Getting married, having kids, going through a divorce, or death of a spouse. Each stage of family life has its own expensive realities. It makes sense to plan for the best in life as well as the worst, says Peggy Houser, a Denver based fee-only CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional.
While no family situation is exactly alike and planners may take different approaches to sorting through problems, Houser believes there is one central issue to preventing financial crises and making tough transitions throughout a lifetime easier-debt management.
“Debt is the number one issue I see crippling families”, says Houser. “I tell everyone that their first financial goal is to have no other debt than a mortgage, and that means a mortgage without a home equity line. That means holding on to a car for as long as it runs and buying a used car for cash, It means saying “no” to some things. If a parent loses a job or a spouse and the child is in college, not having any revolving debt may be the difference between a short-term cash crunch and bankruptcy.”
Hers is definitely a tough-love approach, but I, Houser believes the healthiest family finances come from strict spending rules and high-quality investments with low fees. She also believes that families should look critically at even the most stylish investments of the day, particularly 529 college savings plans. “I believe that you should have free control of every dollar you invest. Your best fund values may not be in a 529 plan. Definitely save for college, but there are ways to pick tax-efficient futons that might serve you as well or better.”
Houser also believes that family financial planning means involving the family. “I would like to have every child taught the basics of money. I like every member of the family to have an allowance and jobs they have to do. And when it comes to family vacations and other special expenses, it should be a family decision,” she adds.