TIME Money

Why ‘Don’t Worry About Money, Just Travel’ Is the Worst Advice of All Time

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Chelsea Fagan is a writer and founder of The Financial Diet, a (non-boring) blog about personal finance.

It demonstrates only a profound misunderstanding about what 'worrying' actually means

I have an internet acquaintance that I’ve been following on social media for a little over two years now, an all-around nice, smart girl who blogs and does odd jobs and has recently decided to go back get a Master’s. In Europe. For a degree that, by all reasonable accounts, is probably not going to lead to a great job. And she knows this, I think, because she talks about it as “an opportunity to learn and expand her mind,” more than any sort of preparation for a future career. Which is fine, but the truth of the matter is that she is able to enjoy such freedom — to be a wanderer of sorts who enjoys travel, study for the sake of study, and long conversations over good dinners — because she comes from a good bit of wealth and, if not subsidized entirely, never has to worry about her safety net. She won that particular bit of genetic lottery, and it’s useless to begrudge her the freedom that fate bestowed on her.

But it is useful — important, even — to begrudge her the attitude that comes with it, one that is all too prevalent amongst young people who do not have to worry about the foundations of their future financial security: This idea that you must travel, as some sort of moral imperative, without worrying about something as trivial as “money.” The girl in question posts superficially inspiring quotes on her lush photos, about dropping everything and running away, or quitting that job you hate to start a new life somewhere new, or soaking up the beauty of the world while you are young and untethered enough to do so. It’s aspirational porn, which serves the dual purpose of tantalizing the viewer with a life they cannot have, while making them feel like some sort of failure for not being able to have it.

It’s a way for the upper classes to pat themselves on the back for being able to do something that, quite literally, anyone with money can buy. Traveling for the sake of travel is not an achievement, nor is it guaranteed to make anyone a more cultured, nuanced person. (Some of the most dreadful, entitled tourists are the same people who can afford to visit three new countries each year.) But someone who has had the extreme privilege (yes, privilege) of getting out there and traveling extensively while young is not any better, wiser, or more worthy than the person who has stayed home to work multiple jobs to get the hope of one day landing a job that the traveler will assume is a given. It is entirely a game of money and access, and acting as though “worrying about money” on the part of the person with less is some sort of trivial hangup only adds profound insult to injury.

I was able to travel, and even though I paid for my life abroad with my own work, it was still a result of a healthy amount of privilege. I was from a middle-class family who I did not need to support or help financially, I knew that I could always slink back to their couch if things didn’t work out, and I had managed to accrue a bit of savings while living at home for the few months before I left. There are millions of people who have none of these things, and even if they wanted to pay for travel on their own, would simply not be able to because of the responsibility or poverty they lived with. For even my modest ability to see the world, I am eternally grateful.

And what’s more, I understand (perhaps even better after having traveled a good amount) that nothing about your ability or inability to travel means anything about you as a person. Some people are simply saddled with more responsibilities and commitments, and less disposable income, whether from birth or not. And someone needing to stay at a job they may not love because they have a family to take care of, or college to pay for, or basic financial independence to achieve, does not mean that they don’t have the same desire to learn and grow as someone who travels. They simply do not have the same options, and are learning and growing in their own way, in the context of the life they have. They are learning what it means to work hard, to delay gratification, and to better yourself in slow, small ways. This may not be a backpacking trip around Eastern Europe, but it would be hard to argue that it builds any less character.

Encouraging that person to “not worry about money,” or to “drop everything and follow their dreams,” demonstrates only a profound misunderstanding about what “worrying” actually means. What the condescending traveler means by “not worrying” is “not making it a priority, or giving it too much weight in your life,” because on some level they imagine you are choosing an extra dollar over an all-important Experience. But the “worrying” that is actually going on is the knowledge that you have no choice but to make money your priority, because if you don’t earn it — or decide to spend thousands of it on a trip to Southeast Asia to find yourself — you could easily be out on the streets. Implying that this is in any way a one-or-the-other choice for millions of Americans is as naive as it is degrading.

Everyone needs to forge their own path to financial independence and freedom. And perhaps you are lucky enough that your path involves a lot of wandering around, taking your time, and trying a bunch of new things — because you know that security will be waiting for you at the end of the rainbow. That’s fine, and there is no need to feel guilt or shame over your privilege, if only because it’s unproductive and helps no one. But to encourage people to follow your very rare path, because you feel it is the only way to spiritual enlightenment or meaning, makes you an asshole. It makes you the person who posts vapid “inspirational” quotes that only apply to a tiny percent of the population who already has all the basics covered. And God forbid anyone who needs the money actually does follow that terrible advice, they won’t be like you, traipsing around South America and trying degrees for fun. They will, after their travels are over, be much worse off than when they started. And no souvenir keychain is going to make that reality sting any less.

This piece originally appeared on The Financial Diet.

