MONEY First-Time Dad

37% of Parents Are Making This Financial Mistake

Father and Son Playing Soccer
Nick Daly—Getty Images

The problem is easily overlooked, but also easily fixed.

I was once a young invincible. For the early part of my 20s, I arrogantly skipped health insurance and routine medical tests because I knew I was going to live forever.

Much has changed. I’m still enjoying the last year of my 20s, but with a wife and a 17-month-old child, I no longer feel indestructible. I still ache, for instance, from a kick to the ribs during a casual soccer game a couple of weeks ago; and it’s impossible to hide each morning from the grating reality that the top of my head carries less hair than it did before.

As you intertwine your life with another’s, you generally picture the positives: a lifelong partnership and family. You imagine all that you’ll experience together. You don’t quite realize, or at least I didn’t at first, that you slowly become dependent on your partner to afford your shared life.

Which is why I found a recent survey from Bankrate to be troubling: It found that 37% of parents with children under the age of 18 do not have life insurance. And among those who do, almost half carry policies with protection of less than $100,000 — barely more than two years of median household income.

Moreover, it’s not just an affordability problem: More than a quarter of those earning more than $75,000 don’t have coverage.

“This is a tough topic to talk about,” says Bankrate’s Doug Whiteman. “Life insurance is a reminder that we are mortal and don’t know when our time will be up.”

Of course, purchasing life insurance is perhaps the last thing on the minds of new parents — even in our least sleep-deprived moments, my wife and I certainly weren’t thinking about how much coverage we needed and what type. But this is a discussion you need to have with your family.

How Much Coverage?

Figuring out how large a policy you’ll need depends on a number of factors. As MONEY’s Kerri Anne Renzulli points out here, you’ll need to have a solid grasp on your debt, monthly spending, monthly savings, and your long-term savings goals before you know how much insurance to purchase. Ideally, your policy should cover immediate items like funeral costs as well as longer-term goals like college tuition, replacing future earnings you would have accrued.

Dallas-based financial coach and planner Katie Brewer recommends selecting a 20- to 30-year term policy that covers about 10 times your earnings. The calculator from Life Happens, which asks users to input future income needs, college expenses and debt, can help you gain a sense of how much you’ll need.

Chances are that you can find low-cost insurance options through your employer; you can also check out Mint.com’s life insurance calculator for more coverage selections. You can also hire a fee-only certified planner to walk you through your assumptions and calculations and help you find adequate coverage.

There are any number of financial obstacles you’ll incur throughout your lives that will be the source of stress and worry. How will you afford retirement in this low-rate world? Send your two kids to a good college? Withstand an unexpected career setback? In truth, these concerns can only be addressed with hard work, financial discipline, and a little luck.

But life insurance is different. It’s a relatively simple, pretty inexpensive mechanism to ensure that your loved ones needn’t worry for cash should something happen to you.

Not that anything ever will.

MONEY First-Time Dad

What Millennials are Getting Right About Retirement

hand holding gold star trophy
Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

And what this generation still doesn't understand about investing for their future.

I was born between 1980 and 2000. This simple fact, over which I had no control, means that I am a millennial — a term that seems to become more loaded with each passing day.

Depending on whom you ask, millennials are lazy, highly educated, entitled, outwardly focused, technologically savvy, impersonal, cheap, indebted. We also have sophisticated palates and an aversion to risk. We’re afraid to commit, apolitical, and unmoored to institutions. And we love craft everything.

Ascribing an ever-expanding series of contradictory descriptors, however, has the effect of making millennials seem alien. Yet the truth is, young professionals today are simply rational actors navigating significant financial hurdles while balancing short and long-term goals.

Take retirement. I’m about 36 years from turning 65, which means I have a number of competing interests. I know that every dollar I put away in my 401(k) will help me replace my income when I no longer work (especially if it’s matched by my employer). But each dollar saved is a dollar not spent on child care or rent or paying down student loan debt. My wife and I are conscientious about our finances, but our income can be stretched so far.

Other millennials are struggling with these choices too. But all things considered, we’re actually doing quite nicely — contrary to the prevailing narrative.

T. Rowe Price recently released its exhaustive Retirement Saving & Spending Study and found millennials are socking away 6% of their annual salary, while boomers saved 8%. Meanwhile four-in-ten millennials are saving a higher percentage of their income in their 401(k) compared to a year ago, compared to 21% of boomers. Moreover three-quarters of millennials track their expenses carefully and 67% say they stick to a budget, both higher than boomers.

Young savers are also more open to nudging than their older colleagues, a sign of our humility when it comes to financing retirement.

Almost half of millennials who were auto-enrolled into a 401(k) plan wished their bosses had penciled them in at a higher rate. (The prevailing introductory savings percentage is 3%.) Only about a third of boomers wished the same. More than a quarter of millennials said they wouldn’t opt out if the auto-enrollment level was set at 10% or greater.

What kind of investments are millennials being enrolled into? According to Vanguard’s How America Saves report, which looks at the savings habits of almost 4 million participants, eight-in-ten new retirement plan entrants were solely invested in a professionally managed allocation. That means they put their money in a professionally managed target date fund, a balanced fund, or a managed account advisory service that customizes investor portfolios.

