Can you afford to have a baby?
You may have calculated obvious costs such as diapers, clothing, food, and day care, but don’t be too quick to assume that you’ve accounted for everything. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, middle income families spend an average $12,980 a year on each kid, and $233,610 in a lifetime, not including college.
When I was expecting my first baby, I thought there was no way I could spend that much. I may have been more frugal than most, but I still ran into all kinds of expenditures — and decreases in income — that I hadn’t anticipated.
Watch out for these unanticipated ways a baby may impact your family budget. (See also: 24 Tips for Having a Baby Without Going Broke)
1. A birth that doesn’t go as planned
If you have a high-deductible health plan or no health insurance at all, you may have carefully planned for a low-cost birth. That’s smart. But one thing I learned from having three babies is that “birth” and “plan” can be oxymorons. So many factors are outside your control, such as when and where your labor begins, whether the baby has any trouble making their big entrance, and what kind of care you and the baby need after the birth.
I know couples who planned a homebirth with a midwife, but ended up being transferred to the hospital in an ambulance for a C-section. If you are birthing at home or at a non-hospital birth center, both of which can be great choices, please have a financial plan for what happens if you get transferred. You will be under enough stress on the day of without adding financial unknowns to the mix. (See also: 10 Newborn Costs That Took Me by Surprise)
2. Higher utility bills
When my husband and I were childless, we lived in a San Francisco flat with no central heat and we typically ran our electric wall heaters an hour a day or less.
Once we brought home our first child, our electricity bill jumped for two reasons: One, we felt that baby needed a warmer room to sleep in at night, not to mention the fact that I had to leave the cocoon of blankets multiple times a night to feed her. Two, since I took a six-month maternity leave, then left our child at home with a nanny, our apartment was suddenly occupied nearly 24/7 instead of only on evenings and weekends. We ran the heat much more, kept more lights on, and certainly ran more loads of laundry and dishes. If you decide to use cloth diapers, expect your laundry use to increase even more than average. (See also: Everything You Need to Know About Cloth Diapers)
3. Convenience food
When I stopped working full-time to stay home with my new baby, I expected to make more home-cooked meals. In the long run that was true, but in the early months, I had trouble getting dinner on the table. Like many babies, my infant fussed most in the late afternoon, and often I couldn’t put her down without her screaming. Many things can safely be done with a baby strapped to your body, but stirring a dish over a hot stove or putting a casserole in the oven aren’t among them.
For many households — especially if both parents work and have limited time between day care pickup and dinner — bringing home a baby is going to mean also bringing home more pizzas, ordering Chinese, and heating up Trader Joe’s fake out. Don’t guilt yourself about it; just budget for it.
4. Health care
Your health plan may not charge copays for the well baby visits scheduled frequently during the first year, which is great. But keep in mind that these may not be your only doctor visits. An ear infection may lead to two visits and a prescription. For one of my babies, a cold turned into a hospitalization for pneumonia. Another had frequent chest congestion that necessitated a breathing machine at home.
If you have been on a health care plan that only covers major illnesses, you may need to look into a plan that covers more frequent visits before your baby is born.
Then there are all the nonprescription supplies that you might buy for minor infant health concerns: baby Motrin, teething gel, a humidifier to ease congestion, medicated cream for eczema or rashes, a high-tech thermometer, so on and so forth. All these things add up, and quickly.
Babies have to be taken to the doctor so often — weekly at first, then monthly, plus sick visits — that even transportation costs for getting to the doctor may have to be taken into account.
5. Loss of income
The last time I earned a full-time paycheck was 13 years ago. I may never earn one again.
My family is an extreme example — many must and do have both parents return to working full-time within six weeks of birth. But I took six months away from my job after my first birth, some of that time unpaid, and then returned as a part-time worker. While pregnant with my second child, I quit my job altogether. I only began contributing freelance income to the family budget gradually as my kids got older.
Even for families where both parents plan to keep working full-time, income may decline. Both parents may pass up opportunities for overtime. Time for side hustles evaporates. Parents may have to take unpaid days off if the baby is sick, or for those numerous well baby visits. (See also: 12 Side Jobs for Stay-at-Home Moms and Dads)
6. A bigger house
My husband and I brought our first baby home to a 750 square foot, one-bedroom apartment with no immediate plans to move. After all, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends sharing a room with your baby! We were sure we would be cozy.
Unfortunately, we almost immediately felt crowded out by baby equipment, not to mention the fact that there was nowhere to escape to if the baby was crying and one parent was trying to sleep or work. Living in a building with shared walls also became a problem, especially when the baby learned to bang her toys on the floor.
Housing accounts for around a third of the expense of raising a child, according to the USDA. If you think you won’t move after you have a baby, go to some open houses and ask the sellers why they’re moving. Lots of them will tell you it’s because their family is growing. And if you don’t move after the first baby, you will probably want a bigger place once the second is on the way.
Our family moved out of that one-bedroom flat into a three-bedroom house around the time that our second baby was born. The mortgage is twice what we paid before having kids. (See also: 5 Easy Ways to Make Room for Baby)
7. A larger car
You do not need to rush out and buy a minivan the moment you see two pink lines on the pregnancy test. However, it can be shocking how much space today’s infant seats take up in the back seat. If you’ve been driving a two-door compact car, you may find yourself wanting something larger after the baby comes. And if you have more than two children, good luck fitting their car seats in the back of any sedan. The first baby saw us upgrade from a two-door hatchback to a Subaru; the third child sent us from the Subaru to small sport utility vehicle.
8. Life insurance
Before having kids, my husband and I didn’t worry about life insurance. If I died, my husband would have been able to handle the payments on our condo by himself, and vice versa.
