Investing is tough under normal circumstances. When you’ve just started a family and your life changes, investing well can be a bit overwhelming. Most new parents tend to run into four common investment problems, which can be avoided with a little planning. Start the new year right and make sure to fix these new parent mistakes so you can put together the best investment plan for yourself and your family.
1. No long-term planning
As a new parent, it’s easy to get lost in the present. You’ve got so much to take care of now, who has time to think about 10 years in the future? However, time goes by quickly and long-term goals like college and retirement will come up before you know it.
If you haven’t already, sit down and put together a household budget for your new family. Make sure to account for all your new expenses and see how things match up against your income, especially if your family income is lower because you or your partner is on maternity leave.
Given your situation, is there any way you can save for future goals? If money’s too tight to invest right now, are you able to keep your spending from going over your income? Even if you can break even during this stretch, you’ll be coming out ahead. This avoids costly new parent financial mistakes like taking on credit card debt or cashing money out of your retirement plans.
If you save money, where do you plan on investing it? Too many parents are just happy to keep their savings in the bank or even in cash. This is quick and easy, but also a costly new parent mistake. These accounts don’t help with your taxes and don’t earn a high return.
For college savings, put that money in a 529 plan. The savings will grow tax-free until college, plus it could give you a deduction against your state income tax, depending on where you live. For retirement, make sure to use a proper retirement plan like a 401k or IRA. These accounts also offer a number of tax benefits.
2. Putting college saving ahead of retirement planning
While it’s important to consider college savings for your child, your future is also important and should not be overlooked — retirement planning should come first. That’s because if you fall short of your college saving goals, you and your children will still have access to loans and other type of financial aid. If you fall short of your retirement goals, there’s really nothing to fall back on.
If you have a matching contribution from your employer, try to save at least enough to get all this free money. Any extra savings should be put towards maxing out your other retirement plans, like your 401k or your IRA. Once you feel like you’re putting enough away for your retirement goals, then you can start thinking about college savings, but don’t let the rush of being a parent shift your priorities.
3. Getting too conservative with investments
When people start a family, they tend to become more cautious. While being careful is generally a good idea as a parent, if you become too conservative with your investment strategy it’s one of the most costly new parent mistakes. The thought of losing money is tough and it’s even scarier when you’re worried about providing for a family. However, completely safe investments like a savings account at a big bank or government bonds have very low returns. They never lose money, but they don’t make much either. You might not earn enough to reach your future goals.
Instead, take a more balanced approach. If you’re saving for college in 18 years or for retirement that’s even further away, put at least some of your money in stocks and mutual funds. Even if the market has a bad run, you’ll have plenty of time to make this money back. At the same time, your savings will grow significantly faster than safe assets.
Over the past 85 years, stocks have earned on average about 10 percent a year while guaranteed, government bonds only earned about 3.5 percent. Your money will grow nearly three times as fast through stocks.
4. Not teaching the kids to save
It’s never too early to start teaching your kids about money, but many parents put this off. While there are different schools of thought on this subject, many experts agree it makes sense to start teaching your kids how to save and invest at an early age. For example, if you will give your kids an allowance, make sure they plan how to use that money. You could set up an agreement in which they need to save half or a third of the money for the future so they don’t spend everything right away. Every month or quarter, take them to the bank where they can deposit their allowance in a high-interest savings account. This exercise will get your children involved and budgeting, teach them valuable life skills, and have them appreciate your work with the family budget.
If you can use these strategies to avoid these four new parent investment mistakes, you’ll be head and shoulders above most families. With this solid base, you can feel confident about your family’s future.