And while auto-enrollment may put new workers at a measly 3% contribution, 70% of millennials increase contributions annually. Moreover almost 40% of plans default to 4% or more compared to 28% in 2010.

Of course, there is room for improvement.

Starting early is a necessary element of achieving your retirement goals, but not sufficient. If you save 6% of your income, according to Vanguard, you’ll take have about $275,000 by the time you hit 65 (assuming a 4% real rate of return and an annual salary growth rate of 1%.) Putting away 10% will net you almost $460,000. So millennials could stand to save more.

Millennials would also do well to have a firmer grasp of what it is they’re actually investing in. For instance, almost 70% of millennials who use target-date funds agreed with the statement, “Target date funds are usually less risky than balanced funds.” This isn’t really accurate.

How risky a target date fund is depends largely on what “target date” you choose. For instance the Vanguard Target Retirement 2050 Fund — designed for younger workers who won’t retire until around the year 2050 — consists of about 90% equities. A traditional balanced fund, on the other hand, generally holds about 60% to 70% in stocks.

Millennials also don’t appreciate the diversification offered by a target date fund. Because each target date fund invests in a wide array of stocks, bonds, and other assets, these vehicles are designed to be a one-fund solution. Yet almost 80% of those same millennials agreed with the statement “It’s better to hold additional funds in your 401(k) than just a target date fund.”

Then there are those millennials who aren’t saving at all.

While it’s easy to say they lack prudence and acquiesce to the immediate pleasure of money, it’s more accurate to note that they probably cannot afford to save. The median personal income of non-savers is $28,000, almost $30,000 less than savers. Non-savers are not only more likely to have student loan debt, but their balances are higher.

My wife and I don’t save nearly enough for retirement, but then again, we don’t save enough period. Raising a small child in Brooklyn doesn’t help, neither does our chosen professions in the notoriously high-paying education and journalism sectors.

But we do what we can and when other expenses fall off (like when our son starts school) or we enjoy a nice raise we’ll direct that cash flow into our retirement and emergency funds. Millennials, after all, are practical.

MONEY First-Time Dad

3 Financial Lessons For Dads on Father’s Day

Brightcove:

You may want a tie, or a car. But you should know these three things this Sunday.

One day last August, my then six-month-old son fell face first from his swing onto the wooden floor half-a-foot below. Luke was a mobile tyke even then and I had forgotten to strap him into his seat, despite repeated instructions from Mrs. Tepper who had left him in my charge an hour earlier.

Panic ensued. I rushed into his room after I heard the thud and consoled my understandably miserable infant. A bump quickly rose on his forehead and I phoned our doctor thinking I had caused serious and permanent injury. The pediatrician asked me (in that tone doctors have when you call them off-hours for questions apparently beneath their dignity) if Luke was vomiting or unconscious. No. Any kind of bleeding? No. Keep an eye on him, but he’s probably fine. Which he was.

But I spent the rest of the night in silent terror as the bump deepened. When he finally went to sleep that night, I snuck into his room and put a finger beneath his nose. Yes, he was still breathing.

Fast-forward to last month. Luke had determined to test the limits of his physical universe and ran headfirst into the side of our bathtub. He came away with a bloody, swollen nose. Mrs. Tepper called the doctor for instructions (and a dose of vague condescension), while I tended to Luke. But there was no panic, no unease, no nagging fear that our son had endured some critical blow. I didn’t feel the need to check his breathing in the middle of the night. Parenting, like most things, improves with time.

The same is true of your ability to deal with money. I had just started at MONEY when Mrs. Tepper became pregnant, so it’s not as if we had ample time to set up an emergency fund or sketch out a meaningful budget before his birth. Over the course of our first full year as parents, we’ve had to learn the finances of parenting—even if one of us writes for a personal finance brand.

Here is some of the hard-won wisdom I’ve gleaned from my sometimes beautiful parenting grind.

You’ll Spend More Than You Think

There’s a strange cognitive dissonance that new parents must embrace. The decision to bring a child into the world, at least in my case, tends to be uninformed by finances. Are we ready to care for children is more of a question of values and love than a cold calculation of what you can afford. We didn’t estimate the weekly cost of child care, how long Mrs. Tepper would take off for maternity leave, how much of that was paid, and how we’d afford rent and food without her paycheck. We didn’t look into how a newborn would inflate our insurance premiums, which of our policies should cover the tyke, or how much a delivery would set us back. And we were completely ignorant of the price tag on all the day-to-day items, from strollers and cribs to diapers and wipes, that he would need. We both had jobs and figured we’d figure it out.

But bearing a child is an intimately financial decision, especially since our society does so little to palliate the pocketbooks of new parents (whether it’s paid leave, child or health care.) We’ll likely spend a quarter-million dollars on Luke before he hits college-which could easily cost another quarter-million dollars. How is it even possible to spend that much?

Experience informs. Putting aside child care, which cost us more than $15,000 over the past 12 months, it’s not terribly difficult to see where the money goes. Not only did his stroller run us close to $1,000, but we just spent another $50 on something called the Parent Organizer, a device that attaches to the stroller and holds the coffee you need to drink to stay awake because you haven’t slept well in over a year, and some fabric cleaner that removes spilled milk (and coffee) from the stroller. We spent about $1,000 this year on diapers and wipes and creams that make him happy and don’t cause his skin to break out in hives. Our credit card statements are filled with hundreds of similar purchases.

