Life Goes On: A Primer for Financial Security at Every Stage of Life


Life is an adventure—and like all adventures, it’s both fun and stressful. You come up with a plan. You take your first steps. It works just fine. You think you have it all figured out.

And then suddenly everything changes.

Frequent travelers and Boy Scouts know that the key to getting where you want to go—and having fun along the way—is being prepared. And that’s true for your finances, too. Planning in advance for life’s inevitable surprises will keep your stress level low and your financial future on track.

So here’s a guide to some destinations on the voyage of life, including steps you can take now to prepare for each stop.

STOP ONE: GETTING MARRIED

Ah, the excitement of it all! The ring, the outfits, the reception, the honeymoon. Your own place to live. But marriage is also the first step in your financial future as a couple. And the more securely you start out, the easier every step forward will be.

So start off your future as a couple right. Sit down and talk honestly about how much you can afford to spend, how much you can afford to borrow, and how you will pay it all back. Work out a budget together, and try it out for a couple of months before the wedding.

It’s also important to talk honestly about the debts you each bring to the marriage and how you will deal with them. You two are now a team, and your individual credit scores will be merged into one credit history. Visa and MasterCard, Sears and Victoria’s Secret, car dealers and mortgage companies will be looking at your score. Work out a plan together to push it up and check it regularly—and you will save tens of thousands of dollars.

STOP TWO: BUYING A HOUSE

If you have already laid the groundwork with a good credit score, you are a step ahead of most people. But it is never too late to start tightening your budget, paying down your bills, and making all your payments on time. In the months it takes you to find the home
of your dreams, you can also make it easier to afford.

A house is the largest item you will ever buy, so start by doing some research. Speak to a reputable lender about a pre-approved mortgage so you know how much you can spend and how much it will cost you every month. But keep in mind that millions of Americans got into trouble reaching for homes they could barely afford. Just because someone is willing to lend you a certain amount does not mean you must spend that much. Cut your
stress for the next 30 years by leaving a little wiggle room in your budget.

Stress comes from being unprepared for the unexpected. So set a regular time to rethink where you want to be in 10 years and how to get there.

STOP THREE: HAVING A BABY

Nothing can match that little bundle of joy. But raising a child costs about a quarter of a million dollars! From doctors to diapers to day care, from baby food to baby sitters, your budget will be filled with new expenses.Be ready with a serious savings plan as soon as you start to plan for a family. Many couples try to bank the wife’s full paycheck, at least for the last couple of months. Plan carefully how much you can afford to borrow, and set up a repayment and a savings plan. If you do not have life insurance, now is the time for both new parents get some. Don’t overspend, but consider how much one of you will need to get by without the other. Financial experts suggest you have at least enough inexpensive term insurance to pay off the mortgage.

DETOURS ALONG THE ROUTE

Along with all the milestones you plan, don’t forget to prepare for the unexpected ones life will surely send your way. Losing a job, getting a divorce, or falling ill can throw a wrench into the best-laid budget.

Always keep an emergency fund of at least a few week’s pay in the bank as a cushion. Don’t rush into selling your house when times are hard or buying a Jaguar when things look good. In times of change, take a little time to think things through before taking any action.

Set up a plan to pay your bills and make a deposit into your savings account automatically every month. And no matter what, focus on preserving your credit rating by paying your credit-card bills on time, and only charging what you must. Then if you get a big check or a raise, pay down your credit-card debt, starting with the card with the highest interest rate.

THE END IS IN SIGHT

Stress comes from being unprepared for the unexpected. So set a regular time to rethink where you want to be in 10 years and how to get there. Never be afraid to update your financial plan. Things change. Life goes on. Planning, focus, and discipline will help you navigate any twist in the road of life.