7 Life Choices That Are Actually Financial Decisions

By Tim Lemke on 4 May 2018 0 comments

Life is filled with decisions, some of which can seem very consequential. You will make choices about your career, living situation, relationships, education, and your family. Emotion will be a big driver of your decision making in these cases. But these big life choices should also be viewed with a financial lens.

Whether we realize it or not, some of the key moments of our lives are actually financial decisions in disguise. Let's take a look at the major life choices that can impact your finances.

1. Choosing a college

In an ideal world, we'd pick our college based on the quality of its education, the beauty of its campus, and other factors having nothing to do with money. But most of us also look at the expense. College is costly and is not getting cheaper. It's possible for a family to drop more than a quarter of a million dollars for a four-year degree, potentially saddling a student with loans that will take years to pay off. Thus, the college choice is increasingly one that involves financial considerations.

What is the cost of tuition and housing? Is it better to attend school in-state or out of state? Should I attend a public or private university? Do I qualify for grants or scholarships? Will I be able to get a part-time job and attend school at the same time? These are the questions that often trump all others. (See also: How Much Is Too Much to Pay for College?)

2. Choosing a college major and career

So you've decided to pursue your passion and study to become a marine biologist. This can be a noble and satisfying profession. But have you examined what a marine biologist earns? Are jobs plentiful and stable? Do you know whether you'll need to remain in school for years to get an advanced degree?

It's fine to go after a career that you think will bring you happiness, but it's sensible to also take financial matters into account. There has been renewed talk about the "return on investment" for various college degrees. Like it or not, a business major is more likely to earn a high salary than someone who majored in English Lit. The potential earnings for a college major are especially relevant for those who expect to have heavy student loan debt upon graduation. (See also: 5 Jobs That Pay Over $50K and Don't Require a Bachelor's Degree)

3. Where to live

When I first started out in my career, I had dreams of grabbing my own apartment and living it up in the city. Then I got my first measly paycheck and realized that I had to think differently about my living situation.

When you think about the area of the country or the community you wish to live in, you may consider the weather, the cultural attractions, and the proximity to friends and family. But there's also a good chance that you're examining the job market, the cost of housing, and the educational system. And those are financial considerations. You may like the idea of moving to the mountains of Wyoming, but change your mind when you realize there aren't many jobs in your field of choice. You may be drawn to the lifestyle of the San Francisco Bay Area, but may reconsider when you look at the cost of living. (See also: Here's How Much Life in the Big City Will Cost You)

4. Getting married

Yes, marriage is about love. But it's also about combining each others' assets and debt. It's about setting up a joint bank account. It's about filing taxes jointly and taking advantage of tax breaks. It's about creating wills and buying life insurance. It's about being on the same page in terms of spending and budgeting and deciding whether to lend money (again) to your spouse's deadbeat cousin. It seems unromantic, but getting married is as much a monetary decision as an emotional one. (See also: 9 Surprising Ways Marriage Can Make You Richer)

5. Having children

It costs about $13,000 a year to raise a child, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That means you'll shell out nearly a quarter-million dollars before a son or daughter turns 18. The expenses are seemingly endless. Food. Clothes. Education. Activities. Stuff. Children will add joy to your life, but remove money from your bank account. If you are considering having a child, have you taken the financial realities into account? (See also: 7 Signs You're Financially Ready to Start a Family)

6. Caring for elderly parents

We want what is best for our parents as they age. We want to ensure they get the best quality care and are happy in their environment. If our parents can no longer live on their own, it may be time to examine assisted living centers, in-home nursing, or other options that can vary widely in cost. You may also choose to have a parent move in with you, which can drastically change your own household budget.

Decisions about elder care can also impact your career. What if you have to take time off work to care for an elderly parent? What if you are forced to leave a job because it does not offer the flexibility you need to be there for Mom or Dad? These aren't just emotional decisions, they're huge financial ones. (See also: 6 Financial Steps to Take When Your Aging Parents Move In)

7. Retiring

We all want to reach a certain age and simply say, "OK, I'm done working." It'd be great to hit age 63 and simply walk off into a life of travel and leisure. But the ability to do that must come with the knowledge that you can afford it.

Retiring requires long-term planning to accumulate enough wealth so you can stop working. It may also involve a review of Social Security benefits to determine whether it's more financially advantageous to retire later. The key here is to think of retirement as a financial decision from the get-go. Set a target age for retirement and develop a smart and comprehensive financial plan to get there. With proper financial planning, you can retire when your heart and mind tell you to. (See also: 4 False Assumptions That Could Threaten Your Retirement Years)

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