As a financial planner, the most important figure I ask clients to estimate before they meet with me is the cost per month of comfortably supporting the family. Almost always, I have to increase that figure by 30 percent to arrive at the real number. This is particularly critical if you are in the middle of a divorce and suporting your family.
I live in West Los Angeles where the cost of living has grown very high for families — particularly the cost of housing and education. Private elementary school alone now costs $25,000 to $30,000 per child per year here.
Stop now and list your monthly expenses. If you add up that list, then increase the total by 30 percent, you'll most likely arrive at the amount you will need to sustain yourself and cover emergencies, holidays and a short vacation. How does that look? If the number is a lot more than you're taking in, accept the situation as challenge. And, most importantly, find ways to increase your income.
It's possible to scale back our lifestyle, but only to a certain point. That's why I would rather see clients focus on figuring out how to leverage their skills to create more income. After my father died my mom rented a room in our house to a young women new to town. We agreed she would stay for one year. The situation worked for my mom because she knew she'd get her privacy back in one year, but in the meantime would make some extra money.
Clarifying how much income you need is very important because it will push you to set your sights on finding a job that pays enough. There is nothing more powerful when negotiating for a job than to say, "I need to make x to support my family," or, "I need to make x to afford the cost of living in Los Angeles."
I recently was speaking to someone in charge of hiring secretaries for a prestigious company. In this company the secretaries are expected to have college degrees, a high degree of computer proficiency, and a willingness to work overtime as well as attain additional licenses. When he complained that he couldn't find any qualified candidates, I asked what the starting salary was. His answer: $36,000.
I explained to him that, by my calculations, a single woman in Los Angeles requires about $80,000 a year to maintain a basic lifestyle. After we went through the numbers, he realized that he just wasn't going to attract the best candidates until he raised the starting salary.
Once you're clear about what you need, you can begin the journey of finding and attracting the career that will provide for those needs. Review your budget for reasonableness and then boldly search for opportunities that will provide the income you require.
Click the following to return to the Your Finances and Divorce directory