Every loving parent has hopes and dreams for their children, whether it’s about college, falling in love and starting a family, or finding their passion in life. But most of all, most parents want the same thing – for their children to grow up and live happy, productive lives.
But having kids requires more than just dreaming about the future; it requires planning for it. And even when parents have the best intentions, it’s easy to let proper planning slide when you’re busy living for today. Meanwhile, there are times when parents focus so much on their children’s happiness and success that they sacrifice their own well-being.
Life doesn’t always give us a do-over, and there are times when we have to sleep in the bed we’ve made. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and your children’s lives may be drastically improved if you are able to avoid the most common financial mistakes parents make. Here are 10 situations parents should avoid at all costs (and what you can do instead):
Splurging for Fancy New Baby Stuff
Walk into any big-box baby store and you’ll discover football fields of strollers, baby carriers, and various baby gadgets and gizmos. But do you need all of it? Not a chance.
All that baby gear doesn’t come cheap. According to Investopedia, a new stroller costs an average of $400, while a new bouncy seat or swing can cost $200 or more. Add to that the average cost of $1,100 for baby furniture and you’re out $1,700 before the baby even makes it home from the hospital.
Fortunately, parents who would rather spend those funds elsewhere can save up to 80% buying used baby gear from Craigslist or borrowing from family or friends instead. You don’t need the latest model or the priciest brand when it comes to most baby gear. Buy used and save your money for other necessities instead.
Not Buying Enough Life Insurance
A recent study from New York Life Insurance revealed that the average American only has enough life insurance to cover about three years of his or her salary, even though the goal is to have 14 years of coverage for the breadwinner of the family.
“My question is: What happens in the fourth year? If you pass away, your paycheck goes away and your family is still in need of income,” said Chris Blunt, co-president of the Insurance and Agency Group, New York Life, in reaction to the study.
It’s not too hard to imagine what can happen if a parent dies with inadequate life insurance coverage. In many cases, the surviving parent will have to work harder and longer, and under considerably more stress than they would have otherwise. And without proper funds in the family’s coffers, school activities and college planning could suffer, too. After all, in a one-parent household, there is simply that much less money to go around.
If you want to get an idea of how much life insurance you need, try a life insurance calculator or contact a local broker for advice. Buying enough life insurance is a huge gift to your family, but not doing so can produce an equally huge burden.
Delaying Saving for College
Almost seven in 10 students from the Class of 2013 owed an average of $28,400 on their student loans last year, and that figure makes them the most debt-heavy class of college graduates ever. There are plenty of reasons why experts say the costs of college continue rising, but none of them changes the fact that parents who wait to save aren’t doing themselves any favors.
For example, tuition and fees for in-state students at four-year schools in Colorado cost just $4,696 per year during the 2004-05 school year, yet that figure climbed to $9,487 per year by 2014-15, according to College Board statistics. That’s an increase of over 100% increase in 10 years. Simply put, college costs are rising, and parents who didn’t start saving early enough will find themselves woefully unprepared. Here’s a guide to help you start saving now for you child’s education.
Not Helping Kids Choose a Major
The choice to attend college shouldn’t just be a personal decision; it’s a financial decision, too. That’s why parents should do as much as they can to educate their kids about the potential outcomes of any college major they’re interested in.
For example, we recently wrote about 10 college majors with a relatively unimpressive return on investment, as well as 10 college majors that get high marks. Meanwhile, any parent can sit with their child and surf BLS.gov for information on employment projections, annual mean wages for specific careers, and more.
Parents who fail to at least try to help their kids make a responsible decision could be setting them up for more debt than they can handle, a lifetime of low earnings, and many unnecessary struggles.
Not Assisting With the Financial Aid Process
Kids who want to go to college need our help navigating the complex world of financial aid and college admissions if we want them to succeed. Even a simple mistake on a FAFSA form can delay financial aid processing and make it hard to plan for the future. Meanwhile, failing to seek out available scholarships and grants (and apply for them) could mean missing out on tens of thousands of dollars in available aid.
Parents who check out of the process and don’t help their kids set them up for delays in student aid, higher overall costs, and more debt. If you want to help your kids get through school with as little financial cost as possible, sit down with them and explore the ins and outs of college planning together. Because when it comes to exploring financial aid options, a little bit of effort can go a long way. (Related: College Financial Guide: Filling Out the FAFSA.)