Read next: 3 Credit Cards That Will Save You Money on Summer Travel

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TIME Money

These 3 Decisions Will Change Your Financial Life

Make these decisions consciously

There’s nothing worse than a rich person who’s chronically angry or unhappy. There’s really no excuse for it, yet I see this phenomenon every day. It results from an extremely unbalanced life, one with too much expectation and not enough appreciation for what’s there.

Without gratitude and appreciation for what you already have, you’ll never know true fulfillment. But how do you cultivate balance in life? What’s the point of achievement if your life has no balance?

For nearly four decades, I’ve had the privilege of coaching people from every walk of life, including some of the most powerful men and women on the planet. I’ve worked with presidents of the United States as well as owners of small businesses.

Across the board, I’ve found that virtually every moment people make three key decisions that dictate the quality of their lives.

If you make these decisions unconsciously, you’ll end up like majority of people who tend to be out of shape physically, exhausted emotionally and often financially stressed. But if you make these decisions consciously, you can literally change the course of your life today.

Decision 1: Carefully choose what to focus on.

At every moment, millions of things compete for your attention. You can focus on things that are happening right here and now or on what you want to create in the future. Or you can focus on the past.

Where focus goes, energy flows. What you focus on and your pattern for doing so shapes your entire life.

Which area do you tend to focus on more: what you have or what’s missing from your life?

I’m sure you think about both sides of this coin. But if you examine your habitual thoughts, what do you tend to spend most of your time dwelling on?

Rather than focusing on what you don’t have and begrudging those who are better off than you financially, perhaps you should acknowledge that you have much to be grateful for and some of it has nothing to do with money. You can be grateful for your health, family, friends, opportunities and mind.

Developing a habit of appreciating what you have can create a new level of emotional well-being and wealth. But the real question is, do you take time to deeply feel grateful with your mind, body, heart and soul? That’s where the joy, happiness and fulfillment can be found.

Consider a second pattern of focus that affects the quality of your life: Do you tend to focus more on what you can control or what you can’t?

If you focus on what you can’t control, you’ll have more stress in life. You can influence many aspects of your life but you usually can’t control them.

When you adopt this pattern of focus, your brain has to make another decision:

Decision 2: Figure out, What does this all mean?

Ultimately, how you feel about your life has nothing to do with the events in it or with your financial condition or what has (or hasn’t) happened to you. The quality of your life is controlled by the meaning you give these things.

Most of the time you may be unaware of the effect of your unconscious mind in assigning meaning to life’s events.

When something happens that disrupts your life (a car accident, a health issue, a job loss), do you tend to think that this is the end or the beginning?

If someone confronts you, is that person insulting you, coaching you or truly caring for you?

Does a devastating problem mean that God is punishing you or challenging you? Or is it possible that this problem is a gift from God?

Your life takes on whatever meaning you give it. With each meaning comes a unique feeling or emotion and the quality of your life involves where you live emotionally.

I always ask during my seminars, “How many of you know someone who is on antidepressants and still depressed?” Typically 85 percent to 90 percent of those assembled raise their hands.

How is this possible? The drugs should make people feel better. It’s true that antidepressants do come with labels warning that suicidal thoughts are a possible side effect.

But no matter how much a person drugs himself, if he constantly focuses on what he can’t control in life and what’s missing, he won’t find it hard to despair. If he adds to that a meaning like “life is not worth living,” that’s an emotional cocktail that no antidepressant can consistently overcome.

Yet if that same person can arrive at a new meaning, a reason to live or a belief that all this was meant to be, then he will be stronger than anything that ever happened to him.

When people shift their habitual focus and meanings, there’s no limit on what life can become. A change of focus and a shift in meaning can literally alter someone’s biochemistry in minutes.

So take control and always remember: Meaning equals emotion and emotion equals life. Choose consciously and wisely. Find an empowering meaning in any event, and wealth in its deepest sense will be yours today.

Once you create a meaning in your mind, it creates an emotion, and that emotion leads to a state for making your third decision:

Decision 3: What will you do?

The actions you take are powerfully shaped by the emotional state you’re in. If you’re angry, you’re going to behave quite differently than if you’re feeling playful or outrageous.

If you want to shape your actions, the fastest way is to change what you focus on and shift the meaning to be something more empowering.

Two people who are angry will behave differently. Some pull back. Others push through.

Some individuals express anger quietly. Others do so loudly or violently. Yet others suppress it only to look for a passive-aggressive opportunity to regain the upper hand or even exact revenge.

Where do these patterns come from? People tend to model their behavior on those they respect, enjoy and love.

The people who frustrated or angered you? You often reject their approaches.

Yet far too often you may find yourself falling back into patterns you witnessed over and over again in your youth and were displeased by.

It’s very useful for you to become aware of your patterns when you are frustrated, angry or sad or feel lonely. You can’t change your patterns if you’re not aware of them.

Now that you’re aware of the power of these three decisions, start looking for role models who are experiencing what you want out of life. I promise you that those who have passionate relationships have a totally different focus and arrive at totally different meanings for the challenges in relationships than people who are constantly bickering or fighting.