I’m glad we didn’t budget out our lives before we decided to have Luke. Parenting shouldn’t be a decision based solely on affordability. Life is too short. But, in case you were curious, this is why your friends with kids aren’t particularly enthusiastic about your two-week excursion to Lisbon.

Be an Equal and Honest Partner with Your Spouse

Couples tend to obfuscate when it comes to discussing money and finances. Most avoid the topic, as an American Express survey found, while others lie to their partners about money. While you may know that you need to chat about budgeting and debt and spending, as a recent MONEY survey found, the actual process of doing so can be less than enjoyable.

In the grand scheme of things, Mrs. Tepper and I haven’t been adults for all that long. We’ve been out of grad school for about three years, married for almost two, and parents for 17 months. Crafting budgets that account for all of the expenses surrounding Luke is hard enough, not to mention the difficulty coming up with a plan for saving for college without going broke. For a few pointers, I turned to CFP Board consumer advocate Eleanor Blayney.

First and foremost, says Blayney, learn what money means to your spouse. “For some it means security, so they’re looking to save, while for others it offers prestige.” If your husband or wife is a hoarder or a spendthrift, there’s often a reason why. Knowing where your partner comes from can help decrease tension and clarify his or her point-of-view.

Next Blayney recommends you and your spouse go into separate rooms and estimate how your after-tax income is being spent. That is, each of you should write down how much you believe you’re putting toward three buckets: 1) fixed, non-variable expenses (like your mortgage and child care); 2) non-discretionary, variable expenses (food and transportation, for example); and purely discretionary expenses (like entertainment).

After you’ve complied your list, Blayney suggests, “pour a glass of wine and compare notes. Identify real discrepancies in your outlook and find common ground.”

Everyone should be involved in financial decision-making. When the dynamics of a family evolve, spouses often take different domains of domestic responsibility, from managing the children’s homework to paying the bills. If one spouse is completely removed from any understanding of financial decision-making, or appreciation for long-term goals like retirement, conflicts can metastasize with time.

Therefore, be completely transparent about your financial choices. Both spouses should appreciate the savings rate and investing choices that are being made and what benefits this long-term planning will produce. Think of it as “marriage insurance.”

“Focus on common goals—whether it’s a boat or retirement, “says Blayney. “You’ve got to decide as a couple how much to save together.”

Consider Your Mortality

If you have a child and a spouse who depend on your income to support their lives, you need life and disability insurance. The concern for a lot of parents can revolve around which type of insurance to get and for how long. (Not to mention confronting your inevitable demise.)

“I’ll have clients who have gone to buy insurance and the broker asked how much can you afford?” says Dallas-based financial coach and planner Katie Brewer. “They’ll come away with much more than they need.” That’s money that could be put to better use elsewhere. The best route is to buy a 20-to-30 year term policy that covers about 10 times your income. You should only worry about covering your income for a certain period of time, and term insurance is the cleaner alternative. You can most likely to find low cost options through your employer, but you may be restricted in the amount you can insure. Check out Mint.com’s life insurance calculator for more coverage selections.

When you sign-up, don’t forget disability insurance. Like life insurance you can generally find low-cost options in your benefits package. If you can’t, look to reduce the price on an individual policy by delaying the period before you receive benefits – from three months to six. Brewer also recommends looking for a group discount through an alumni or professional group – she’s insured through the Financial Planning Association. Keep in mind, whatever Social Security disability benefits you receive will be subtracted from your payout, which is also subjected to taxes. That’s why maintaining a robust emergency fund is so vital.

Read next: The 3 Most Important Money Lessons My Dad Taught Me

MONEY First-Time Dad

How to Make Saving for College Less Impossible

Luke Tepper

Use a tool that not that many people know about.

Four-fifths of adulthood is negotiating competing interests. The other fifth is whisky gingers.

One example: paying for college. As a pair of 29-year-olds with graduate degrees who left university at the peak of the higher education bubble, only to descend into the depths of a great recession, my wife and I have a combined student loan bill between five and seven figures. We also have a 16-month-old whom we will drop off at college orientation day in 17 short—or, if we don’t start getting more sleep, long—years.

The word that comes to mind to describe the feeling of tackling historic education debt while saving for your son’s college tuition while planning for retirement, not to mention the rest of life’s expenses, is not euphoria. And Mrs. Tepper wants to double the number of our dependents in the not-too-distant future.

Fortunately, since misery loves company, my family isn’t the only one fretting about the future. In fact paying for college is the biggest worry for those with children under 18, per a Gallup survey.

At times it seems that even the most conscientious and prudent families can only hold their finances together with mud and spit. But there is one valuable arrow in my quiver, only most people aren’t aware of its existence.

Two-thirds of Americans don’t know what a 529 plan is or does, per a recent Edward Jones survey. Even among those earning six figures, 42% couldn’t pick the college savings tool out of a lineup. Perhaps that’s why more than four out of five people surveyed say they cannot afford the cost of college.

Financing any portion of your child’s education is difficult enough. But it’s even harder without this vital tool.

