What your baby can teach you about personal finance

Unconditional love and adorableness are great. But your baby might actually be the world’s cutest personal finance expert. Here are three adult money lessons your bundle of joy was born to impart.

Crawl before you walk

If your little one is like most babies, she needs to log some serious tummy time before she’s ready to crawl from point A to point B. And later, when she can bring herself to her feet, she’ll want to shuffle alongside the coffee table while holding on for support until she musters the confidence to walk freely.

Baby steps.

When you’re just starting out, basic moves can help ensure a sound financial footing. Get health insurance to guard against disaster. Contribute to your 401(k) at least up to your company match. Pay off high-rate debt. Work out those fundamentals before moving on to more advanced issues that are also important, like building a diverse investment portfolio, borrowing money to buy a house, or saving on taxes by planning ahead. That’s the baby way.

Ferberize your 401(k)

We know, we know: Sleep training (letting your baby cry himself to sleep) is incredibly controversial. We only mention this parenting powderkeg here to draw an analogy, not to suggest it’s for everyone.

With sleep training, the family endures a few crying-filled nights. For the parents, it may feel cruel. For the baby, it may feel scary. But at least in theory, the baby learns how to sleep steadily through the night in his crib without making a peep. The parents (and their neighbors) eventually get some sleep, too. Everyone gains.

Whether you take a hard line with sleep training or not, you should apply the principle to your 401(k). When the stock market is crashing, your investments seem to be crying out for help. “Do something!” they cry. “Cash out! Reallocate to safer investments! Help us!”

If you stay the course, though, you may be better off. Stock investments have performed well over the long haul, despite ups and downs from year to year. Left alone, your 401(k) should steadily grow, and you can rest easy.

Be a sponge and a mimic

Your baby studies his unfamiliar world: your words, your laughter, your smiles, your attempts to spoon yogurt into his constantly moving mouth. He imitates them all with stress-free abandon. Over time, he starts to speak, smile, and laugh right back at you. And he greets the development of each new skill with glee and a cheerful sense of discovery.

The idea of taking control of your finances can be overwhelming. Try adopting your baby’s admirable approach: It’s an adventure. Learning what you need to know to make good financial decisions can be exciting. (My book Get a Financial Life: Personal Finance In Your Twenties and Thirties is a good place to start.) Combining that basic knowledge with some baby-level effort is all you need to get moving.