Matt Becker, financial planner and father of two, was inspired to launch his financial advice blog Mom and Dad Money (momanddadmoney.com) by the birth of his first child. "When my wife and I found out we were pregnant in 2011," he says, "I felt a huge amount of pressure to make the right financial decisions for my family." As he began to put together a financial strategy, he realized it was worth sharing with other new parents—and so "Mom and Dad Money" was born.
Over the past couple of years the site has grown into a valuable resource for new parents looking for expert family financial planning tips, especially around long term planning topics like college savings and life insurance protection. His free ebook "A New Parent's Guide To Saving For College" offers a solid strategy for starting a college fund no matter how big or small your budget.
We asked Matt what motivated him to dive headfirst into family financial planning—which can be an intimidating prospect for many—and whether he had any special advice for new parents worried about how to manage their money.
What originally inspired you to learn more about personal finance and money management?
Like a lot of people, I found myself in the real world, living on my own for the first time, with no idea how to manage my money. At some point I realized it was getting hard just to find enough money to pay for three meals a day, so I knew I had to make a change. I started reading up on budgeting, and everything just kind of snowballed from there.
Who were the experts you first turned to for advice?
Ramit Sethi was one of the first personal finance experts I came across, and to this day he has been one of the most influential teachers in my life. I read his book "I Will Teach You To Be Rich" early on and loved his attitude of focusing on big wins and automating your savings so that managing your money could be pretty hands-off. That just really resonated with me, to the point that I work with my clients on creating similar systems.
Another big influence on me was the book "Unconventional Success" by David Swensen. That book laid the foundation for most of what I believe about investing, which is that it can actually be very simple even if you don't have much knowledge or experience. It made investing approachable for me at a time when I wasn't an expert, and that made a big difference in helping me get started.
What online tools and resources do you use in your own life?
I recommend that people check out the Bogleheads forums if they're interested in investing. I also love Babycenter's Family Finances forum for parents. Both have incredibly engaged audiences with many people at the ready to help with any question you might have.
For my own personal finances, I'm a huge fan of Mint.com for tracking my spending and Vanguard for investing. And I use Ally Bank for most of my basic checking and savings needs. Those are my go-tos.
How financially prepared were you for the birth of your first child?
It definitely required a big shift. The single best thing we did was make a rough projection of what our budget would look like when the baby got here and then started living on that budget a few months in advance. For those few months, we had a lot of extra income coming in that we weren't spending and we just funneled that into a savings account. That extra savings cushion relieved a lot of the stress, since we knew that even if we made mistakes we had some cash around to handle it.
[Tweet "Best thing we did was make a budget before the baby got here and lived on it in advance. #budgeting #momanddadmoney"]
The real challenge ended up just being mental. I had always managed my money well, but things were going to be much tighter with the baby and a single income and I was really just worried about it. The preparation helped, but the other thing I found out is that if you're making the effort to prepare, things are usually a lot less scary than they seem ahead of time. I saw that with our situation, and I've seen that with others as well. Once the baby is here you find a way to make things work.
What was the biggest change you faced as you started your new family?
Probably the biggest shift was going from managing my money on my own to my wife and I managing our money together. We were not only adding a child, but my wife and I were newly married so we were joining accounts for the first time and we were switching to a single income. It was a lot of change all at once and it definitely stressed me out.
Luckily she's awesome and we work well together, but it's not always easy and we've each had to make compromises to account for the other one's personal style. We also have to make a conscious effort to keep an open line of communication so that we stay on the same page. The longer we go without talking money, the more likely it is that we'll run into a problem.
[Tweet "The longer my wife and I go without talking money, the more likely we'll run into a problem. #budgeting #momanddadmoney"]
You've been running your site for nearly two years now. What have you learned?
It's been fun to see how many different takes there are on personal finance. I honestly didn't know just how many people were out there writing about money and I've learned a lot from them. For example, the whole idea of extreme early retirement, where people are trying to reach financial independence by 30 or 40, was new to me. Being exposed to ideas like that has really opened my eyes to the possibilities that exist if you're purposeful with your money.
What are your readers like? (Here's your chance to give them some feedback!)
I get emails from readers all of the time and I love it. It's honestly my favorite part of running the site because I get to hear from real people about the things they're struggling with and I have a chance to make a difference. I always encourage people to sign up for my email list and to email me directly anytime. I think that regular communication is the single best way for all of us to learn. I've even been able to keep up an ongoing dialogue with a few readers, and a few more have even become clients. It's been a lot of fun.
Have you had any unusual experiences with the site?
Probably the strangest thing is some of the comments I get on certain posts. For example, I have a blog post detailing all of the reasons why people shouldn't buy whole life insurance and every now and then I get a life insurance agent who decides to leave a really nasty comment. [We agree with Matt and suggest you buy term life insurance instead. -Ed.] It's always surprising to me how angry people can get, but I guess that's just part of the deal.
Luckily I'm confident that my arguments are fair and accurate, so I just try to respond calmly and with facts. If nothing else, my responses can help readers make an even more informed decision.
Get more family financial planning advice at momanddadmoney.com