3 Financial Tips for Dads of Toddlers

The dispensing of advice is a paternal tradition: Dads pretty universally like to stick their two cents in. So, in honor of Father’s Day, Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp are dedicating an episode of Motley Fool Answers to giving some back, with money tips for men at three different stages of their parenting careers.

In this segment, it’s advice for fathers whose kids are toddlers. The average father of a child that age is in the 25- to 34-year-old range himself, and their net worths are pretty far behind the Gen Xers and boomers at the same age. So what should these fine and forward-thinking gents be focused on? First, the least fun part of your financial situation: life insurance and estate planning. Second: retirement planning. And third: getting strategic about your career.

A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on June 12, 2018.

Robert Brokamp: Here we go! The toddler dad, what is the profile of the typical father of toddlers? According to Stanford, the average age of a first-time father in the U.S. is 30.9 years old, so we’re talking about people generally in their late 20s, early 30s. Financially, actually, it’s a tough time of life, especially for this generation, the kids born in the 1980s. According to the Federal Reserve, men between the ages of 25 and 34 have a median income of $44,148. Kids born in the 80s have net worths that are 34% behind where previous generations were at this age. Yeah. And the reason isn’t because they don’t save enough. They actually have higher savings rates than Gen Xers and the Boomers at this age. The main problems are, No. 1, school debt, much more school debt; No. 2, they were entering the workforce at the time of the Great Recession; and, they were not benefiting as much as older folks from the recovery because they didn’t own a house and they didn’t have huge stakes in the stock market. So, they’re already starting behind. Now, of course, if they want to go and buy the house, they have to contend with higher mortgage rates, higher home prices, and, depending on where you live, pretty low inventory.

Alison Southwick: Yes, if you live in the D.C. area, that’s going to strike a chord.

Brokamp: Then, of course, there’s the cost of raising a kid, which is an average $233,000 per head, according to the Department of Agriculture.

Southwick: [laughs] I feel like we’ve already spent that, and Anna’s only five.

Engdahl: Was that per year?

Southwick: [laughs] Yeah, per year!

Brokamp: [laughs] Well, that’s high, and it does not include the cost of college. It’s a lot of money. But take heart, young fathers! You’re in the midst of the greatest income growth of your life. This is the time in your career where people tend to see the most career advancement and the accompanying raises. Plus, unemployment is very low, which means job prospects are pretty good right now. So, now is the perfect time to get your financial ducks in a row.

So, what should you do? Here are a few things. No. 1, let’s get the morbid stuff out of the way, you need to take steps to protect your family in case you pass away prematurely. That is, you need to get life insurance and an estate plan.

Life insurance, a good standard rule of thumb is 10X your salary, which I’ve mentioned previously. But I read recently, someone suggested it should be 10X your salary plus $100,000 for each kid to cover the cost of college, which I think is actually a really good idea. Stick with term insurance. You want to have insurance at least up until they’re in college and maybe beyond college, which means a 25-year policy would be a good idea. They are available. Unfortunately, they’re not as available as 20-year and 30-year policies, so you just have to judge for yourself which one is right for you. But, that’s what you want to shoot for.

As for the estate plan, the first thing you want to do is update all your beneficiary designations on your investment accounts, any life insurance policies you already have, anything you have related to work. If you were not married when you filled those out, you didn’t put anyone down, then maybe you got married and put your spouse down, well, now that you have kids, you should put down the kids as not the primary beneficiaries but the secondary beneficiaries, because it’s always better for an account to go to a named person rather than just the estate.

Then, of course, there’s the will. We generally think you should go and see a qualified attorney to get your will and all that done. That said, it will cost probably over $1,000 to get that done. People are stretched. So, if your finances are not complicated, I don’t think it’s a horrible idea to go ahead and get one of the various online services that will do a will for you. Just know that it should only be temporary until you have the resources to see an attorney. Generally, the stickiest point with young parents when they do their estate plan is deciding who will get the kids if something happens to them.

Southwick: Oh, sure, yeah.

Brokamp: The parents don’t always agree, so they argue about it, and then they don’t get an estate plan. The solution there is to either name a collection of people that you are willing to have, because the bottom line is, if something does happen to you and you just named one couple, for example, it may turn out that they don’t want the job once they’re actually confronted with the reality. So, you just want to name a group of people, and hopefully they can work it out.

Southwick: Oh, I didn’t know you could do that.

Brokamp: Yeah. Some people will say that’s not the best. The best way to do it is, decide on one couple and make sure that couple has agreed to do it. But, what if something happens to that couple? What if they change their mind?

Southwick: What if they get divorced between now and then? What are you going to do?

Brokamp: Right, exactly. And the other thing about that is, who should raise the kids and who should handle the money, those aren’t always the same people who could do the best jobs. So, sometimes you’ll name, “I want these people to raise the kids. I want these people to manage the assets.” Of course, they have to get along, because they have to communicate a lot. So, that’s No. 1.

No. 2, of course, whenever you read articles about once you have kids, what you should do, they always say you should save for college. I say, you have to make sure you’re saving enough for retirement first. Generally speaking, you want to have had already started saving a little bit, and you’re saving 15% of your household income, that includes a match you’re going to receive. Do that first. If you then can do a 529 or something on top of that, that’s awesome. But don’t compromise your retirement to be saving for college.

No. 3, get very strategic about your career. Your job is going to determine so much about the quality of life for your family. It’s going to determine your benefits, including the type of healthcare you’re going to have for your family; obviously, your income; the amount of vacation time you can take; the flexibility you have to stay home with sick kids or go see their game in the afternoon; all kinds of ways. So, you want to make sure that you’re strategic in terms of getting the right job for you to be the best dad you can be.

I’ve said before that I think career management is a neglected aspect of financial planning. I think that’s changing. Over the last year, listening to regular old financial planning podcasts, I’ve heard more and more career coaches coming on as guests of the show. Sometimes, I listen to the career coach and I’m like, “Mm, not sure I learned anything new.” But there have been a couple of times when I’m like, “Hey, maybe I need a career coach, too.” You want to look out for what resources, it might be just a mentor at wherever you work, but it’s a good idea to get some professional help on that, if you need it.

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