The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Rising food costs. The housing mess. The credit crunch. Bank collapses. Government bailouts. The sagging stock market. If it seems like the only positive news lately has been the tiny plus-sign in the window of your pregnancy test kit, we don’t blame you. If you’re like most new or expecting parents, you’re probably wondering how, exactly, you can afford to raise your baby, particularly if you live in an expensive city. But despite these fiscally turbulent times, there’s plenty you can do. We talked to experts for ways to make having a baby more affordable, even if you don’t make much money or you live in an expensive area. We also talked with real parents nationwide about how they’re facing economic challenges, and provide practical solutions for everything from buying baby stuff to saving for college. To start, following these rules will help you keep your head when those all around you are losing theirs:
1. Keep Your Perspective
“When you find you’re pregnant, it’s absolutely, completely normal to say to yourself, ‘How in the world am I going to pull this off ?’ ” says Amanda Clayman, LMSW, a New York-based financial therapist and the mother of a toddler. “Human beings have a process when faced with something that feels out of control—we freeze up for a second while we try to get our bearings.”
The key to maintaining control, says Clayman, is to slow down that process and think reflectively rather than reflexively. This, she says, will help you avoid anxiety and all-or-nothing reasoning. “It’s not a choice between your baby sleeping in a $1,000 crib or a dresser drawer,” she says. Safe and affordable middle-ground options abound. Check out our Buyer's Guide.
2. Learn to Let Go
Clayman also notes that having a baby means relinquishing some of the control you’re used to, financial and otherwise. “A lot of times, when people are faced with a new, unfamiliar experience, they try to create structure as a way of dealing with their anxiety,” she says. “Sometimes that’s healthy and productive—if it takes the form of gathering information about childbirth or anticipating a baby’s needs and planning ways to meet them, for example. But planning can only go so far; sometimes you just have to get comfortable with the unknown. For instance, what if you can’t breastfeed as planned but you didn’t budget for formula? You can’t control everything.”
3. Consider the Unthinkable
Oregon financial coach Cindy Morus also recommends thinking about what would happen if you or your partner lost your job. “When you’re evaluating whether to buy something, don’t just ask yourself whether you can afford it—ask yourself whether you could afford it if one of you didn’t have a job.” Losing a job, by the way, might not be the end of the world, says Morus, especially considering that one parent may choose not to return to work after having a baby. “It does cost money to work—child care, clothing and dry cleaning, transportation costs, taxes, maybe having someone help clean the house, eating out more. It adds up.”
4. Get Practical
Smart spending starts when you’re pregnant, says Connie Brooks, founder of ThriftyMamas.com, a financial advice website for families. Brooks recommends using your baby registry strategically: “You’ll get plenty of layette items no matter what you register for, so don’t put them on your registry,” she says. “Instead, pick out a few nice items—a crib that turns into a toddler bed, a baby swing, a car seat, a stroller, and a carrier or sling. Then let people know that it would mean a lot to you if they pitched in together on those items.”
Morus, owner of Mend Your Money financial consulting, also suggests taking a page from your grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ book: “The things we think of as necessities today—cellphones, extra TVs, extra cars—people didn’t have them back then. So evaluate what you’re really getting for your money, and make a habit of putting whatever money you don’t spend into savings, even if it’s just $5.”
And don’t be shy about asking friends, neighbors and relatives for outgrown toys or clothes that are in good condition. “Passing on baby items is a rite of motherhood,” says Brooks, “and there’s no reason to pay for something you can get gently used for free.” (Just make sure everything meets today’s safety standards.)
5. Work Out Solutions Together
Communication with your partner is essential, Morus says. “Talk about money— what you want and how you’re going to work together to do it. This is really important because a divorce is the biggest financial mistake you can make.”