Some of the things we want to achieve in life come with a hefty price tag (think: buying a house, starting a family and retiring). Becoming a parent or homeowner is exciting, but in order to get there you have to plan — and save. So as you go through life dreaming about reaching your next milestone, review your budget and make sure the numbers add up. Check out the tips below to ensure you can afford life’s biggest expenses.
Buying a house
Before shopping around for a home, check your credit. Your mortgage terms will depend on it. Order a free copy of your credit report and make sure it’s accurate. You don’t want to be penalized for errors. You should also avoid applying for new credit before you buy your home and pay down as much debt as possible.
In addition to making sure your credit score is in good shape, you’ll have to do some serious saving if you’re considering homeownership. To qualify for a conventional 15- or 30-year mortgage loan with a fixed rate, you should be prepared to make a 20% down payment. Also, you should only look at houses that you can afford. Experts say you should spend no more than 30% of your monthly income on housing expenses. Having three to five months of payments set aside will make you a more attractive candidate for a mortgage.
Of course, a down payment and mortgage aren’t the only expenses associated with buying a home. You should be prepared to cover closing costs, property taxes, homeowners insurance premiums, utilities and routine maintenance, too. Many of these costs vary depending on your location. If you own a condo, co-op or townhouse — or you live in a neighborhood with common property — you could face additional upkeep charges.
Having a baby
As wonderful as it can be, parenthood isn’t all about tiny clothes and lullabies. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it costs about $12,980 a year for a married, middle-income couple to raise a child. Even labor is expensive. Data from FAIR Health shows that vaginal deliveries in some states cost more than $9,000, on average. C-sections cost more than that. Prices can vary depending on your health insurance plan and the hospital you visit. Spend some time calculating your potential costs in advance with resources like Amino’s list of labor and delivery charges.
Pay off as many debts as you can before you have a baby. That way, you won’t have to worry about making ends meet from week to week once your child is born. You should also add your child to your insurance policies as soon as he or she is born so they’re protected if something terrible happens.
If you don’t have life insurance, let your growing family give you a reason to change that. This will give you a financial safety net. Worried about the cost of insurance? Check out the Consumer Affairs guide to life insurance policies and make sure you’re getting the right plan. Haven Life’s insurance calculator can help you determine how much coverage you need based on your health, salary and debts.
Next, think about your post-birth budget. Diapers, child care and the increase in food costs may require you to make serious adjustments to your financial plan. Socking away six to eight months of money in a baby-specific emergency fund is beneficial, too. Multiply your typical take-home pay by a number of months to see how much money you’ll need to stay afloat. Consult other parents in your network if you need help.
Education is another factor for new parents to consider. If your school district doesn’t have a good reputation, you may want to look into moving or consider private school. And as far as college goes, a tool like a 529 plan can be helpful in the long run. Get into the habit of automatically transferring money into the account every month.
Retiring at a decent age
Whether you plan to hit the links or spend more time with family once you stop working, retirement is rarely as affordable as you think. Do your best to determine what your income and expenses will be after age 65. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that older Americans spend between $36,600 and $49,000 a year, on average.
Think about your spending habits now and in the future. Then, determine how you’ll cover your cost of your living expenses before you buffer in additional budget for things on your bucket list. You’ll need to factor taxes, health care, Social Security and pension plans into your budget, too. A resource like the SmartAsset retirement calculator can help you develop a savings goal based on your location, income, age and current savings. Their retirement friendliness map can also help you decide where to retire.
When it comes to retirement, there are some golden rules. Always take advantage of employer matching programs. And see if you can contribute to an IRA in addition to a 401(k) or 403(b). Use SmartAsset’s Social Security calculator to decide when to claim your benefits. Lastly, keep in mind that health insurance can be expensive. Unlike Social Security, you’ll want to enroll in Medicare as soon as you can (probably at age 65).
Other factors to consider
To become financially fit, you’ll have to strike a balance between spending and saving money. You should spend enough to keep your family happy and healthy, but save enough to ensure you can afford everything you’ll want and need in the future. Get serious about eliminating debt and consider investment options like CDs, money market funds and savings bonds.
Revisit your financial plan a few times each year. That way, you can make adjustments if your situation changes. Assess the strategies you’re using and whether they’re helping you get to where you need to be. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to turn to a professional if you need help. Do what it takes to meet your personal goals and keep your finances in check.