A 529 plan is basically an IRA for college savings, as MONEY explains here. You put money into the account, named after the section in the tax code that created them, and select how your contribution is to be invested. The choices generally revolve around how aggressive (think stocks) you want to be and how old your child is. The money grows tax-deferred and isn’t subjected to Uncle Sam’s treatment when you withdraw it to pay for education expenses. Some states also allow tax deductions on contributions (you can find a list here). Most plans are sponsored by states, but you don’t have to invest in the state you live in.

What should you look for in a plan? I posed that question to Jeremy Thiessen, a senior director with TIAA-CREF Tuition Financing. He boiled it down to three considerations:

Taxes

“Tax benefits are one of the best reasons to choose your home state’s 529 plan, so review that plan first,” he says. Fortunately for me, New York offers a $10,000 deduction on contributions for joint filers, $5,000 for single.

If your state doesn’t offer tax breaks, and even if it does, you’ll also want to take into account the two other key considerations, costs and investment options.

Costs

Investing through a 529 comes with fees: fees for advisers, program management, and the investment themselves. Just as with mutual funds, higher costs lower your returns. In general, you want to look for low-cost plans that invest in index funds. You can find a tool here to compare plans costs and tax savings. My 529 option, for instance, charges $16 per $10,000 invested, which is pretty good.

Investment Options

“You want to make sure that your 529 plan offers investment choices that suit your timeline and risk tolerance,” Thiessen says. By the time Luke goes off to college, the total cost will be close to $160,000 for a four-year in-state school. If I want to pay for a third of that, I’ll need about $53,000, which I won’t be able to amass from savings alone.

By starting early a 529 plan early on, you give yourself the chance to take more risk while your kid is still young. My plan works like a target-date fund. For the first five years or so, I’ll own only stocks. As Luke ages, the portfolio adds more bonds to smooth out ups and downs. This tool at Savingforcollege.com helps you put into perspective how much you’ll need to save and which plan offers the best path to get you there.

There are other do’s and don’ts to keep in mind. Financial planners will tell you to save for retirement before you start putting money away for your kid’s college, since you can borrow for one and not the other. But starting a college fund early, even if you just contribute a month’s worth of coffee expenses, will go a long way. You don’t need to foot the entire bill; it’s nice if your tyke has some skin in the game.

As I teeter on the precipice of 30, I’m easily distracted by the daily errands and deadlines that are right in front of my nose. But by picking a low-cost college savings plan and contributing to it regularly, I’m slowly completing one of the most important jobs I’ll ever do: helping my son earn a degree.

MONEY First-Time Dad

The 3 Things All Millennial Parents Should Be Saving For

Luke Tepper

MONEY writer and first-time dad Taylor Tepper asks some financial pros for help prioritizing his competing financial goals.

No one aspect of parenting is in itself particularly difficult.

What makes it the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, however, is that one discrete task continuously leads into another and another, until you’re ground down and raw. Bedtime follows a bath, which follows dinnertime, which follows a walk, which follows a trip to the playground, which follows…which follows…which follows…

It’s exhaustion by a thousand baby steps.

Family budgeting presents a similar Sisyphean sequence. I know I should have a healthy emergency fund and contribute up to the match in my 401(k) and save for Luke’s college education. But in which order? And how am I supposed to do those things while also paying for child care, Brooklyn rent and the occasional whisky ginger?

Each financial responsibility can be fixed easily enough. In aggregate, though, it’s nearly impossible to see the forest through the trees.

One of the small advantages of reporting on personal finance, however, is that financial planners will take my calls and answer these questions for me for free. So I took advantage. What I learned may help you, too.

First: Start On Emergency Savings

“Emergency savings is about avoiding an immediate cash flow problem,” says Leesburg, Va.-based financial advisor Bonnie Sewell. “It’s the number one thing you should focus on.”

Here’s why, she explains: Without a sufficient rainy-day fund, your family is vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life (see: layoffs and car repairs and illnesses).

Now for the scariest part. Depending on your obligations and savings, and from whom you solicit advice, you should have anywhere from three to 12 months worth of expenses sitting in a bank account.

That’s madness. Between child care, rent, transportation and food, we spend at least $4,500 a month, or more than $50,000 a year. I can’t envision a world where I have $50,000 in cash, much less putting it to no use in a near-zero-rate savings account.

Pensacola, Fla. financial planner Matt Becker helped quell my panic.

He recommends tackling emergency savings in two steps: First, get about a month’s worth of expenses stowed away and then turn my attention to other priorities (see below). After I’ve found firm footing with those, I can try to build up my fund.

Next Step: Get a Start on Retirement

The next thing for me to consider is retirement.

Every expert I spoke with noted the costs of procrastinating on this one are significant. That’s because, by putting money aside for use at a later date, I’m giving up the power of compounding returns. To end up with $1 million in my 401(k) by 65, I’ll need to save almost $15,000 starting at age 30. If I wait to begin until I’m 40, I’ll need to put away around $23,500 more a year.

Of course, retirement accounts are illiquid by nature. They’re designed to reward people who wait to tap them until they’re nearing the end of their career.

