Anyone can benefit from these three tips.
My husband and I welcomed our first child into the world three months ago, and boy, has it been a ride. We've learned a lot, like how to distract a crying baby (ceiling fans and weird noises work wonders) and how to change a diaper fast enough to avoid getting sprayed. But we've also learned a few things about our finances I hadn't expected.
Alright, so as a personal finance writer, these insights weren't entirely new to me. But they reminded me why good money management skills are important, especially when you have a family to raise. Here are three of my biggest financial takeaways from my first few months of motherhood.
1. Emergency funds are essential
My son came into the world in dramatic fashion. He was born via emergency cesarean section following a precipitous labor where, much to my and the delivering doctor's surprise, we found out my son was breech. Yeah, that was not in my birth plan. Nor was the four days we spent in the hospital afterward or the $2,800 specialist visit to get my son checked for hip dysplasia.
Lucky for us, I'd been beefing up our emergency fund throughout my pregnancy just in case any unplanned expenses came up while I was on maternity leave. If I hadn't had the extra cash on hand, those bills would've stung a lot worse.
We all hope things are going to go well for us, but sometimes life just serves up some dumpster fire situations with Ferrari-sized price tags. The only thing we can do is prepare ourselves.
There isn't a hard-and-fast rule for how much you should save in your emergency fund, but you probably don't want to go under three months' worth of living expenses. This should be enough to cover all but the largest emergencies and sustain you and your family for a little while if you lose your job. You can definitely put more than this into your emergency savings if you'd like. Just don't go without. I promise you, when you need your emergency fund, you will never regret setting aside that money.
2. Avoid overspending by being realistic about what you actually need
I challenge anyone to go shopping for baby clothes and not be blinded by cuteness. It is seriously hard to restrain yourself, especially when the outfits are only a few dollars each. We bought our son a lot of clothes before he was born and we were gifted a bunch more. He never ended up wearing half of them, and many more only got worn once or twice.
Now, three months on, I still have a bit of a hard time resisting that adorable outfit with the tiny baby jeans, but I'm a bit more realistic about what and how much we actually need. I often avoided putting him in clothes with a lot of snaps because they were less convenient than the outfits with zippers, so now I don't buy those anymore. And I know not to go overboard with pants and shirts because most of the time, he's just hanging out in a onesie at home.
It's not always easy to know what features to focus on or what's a reasonable amount to spend on something, especially when you're entering an unfamiliar arena. Whether it's your first car, your first home, or your first credit card, doing your research and talking to other people who have already been through what you're dealing with can help you avoid spending too much or getting a bad deal.
3. Budgets make achieving your financial goals a lot easier
Before I became a mother, I didn't bother too much with budgets because I rarely spent money on non-essentials, and I was always good at saving. But now with a baby at home and more planned for the future, I've decided it's time to get serious about tracking where my money goes.
Our monthly expenses have gone up with all the baby gear we need, and then there's long-term expenses to think about, like college and the Dodge Viper my husband wants to fix up with our son someday. Throwing money into a savings account and forgetting about it just isn't going to cut it anymore.
So now I'm building a real budget to help me see what I'm spending, identify areas of overspending, and stay on track for my more expensive goals. It's not always fun, but it doesn't have to be a ton of work either. There are plenty of apps these days that can do most of the math for you, so all you have to do is enter expenses. And a budget doesn't have to mean the end of discretionary spending. In fact, most budgets don't work if you don't leave a little room for fun.
There are a few approaches you can take to making a budget, like the 50-30-20 budget where you use 50% of your income for essentials, 30% for whatever you want, and 20% for savings. If you want to save a little more, you could follow this method and flip the 20% and 30%. Or you could just come up with a target amount you want to save and set this aside every month. Just make sure you're saving for your bills first.
Ultimately, I want to give my son the best life I can, and that can't happen without good money management. I'm sure I'll make some mistakes, and I know I haven't seen the last of the unexpected bills, but just like having a baby, the effort is worth it in the end.
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