Working Together

Financial planning is key to protecting your family's assets

children’s college education, and their retirement. It’s a lot. It’s very stressful, and can be overwhelming,” says Nancy E. Frank, a certified financial planner with Frank Advisory Services in New York City. “The bottom line is you have to set priorities, to make choices. Few people can have it all.”

For example, if you have a teenager and you’ve saved little for his or her college fund, it’s not realistic to suddenly start socking away $1,500 a month. “Instead, max out on your retirement and let the children get financial aid. When they apply for financial aid, your retirement accounts [are] not considered,” says Creuzot. Pierre Dunagan, president of the Dunagan Group in Chicago, suggests 529 College Savings Plans. You can put away small amounts monthly and your money will grow tax free.

TAME THE DEBT TIGER
The other bugaboo for families is debt. When you don’t stick to a budget, things can spiral out of control in short order. There’s nothing like the stress of debt to chill the romance.

“List your debts in descending order. Vow to pay off the smallest amount owed first, and pay minimums on others,” suggests Dunagan. Victory will come as you check off each debt from your list. “Decide not to use credit if you can’t pay off the balance at the end of the month,” he says. “You don’t want to destroy your cards because you need to use them periodically to maintain credit.”

One way to avoid debt is to prepare for loss. “If you’re buying a house [or] car, ask yourself how you would manage that payment if you were suddenly faced with having only one income,” says Dunagan. “You have to think like that. Even as the economy improves, companies will still downsize to cut costs. Most families should have at least six months of reserve money.”

BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR FINANCIAL WELL-BEING
One of the biggest mistakes married women make is failing to prepare for the “gotchas,” says Marilyn Bergen, a certified financial planner with CMC Advisers in Portland, Oregon. “You think you will be happily married forever, but you could be vulnerable because of death or divorce. [Your husband] alone shouldn’t make all the financial decisions. You are responsible for your own financial well-being. At a minimum, pick up financial magazines once a month at the grocery store. You want [to have] a working knowledge of financial matters,” says Bergen. Furthermore, she adds, women should have credit established and bank accounts in their own names. Even if a woman doesn’t work and doesn’t have an employer’s 401(k) to build her retirement stash, she should contribute to an IRA account on her own.

Showing some financial aptitude will also be a good for your children. “You’ll be teaching them some important life lessons [as] they see you saving and investing,” says Marianne Shine, a certified financial planner with Shine Financial in Deerfield Beach, Florida. “Whether you think so or not, they watch your moves. Set a good example and you set them up for life.”

WHAT

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