Since I could also use liquid funds for things like a down payment on that house Mrs. Tepper hopes we’ll one day buy and savings for the college degree we hope Luke will one day get, Sewell says I should contribute up to my employer match and deploy the rest as follows…

Third: Set a Course for College

After I’m set up on retirement, Luke’s college savings comes into focus.

Everyone tells me to fund a 529, which allows me to invest tax-free so long as the money is used for higher education. I can also get a break on my state taxes. (Check out this article to see if you get a break on yours.)

As Melville, NY financial planner James J. Burns points out, every little bit I contribute for Luke’s college will go a long way.

For example, let’s assume that I contribute $200 a month and enjoy an average annual return of 8%. After 16 years, I’ll have amassed more than $73,000.

“That’s pretty darn good,” says Burns, who estimates that will go along way toward paying for two years of in-state tuition by the time Luke goes off to school.

Of course there’s a reason the 529 comes after retirement. “You can borrow money for college,” says Burns. “You can’t borrow money for retirement.”

Last: Grow Some Liquid Savings

Burns also recommends going over my budget annually, seeing if I can’t find more to save. If I do, I can divide that money between my emergency fund, retirement, Luke’s 529 and a taxable account through a portfolio of broadly diversified, low-cost funds for the house and our other goals.

Now that I’ve heard from the experts, I’m willing to take a more holistic approach as they suggested—patiently building up our anemic rainy day fund, contributing as much to our retirement accounts as we can afford, and making incremental additions to Luke’s college account. Whenever we earn a raise or unburden a significant cost like child care, we’ll judiciously target those extra dollars into the different buckets that will fund our lives.

But we’ll also set aside money for vacations and a few fancy dinners, even if that money could be leveraged elsewhere. The universe may be infinite, but our lives are short, and I intend to relish the occasional whisky ginger without pangs of guilt.

More From the First-Time Dad:

MONEY First-Time Dad

What Dads Can Do to Really Help Moms This Mother’s Day

Luke Tepper
The author's wife and son.

Hint: It doesn't involve flowers.

A recent survey found that more than three-quarters of adults would choose to celebrate Mother’s Day over Father’s Day if both parent appreciation holidays fell on the same day. I agree with the 78%, largely for the same reasons the participants in the survey enumerated. My wife spends countless off-work hours contemplating and anticipating our 14-month-old’s needs—Which foods can he consume? Which music classes should he attend? What is his room’s ideal temperature?—while my role is closer to that of Babe the Blue Ox.

On Mother’s Day people generally show their appreciation in the form of presents and attention. (The word “flowers” is searched more often in middle May than around Valentine’s Day.) Children prepare breakfast and write sweet cards, and the day usually ends with a picnic or a dinner in mom’s honor. For the past few weeks, multinational corporations have been utilizing all the screens that occupy my life to persuade me to buy their products. Last year I bought my wife a massage. This year I’m considering a scarf.

But there’s something a touch cynical, or at least incongruous, about Mother’s Day. Dads praise moms for the multitude of roles (breadwinner, caretaker, chef) they take on to help the family function, even as the guys don’t quite pull their own weight the rest of the year. So in addition to deciding between a rose-gold watch and white-gold earrings, dads should consider adapting their behavior in the following ways.

Pull your weight

Fathers today certainly contribute more to household responsibilities than their fathers did. In 1965, fathers spent 42 hours a week on the job and less than three hours on child care. Today’s dads look after the kids seven hours a week, and average 37 hours of paid work, per Pew Research Center. Moms tend to the kids for 14 hours a week, while averaging 21 hours on paid work.

When it comes to housework, dads put in about 10 hours a week compared with 18 for moms. Working mothers spend more time during the week on parental responsibilities that their husbands, and fathers even do less child care and housework on the weekends than moms. Dads still find the time to engage in more leisure activity. Eschewing a round of golf for babysitting duties should not be a headline-making event.

Support working moms

Only 12% of American workers have access to paid family leave, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. By way of comparison, 26% of Americans believe in the existence of witches. Many pixels and column inches have highlighted just how much better other nations treat new families. (You can find a nice graphic here.)

Of course someone has to pay for this country’s insanely expensive child care. The average bill depends on where you live, with married couples in Colorado, for instance, allocating about 15% of their income to day care. Massachusetts parents fork over more than $16,500 a year. That’s around $2,500 less than in-state tuition and fees at UMass Amherst.

As child care costs have skyrocketed, women are leaving the workforce. In 1999, 23% of moms did not work outside the home. By 2012, that percentage had risen to 29%. And the average number of hours worked by mothers declined slightly between 1995 and 2011. The female labor force participation rate has dropped by about 3.5 percentage points over the past 15 years, now well below other advanced nations.

Meanwhile 60% of Americans believe that children are better off with a parent at home, per Pew. Mothers, and fathers for that matter, should stay at home if that’s what they feel is best for their family. But the idea that one choice is better than another strikes me as anachronistic. I for one am proud that Luke will grow up with a working mom.

I don’t mean to suggest that dads should spend mom’s Sunday engaged in a wonky debate about gender equality. But I do think that dads would do well to appreciate the disadvantages endemic to our society, and in the division of household chores. Its benefits may be longer lasting than flowers.