But once you have a child, you have to ask yourself what would happen if one parent suddenly died. Your child would likely receive Social Security payments, but would this be enough to keep living where you live, to pay for child care while the surviving parent works, and to save for college? And what if both parents died?
Life insurance costs can vary widely depending on your overall health and lifestyle and the specifics of your plan. However, you need to seriously consider this expense once you become a parent. (See also: Term vs Whole Life Insurance: Here’s How to Choose)
9. Child care
Of course, you knew before you had a baby that you weren’t going to be able to leave it home alone while you worked. But you probably didn’t realize just how much child care would cost. According to a recent NerdWallet study, half of expecting parents thought diapering would be the biggest expense of having a baby, not child care.
According to that study, the cost of full-time child care ranges from $8,000 at a day care center to $27,000 or more for a nanny.
Even if you had realized that child care would be expensive, you may find yourself paying even more than you’d imagined. For instance, when my first child was born, I hoped I wouldn’t need child care because I planned to change my work shift to evenings. That plan collapsed when my boss turned down my request. My second thought was to use a day care center, but I quickly found out that all the centers in my urban neighborhood had years long waiting lists for infant care. Home-based day cares were more affordable and available, but each one I visited had a worrisome condition, such as kids sitting in front of the TV for hours or being left crying in their cribs well after naptime. I finally ended up sharing a nanny with another family, at a cost far higher than I had anticipated.
10. All the cute things
You might think that you won’t waste money buying clothes and toys for your newborn. After all, you got all those clothes at your baby shower. Then you meet your baby and realize that she’s the most beautiful creature on earth and that beautiful creatures need accessories. After my first child was born, I developed a habit of popping into the Gymboree near my work regularly to see if new styles were in and if anything had gone on sale. This routine did not help our family budget.
If you’re planning on breast-feeding your baby, you might expect that to be free, right? Not exactly.
A surprising number of newborns have trouble getting the hang of breast-feeding. You might need to consult a lactation specialist just once to help your infant latch and learn to suck, or you may need multiple home visits. You may need to buy products, such as nipple shields, to help the latch happen. All this struggle may wreak havoc on the mother’s body and soul, necessitating anything from nipple cream to doctor visits for mastitis to seeing a counselor.
Whether your baby succeeds immediately at breast-feeding or not, you still probably need a breast pump. You’ll also likely need a better, more expensive breast pump than you thought. I’ve tried a lot of them, and trust me, a cheap breast pump will not enhance postpartum life.
Many parents end up bottle feeding instead of or in addition to breast-feeding, which brings the expense of formula and bottles. You might even buy a sanitizer for the bottles, an insulated carrying pack for either breastmilk or formula, or a mini fridge for the office or nursery.
In the second half of the first year, your baby will start eating solids, an occasion you can mark by purchasing many kinds of organic foods for him to spit onto the kitchen walls, and new feeding gadgets such as suction cup bowls and spoons that hold puree in the handle. Expect to throw away most of the food you purchase, either directly from the container because it went bad before your baby finished it, or after scraping it off the floor, walls, cupboards, and your own clothing.
Taking care of a baby might sound easy before you try it. After all, humans have been doing this since they lived in caves. If that were true, though, there wouldn’t be so many specialists out there ready to help you figure it out for an hourly fee.
You might realize after you come home from the hospital that you need a postpartum doula or baby nurse to help you get back up to speed and get a few hours of sleep at night. Many more families than you would imagine consult a sleep specialist to help them figure out how to get their infants to sleep.
13. Baby gear
Before my first was born, I read a book called The Baby Book by a certain Dr. Sears. This book, which embraces attachment parenting, convinced me that I wouldn’t need anything but my own arms and maybe a sling to care for my baby. After all, I would never want to turn my baby over to a mechanical device like a swing when I could be cuddling her in my arms.
Then I brought the baby home, and I realized that sometimes I needed to use the bathroom or shower or cook dinner. This wasn’t really covered in the book. We purchased our first baby swing, a weak little portable model. By the time we had our third baby, I had the most powerful swing on the market downstairs, another swing for upstairs, plus a bouncy seat for the bathroom, two strollers, and countless other pieces of baby gear.
Even if you think your baby shower will cover your gear needs, the fact is that you will end up spending money on baby equipment. Don’t feel the need to buy every single product that’s advertised for babies, but accept the fact that there will be gadgets, and some of them really help.
14. Replacing things that baby wrecks
That sweet thing can’t even raise his head; how could he destroy your possessions?
My babies have slobbered and mouthed a cellphone into oblivion. They’ve grabbed fragile things that I thought were out of reach and flung them. They have vomited on strangers and caused me to have to pay for those strangers’ meals. They have stretched out the necklines of my shirts while reaching for my breasts. One of them even wrecked an expensive ballpark beer before I got the chance to take a sip by throwing a cleaning wipe into the cup.
And oh, the pacifiers. I have surely spent thousands of dollars replacing pacifiers that babies flung out of car windows, dropped in the park, and just disappeared into the baby ether.
You really can’t have nice things with a baby around. And even your mediocre things will need replacing or professional cleaning more often than you’d expected.
15. Entertainment and education
Before I became a mother, I laughed out loud at a colleague who told me he took his infant to a music class. But when I was on maternity leave with my daughter, the hours began to weigh on me. We needed somewhere to go, and you can only grocery shop so many times per day.
We signed up for a baby sign language class and later — yes — a baby music class.
For the parents, there are also continuing education classes to pay for, such as infant CPR. And if you stay home with your baby, there’s the cost of being out and about instead of sitting in an office all day. I found myself spending on things like lattes and lunches with other moms, just because I was out pushing the stroller.