Preparing for Parenthood's Financial Squeeze

If there's one topic that raises blood pressures of new and soon-to-be parents alike, it's the financial expense of raising a child.

Maybe you've stumbled across an article detailing the daunting costs of child rearing, from birth through college. Maybe you're concerned about making things work on a modest income. Maybe you're anxious about your lack of financial savvy—particularly when it comes to long-term planning.

There's no doubt about it, money is a huge stressor for most new parents. As Jacey Rury, mother of three points out, "There's probably never a 'perfect time' financially to have a baby. If we would've waited until we paid off this amount or saved that amount, we may never have had kids!"

Certainly there are some unavoidable expenses, but having a baby doesn't have to turn your budget upside down—as long as you resist the urge to buy that chic diaper bag or those teeny-tiny name brand shoes. Just remember: it is doable to provide for your little one without breaking the bank. Here are some money-saving suggestions to keep in mind.

  • Choose baby clothes wisely. "Unless an infant is premature, I wouldn't recommend buying clothing sized for a newborn," says Jan, mother of four. "Babies grow so quickly that those clothes may only get a couple of wears out of them. A baby can start out wearing outfits sized for a 3- to 6-month old."

    Also, avoid the temptation to overdo it on those adorable but very pricey designer duds. Instead, visit yard sales and secondhand stores. It’s a sure bet to score high quality items at affordable prices.

  • Evaluate what you and your baby really need. From elaborate bedding to a variety of strollers to expensive "must have" toys, it's all too easy to shell out thousands of dollars before the baby is even born.

    Christine Johnson, mother of two, offers this reminder: "The cute swings and beautiful nurseries and other "stuff" you can buy is not what makes your baby coo and smile."

    Practically speaking, all you really need during those early days is a safe place for your little one to eat, sleep and soil lots and lots of diapers.

  • Don't hesitate to register for gifts. For some, the jury is still out on whether registering for baby gifts is tacky rather than sensible. But let's face it, people are going to buy presents either way—so why not offer a little guidance on the items you need most?

    Creating a registry will save you time and money, since it'll cut down on shopping time, and you won't have to visit stores to return unwanted gifts. Plus, this way you won't end up with a closet full of onesies when you were already stocked with a perfectly good supply.

  • Mom, take care when updating your wardrobe. Of course it's necessary to purchase clothing that'll accommodate your expanding, well, everything.

    The challenge is building a temporary wardrobe of items that are well-made, fashionable and inexpensive. Fortunately, many mass-market retailers have caught on to the growing numbers of women who are showing off their pregnant curves. Also, don't be afraid to journey into your husband's closet (his sweatshirts and t-shirts may fit perfectly) and to spread the word to friends and neighbors that you're on the lookout for maternity wear.

  • Anticipate the cost of delivery. With escalating hospital fees, a range of insurance coverage and a whole host of childbirth methods, expected and unexpected expenses can quickly pile up.

    Depending on where you live, the cost of having a baby currently ranges from $6,000 to $8,000 for a vaginal birth, to $10,000 to $14,000 for a caesarean birth. Insurance could cover a lot or very little of the cost. You can save by passing up a private room if there's an extra charge, and checking out free services that the hospital offers, such as complimentary breastfeeding consultations.

    Plus, don't forget to ask hospital staff for free product samples, and ask permission to take home any in-room baby-care items. Why let these useful supplies go to waste?

  • Think long term. If you haven't already assessed your insurance needs and taken steps to write a will, now's the time. Evaluate your life, disability and health insurance coverage. Is everything updated to include all family members? Do you know all your healthcare options?

    And you may not like thinking about this, but it's important to have a plan for your children if something should ever happen to you. No matter how large or small your estate, a legal will is essential to designate guardians.

    In regards to tackling future expenses (college included), your best budgeting bet is to take stock now and start small. Financially speaking, the baby years may be lean. But staying on top of your finances will pay off in the end.

Copyright © 2007 Carol Heffernan. Used with permission. All rights reserved.