It’s not rocket science. If you become aware of the differences in how people approach these three decisions, you’ll have a pathway to help you create a permanent positive change in any area of life.

This piece was adapted from Tony Robbins’ new book, Money Master the Game: 7 Simple Steps to Financial Freedom.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com

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MONEY buying a home

Should You Ever Pay Cash for a Home?

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Consider what paying in cash will do to your savings — emergency, retirement and otherwise — in the short term.

While some of us may be struggling just to afford a down payment, there are people out there who are paying for their homes in full in cash. Finding a great property and forgoing all the bank paperwork and loan repayments may seem like a dream, but it can, in fact, be a mixed blessing. So, if you are looking to buy a home and could afford to pay all cash for it, should you?

Running the Numbers

A great place to start in this process is figuring out how much money you would save buying a home in an all-cash payout versus with time-based loan payments. Compare the sticker price to the eventual price tag of your home if paid for with a 15- or 30-year fixed mortgage with a down payment of around 20%. You will save money on interest, but it’s a good idea to factor in the loss of the mortgage interest deduction when it comes to tax time. Also, consider what paying in cash will do to your savings — emergency, retirement and otherwise — in the short term.

Pros

If you truly have the money available immediately and it won’t put you in jeopardy of going into debt if an emergency were to come up, you will most likely save money by not paying interest on a loan. You will also avoid all of the paperwork that comes with securing a loan, pesky closing costs and the often-frustrating loan process.

Your credit history also will not come into play, which may be beneficial if you have a shaky credit past or have run into trouble before while still having considerable savings. You will also have available equity in your home that you could likely tap in case you hit tough financial times. Furthermore, you can only lose the amount of money you have put in because you are not leveraged, meaning you do not need to get as concerned about market fluctuations.

Another benefit is mostly psychological — you actually own your house, giving you a sense of security and pride. Probably most importantly, you are a very attractive buyer to motivated sellers, giving you an edge over other buyers. The deal will be simpler and faster for both sides and buying in cash may even put you in a position you to get a better deal. After all, time is money.

Cons

Paying cash for your home likely means most of your savings or at least a lot of your money will be tied in one asset, leaving less money to invest in other, diversified assets. Also, real estate has a historically lower return on investment than stocks or bonds, meaning you could be losing out overall if other investments would have outperformed the interest on a mortgage.

Additionally, you are sacrificing liquidity, so it’s probably only a good idea to buy a house with cash only if you can afford it without emptying your emergency fund. A home can take months to sell, and borrowing against your home’s equity brings fees and borrowing limits into the equation. You further lose the financial leverage a mortgage provides because your payment is locked in and hopefully received a favorable interest rate. Lastly, you will not qualify for the tax deductions mortgage payers receive, which often total over $10,000 when itemized.

How you pay for your home is a very personal decision and paying in all cash will likely work for some people but not for others. This generally makes sense if the home’s price does not subtract a significant portion of your liquid assets and/or the interest rate you would pay on a mortgage is higher than what you could earn on other investments. It’s important to properly assess your financial situation and long-term investment strategies, the drawbacks as well as the benefits.

Read next: How Much Rent Can You Afford?

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MONEY

How Much Rent Can You Afford?

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It all depends on your other expenses.

When with one of my friends recently, I walked past a building covered in “for rent” signs from a property management group in Chicago, where we live. “Oh, hey, it’s the company that robs me blind every month,” my friend muttered as she saw the logo.

A lot of people feel that way when it comes to cutting a rent check (and Chicago isn’t even that bad, as far as housing costs in big cities go). A new report from the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University says more than half of people who live in the highest-cost metro areas put more than 30% of their income toward rent (aka cost-burdened renters). Nationwide, nearly half of renters shell out more than 30% of their pay for housing, and roughly a quarter pay more than 50% of their income toward rent.

For a large number of people, that’s the reality of renting in the U.S.: It’s really expensive, and finding a way to make it work can be very difficult. But if you’re living in a place like San Francisco, where the average rent price increased 14.9% from 2014 to 2015, according to Zillow, how exactly are you supposed to find affordable housing at all? The first step is to figure out what “affordable” means for you. Everyone’s priorities and circumstances are different, but math can be a harsh, yet helpful, equalizer. I put the topic to members of the Financial Planning Association, and most of them insist on putting no more than 30% (or even less) of your annual income toward annual rent expenses.

Still, there’s a lot more to consider than the equation of (annual income) x .30 = maximum annual rent. Here are some things you need to do in order to figure out how much rent you can afford.

Make a List

What are your major financial goals? Because for every dollar you put toward rent, that’s a dollar you’ll never get to put toward traveling, homeownership, retirement or anything else you need money to accomplish. Even things that aren’t as easy to quantify monetarily — how much you value living in a certain area, your ideal commute time, access to certain transportation methods — need to go on your priority list, too.

