Lately I've been meeting women who have found themselves in precarious financial positions for surprising reasons. Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Liz just found out that her family is broke because of some bad investment decisions her husband has made. Rita recently got divorced and although the family was 'living the life' before the divorce, she received very little in child support and is living off savings. Or Lori, who just lost her husband - he managed all the family finances, and now she finds herself drowning in paperwork (and a little scared)!
It's bad enough when financial crisis happens, but when one partner is fully unaware - it's even worse. Many households divvy up family chores to make life easier on everyone. But, finances should always be a family event. Here are 5 things to do now to keep your family on track, and making better financial decisions!
5. Get your credit report
Not everyone realizes that your credit report is just that - yours and yours alone. There is no such thing as a joint credit report. You can get a copy of your report for free, from each of the three agencies, once per year through annualcreditreport.com. Check the report for anything that looks unfamiliar - these are red flags that something is going on with your credit without your knowledge.
4. Read your tax return
Sound difficult? It doesn't have to be. While understanding your whole tax return might seem a bit complex, start out by becoming familiar with some of the most important numbers to see if they pass the "reality test" with you. Check the Wages (line 7) and the Ordinary dividends (line 9), and Capital gains or (losses) (line 13) - do these pass the smell test? How have they changed over the years? If something seems odd, you have every right to follow-up on it.
3. Save now for your future
Sometimes the biggest loser in a financial crisis is your retirement! Avoid this by funding your IRA or retirement plan at work each year. Even if you do not work outside of the house, you can generally contribute to an IRA and you should be saving for your future. This money cannot be taken from you without your permission and is generally protected from creditors. The same is true for your college funding. Each year, contribute to your children's 529 plans. Once again, this money is rarely touched for creditors or a divorce settlement. Therefore it should be there when you need it most. (It also makes a great deduction on your taxes in many states.)
2. Become familiar with your investments
Review all of your current investments with your spouse. Realize, as you go through this step, that most families with average, or even above average assets, do not need to go far to find the right investments. For most of us, the basic bank accounts plus some mutual funds will meet our investment needs well into the future. For that matter, betting on a less-well-known fund company is generally a bit riskier than the tried and true big mutual fund companies. These companies are under much more scrutiny, and are much more transparent than the smaller companies - and they offer everything you need at a reasonable price. The lesson here is: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Don't go out on a limb unless you truly know how to evaluate an investment.
1. Sit down together and set goals
Honestly, how often do we do this? As husband and wife, probably with a few children, we fly through life and generally let it take us for a ride. We rarely sit back and think about where we see ourselves in five or ten years and direct our actions towards those goals.
The breadwinner in the family can sometimes feel an unnecessary pressure to over-provide for the family. This can cause him or her to take unnecessary risks with investments or overextend the family finances. Sitting down once a year to set the record straight on spending and saving expectations can put these fears to rest and reset priorities in a way that relieves the pressure.
Each of the steps listed above are ideas to get you and your spouse on the same page with investments. Making sure your money is working hard for you is central to helping your family meet your future goals - whether they're retiring early or buying a boat or starting a new business. When you plan your future as a family, you're sure to get there faster!