More From the First-Time Dad:

 

MONEY

Why Millennials Are in for a Worse Midlife Crisis than their Parents

senior man in motorcycle gear
Henrik Sorensen—Getty Images

Marriage, it turns out, lessens the dip in happiness that happens in one's late 40s. But most Gen Y-ers have steered clear of the altar.

I’m a happily married 28-year-old with a beautiful wife and son. My life is good.

But if research is correct, I will grow increasingly more dissatisfied with my life over the next 20 years. Which is terrifying.

The midlife crisis is very real.

Studies show that people are pretty happy when they’re young and when they’re older—thank youthful exuberance and not having to work, respectively. But between 46 and 55, folks endure peak ennui.

That happiness ebbs as one ages is not particularly surprising. Careers plateau, dreams are deferred and bills increase in quantity and frequency.

This U-shaped happiness curve has been the focus of a lot of research recently and many nations (from Britain to Bhutan) have shown interest in augmenting citizens well-being with the intent that gross happiness is just as important to the economy as the gross domestic product.

One recent study on the topic—published in the National Bureau of Economic Research—has me feeling just a little bit less sad about my upcoming depression. It found that married folks like myself will experience a less dramatic midlife crisis than their non-married peers.

Authors Shawn Grover and John Helliwell used data from two U.K. surveys and found that while life-satisfaction levels declined for those who married and those who didn’t, the middle-age drop was much less severe for the betrothed, even when controlling for premarital happiness.

Having a dedicated partner, it seems, eases the burden of watching your youth pass slowly through your fingers. Tying the knot can soften the blow, in the other words.

Moreover, people who consider their partner a friend enjoy the most happiness.

“We explore friendship as a mechanism which could help explain a casual relationship between marriage and life satisfaction, and find that well-being effects of marriage are about twice as large for those whose spouse is also their best friend,” the authors wrote.

These findings could leave many of my peers in an emotional nadir: According to data from the Pew Research Center, millennials just aren’t terribly interested in the institution of marriage. Only 26% of people aged 18 to 32 were married in 2013—10 points lower than Gen X when they were of a similar age in 1997, and 22 points below boomers’ marriage patterns in 1960.

My generation still has a few years before they hit the bottom of the U curve. And perhaps an improving economy will make the prospect of marriage more attractive to those in my cohort. Here’s hoping.

I didn’t plan to marry when I did—like most of my generation the thought really didn’t occur to me. But my longtime girlfriend and I walked down the aisle after we found out she was pregnant. And from my current pre-midlife-crisis vantage point, I can see why marrying someone I love and with whom I share a common worldview will make the process of aging slightly less pale and ugly.

Life’s hard, but it turns out that it’s nice to have someone you love to complain about it with.

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MONEY First-Time Dad

Here’s How to Save on Summer Camp and Child Care

Luke Tepper

Money writer and first-time dad Taylor Tepper learns some strategies to keep more money in your wallet without compromising quality care

My son Luke is 14-months-old, so our summer child care plan follows our fall, spring and winter’s—that is to say, we’ll be sticking with our nanny share. Mrs. Tepper and I aren’t particularly thrilled to see so much of our income siphoned away for this purpose, but at least we don’t have to figure out an entirely new care arrangement from June through August.

Parents of school-aged children aren’t so lucky.

With spring barely in the air, this is the time of year that many working moms and dads are hustling for stopgap measures. “Summer care is this mishmash, patchwork quilt,” says Care.com’s Katie Herrick Bugbee. “It can be incredibly stressful for parents.”

And expensive. Babysitters earned a nationwide average of $13.44 an hour last year, according to a recent report from Care.com, up more than 11% in 2013. At that rate, assuming you get coverage for 40 hours a week—because of course you’ll leave at 5 p.m. each day—for 14 weeks, you’re dropping $7,500 easy. Day camps average $304 per week, according to the American Camp Association, but can hit as high as $1000—and that’s not including the sitter you’ll need to pick up and mind your kid until you return from work. Sleep-away offerings can set you back even more.

Year-long schooling suddenly seems more reasonable.

In empathy for my more veteran compatriots in parenting, I asked Bugbee to offer some suggestions to help navigating this challenge.

Think of Camp as Dessert

While summer camp is still a few years away for Luke, I did some preliminary research to get a sense of the market. A cooking camp in Manhattan ran $430 for the week, a Brooklyn music camp would set me back $630 a week, while a nature camp on the New York/ New Jersey border cost about $1,000 a week. All three would let him out at 4pm or earlier—the relatively affordable cooking option ended at noon—which meant that we’d have to arrange for after-camp child care, too.

There are a few strategies you can enlist to make camp a bit cheaper, says Bugbee.

If you have the flexibility to leave work early one day a week to participate, you’ll save a lot by not hiring someone to collect your child. But also get to know the parents of your kid’s camp-mates. “If you can’t do a 3 p.m. pickup everyday, you’ll need to find carpool arrangements,” she says.

Another option recommended by Bugbee is to scour silent auctions offered by your kid’s school and other schools in the neighborhood for camp discounts. Bugbee herself has bid on a couple weeks of camp.

Hire the Best Babysitter for Your Buck

If camp is out of your budget, or only doable for a week or two, you’ll need to look for a full-time summer nanny. And the time to start your search is nigh.