“It may not be that we can have everything we want right now,” said Eric Roberge, a certified financial planner in Boston. “It’s about prioritizing your goals and building up to living in the place of your dreams, especially when you’re graduating you have plenty of time to spend in the city — you don’t have to be there immediately.”

Roberge said that’s a frequent dilemma he sees among his clients (he works with 20- and 30-somethings in Boston): Young people want to live in high-rent areas before they can really afford to.

Do Some Math

You have to look at more than just the advertised rent pricing on a living space, because you’ll have many more regular expenses associated with your house or apartment. FPA members recommended keeping the rent portion ideally at less than 25% of your income, to allow room for costs like insurance and utilities.

You may need to think of transportation as part of your rent costs, too, especially if you have to pay for a parking permit or parking space because of where you choose to live. The more of these add-on expenses you have (for example, are the utilities included in your rent payment?), the less you should try to spend on your base rent.

What About Your Other Expenses?

If you’re like many Americans, you have debt. This is especially prevalent among young college grads. That has to be a factor in deciding what you can afford in housing costs.

“The conventional statistic is that no more than 28% of gross salary be spent on housing and no more than 36% on consumer debt. However, that does not at all take into account other obligations in people’s budgets,” said Kristi C. Sullivan, a CFP in Denver, in an email. “Student loans are a large bill for many and if that’s the case, you can’t afford to spend 28% on housing because then you’ll have nothing left for food. Rent is not the fixed expense people think it is. You can lower this cost by living in a less desirable area of town, having roommates, or living in a smaller place.”

Roberge said a common mindset he sees is that people will find a place, decide to move in and figure they’ll make everything else work afterward. To improve your chances at financial success and stability, you need to plan more carefully. Be honest with yourself about where your priorities lie (not just those that give you instant gratification, like a sweet apartment), and you’re less likely to find yourself in trouble with debt or a savings shortage. Keep in mind that paying down your debt and making payments on time will help you build credit, which will come in handy later on when you’re looking for that dream apartment or home. You can track your progress by checking your credit scores regularly.

Read next: How to Be a Dream Tenant and Snag Any Rental You Choose

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MONEY Budgeting

5 Reasons Your Budget Isn’t Working

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#5: You're ignoring it.

Having a plan for your money should help you manage your funds better and ensure that your money is going to support your goals and your values. But just creating a budget does not guarantee that it will work. It’s important to make a budget that you can stick to and then hold yourself accountable. Here are some of the top reasons why budgets fail and some ways to avoid them, thus protecting your financial present and your fiscal future.

1. You’re Making Unrealistic Assumptions

A budget generally involves evaluating where your money is going currently and then mapping out where you would like it to go in the future. But if you have set an unrealistic allocation for your funds, it isn’t likely to work.

This can range from not including all your expenses to underestimating how much you will spend on certain categories and thus forgetting to cut back on others. It’s important to track your spending honestly and regularly so you can continue to adjust your budget. It can be easy to account for regular and predictable expenses like your monthly mortgage payment, but do not forget to leave room for the variable ones. People often forget to include annual or semi-annual bills like car insurance, holiday presents or a vacation fund the first time, so it’s a good idea to update and tweak that budget often.

2. You Forgot About Taxes!

The amount of money you have available to spend in your budget is not the salary you negotiated when you signed your contract. It’s also not really the hourly wage you make multiplied by the hours you work. The money you have available to put into your budget is actually what is left after paying income taxes. This means after all taxes — federal, state and local. It’s important to make sure you are using your net income (take-home pay or after-tax pay) when allocating funds to your budget. Otherwise you may be spending more than you actually make and driving yourself into debt.

3. It Doesn’t Reflect Your Goals

A budget may seem like a month-to-month list or plan, but it’s important that it has a greater purpose. If you do not have financial goals, it can be difficult to see a purpose, stay motivated and find success. It’s a good idea to think about short-term desires like a vacation or new investment wardrobe piece as well as long-term goals like having enough money in retirement or saving for a home down payment to help you measure your accomplishments and push you to move even further. Ideally, your budget should reflect your goals and your values.

4. You Didn’t Add Any Wiggle Room

You may set up your budget with the best of intentions and a commitment to strict spending and no-nonsense saving, but that is likely setting an unrealistic guideline for your finances. In reality, there are unexpected or just random costs that you may not be able to predict ahead of time or include as part of each month’s allowance. If you have a $2,000 car repair bill come in at the end of the month, but don’t have an emergency fund or room in your budget to cover it, you could find yourself forced to use credit cards or even a personal loan, which can be especially pricey if you have a bad credit score.

Instead of leaving no space for these types of expenses and resenting your budget, it can be a good idea to try to adjust regularly, leave room for some fun and most importantly, pad your budget with a contingency fund so you have the chance for a surplus instead of ending up with a shortage each month.

5. You Aren’t Sticking to It

The No. 1 reason people do not find success with their budget is that they are not using it properly. There is no reason to go through the process of tracking your spending and creating a budget just to ignore or cheat on it. You cannot type numbers into a spreadsheet or open an account with a budgeting app and expect magic to happen. A budget requires work, and you will likely have to refer to it frequently throughout the month, making comparisons to be sure you are practicing self-discipline and staying on track.

