We're partnering with LightStream, an online lending devision of SunTrust Bank, to talk about how Chelsea and I manage family finance to streamline our lifestyle.
Chelsea and I have worked hard over the last decade to build our family. After getting married, we set out having kids straight away. Chelsea was building a career in marketing and I was struggling to find my own footing in the job market. Family finances weren't always easy. After about two years of limping along, I finally swore in with the Sheriff's Department and we appeared to hit our stride.
Our Family Finance Story
A few hours after I swore in, Chelsea and I entered into our first family finance venture and bought our VERY first car. It was a tiny little Hyundai Elantra just big enough for the two of us and a baby…who arrived three months later.
Fast forward a couple more years, and Chelsea and I found ourselves in a place to consider other traditional family goals. Next on Chelsea's list was buying a home, quickly followed by my own grown-up goal of owning my first dog as an adult. This was the second major family finance endeavor we undertook. The home…not the dog. The day we signed the papers for the house, Chelsea flew to Las Vegas for a conference and I drove 45 miles to pick up my German Shepherd, Kraken.
I was officially a big boy and our family growth was in full force! One month later, our second son was born.
In addition to our rapidly-accumulating creatures, travel had always been top of the list for our family goals. It gives us a chance to see new things, learn about new places and people, and to generally put us in a position to help our family bond under new circumstances. Chelsea's mom was a flight attendant when Chelsea was a kid. Because of this, she wound up traveling to a lot of cool destinations around the world and came to know adventure as a way of life. While I was growing up, my mom was putting herself through nursing school and my father was working hard in a struggling construction industry. This meant I did a lot of my traveling via road trips, the cheaper option for my family.
With Chelsea's knowledge of destinations and my love of the journey, we pass on as much as we can to the boys.
As we moved forward as a family, so did our careers and business. Only one of which for the better. Law enforcement was everything I wanted it to be when I began. However, a volatile political climate and changes in California's legal system made my job increasingly challenging to implement effectively or in any manner that I would consider a “success.” I felt strained and trapped. Furthermore, I started to see the effects of my absence at home as I was at the beck-and-call of work. Meanwhile, our family business was blossoming. Chelsea had transferred her astute marketing skills and research savvy to the blog's gain. I began to play a role here, and fell in love with it.
In the midst of our ebbing-and-flowing work lives, Chelsea and I started making a number of family finance and investment decisions to secure our future. We purchased a large diesel Ford Powerstroke to help us manage the farm and travel more adventurously with camping explorations and road trips. After our fourth son came along, the Elantra was relegated to our economy car for day trips to Los Angeles, as it was no longer fit for our big family.
A mini van quickly followed when we realized it wasn't very economical to tote six people on grocery trips all over town in an F-350. Later on, we realized that we spend so much time on the road working, it would actually be a wise decision to invest in a 37 foot travel trailer to keep our family comfortable and spend less on hotels. We also improved our home, installing 30 solar panels on the roof and remodeling our kitchen and master bedroom. Finally, we started investing in our future by putting money away and purchasing rental properties that would act as a retirement fund.
Viewing “Debt” as part of a Family Finance Plan
All of these purchases, of course, required loans or extensive financial planning. It's also important to note that Chelsea and I never made purchases that would put us in troubling debt. There is ‘good debt' – such as our rental properties that will grow in value or make money over time – and ‘bad debt.' Bad debt encompasses things like our cars, which may be necessary and practical but absolutely will not gain in value or ever “pay for themselves.” Chelsea's family shouldered a lot of bad debt and some financial crises when she was a child, so she watches our budget like a hawk.
Our general plan is to pay off all of our loans as quickly as possible, taking interest rates and long-term goals into consideration. In order to do this, we had to communicate with each other and develop a plan. Chelsea and I sat down and had “the talk” back when I started thinking about leaving my job. We knew that we needed to monitor spending, pay attention to our debt, and manage our outstanding loans.
This is where debt management solutions can play a crucial role for people looking to make smart family finance decisions. LightStream offers an online solution for people working to advance their lives by compiling personal finances into a straightforward goal. People who have good credit and are working toward a solid financial future can consolidate debt to make it more manageable. Most family finance plans have a lot of moving parts that can seem overwhelming – just like Chelsea and I owning our own business, me retiring from one career, and us simultaneously investing in our future. LightStream's goal is to take the complicated terms and processes and make them all straightforward and simple.
The basic concept is that you can take all of the miscellaneous loans that any family may accrue over the years and put them in a more centralized location. It's also about managing payments and loan rates all at the same time to reduce hassle. This can greatly reduce the timeframe for repayment. LightStream can assist with auto loans, remodel loans, debt consolidation, medical expenses, and even things like swimming pools, boats or our RV (for example). What's better is LightStream can provide a loan for those looking to consolidate something as simple as their credit card debt. Credit cards have fluctuating interest rates and LightStream's loan service offers an opportunity to stabilize it.
LightStream has low rates, no fees, and a simple no-surprises experience. Family finance is a big concern for most adults, which is why it's important to manage it properly. Doing so alleviates stress and helps you see more clearly what's going on and where you stand. This just makes decision making easier which, in turn, makes your LIFE easier.
Think of Consolidation as a Cow
When I talk to Chelsea about these family finance issues, it's stressful at first. If you look at all the loans any family can acquire while they grow, it's a lot like walking a half dozen bulls on leashes. They're big, strong and can be pretty scary at times. That's why LightStream is such a helpful tool for families looking to simplify. LightStream, metaphorically, turns all the bulls into one manageable dairy cow named “Daisy” with a nice copper bell. I'd much rather walk Daisy down the street.
Planning isn't Tedious, it's Freeing
Chelsea and I are still working to improve our family finances as well as the ins-and-outs of our daily lives. Optimization is an ongoing process for us. We've managed our loans and debt, and now we continue to try and improve. We simply focus more on the day-to-day perspective of enjoying our family on the road and at home, and less time worrying about what comes next. I even have the time and mental capacity to do things like taking Chelsea on larger trips…just like I did when I surprised her with two tickets to Fiji for a week.
The initial legwork of planning our lives has now given us the flexibility to decompress more often. When you decide to take control of family finance, you lock down the “bull” that so often causes fear and angst. This made it so I could confidently leave my day job and at the same time spend that week in Fiji, without sweating over what trouble we may find brewing in our bank account or what deadlines, rates and fees might need to be managed.
On the other side of things, this meant our four boys would have a better life. Growing children have tons of questions, lots of dreams, and a whole bunch of wants. If you have kids, you know what it's like when you have any sort of urgent deadline and your nose is to the grindstone. Suddenly, you get a tap on the shoulder followed by a question: “Are you older than all the trees, or just the ones in our yard?”
LightStream allows for one of the more stressful parts of life – family finance – to be put into a trusted spot. This means I can answer those questions without being a grouchy dad.
This also translates to how my kids see the world, and how they're likely to invest their own time and money someday. They don't have to grow up looking at parents who are pulling their hair out. My goal has always been to let them wonder about where the water in streams came from, how old trees are, and why they can't have a pet dinosaur. Now, they have the freedom to do that.
With a family finance plan in place, we're ALL free to put our focus on the things that matter most.
Does your family prioritize financial planning?