There is one life before you become a parent, and there is an entirely new life after child/children. I should know because ever since I became a parent, everything seems to have changed.

The Top Three Money Priorities For Every Parent

And I am not talking about time spent on diaper changes or sleepless nights that every parent grumbles about. What changed are my priorities.

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Before I had children, sure I had priorities, but they somehow lacked the intensity of purpose that I now have. Parenthood changed my priorities, especially my financial ones.

There are a number of ways that parents cope with the changed circumstances, and each one may find his/her own path to peace of mind and security. Here are three absolute musts that I believe every parent should focus on.

Paying Rent or Mortgage Bills On Time, Every Time

Paying my rent has always been a priority. It’s even more so now that I’m a mom. I sleep better knowing that my two toddlers are cuddled up in a safe and secure space. The premium that I pay for my apartment allows me to live in one of the safest cities in the entire country. The neighbors are kind. There is no noise, aside from the noise my twins create themselves.

I will always make sure that I have money to pay my rent. Without that sense of a safe and private space for me and my twins, I would feel very unsettled. More importantly, I want my children to live in a nurturing and friendly environment, where they can grow up to be confident and loving adults.

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Shelter and food, of course, are the top priorities every parent should have.

If you have limited money or are in a desperate situation, you should always pay for your food and your mortgage/rent first.

The credit card bills, debt collectors, etc. can wait. Shelter and food first, then the rest.

An Emergency Fund

According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, 26 perecent of Americans have no emergency savings at all. This is a percentage that absolutely needs to change.

The reason this should be a financial priority for all parents is that you always want to have extra cash on hand to take care of your children if something goes wrong.

In 2005, I went through one of the most excruciating periods of my life when Hurricane Katrina demolished my hometown. When so many people in Louisiana were placed in horrible hotel rooms, shelters, and even the Superdome, my parents were able to pay for my family to stay in a bed and breakfast for several weeks until they were able to rent a small house.

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My parents placed a priority on my brother’s mental health and mine. They didn’t want us to see the suffering and the chaos that surrounded us at that time. I’m glad they had a hefty emergency fund ready to take care of our family when we needed it. Otherwise, the experience might have been much more scarring as it was for many people.

A College Fund

Every parent has likely heard that college tuition is rising at an astronomical rate. That’s why it’s more important than ever to start a college fund. Whether you open a traditional 529 plan, an ESA, or invest in a piece of real estate that you can sell when they are ready to go to college, start thinking about this as soon as possible.

If you feel like you don’t have enough wiggle room in your budget to start contributing to a college fund, take a long, hard look at your spending. Even $100/month can go a long way over a period of 18 years.

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Ultimately, it’s important to take the time to assess your spending and make sure that the money you budget for your kids each month goes towards priorities listed above. After all, these financial priorities will not only make your kids’ life better today, they’ll positively impact your child’s future for many, many years to come.

And in the process, if you’ve bought yourself some happiness in the long term, well, you deserve it.