Getting organized about your income and expenses will help you use your money better. Be sure you are creating a realistic budget and avoid the above mistakes to make sure it works for you.

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MONEY consumer psychology

How Your Money Beliefs Are Hurting You

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We make things up about money and believe them.

What you believe about money drives your financial behavior. Finding out your beliefs is a key step to solving various problems, such as money conflicts in relationships.

Money doesn’t actually exist in reality. It isn’t gold or bank account balance or the pieces of paper in our wallet — it’s this conceptual thing, a promise, an agreement, delivered in measurable units, which we later exchange for something we want.

To grapple with this concept, we make things up about money and believe them. These beliefs act like a kind of programming language, which I call Money Operating Systems.

Your Money OS is a very basic belief about money that influences all your financial behavior. This system you install, unwittingly, controls how much you save and spend, whether you invest, how you invest, how you negotiate for a salary and how you feel about all of that.

Your past experiences with money, starting with your early memories of it, created your Money OS. It also came from your parents or the environment you were raised in.

Recognizing your belief helps you tackle your money woes, or those with your partner. Here are five of the Money Operating Systems I see most frequently:

  1. “There will always be enough money.” People with this belief can be high earners, but sometimes they’re average earners who just live a simple lifestyle. If you have this belief about money, you need to be careful. Make sure you understand how much money you need for your financial future. Over-optimism causes under-saving.
  2. “If I am good, the universe will give me what I need.” A positive world outlook doesn’t lead to productive financial behavior. Saving and investing rarely happen, because these folks believe that their financial health is a function of virtuousness.
  3. “Money makes me valuable.” They are often the people who drive the big flashy cars, and they work to have other people perceive them as successful. Money intertwines with their self-worth. Their ego grows with their bank account. But if they are unsuccessful, their confidence suffers.
  4. “There will never be enough money.” This one is pretty self-explanatory, and very common. People with this money belief will be either over-spenders or under-earners, and they keep creating the circumstances to prove this outlook true. They may justify holding on to poorly paid positions or overspending their high income.
  5. “Money is bad, the root of all evil.” These people believe that business and capitalism are responsible for social ills. They often righteously live without a lot of material possessions. Their negative opinion of money usually leads to destructive financial behavior.

These are only some of the beliefs that determine what is possible in your financial life. It took me some time to be analytical about my own money. I recognized my own system and how it kept me locked in cycles of overspending and feelings of worthlessness, and I’ve since transformed my experiences with money.

So where do you begin to see yourself here? What about your honey?

Hilary Hendershott, MBA, CFP, is founder and Chief Executive of Silicon Valley-based Hilary Hendershott Financial.

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MONEY Parenting

15 Financial Must Dos for Anyone Having a Baby

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That bundle of love is going to cost you plenty over a lifetime, so start planning now.

Preparing for parenthood isn’t just tiny clothes and heartwarming ultrasound photos; it involves a lot of financial preparation. This guide will lay out the most important financial tasks on your plate from pregnancy to baby’s first years, including:

  • Estimating your medical costs
  • Planning leave from your job
  • Budgeting for the new arrival

Some parenting preparations are best learned on the fly — how to effortlessly and painlessly change the messiest diapers, for instance. But the list of things to do before baby arrives and within his or her first several weeks is lengthy, so tackling certain tasks now is a smart idea.

Pre-Delivery Planning

1. Understand your health insurance and anticipate costs. Having a baby is expensive, even when you have health insurance. You should forecast your expected costs fairly early in the pregnancy. NerdWallet’s guide to making sense of your medical bills can help as you navigate prenatal care, labor and delivery, and the bills that will ultimately follow.

2. Plan for maternity/paternity leave. How much time you and your partner (if you have one) get off work and whether you’re paid during that period can significantly impact your household finances in the coming year. Understand your company’s policies and your state’s laws to get an accurate picture of how your maternity leave will affect your bottom line.

3. Draft your pre-baby budget. Once you know what you’ll be spending on out-of-pocket medical costs, understand how your income will be impacted in the coming months and have prepared a shopping list for your new addition, adjust your budget accordingly. Babies come with plenty of expenses, so set a limit on both necessary and optional buys (like that designer diaper bag or high-end stroller with the LCD control panel), and consider buying used to keep spending under control.

4. Plan your post-delivery budget. Recurring costs such as diapers, child care and extra food will change your household expenses for years to come. Plan for them now so you aren’t caught off guard.

5. Choose a pediatrician within your insurance network. Your baby’s first doctor appointment will come within her first week of life, so you’ll want to have a physician picked out. Talk to friends and family to get recommendations, call around to local clinics and ask to interview a pediatrician before you make your choice. In searching for the right doctor, don’t forget to double-check that he or she is within your insurance network. Ask the clinic, but verify by calling your insurance company so you’re not hit with unexpected out-of-network charges.

