5 Money Moves Every Stepfamily Needs to Make
Hi there, Sisters! I'm tired so let’s talk about something over which we have a bit more control…our money.
How we handle money will either facilitate peace of mind or unnecessarily complicate our lives. Under any circumstance it is important to adopt good money habits. With the complexities of child-support, spousal support, QDRO orders, and the like, thrown in the mix, it is especially important for step-couples to follow money strategies which benefit their financial health.
We all know creating and following a budget is a necessary building block for sound financial management. We also can agree debt is a stranglehold akin to indentured servitude. When you’re in debt, the pay you receive for trading your time and effort actually belongs to someone else. Debt spends your money before you make it limiting your ability to enjoy life today, much less save for the future.
Both debt management and budgeting are fundamental musts to achieve and maintain financial peace. Today, I’d like to chat with you about to dos which take you beyond the fundamentals.
Below are 5 components of my family’s money blueprint which helps us stay financially healthy:
FULL FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE
For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost… Luke 14:28-30
While on a trip to the Florida gulf a few years ago my husband and I rented a car. At some point the GPS went a little wonky and the screen showed us driving in a river in the middle of Tennessee. Since the navigation system was unable to accurately tell where we were, it could not correctly tell us how to get to where we wanted to go.
You and your spouse need to be completely honest about your financial status at all times during your marriage. Including, but not limited to; indebtedness, retirement plans, investments, etc. Not only does your individual financial condition have a direct impact on your family, but you will have no idea which direction to go if you don’t know from where you’re starting. You and your spouse need to know where you are financially so you can map out how to get to where you want to be. That means complete honesty about your financial status at all times. Including, but not limited to; credit score, indebtedness, retirement plans, investments, etc.
Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed. Proverbs 15:22 ESV
Confession: WebMD makes me think I have a medical degree hanging on my wall. I’m not a doctor but I play one in my living room. I have diagnosed plantar fasciitis, tooth abscess, pinched nerve, and more. Quite proudly. And quite incorrectly. The ineptitude of my medical training was never more apparent than when I self-diagnosed a kidney infection, only to find out, when I went to an actual doctor, my back was out of alignment.
I don’t know medicine and I don’t know as much as I should about finances. My husband has both an accounting and IT degrees, however, we still have an accountant, a small business consultant, an investment counselor, a retirement expert, and an estate attorney. Get advice. You don’t have to know it all. Just enough to make sure you’re not being taken advantage of. Go to the people who do know. Which brings us to…
MAKE AN ESTATE PLAN
A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.
This example is lifted from a true story but the names have been changed to protect, well, everyone. Mary inherited her great-great-grandmother’s dining room table. She wanted to pass it down to her daughter from her first marriage but never put her wishes in a legal document. Mary pre-deceased her second husband and all her personal possessions became his property. Her husband died 6 months later. He did not have an estate plan in place either and all of his possessions, including Mary’s great-great-grandmother’s table, became the property of his irresponsible, estranged son and the son’s snarky wife. Mary’s daughter is now at the mercy of her step-brother or the courts.
An estate plan is not exclusively for the wealthy. My husband and I have an estate plan in place which includes a will, a trust, medical and financial powers of attorney, and a list of which child inherits which item. We’re not wealthy people. Just people who want to insure appropriate decisions are made sure we become incapacitated or die. One caveat: save up the money to use an estate attorney vs. an online, fill in the blank form. An attorney will help you set up your estate according to your State’s regulations, and give your family the best odds for avoiding probate court.
ATTEND TO YOUR BUSINESS
The plans of the diligent lead surely to plenty, but those of everyone who is hasty, surely to poverty. Proverbs 21:5
Treat your family finances like a business. Knowing you have to give an annual account to the IRS, you make sure your business paperwork is in order. At minimum, make sure you update the information and beneficiaries on all life insurance policies, bank accounts, retirement accounts, etc.
If you have been married more than a few months and haven’t completed what I just mentioned, stop reading and go do it now. Please make this a priority. My bio-daughter and I endured a horrendous 4 year court battle because her father died after a few years of remarrying without making his wishes known or even removing my name as his beneficiary. Be diligent to make sure the right names are on your financial instruments.
LIVE WITH BREATHING ROOM
The rich rules over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. Proverbs 22:7
There is treasure to be desired and oil in the dwelling of the wise; but a foolish man spends it up. Proverbs 21:20
I felt it best to lump the principles in these two scriptures together. Each piece of wisdom here feeds the other and allows us to live with breathing room. The first part of this is pretty straightforward. Get rid of debt. When we live with debt, our exchange of time for money belongs to someone else. Working for GM in order to enrich Chase, without receiving the benefit of our labor, is slavery.Working for Company A in order to enrich Company B, without receiving the benefit of our labor, is slavery. It diminishes our ability to save, give, and live.
Second, stop spending to the level of your ability. I recently read an article about a young NFL player who lives on 10% of his income and invests the rest so he can have the life he wants when his earning power diminishes. Smart man! I know most of you don’t have a multi-million-dollar contract in which living on 10% of your income still allows you a $500,000 a year lifestyle but the principles are the same.
Both my husband and I are business owners and, like most business owners. We have learned well how to manage the feast and famine cycle. Businesses have seasons of high profitability and seasons of tight financial constraints. So does life. The key to protecting your financial stability during the natural ebbs and flows of life, like business, is to save during periods of feast so you can eat during periods of famine. The key to the key is to build margin in your lifestyle. Do not strain your financial muscles. Just because your annual household income is $200,000, doesn’t mean you have to spend at that level.
My husband and I live well beneath our means. Our income endures fluctuations which could derail our goals but we have not missed a step because we live frugally in comparison to our ability. Living this way also helps us win at dealing with predictable “unforeseens”; those unexpected things which could happen at any time like an appliance breaking down.
There will come a day when your earning power will diminish either through retirement, illness, or for another reason. Your tire will get punctured by a nail. Your refrigerator will have to be replaced. A family member will come to you in dire straits. Live with leeway and you will live with freedom.
There you have it. I hope this sparks conversation between you and your hubby about your financial health. I also pray this has blessed you. If it has, please share it.
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To Your Step-mothering Success