Being money smart is about more than having a budget and eliminating dumb purchases. It means creating a financial foundation that will carry your family comfortably through whatever life throws your way.
To create that foundation and find lasting financial security, you need to own these 10 products. (Hint: You’re about to hear a lot about insurance.)
1. Checking account
Let’s start with the basics. You need to have a centralized place to manage and monitor your money. After all, it’s hard to have a balanced budget if you have only a hazy idea of where your money is going.
Prepaid cards are an increasingly popular option, but they can come saddled with a lot of fees. Plus, disclosures for these cards can be spotty, making it hard to know exactly how much your card is costing you.
Instead, look for a free checking account. Many institutions have scaled back their offerings, but there are still ways to get free checking from a bank or credit union.
2. Debit card
Along with your checking account, sign up for a debit card. Make sure it has a Visa or MasterCard logo and can be used like a credit card.
Having a debit card can eliminate your need to go into debt for purchases, particularly those where it is impossible to use cash or a check. Although I know that some people are fans of credit cards, my personal experience has shown the temptation to overspend when buying on credit negates card benefits for many people.
If you can’t bear the thought of giving up your credit card rewards, look for a bank that offers a debit card rewards program. After backing away from such programs, many banks have brought them back.
3. High-yield savings account
Every household should have an emergency fund; it’s your own personal form of insurance.
Typically, you’ll want your fund to be large enough to pay at least three to six months’ worth of expenses. Since that can be a fairly significant amount of money, you don’t want the cash languishing in a typical savings account, where it will earn next to nothing.
Savings rates aren’t great right now, but if you park money in an online account or a money market account, you may be able to yield close to 1 percent on your emergency fund.
4. Health insurance
Health care services can come with an enormous price tag, especially if you develop a serious health condition.
You may think you’re healthy and young, but robust people get in car accidents, or can be struck down by devastating illnesses. Unless you’re worth millions and can easily pay your own bills, going without health insurance is just plain dumb.
And remember, the law now requires most Americans to purchase health insurance.
5. Homeowners or renters insurance
If your home burns down, will you be left on the street?
Unfortunately, that’s what happens to some people who fail to insure their property. Homeowners policies are relatively inexpensive for the coverage they provide, so there is no reason not to own one.
These policies pay to rebuild your house in the event of a total loss. They also give you the funding to repair storm damage and vandalism, and will likely pony up the dollars needed for temporary housing in the event you can’t stay in your home during repairs.
However, don’t expect your policy to cover damage from flooding. You’ll need a separate policy for that.
If you’re renting, don’t think your landlord’s homeowners policy will pay for your stuff. Instead, cover yourself with some cheap renters insurance.
6. Auto insurance
A car may be your most valuable asset aside from your home.
While many states require you to carry at least a minimal level of coverage, you may want to consider more, depending on your assets and income. See “How Much Car Insurance Should You Buy?” from partner site CarInsurance.com.
For more information on how to get the coverage you need at a price you can afford, we’ve put together 10 tips to cut car insurance costs.
7. Disability insurance
Disability insurance can trip up some otherwise money-savvy individuals.
Disability insurance provides money in the event you are unable to work for an extended period of time. The details may vary by policy, but most generally provide payments equal to 60 percent of your gross income.
If you’re on the fence about whether to buy disability insurance, consider whether you have a big enough emergency fund to pay the bills if you are unable to work. Social Security disability payments provide benefits if you are unable to work for at least a year or are terminally ill. But even if you’re approved, there is a six-month waiting period before benefits begin.
Disability plans are often offered through voluntary workplace benefit programs, or you can purchase coverage directly from insurance companies. For more information, read Stacy Johnson’s primer on disability insurance.