6. Start or check your emergency fund. If you don’t already have a “rainy day fund,” now’s the time to anticipate some emergencies. Kids are accident prone, and with the cost of raising a child there’s no telling if you’ll have the disposable income to pay for any unexpected expenses. Having at least three to six months’ worth of living expenses covered is a great place to start.

While in the Hospital

The main focus while you’re in the hospital is having a healthy baby. But there are a few loose ends that will need to be taken care of.

7. Order a birth certificate and Social Security card. Hospital staffers should provide you with the necessary paperwork to get your new child’s Social Security number and birth certificate. If they don’t or if you are having a home birth, contact your state’s office of vital records for the birth certificate and your local Social Security office to get a Social Security card.

Within Baby’s First 30 Days

8. Add your child to your health insurance. In most cases, you have 30 days from your child’s birth date to add him to an existing health insurance policy. In some employer-based plans, you have 60 days. Regardless, do it sooner rather than later, as you don’t want to be caught with a sick baby and no coverage.

9. Consider a life insurance policy on your child. No one expects the tragedy of losing a child, so many parents don’t plan for it. The rates are generally low because a child’s life insurance policy is used to cover funeral costs and little else. When it comes to covering children, a “term” policy that lasts until they are self-sufficient is the most popular choice.

10. Begin planning for child care. Finding the right day care or nanny can take weeks. Get started long before your maternity leave is over. You’ll need time to visit day care centers or interview nannies, as well as complete an application and approval process if required.

Beyond the First Month

You’ll be in this parenting role for years to come, so planning for the future is crucial. Estate planning is a big part of providing for your children, but it isn’t the only important forward-focused task to check off your list.

11. Adjust your beneficiaries. Assuming you already have life insurance for yourself or the main breadwinner in your household — and if you don’t, you should — you may want to add your child as a beneficiary. The same goes for your 401(k) and IRAs. However, keep in mind that you’ll need to make adjustments elsewhere to ensure when and how your child will have access to the money. A will and/or trust can accomplish this.

12. Disability insurance. You’re far more likely to need disability insurance than life insurance. Make sure you have the right amount of coverage — enough to meet your expenses if you’re out of work for several months. Remember, your monthly living expenses have gone up since the new addition.

13. Write or adjust your will. Tragic things happen and you want to ensure your child is taken care of in the event that one or both parents die. Designate a guardian so the courts don’t have to. Your will is only one part of estate planning, but it’s a good place to begin.

14. Keep funding your retirement. When a child arrives, it’s easy to forget your personal goals and long-term plans in light of this huge responsibility. Stay on top of your retirement plans so your child doesn’t have to support you in old age.

15. Save for his or her education. College is costly, but you can make it more manageable by starting to save early.

Adding a new member to your family comes with a lengthy list of responsibilities, so don’t try to do them all at once. Prioritize and tackle the most important items on your financial to-do list first. Because medical bills and insurance claims will be some of the first financial obligations you’ll encounter while expecting, start there. Move on to budgeting for pregnancy and the first several months of your baby’s life.

With 18 or more years until your little one leaves home, time would seem to be on your side. But — as the saying goes — blink and he’s grown. Now is the time to start taking the steps that will set your family up for financial success.

More from NerdWallet:

Read next: 3 Things Dads and Moms Don’t Need to Buy

MONEY cellphone plans

Here’s How to Figure Out How Much Cellphone Data You Need

detail of apps on an iPhone home screen
Brent Lewin—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Do you use more cellular data than the average person?

As smartphones have gotten more powerful, users have gotten hungrier for more and more high-speed cellular data. In just the past 18 months, average data consumption has more than doubled, according to the NPD Group, a market research firm. But how do you know how much data you really need? Buy too much and you’re wasting money. Buy too little and you could owe overage fees or your data speeds could be “throttled,” or slowed to the point of uselessness. Here’s what to ask to pick the right data package for today’s world:

“How much data am I using now?”

The best way to gauge your needs is to check your phone bills, which should tell you how much data you use each month. The average smartphone owner nowadays uses 2.9GB, reports NPD Group. But light users don’t need much: Thirty percent of smartphone owners currently use 500MB.

“How much are my kids using?”

Between streaming Netflix, checking Facebook, and posting to Instagram, young people run through data more quickly. While the average customer 55 or older needs just 1.4GB a month, the average young adult uses more than double that. If your kids are on your family plan, you may need to budget for more gigabytes.

“Can I conserve more data?”

Now that free public Wi-Fi networks have become more common, you don’t always need cellular data to access the Internet on your phone. Instead, the average smartphone user consumes a whopping 11.3GB of Wi-Fi data every month, up from just 5GB a year and a half ago. If you can connect to Wi-Fi much of the time, switch to Virgin Mobile’s Wi-Fi Lovers Delight plan or a “Wi-Fi first” plan, or just buy a traditional plan with a smaller data package.