“This is the time of year when we start to see huge increases in summer care positions,” says Bugbee, who estimates that there are 30 times more openings in April than March.

Which means that it’s a sitter’s market. Based on the national average hourly wage, expect to shell out $110 a day, or $550 a week.

Just because sitters or nannies are in demand, though, doesn’t mean you have to accept bottom of the barrel. Look to friends and other families in your communities for referrals, but don’t stop there. “Run a background check, go through a lengthy interview process and check references rather than just relying on referrals,” says Bugbee. Only 36% of families run a background check, per Care.com.

Especially if you can’t afford camp too, you’ll want to look for a nanny that will be active with your kids. You could get at this by asking a prospective candidate for five activities to make a day more fun, or what he or she would do with your children on a rainy day. “Empower this person to come up with a plan,” says Bugbee.

Also, don’t hesitate to add on additional responsibilities—like light children’s laundry and cooking a few healthful meals a week—that will help ease your burden and stretch your dollar.

Create Your Own Camp-Lite

You can also hook up your nanny with other caregivers in the neighborhood to create a kind of nanny-camp collective.

Bugbee, for instance, lived in a community with lots of nannies. So she created a Google Drive spreadsheet, and each nanny signed up for a day to host the other kids.

On Monday, the neighborhood kids could gather at one house for a sprinkler party, while Tuesdays would entail a trip to the zoo. “Whoever wanted to show up, this is what they were doing,” says Bugbee. “It was special. The kids felt like they always had friends around, there was always something going on, and no one was sitting in the living room watching television.”

Plus it didn’t involve any extra money.

Of course, your caregiver needs to be on board with such a proactive schedule. Look to college RAs home for the summer, applicants with camp counselor experience and teachers looking for supplemental income.

Get Help from Uncle Sam

You can make up for some of your costs with a few simple tax steps. If your kids are under 13, sign up for a dependent-care flexible spending account at work. You can use pretax dollars to pay up to $5,000 of child-care bills—equivalent to a little more than eight weeks of sitting in our example. You’ll save around $1,400 in the 28% bracket.

If your employer doesn’t offer an FSA, you claim the child-care tax credit for up to $3,000 in expenses for one kid, $6,000 for two. A married couple filing jointly with adjusted gross income over $43,000 can write-off 20% up to these amounts.

I’m sure that when the time comes in a few years that Mrs. Tepper and I will need to figure out what to do with Luke for the summer, we’ll attack the issue with the same vigilance we do with every other facet of his life. With Bugbee’s advice in mind, we’ll look early for a camp or two, extensively interview prospective part-time nannies and help coordinate playtime with other kids on the blocks.

Just another parenting stress to look forward to.

MONEY First-Time Dad

Why This Millennial Is Kissing the City Goodbye

Luke Tepper
This time next year, Luke will hopefully be playing on grass.

MONEY writer and first-time dad Taylor Tepper announces his retirement from urban living.

Renters in New York City have a uniquely dysfunctional relationship with real estate: The more time we spend living in some of the most desirable housing in the world, the less happy we become. Or maybe that’s just me.

My wife and I pay $2,100 a month for what seems like two square feet and minimal natural light in a converted hospital in a cool Brooklyn neighborhood. There’s an artisanal pizza shop, hole-in-the-wall cafe, and kid-friendly beer garden right around the block. I’m a 15-minute walk from a major metropolitan museum, botanical gardens, and the best park in all of New York. When it’s warm I bike, toss the frisbee, and drink whisky on rooftops. The beach is only 30 minutes away.

Unfortunately, warmth doesn’t last forever, and when it gets cold outside—say, from Thanksgiving to Easter—I spend more time indoors. Which means I’m trapped with a 21-pound baby monster who smashes, grabs, and pounds anything he can get his hands on, from cellphones to lamps. As a result, I’m slowly devolving into madness. Spending hours upon hours inside with two other people, only one of whom yields to reason, punctuated by intermittent excursions into tundra-like conditions, makes it seem as if the walls are slowly inching in on themselves.

Don’t get me wrong—I love the city, I went to school in New York, I’ve lived here for almost the entirety of my adult life. But after 13 months as a father and 19 months as a husband, I’m ready to escape to the land of malls and carpool lanes, single-unit houses and trees, the land of my birth: suburbia.

That said, it’s one thing to want move, it’s another to actually do it. Here’s a window into my thought process—and that of other millennials facing the same decision.

We’d Still Be Renters

Years of high rent and monthly student loan bills, combined with the cost of childcare, made it next to impossible for us to save up for a down payment. So we’re looking to rent wherever we go, which should mean more money left over for us. According to NerdWallet.com’s cost of living calculator, we could reduce our housing costs by about 25% if we moved to northern New Jersey or Long Island.

Even if we had enough funds stashed in our joint bank account, there are a couple of reasons why a home purchase would be a poor move. For one, conventional wisdom states that your target property should be no more than two and a half times your gross income. The odds that we’d find a New York-area home in the $300,000 range that’d we’d actually want to live in are low.

OK, let’s say that we had the savings and lived in a less expensive city. Should we jump into the market then? Not necessarily, says Pensacola, Fla.-based financial planner Matt Becker.

