Our kids are often the people we love most in life. They are literally a piece of us. Why wouldn’t we want to give them everything they ever need?
But kids are expensive. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the cost to raise a child born in 2013 to the age of 18 is just over $245,000. And that doesn’t include all the bells and whistles like college funding, extracurricular activities and family vacations.
Most Americans don’t have a quarter of a million dollars laying around, but still find a way to make things work. When it comes to our children, while we want to give them the world, are we doing so to our own financial detriment? It’s hard to put yourself first at times. But if you postpone retirement planning while your children are growing up, you’re actually doing yourself and your children a disservice in the long run because you won’t have the ability to provide for yourself in old age.
You don’t need to stop giving to your kids, but there is a balance to strike. Here are four ways to balance raising well-rounded children with retirement savings at various stages of life:
1. You don’t need all that baby gear. Babies come with a lot of stuff. The Internet makes us think we need three strollers, two carriers, five different types of swings and a car seat that comes plated in gold. Guess what happens after you drop thousands of dollars on all of those items? If you’re lucky, you use them for a few months or maybe a year or two. But for the most part, your baby will grow out of or not like half of the items you drop your cash on. Instead of buying, borrow items from friends, look for gently used items and don’t believe that top dollar means top quality. Set a baby budget ahead of time and stick to it, hopefully while still saving for your future.
2. Don’t go crazy with extracurricular activities. Yes, we want well-rounded children, but that doesn’t mean we should stop contributing to our 401(k) to pay for soccer and swim lessons. When it comes to kid’s activities, determine how much you can afford to spend only after you’ve put aside savings for retirement to ensure you remain on track with your financial goals. Look for quality, not quantity. When considering activities, less may actually be more. Ask yourself what your child will experience with each group and how this activity will add value to the development of their social and educational skills.
Sit down with your child and have a conversation about why they want to participate in each event. Consider whether friends are involved and if they are enjoying it. Set goals around the activities they’re participating in to ensure you’re being the most impactful with time and money.
3. Teach your children about money. Whether your child is six or 16, it’s never too early or late to teach them about money. Consider involving them in the household budget by having them contribute to building the grocery list and choosing between wants versus needs within a set spending amount. Have them assist with vacation planning choices or teach them about long-term saving by showing them how much they need to stash aside for a big ticket item they desire. Having money conversations early on with your child can help to enhance their planning skills and their ability to comfortably manage their own finances later in life. An added bonus: they may ask to tap into the bank of mom and dad less frequently.
4. Prioritize retirement over college savings. Ultimately, it’s up to you to provide for your future. Many of today’s young parents don’t have access to pensions, but instead must rely on self-directed savings to set themselves up for financial success. The bottom line is that while your kids can borrow and obtain scholarships for college, you can’t borrow to fund your retirement.
If your plan is to prioritize college over retirement savings and then play catch up after the kids are done with school, it’s important to ask yourself how things will pan out if you get laid off, suffer an illness or have any other financial mishaps. Then it might not be possible to make up for lost time. By saving for retirement first and then putting what you can afford towards education funding (in addition to finding creative ways to pay for college), you will allow your investments to compound more aggressively for a larger number of years. The whole family will end up on better financial footing.
Mary Beth Storjohann is the author of “Work Your Wealth” and the founder of Workable Wealth.
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