“Am I using my phone as a television?”

That’s a surefire way to run through your data allotment. Fifty to sixty percent of all data consumption arises from video and social media, estimates the NPD Group’s Brad Akyuz. Streaming media services such as Netflix and Hulu Plus are big data drains, he says. But if you’re mostly watching YouTube, 5GB will probably suffice.

“Do I really need unlimited data?”

Unlimited data plans are back again at Sprint, T-Mobile, and MetroPCS—but unless you’re a Netflix junkie (see the prior answer), you probably don’t need one. Unlimited plans are like restaurant buffets, says Jon Colgan of CellBreaker, a startup that helps people get out of their cellphone contracts: “Most people don’t eat as much as they think they’re going to eat.” Plus, carriers have pledged to notify customers before imposing overage charges, so data fees shouldn’t take you by surprise. Before you buy an unlimited plan, make sure you can’t find a cheaper plan already offering more data than you need.

Find the Best Cellphone Plan For You

“Is this data plan really unlimited?”

Read advertisements for cellphone service plans carefully. Some carriers promising “unlimited data” will actually limit your high-speed, 4G LTE data to a couple of gigabytes per month. Once you use up that allotment, you’ll have unlimited access to slower data—but you’ll have trouble loading pages quickly and streaming video. Usually, carriers will explain when plans have a high-speed data limit, but the FTC just imposed a $100 million fine on AT&T for allegedly slowing data speeds on grandfathered unlimited plans without telling customers. Make sure you’ll get what you pay for.

Read next: The Best Cellphone Plans of 2015

This story has been adapted from “Find Your Perfect Cell Plan,” originally published in MONEY magazine’s July 2015 issue.

MONEY cellphone plans

5 Reasons You Should Be Paying Less for Your Cellphone Plan

circle of friends with smartphones
Tim Robberts—Getty Images

Plus tips on making that happen.

Are you getting hit with data overage charges? Dropped calls? Huge monthly bills for your family plan? Don’t put up with that anymore.

This is your moment to find a better, cheaper smartphone plan. “There are more deals to be had now than there have ever been,” says Logan Abbott, president of plan comparison site Wirefly.com. Here’s why:

1. We’re in the midst of a price war.

Carriers are slashing prices and fattening data packages in an attempt to steal you away from your current wireless provider—or keep you from leaving. Even at Verizon, which has long charged a premium for its top-rated network, you can buy 15GB of data for what it cost to buy a 10GB package a year ago. “In the last year or so, the data bucket prices have gone down significantly across the board,” says Brad Akyuz, research director of Connected Intelligence at the NPD Group market research firm. “You really have competition driven by T-Mobile and Sprint pushing prices down significantly.”

2. You have other carrier options.

You can look beyond the “big four”—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon—to find deals at lesser-known carriers. Think of them as the generic drugs of wireless service. Some carriers, such as Straight Talk and Net10, buy bandwidth from the big four, offering you access to the same network at a big discount. Others, such as MetroPCS and Boost Mobile, are discount brands owned by the big four. “A lot of them can give you similar plans for a lot less,” says Tara Donnelly, U.S. editor at WhistleOut, a plan comparison site.

On some small carriers, your data might run slightly slower when a lot of people are using the network, says Dennis Bournique of PrepaidPhoneNews.com. But recent mergers and acquisitions should work in your favor. In recent years, AT&T bought smaller carrier Cricket while T-Mobile bought MetroPCS, letting the bigger names acquire wireless spectrum and attract value-conscious customers. “The fact that these larger companies own these smaller carriers means they have that responsibility to make sure that service is up to snuff,” says Kirk Parsons, senior director of telecom services at J.D. Power.

3. You can save if you dump your two-year service contract.

In the past, when you went to get a new cellphone plan, you usually had to sign a two-year contract promising to stick it out with the same carrier, or else pay hundreds of dollars in early termination fees. But you’d feel okay about it because you’d get a really cheap phone—for example, a $200 iPhone that was really worth $650.

But what you might not have known is that you were always paying off the full cost of that expensive phone, in the form of higher monthly bills. Nowadays you can choose non-contract plans with lower monthly bills and pay separately for the full cost of the phone. That’s okay, because plans without service contracts are almost always a better deal over a two-year period. These monthly plans are getting more popular and are slowly replacing two-year service contracts altogether: T-Mobile no longer offers service contracts, and more than half of the new customers on Sprint and AT&T have already ditched them.

4. You can do a lot on Wi-Fi.

The mobile trend to watch? “Wi-Fi first” coverage. For calling, texting, or using the Internet, carriers attempt to connect you to the nearest Wi-Fi network before falling back on a cellular network. Since cellular usage is lighter, your monthly payments can be lower than even our best pick for infrequent callers. For example, carriers like FreedomPop and Republic Wireless offer plans that range from free to $40.

