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Securing Your Own Oxygen Mask

Taking care of yourself now can make everyone better off later. 

By Colin Wheeler

When new clients come to us for financial planning, there are a few topics that generally come up over and over again in those first conversations. One of the biggest topics revolves around kids and money, and the looming task of saving for college.

With many families in Lexington returning from Spring Break travels, now is a great time to revisit this and other financial goals, and to let us know if anything in your life has changed that may affect your money.

Many parents we talk to want to provide education and experiences for their children that perhaps they missed out on themselves. College planning has become a central part of the financial planning for these families simply because of tuition increases and other rising educational costs. As such, we get many questions from current and new clients about how to save for college, and other gifts and legacy planning questions regarding their children.

Those of you who traveled by plane this Spring Break heard the usual advice from the flight attendants (if you were paying attention, that is) to put on your own oxygen mask first, before helping your children with theirs. The same holds true for parents when it comes to their money - as counterintuitive as it may seem in this day and age, when it comes to long-term money goals, it's a good idea to take care of your own needs first.

The oxygen mask analogy is a pertinent one, and often used by financial planners because it stresses the importance of parents planning for their own long-term financial health, especially their retirement, instead of focusing all of those savings efforts on their children. This isn't to say that planning for college and other child-related expenses isn't important, but we do urge parents to keep in mind that college planning is just one part of a comprehensive financial plan - it's not the main goal.

Think of it this way. Imagine you put all of your financial efforts into saving for your children's college expenses, and neglected your own retirement savings. This sets your kids up well now, allowing them to graduate without student loans or other debt. But what happens in a few years when you're out of money and facing the possibility of becoming a burden to your children during your retirement? Now you're both struggling financially.

However, if you work toward securing your own retirement now, and perhaps you pay only part of those college costs, your children will have time to get onto solid financial footing after graduation and don't have to worry about footing your bills later on. This sets everyone to be better off down the road.

Planning for higher education is an important conversation to have, and often a difficult topic to broach for growing families. Because of this, we see some parents avoid the conversation altogether instead of sitting down as a couple and getting into the weeds of things.

Not every family approaches paying for college in the same way. We see parents who run the gamut between believing that their children should pay their own way, learning the value of hard work as they put themselves through school, to those who are determined to pay 100 percent of those costs for their kids. Neither approach is wrong! Our goal is to help make your plan become a reality. It's important for both spouses to be on the same page, and for our team to be aware of these goals so we can help fit them into your overall financial plan. Talking about all of your financial goals early and often will make the likelihood of success much greater.

We hope you enjoyed your Spring Break travels, and now that you're back on solid ground, let us help you secure your own financial oxygen mask. Your kids will thank you later.

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