“Don’t rush to buy a house just because you want to go the suburbs,” Becker says. “That can lead to a quick financial decision as opposed to a good one.” Since transaction costs are so high, we’d need to stay in the home for a number of years to for buying to make financial sense. And who knows if we’ll want to live in a particular town for that long? My wife and I are still early on in our careers, we could end up lots of places.

Even Though Now Is a Good Time to Buy

If your bank account is fatter than ours and you’re ready plant some roots, buying might make sense. In fact, if you can get a mortgage, now is a great time to buy, since 30-year mortgage rates are absurdly low. Mortgage behemoths Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac announced late last year that they would allow down payments of as low as 3% on some mortgages. (These moves were directed at people who haven’t owned a home for three years, or are in the market for their first house.)

Once you’ve made the decision to move, you need to think about where you’d like to spend the next seven to 10 years. While we need more space, I don’t want to give up some of the best aspects of the city—good restaurants, a sense of community, hipster/independent movie theaters—in the trade. In that regard I’m like a lot of young buyers, says Greensboro, N.C.-based Realtor Sandra O’Connor. “There’s real movement among millennials who are looking for places to live with walkable areas,” she says. “They don’t want to always be in their car.”

If you’re still undecided about whether renting or buying is the better choice for you, check out Trulia’s rent or buy tool. Those who fall in the rent camp should understand that finding rental units outside of cities can be a lengthy process, per O’Connor and Becker.

All Suburbs Are Not Created Equal

So I want to move, but where should I go? I put the question to Alison Bernstein, president of the Suburban Jungle Realty Group, a firm that specializes in helping its clients find the best New York City suburb for them. Bernstein says that city dwellers eager to jump need to “understand that a house is a house, but the dynamic of a town is very difficult to grasp.”

To that end, Bernstein laid out a number of questions that anyone thinking about relocating needs to consider:

How many working moms are in town? What type of industries are there? What’s the breakdown of private versus public school? Even if the schools are highly ranked, there are towns where there is a lot of momentum to send kids to private schools and this does change the personality of the town quite a bit. What do you do over the summer? Does the entire town empty out? Does everyone hang out at the pool? Who is moving to the town? How will that change the school system and the vibe over the next 10 years?

Bernstein has also noticed a few trends with today’s younger buyers. “They are happiest with a smaller piece of property, a more modest home, and being in a more cosmopolitan suburb. Also they are not plowing every last penny into their house. They are still budgeting for travel.”

The Costs of Commuting

Right now I pay $112 a month (soon to be $116) for a 30-day subway pass to get to the office. We are only a 20-minute drive from my wife’s work, which means we shell out a very reasonable $50 a month on gas. When we move to the suburbs we will pay more. For the sake of argument, let’s say that we end up relocating to Pelham, New York, just north of the city. My monthly bill rises to $222, while my wife’s morning drive will consume almost twice as much gasoline, meaning our monthly outlay will jump by about $160.

But that’s just the money. The time we spend going from home to work and back will grow as well. Doing some back of the envelope calculations, my in-transit time will increase by 10 minutes each way, while Mrs. Tepper will spend an additional 20 minutes or so in traffic. Combined we’ll endure about an hour more per day on our commute, which sends shivers down my spine.

There are a few positives about the longer commute, though. For one, car insurance is generally cheaper outside of the city. According to CarInsurance.com, the average rate in my neighborhood is a little less than two times that of Pelham’s. While I wouldn’t necessarily expect to cut our car insurance costs in half, this savings would take a bit of the sting out of much higher commuting costs.

Aside from lower insurance rates, we could also dedicate a portion of our new abode as a work space. As Mrs. Tepper and I advance in our careers, we hope to have more leeway in terms of a flexible work arrangement. While our commute might be longer, we’ll most likely have to do it less often. And each saved car ride is more money in our pockets.

The Tradeoffs

Getting older involves a series of decisions that have the net effect of limiting one’s personal freedom. I became a journalist, which means I couldn’t be a doctor (leaving aside the question of whether or not I had skill to do it in the first place). Marrying one woman, and being keen on staying married, means I can’t marry a different one. A life in one town is a life not lived in another.

Which is all to say that I’ll miss living in Brooklyn. Despite the hipster clichés, I really do enjoy artisanal, delicious, overpriced hamburgers and 17 different IPA varieties at my bars. I like walking everywhere, even if we have a car, and a touch of self-righteousness about your home is good for the soul.

But I think of my sojourn in New York’s best borough as I think of college: I wish I could stay forever, but it’s time to move on.

Financial planner Matt Becker understands my dilemma. He recently moved from Boston to suburb-rich Pensacola and is still adjusting to his new life. He walks less and drives more. While his young family has more space to play and grow, that also means he has more house to furnish and air condition, which means more costs. I imagine we’ll encounter something similar.

The combination, though, of high rent and minimal space has lost its luster. Even if we end up breaking even in our move, or only saving a little bit, our dollars will go further. We can have a backyard for our son and our dog and us. We’ll have a laundry machine on the premises, so we don’t have to lug 20 pounds of clothes a couple of blocks through the snow. We’ll have a full-size dishwasher.

I proudly proclaim without regret what might have depressed my younger self: these amenities are more appealing than staying in Brooklyn.

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