If you have reliable access to Wi-Fi at work or home and aren’t looking for extra features like cloud storage, then a Wi-Fi first plan could be good. But when you’re on a call, the transition between Wi-Fi and cellular isn’t always seamless, so moving around can disrupt your service. “Wi-Fi has become so widespread, it’s not insane to think that it could rival cellular in terms of coverage—but not quality,” says IDC senior research analyst Brian Haven.

Despite its shortcomings, Wi-Fi got a lot of attention this spring when Google launched Project Fi, a service that analyzes signal strength from Sprint, T-Mobile, and Wi-Fi before connecting you to the strongest option. Plans start at $20 a month, plus $10 for every gigabyte of data you want to purchase.

5. It pays to know what’s out there.

Cellphone plans have become much more complicated. So while deals are everywhere, they can be hard to understand. Do you want your family to share a pool of data or do you want to give each line its own allotment? How much data do you actually need? If you ditch the monthly contract, do you want to pay upfront for your phone, lease it, or pay it off in monthly installments? “With the rise of the device installment plans, it’s become even more confusing than it used to be,” says Philip Goldstein, editor of FierceWireless.

That’s where MONEY comes in. We pored over the fine print on more than 70 cellphone plans at 10 different cellphone carriers. We considered the full two-year cost of each plan, including the price of phones. We also checked each carrier’s network quality and customer satisfaction ratings. Here’s our guide to the best cellphone plans of 2015. And for more customized guidance, head on over to our interactive tool, which will show you the most affordable plans that meet your particular needs, plus the network performance you can expect in your area.

This story has been adapted from “Find Your Perfect Cell Plan,” originally published in MONEY magazine’s July 2015 issue.

Read next: The Best Cellphone Plans of 2015

MONEY Food & Drink

When Buying in Bulk Is a Big Waste of Money

H.J. Heinz Co. ketchup sits on display inside a Costco store
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Moderation is underrated.

Personal finance experts frequently tell shoppers to save money on food by buying in bulk, watching out for sales and cooking food at home. But according to a new study in the International Journal of Consumer Studies, those tactics could cause you to spend more money in the long run by encouraging you to buy more food than you’ll eat.

“Surprisingly, findings show that strategies used to save money — such as buying groceries in bulk, monthly shopping trips, preference for supermarkets and cooking from scratch — actually end up generating more food waste,” wrote Gustavo Porpino, Juracy Parente, Brian Wansink and John S. Dyson in the report. “This mitigates the savings made during the purchasing phase.”

Too often people buy more food than they can eat — especially when they buy in bulk — and then throw it out once it’s past its expiration date. People also tend to stock up on unnecessary items just because they’re on sale, the study authors found after following the shopping habits of 14 lower-middle income families in Brazil. “Families reported that some foods were not consumed because they were bought in abundance and past their expiration dates, or because they had forgotten to prepare it,” wrote the authors. “These products are usually the ones more prone to be bought on impulse, such as powder for preparing gelatin, cake mix, sauces and canned food.”

The authors also found that people frequently waste money by cooking more food than their family can eat, storing food improperly and, in some cases, refusing to eat leftovers. They also tend to buy what they think they need based on memory rather than a shopping list and overspend as a result. “Despite income constraints, the families studied tended not to plan grocery shopping and in several cases the amount of food they purchased seemed to be greater than they needed,” wrote the authors.

A separate study published June 10 in the open-access journal PLOS One also found that people frequently underestimate how much food they waste. According to a survey of more than 1,000 U.S. consumers, 56 percent of consumers claim to throw out less than 10 percent of the food they buy, while 13 percent insist they never throw out food. Meanwhile, 73 percent believe they waste less than the average American household and a majority say they regularly take steps to reduce their waste.

For example, more than half of respondents to the survey claim to regularly check their pantries, estimate what they need and draw up a list before they shop. And yet, research shows that an estimated 31 to 41 percent of food in the U.S. is wasted. More than two-thirds of consumers also insist that they rarely buy too much food because of sales or tempting packaging.

“Based on what is known about wasted food in the U.S., it is clear that respondents as a group are substantially underreporting their waste levels, and they may also be overreporting their effort levels,” wrote study authors Roni A. Neff, Marie L. Spiker and Patricia L. Truant in the report.

How to reduce your waste
The good news is that you can take steps to reduce the amount of food you waste — and still save money by clipping coupons, cooking at home, scanning sales and buying food in bulk.

The key is to spend more time planning your meals, sticking to a shopping list and keeping a close eye on what you bought. If you find an item on sale, make sure you have a plan for how you’ll use it — and don’t buy bigger packages if you don’t think you can swiftly use them up.

Rather than buy a whole lot once or twice a month, you may also want to visit the store more frequently and buy only what you’ll cook that week.

If you spot a sale for more produce or meat than you can quickly use, go ahead and freeze it. Separating the meat and packaging it individually can also help reduce waste by ensuring that you only cook what you’ll eat that week.

“Fortunately, most of the factors that lead to food waste can be easily remedied by simple changes in food buying, preparing and storing,” noted researcher Gustavo Porpino in a news release.

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