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I'm 43 and have a teenager and a baby. I stopped saving for college to pay for diapers and formula.

Kelly Burch   

I'm 43 and have a teenager and a baby. I stopped saving for college to pay for diapers and formula.
  • Sophoan Prak, 43, has a 6-month-old daughter and a 16-year-old son.
  • She paused saving for college due to baby-related expenses.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Sophoan Prak, a financial advisor at Vanguard. It has been edited for length and clarity.

I had my son Ian when I was 26. Looking back, I had little financial security, but my husband Kosal and I were able to rely on family for help when we needed it.

Kosal and I always wanted more kids, but when Ian was young, we separated. We were apart for years but ultimately had a happy ending when we got back together. After that, we tried to have a baby for about four years. Just when I had given up, I found out I was pregnant with my daughter Allie.

Today, Ian is 16, and Allie is 6 months old. Allie absolutely adores her brother, smiling when he walks into the room. Ian is a typical teenager who would rather be playing video games with his friends than interacting with a baby. Still, I see a relationship developing between them.

Having one baby at 26 and one at 42 has made me reevaluate my financial planning. Even though I'm a Certified Financial Planner, the process of updating our finances has been intense, and it's not over yet. Here are the changes we've made.

I stopped contributing to Ian's college savings

Each month, I spend about $600 to $900 on diapers, formula, and other baby essentials. I'm lucky not to have childcare expenses since my mother-in-law watches Allie.

Still, that money needs to come out of the budget somewhere else. I'm driving an older car to delay a hefty new payment. That decision was easy compared to the other one I made: stopping monthly contributions to Ian's 529 college savings account.

That choice was difficult, but I had to balance my family's immediate-term needs with our long-term goals. Plus, Ian already has a well-funded 529, although he'll still be applying for financial aid for college.

On the other hand, I've started a 529 for Allie. I don't contribute to it yet, but any monetary gifts from loved ones into that account.

I'm evaluating my retirement timeline

I haven't slowed down my retirement savings. You can borrow for college, a new car, and almost everything else, but you can't borrow for retirement. That's why I urge everyone to save 10 to 15% of their income for retirement. If you absolutely can't afford that, at least save enough to get your company's match if you have one.

My husband and I are still discussing whether we need to reevaluate our retirement timeline. I always planned on retiring at 65. Allie will likely be in college at that time, so I'll need to consider not only our income needs but also our insurance coverage as I decide when to stop working.

I updated our guardianship information

If something were to happen to me and Kosal, my parents would take guardianship of Ian. I made that choice a long time ago. But as I considered who should become Allie's guardian in the case of an emergency, I was stuck. My parents are a lot older now and may not be around to see her into adulthood. Even if they are, they might not have the energy for a child.

I talked with Ian about this and mentioned that maybe he and Allie should have different guardians. His reaction showed me that he didn't like that idea. Even if he isn't too interested in his sister yet, he doesn't want to live away from her. So, I asked my sister, who is willing to take both kids if the worst happened.

I've learned that financial plans need to be fluid

Life doesn't always turn out how we think it should. Relationships have hiccups. Babies don't come when we want them to. And yet, one thing we can control — at least somewhat — is financial planning. Even though this is my job, it felt a bit overwhelming at times. There are some things I still need to do, like increasing my life insurance coverage.

I'm trying to remember that I don't have to have all the answers at once. I just like to have a plan to follow, and I can always readjust it later if necessary.




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