• Thu. Apr 18th, 2024

Money rules for childfree people, according to a CFP

If you don’t have children — and don’t plan on having any — the normal rules of personal finance don’t necessarily apply to you.

That’s because people who meet that description, known as childfree people, don’t need to build generational wealth, says Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner and author of “Portraits of Childfree Wealth.” That renders much of the standard advice you hear from financial experts like Dave Ramsey moot.

“If my nephews get $1,000 or $10,000 [when I die] that’s fine. If they get $1 million, I made a mistake,” Zigmont said during a recent appearance at FinCon. “Because either they could have used it earlier in life, or I could have used it.”

Under the traditional models of financial planning, you’re told to keep “running it up” in order to pass along your wealth to your children, Zigmont says. Without that variable in play, childfree people are free to spend or donate every dime they make before they die in order to maximize their happiness.

“That breaks all the financial planning,” Zigmont said.

In a nod to Ramsey’s seven “baby steps” for money management, Zigmont suggest eight “no baby” steps (get it?) as a financial roadmap for childfree people.

1 – 3: Build a financial foundation

The first three steps, Zigmont says, are what he’d prescribe whether you had a child or not. He recommends starting with the following:

  1. Create a starter emergency fund
  2. Get out of debt
  3. Build a 3- to 6-month emergency fund

For a starter emergency fund, Zigmont recommends socking away enough cash to cover about a month’s worth of expenses, which gives you a cushion as you move on to step two: getting yourself out of debt.

“When you’re deep in debt, you’ve deferred maintenance on you, your car, your house, everything,” Zigmont says. When those expenses continue to crop up, you’d rather pay out of your emergency fund than fall deeper into debt.

Once you have a savings cushion, treat your debt as priority No. 1, especially if it’s high-interest debt, such as the balance on a credit card.

“Your debt is an emergency, especially with credit card rates now over 20%,” Zigmont says.

Although Zigmont sees the mathematical wisdom in paying off debt via the so-called avalanche method — focusing on the highest-rate debt first — he generally favors the psychological wins afforded by paying off debts in order of the smallest balances, a strategy known as the snowball method.

“Getting into debt can be quick. Getting out is a slog. So having those quick wins keeps you moving.”

4. Save and invest toward your goals

This is where Zigmont says his advice “takes a hard right turn” from traditional advice. Even though people with children are also saving and investing, childfree people may have very different landmarks. After all, there’s no child care to pay for, no college to save for, no inheritance to leave.

“How can I spend some money, enjoy my life, but also save for the future?” Zigmont says. “It comes down to, what do you want your goals to be?”

Under a traditional model, you might stash away, say, 20% of your income, divvying the savings between the down payment on a house and investments for your retirement, which you hope begins around age 67.

For childfree people, the script can look radically different. A house is “a choice for childfree people, not a requirement,” says Zigmont — especially if you want the flexibility to move around.

What’s more, while you may want to invest for the long-term, you can divert some of the money to improve your life in the near future.

“If your goal is to open a business, maybe you want to invest in that business, where the better answer financially might be to invest in the stock market,” Zigmont says. “Maybe it’s investing in going back to school or changing careers or taking a sabbatical. Those are all investments. They’re just not ‘classic’ investments.”

5. Get your insurance right

Being childfree makes having some types of insurance more important than others. If you have children, for example, many financial pros recommend some form of term life insurance to cover your family in the event of your death.

Unless you have major financial obligations your spouse couldn’t bear if you died, “it’s very rare that childfree people will need life insurance,” says Zigmont. “Disability insurance is much bigger.”

This is especially true for people Zigmont calls “soloists” — childfree people who also don’t have a spouse.

“You need to have good disability insurance that’s going to cover you until you retire,” Zigmont says. “Many people skip it or don’t realize that their employer’s coverage won’t be enough.” In fact, less than half of private industry workers have access to short-term and long-term disability coverage, which kicks in if injury or illness prevents you from working.

Another major consideration: long-term care insurance.

End-of-life care is expensive. The median monthly cost for a private room in a nursing home, for instance, is more than $9,000 a month, according to a 2021 survey from insurance provider Genworth Financial.

“Childfree people often get asked who will take care of us. The answer is my money, with the help of professionals,” says Zigmont. “[Considering long-term care insurance] something I want people to be doing by about their mid-forties. And the reason for that is that’s when long-term care insurance is the most reasonable. It’s not cheap. But it’s more reasonable.”

6. Be proactive about estate planning

7. Plan for Mom and Dad

8. Die with zero

Zigmont’s ‘die with zero’ mantra is a nod to the book of the same name by Bill Perkins. But both men would acknowledge that aiming to actually die with $0 in your bank account is a risky proposition. You don’t want to underestimate your life expectancy and run out of money.

That’s why Zigmont recommends buying a long-term care policy and setting yourself up with an ample cash cushion.

“Then it’s a matter of optimizing your life and getting the most out of your money while you’re living,” he says.

That will look different for everyone, but generally, “we can do two different things,” says Zigmont. “We can either save less or draw it down more.”

One example of the former is taking a lower-paying job, which could come with less stress and more time to focus on your passions. “Sure, you’re not gonna save as much, but you’re gonna be happier, right?”

Zigmont also meets clients who have banked a prodigious amount of money, and in a departure from many financial planners, he encourages them to spend more of it well before retirement age.

“Their minds are blown because they’ve spent years learning how to save. There’s a lot of guilt there. There’s a lot of baggage that comes with it,” he says.

To be clear, Zigmont is not saying that childfree people are free to embark on a spree of reckless spending. Rather, they can put a sharper focus on how their money can maximize their happiness.

“I’d be very careful with a YOLO approach. It’s a balance between, you’ve got enough money to keep yourself safe. But you’re also enjoying your life at the same time at a much earlier age.”

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