Encouraging Unrealistic Expectations
We all know children who have a laptop and iPhone by the time they’re 12, but is that always a good idea? Probably not. The MTV show “Sweet Sixteen” demonstrated what happens when childhood expectations get out of control. I’ve often wanted to ask those parents what on Earth they were thinking. Unless you plan on having $20,000 birthday parties for each subsequent kid in perpetuity, you have to draw the line somewhere, right?
Although some experts argue that there is no such thing as a spoiled child, it’s hard to imagine that having everything at a young age will make adulthood any easier. Simply put, teaching kids that instant gratification is the norm can set them up for a lifetime of disappointment and expectations that are largely unrealistic. Unfortunately, this is yet another lesson that many parents learn too late.
Not Nurturing Your Marriage
According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the divorce rate for parents over 50 has been growing steadily for the last half-century and has even doubled since 1990. Many experts place the blame for the phenomenon on the fact that so many parents put the kids first while neglecting their spouse or significant other.
“Parenting involves lots of compromise and sacrifice,” says Dr. Gregory Ramey, vice president for outpatient services at a hospital in the Dayton, Ohio, area and author of FamilyWise, a weekly parenting column in the Dayton Daily News. “Always putting your children first is bad for them, bad for you, and bad for your relationship with your spouse.”
And that growing divorce rate? Aside from the fact that marital problems can make everyone in the family miserable, divorce has its own financial implications. One in five women falls into poverty as a result of divorce, according to a study by noted marriage researchers Drs. Linda J. Waite and Maggie Gallagher. Meanwhile, individuals would need “more than a 30% increase in income, on average, to maintain the same standard of living they had prior to their divorce.”
Not Teaching Kids About Money
Kids who never learn about money may be destined for failure in the real world. Why? Because people who aren’t taught basic financial literacy may have trouble with tasks such as balancing a checkbook, writing a check, or budgeting. Add in the fact that many kids never learn how to save money and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Financial planner and author Shannon Ryan of TheHeavyPurse.com recommends that all parents teach their kids basic financial literacy while they’re young, in addition to helping them learn how to save, share, and spend a percentage of their earnings.
“One of my biggest a-ha’s as a Certified Financial Planner has been how much our parents influence our relationship with money and how our money habits and beliefs form in our childhood,” says Ryan. “We often think it happens much later, when our kids are in their teens or are young adults, but by that time, their money habits and beliefs have deep roots.”
The lesson: Start early and teach often. Our children are not only listening, they’re also watching.
Setting a Bad Financial Example
If you don’t have a grasp on financial concepts yourself, it is far harder to impart those lessons to children. If you’re a financial train wreck, or if you constantly set a bad example, you’re not only harming yourself, but you’re also teaching your kids how to do the same.
And doing so comes at a cost. Living beyond your means, not saving adequately for the future, and piling on debt can leave you unable to help your kids with college, weddings, or any other endeavors they may want to take on as adults. Even worse, your kids might end up having to take care of you.
Not Saving Adequately for Retirement
According to the fifth annual Wells Fargo middle-class retirement study, one-third of middle-class Americans do not contribute anything to a 401(k) retirement account or comparable investment vehicle. Meanwhile, 31% claimed they didn’t think they would have enough money to survive in retirement.
Even scarier may be the fact that 55% of respondents say they plan to save later for retirement in order to make up for not saving enough now. But what happens when those savings never materialize?
Unfortunately, we all know exactly what happens. Those who are supposed to retire on time end up working longer and sacrificing just to keep the lights on and food on the table. And those unable to work often fare worse, sometimes scraping by on Social Security alone. The lesson: Never wait to start saving for retirement. The perfect time doesn’t exist.
Creating Happy Families …One Decision at a Time
Kids don’t come with a handbook. For that reason alone, it’s crucial we all decide on the values and financial lessons we hope to impart to our children — and take the steps to do so. Life isn’t always easy, but it becomes infinitely harder for everyone when we fly through life without a plan — or worse, a bad one.
If you want to help your family get ahead, start planning now and try to think far past today and well into next year, the next five years, and even the next decade. Ask yourself what you can do now to improve your family’s life down the road — then do it.
Your future self, and your children, will thank you.