Financial SPF 10 for families

Believe me, I know how it happens. You’re in a hurry. You’re only going to be in the sun for a little while, no big deal. Besides, you’ve exposed your precious hide to the elements before, and nothing bad happened. 

It’s hard to get worked up about consequences that might be waiting in the future. (And of course as soon as you go swimming all that protection is going to wear off anyway.) 

OK, so the analogy kind of breaks down there. 

Still, the high temps and bright days ahead have me thinking about protecting my skin, and I don’t just mean my skin-skin. 

Quickly now, before this tortured analogy goes any further, here are 10 ways to be smart about the health of your skin — I mean your money — otherwise known as 10 Tips for the Shrewdly Planned Family, or SPF 10. 

Build an emergency fund. As a parent, your expenses are growing. That makes it hard to think about saving, but experts say it’s crucial to put six to nine months of living expenses into an emergency account. That gives you some leeway if you or your spouse loses a job or an emergency expense comes up. Make a point of putting away at least a little every month.

Pay savings when you pay bills. Don’t wait to see what you have left over at the end of the month, because you probably won’t have much. Instead, budget for how much you’ll put in savings each month, and pay it the same way you pay for other bills — on time.

Pay off credit cards every month. Try to use credit cards only in an emergency, and pay off the balance the first month so you avoid paying high interest rates.

But don’t rush to pay off that student loan. Student loan interest rates are super low, and it’s much more important to pay off high-interest debts like credit cards first. Those are the debts that are costing you more — a lot more — in the long-term. 

Shop around for phone, cable and Internet services. You can save tons of money if you put in the work to make the changes. If you think you’re getting the best deal already, you’re probably not.

Shop around for banks and credit unions, too. Read all the bank notices you get in the mail or via email and be sure you understand all the charges. Then look closely at the competition and see if you can get a better deal. Experts say that smaller community banks and local credit unions often have lower fees.

Refinance your mortgage. Rates are so low now, you can likely save thousands of dollars a year — even after accounting for refinance fees. (But act soon: There’s a threat that rates for borrowers could go up later this year.)

Shop smart. Cut coupons, but only for items you’d buy anyway. If you don’t normally buy those organic hand-juiced popsicles, don’t buy them just to save 50 cents. 

Also, buy bulk when you can. You can usually find space to store items like toilet paper, laundry detergent, diapers and certain foods you go through a lot of. (It’s frozen fruit in our house.) Buying in bulk means you’re paying less per item. You’re also shopping less often, thus saving gas and time.

Avoid unnecessary types of insurance. Don’t pay for credit-card theft insurance. Federal law already limits your liability for unauthorized charges to $50. Skip the life insurance for the kids, too. 

The purpose of life insurance is to support people who rely on your income in case you die prematurely. But nobody’s depending on your kids’ income. Instead of investing in life insurance for kids, invest in college or retirement accounts. Finally, check with your auto policy and credit-card company before your next trip. One or both may already provide all the personal-liability and collision-damage coverage you need, meaning you probably don’t need to buy rental-car insurance.

Stay healthy. Health-care costs are always a burden, and the easiest way to save money is to not get sick. Preventive services are typically much less expensive than treatment. 

Depending on your plan, they may even be free. Don’t neglect your regular checkups, and don’t forget to slather on the sunblock when you go out!


Eric Braun is a Minneapolis writer, editor and dad of two boys. He’s currently working on a financial literacy book for young readers. Learn more about his other published works at Send comments or questions to