15 Nov How to Financially Prepare for Life Transitions
Life will NEVER stand still for you. There are always changes like marriages, moves, babies, and deployments. And when you’re not prepared, those changes or transitions can be stressful to your life and finances.
Poor planning for transitions can cause a laundry list of problems—fights with loved ones, wasted time, and extra money spent. Lack of preparation can even cause you to miss opportunities. That’s why you must financially prepare for life transitions—whether they’re known or unknown.
Table of Contents
Here’s how you can financially prepare for life transitions:
- Set a Positive Tone
- Create a Financial Fallback Position
- Set and Protect Priorities
- Leave Room to Pivot
- Prepare for Known Transitions
- Face and Fix Problems
- Keep the Status Quo
- Communicate, Communicate
I’ve been in both situations. Fully prepared for change or completely unprepared. I can tell you—it feels better when you’re ready for transitions and changes. It saves you time, money, and heartache when you’re prepared.
Set a Positive Tone
In case you didn’t get the memo, you’re the captain of your ship. You’re in charge of your attitude and actions—not your spouse, not your kids, not your parents and, most def, not your BFF.
The first step to preparing financially for transitions is to get your mindset right before anything ever happens. And in case there’s any question about which direction to go… you should set a positive tone.
How are you going to handle and unexpected PCS? How will you cope with your spouse’s reduced income after leaving the military? Are you going to freak out, are you going to fold like a lawn chair? Or are you going to be calm? Are you going to find the positive in situations? Here are some ways to improve your mindset.
Create a Financial Fallback Position
Life is going to happen. It’s not a question of “if.” It’s “when” and “how much” it’s gonna cost ya! That’s why creating a financial fallback position is crucial.
It’s self-insurance for when life punches you in the face! It’s protection for you and your family. It gives you the power to cover your expenses and quality of life through unexpected transitions and costs.
The easiest and the cheapest ways to create your financial fallback position is to either.
- Set up an automatic bank transfer of $50 (or more) from checking to savings each month or
- Start an allotment of $50 (or more) per month to your savings
Once it’s set up, you get used to living without that money. Then it starts to build up in your savings. When an emergency comes around, you’ll have a security blanket you knitted yourself!
Set and Protect Priorities
What’s most important in your life? Is it family? Is it your health? Your cat? What bills NEED to be paid first? Your mortgage, your car payment or your groceries? Knowing your list of priorities makes it easier to make decisions when transitions are happening in your life.
When life gets crazy or is going all wrong, you have to apply triage. In those moments you have to decide what gets treatment or attention first. And to know where to start first, you have to know what’s most important or urgent in your life. You have to make a list.
Look at it like buckets. What buckets are you going to grab first in an emergency? For our family, the first bucket is “Safety and Security.”. We know that in any life situation, the safety and security of our family come first. Not only do they come first, but we’ll also spend extra money and time to protect those two items.
That means a safe house, food, and a secure environment for our children. Note: I didn’t say the most expensive or pretty. Safe and secure doesn’t mean you have to break the bank. Make a list of your buckets so when changes come your way you know how to handle them in order of what’s important to you.
Leave Room to Pivot
It sounds simple, but this is by far the biggest mistake people make. They’re financially and personally maxed out. When you’re maxed out, and a problem gets dumped in your lap, it makes it challenging to handle the situation.
On the other side, if you have “financial breathing room,” it gives you options when making decisions. When you’re maxed out, you don’t have as many options. Or you don’t have the time to think things through before jumping into something.
Here’s how to leave room to pivot when transitions come up.
- Don’t spend every penny you have
- Do spend less than you make (and save some it for later)
- Don’t max out your credit cards
- Do pay cash for the things you want (or don’t get them)
- Don’t sign your kid up for every sport
- Do have a financial and time budget for your kid’s extracurriculars (remember who’s in charge)
- Don’t volunteer every free moment you have
- Do put limits on your time commitments (or they take every extra moment you have to think and plan)
- Don’t say yes to everything
- Do remember it’s alright to say no (you don’t have to attend every baby shower)
Prepare for Known Transitions
I get being thrown for a loop when you have an unexpected transition like a divorce or a mid-life crisis. But when you know, you’re going to PCS, or you know you’re gonna have a baby. You best be doing your homework!
Doing research and legwork on an incoming change will help reduce the fear of the unknown. It’ll also helps you understand the costs, and it’ll reduce stress. Plus, it will put you in a better position to handle unexpected transitions!
Here are some ideas to prepare for known transitions.
- Go to a PCS brief to understand reimbursable costs and per diem
- Research the local housing market to see if it’s a buyer’s or a seller’s market
- Research jobs and careers paths two years before you separate
- Learn about scholarships for your child’s college education
- Learn and budget for new baby expenses
- Go to finance and learn about pay changes during deployments
- Take a car buying class at financial readiness
Face and Fix Problems
When transitions and troubles come up, don’t pretend they’re not happening. Avoiding or denying only compounds the anxiety, stress, and costs. Instead, face the issue head-on.
Heads up! This is gonna be a little tough love—get ready!
Don’t play dumb! If you hate your job, you know you’ll probably be changing jobs. When you’re madly in love, you’re probably buying a ring soon. If you find out your husband’s a cheater, your marriage is probably in trouble. Start handling your business instead of pretending it’s not happening.
Keep the Status Quo During Transitions
A transition is not the time to buy that boat you’ve always wanted or that big family trip to Disney. Creating extra expenses or stress during a change is like throwing fuel on a fire. Instead, you want to keep the status quo. Keep your costs and commitments the way they are. Don’t add new ones.
You can maintain the status quo by focusing on your current situation. What are the things you need to stay on top of like paying bills, getting the kids to the doctor, or coordinating your PCS? Leave the new plans until after the transition is settled or at least under control. It will save you some stress!
Now you may be wondering why I’ve listed communication as a way to financially prepare for life transitions. Well, that’s because a lack of communication can cost you a TON of money. Poor communication can cause you to pay extra money for hotels, rental cars, fees. The list could go on and on. Poor communication can even cause you to buy all new clothes.
That exact situation happened to my sister on a PCS. Lack of communication is the reason why her luggage was left at a hotel across the country! Communication problems made it so my husband and I had to leave our children’s toys at the Airman’s Attic because we couldn’t fit them in our car for a PCS. So remember, communication can save you money.
Communicate as if your finances depend on it. Transitions are notoriously hard on couples. Keeping the lines of communication open during a move or a career change is crucial. It will help you avoid costly mistakes!
You can’t control life—it will always move and change. What you can control is how you prepare and react to life’s transitions. Taking steps to implement the eight measures above will go a long way to financially prepare for life transitions. Plus, those steps will help you reduce stress and be present during all the life’s opportunities and challenges.