into the real world.
3. Don’t Sacrifice Your Retirement Savings
Speaking of college, don’t even consider putting a stop to your retirement savings contributions in order to fund a 529 plan or other education savings account. Not only are you getting closer to retirement each day, but it’s incredibly difficult to make up for lost time in saving for it. While your children can apply for scholarships or receive financial aid for college, there is no comparable financial assistance waiting for you to fund your golden years. Of course, you also want to be sure to take advantage of the maximum match your employer offers on your retirement contributions– it’s essentially free money!
4. Take Advantage of an HSA/FSA
Another benefit to take advantage of through your employer is a Health Savings Account (HSA) or Flexible Spending Account (FSA). These are tax- advantaged accounts which can be used for healthcare expenses, although they vary in certain aspects including eligibility, portability, contribution limits and expiration of funds. Some examples of common expenses which may be eligible include copays, deductibles, prescription drugs, as well as dental and eye exams. Be sure to get a clear understanding of what is and is not covered by the specific plans available to you in order to decide what makes the most sense for your family. With some thoughtful planning, these types of accounts can enable you to maximize your savings on budget- busting expenses such as braces and prescription eyeglasses.
5. Help Your Parents Be Prepared
Conversations surrounding money, as well as health issues, can vary greatly by family. However, it’s important to understand where your parents stand, financially, as they age. This is especially true if you may be helping in the future, either by having them live with you or contributing to the cost of care. After all, people are living longer and the chances of needing care are increasing, whether it be in-home or at a facility. Encourage or help your parents to investigate long-term care options, particularly as part of a life insurance policy, which can eliminate the “use it or lose it” concern of more traditional long-term care policies. Working with an experienced financial professional can help to answer a lot of your “what-if” questions and ensure your parents have a comprehensive plan that makes sense for their situation. It’s crucial to have a plan in place before a health event or sudden passing to protect their assets, provide options, and avoid creating an unnecessary financial burden on you and the rest of your family.
My husband and I aren’t quite where we expected to be at this point in our lives, but then again, a lot of things haven’t exactly gone to plan. What I do know is while we have made some unwise choices, we also did a lot of good things, and we can slowly fix our finances and get back to where we need to be.
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