When you become a parent, life begins to shift. You go from caring for yourself to raising a whole other human who depends completely on you. It’s natural that your priorities change and grow as your family does. Recently, I received an email from a mom that really made me think about all the ways being a parent changes things for you financially.
I just finished your course and would have loved to have taken it ten years ago. Now, I’m married with two kids and have found that having a young family has complicated my understanding of some of the components of your financial advice. It’s been harder to figure out my budget and my values since having kids, and making sure we’re staying on track as a family –– any advice?”
I was struck by her question because I haven’t had children of my own and it hadn’t occurred to me that budgeting for a larger family (or at least one with kids) would feel different than budgeting for just myself or myself and my partner. As I mulled it over, a few thoughts came to mind on what I’d say to parents when it comes to implementing value-based spending and budgeting.
A quick re-cap on value-based spending
You can read my previous article on value-based spending here, but the short and sweet definition is budgeting based on your values. This means once you’ve created a budget of all the “necessities” (i.e.; rent, utilities, groceries, debt paydown, emergency fund, retirement investments, etc.), the remainder should be set aside to spend on things that you truly love and care about. For example, my three categories are travel, really good food, and nesting.
Does that mean that every month I take a trip, eat out on the weekends, and buy five new plants? No –– it simply means that I create a space in my budget so that when these opportunities arise, I can look at the budget and make a decision on how I’d like to spend it.
It’s just a coincidence that I buy five plants a month.
Managing shifting values
So how do these three categories shift once you become a parent? I’d venture to say that at the heart of things they don’t. Structurally, your budget should still stay relatively the same. You should have a percentage set aside for necessities, savings, debt, and for your value-based categories. How that shakes out is up to you, but many use the 50/30/20 budget (50% to necessities/ 30% “fun” or value categories/ 20% to savings).
On a practical note, these categories don’t change just because what’s in them does. If diapers and formula are now on your grocery list, they’re just now part of your necessities. If you had a segment set aside for clothing, that now includes yours AND your children. You might need to play around with how that shifts your budget, and it’s OK if that takes a while.
But even if these shift to 40/30/30 or even 60/20/20, the idea is that there needs to be room in there somewhere for the things you love and enjoy. It may just be that the things you love and enjoy begin to shift when you become a parent –– and that’s OK to mourn. The cycle of life is unavoidable, and we can always make space for lamenting what was lost, while also celebrating the excitement of a new chapter.
Put the oxygen mask on yourself, first
Something a lot of parents ask me as soon as they find out they’re pregnant is “what college savings account should I open for my kids?” They’re often surprised when I answer with a question: Do you have enough saved for (or investing enough for) retirement?
It is so incredibly natural to want your children to have every advantage, especially financially, but the sad truth is when it comes to college, your children have far more choices financially than you do with retirement. You can take out loans for college, but you can’t take out a loan for your retirement.
I love the illustration I get every time I’m on a flight –– “in case of emergency, please put your oxygen mask on first before assisting others.” This advice is so spot-on when it comes to parents and personal finance. You need to make sure you can care for yourself so that you can continue to care for your children.
Caring for yourself financially is as simple as making sure you’re investing for retirement as a priority and making sure your monthly income covers necessities first. The rest, as they say, is gravy.
Calculate It: Are You Saving Enough to Retire Comfortably?
Don’t be afraid to keep changing
Phases come and go –– things you once loved as a young, single person may not be the things you love as an adult. You might even be surprised at the things you once thought were dull or useless that you now get giddy about.
When it comes to having children, their wants will start to grow as they explore the world. Some children love art, or sports, board games, or travel. Some children devour books, want to learn to cook, do ballet, or just love getting in the dirt and playing in nature.
Most of my parent friends were shocked when they realized that giving their children experiences they desired soon made them become a part of their own value-based spending. They found that they loved going with their children to libraries and museums to see these new worlds through their eyes –– so they started incorporating these trips into their value categories. It didn’t mean that they suddenly ditched all of the things they loved to do, just created more space for this new kind of value.
From a practical standpoint, sometimes our values don’t change as much as how much we can spend on them or what we’re willing to pay a little more for. For example, paying bottom dollar for plane tickets where you have multiple complicated layovers may have felt doable as a couple, but a non-stop flight at a higher price tag suddenly doesn’t feel as daunting as hauling a 2-year-old through three airports on a 12 hour travel day.
Sure, this might mean that you take one or two big trips a year vs. five or six when you were childless –– but it doesn’t mean you can’t still get to do the thing you love and value.
Don’t think that just because you’re a parent now you can’t do the things you loved.
Leave room for yourself
When I talk about putting on the oxygen mask, that’s not just for retirement and paying the big bills. Especially for mothers, there’s this insane expectation that women have to change and become fully immersed in caring for their children, often at the expense of their mental and physical health. This isn’t sustainable. It builds up resentment, pain, and further problems down the road when we forsake ourselves the much-needed self-care just because society tells us to.
Even if your values change when you have kids, please remember to leave some space for yourself. If you loved going to the movies before having kids, get a solo ticket one time when you can find a babysitter to see a movie you know you’ll love. Prioritize your mental health and wellness. It might look different, but don’t worry about that. Create a space in your life where you can care for yourself (and the same for your partner).
We are so much better parents, friends, and people when we take the time to prioritize our needs and self-care.
Being a parent doesn’t have to change who you fundamentally are. At the end of the day, as long as you are caring for yourself and your family, how you spend will naturally fall into place.
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