Becoming a parent is exciting, perhaps a little terrifying, and includes a lengthy list of important decisions and preparations. But while planning the nursery, visiting the doctor and choosing a name for your new arrival, you can’t afford to put your finances on the back burner.
Your spending will obviously change when you add a new member to your family, and your household income may, too. You might have to shift some of your long-term financial goals, as college savings, life insurance and estate planning become new considerations. Managing finances as a parent requires planning — but where to begin?
We spoke with five top parenting bloggers known for sharing heartwarming stories, humorous anecdotes and helpful financial advice for parents. We asked them to pass along their wisdom, and here’s what they had to say.
Set (or re-evaluate) your budget
Setting a budget is the one thing mom blogger Tracie Fobes of Penny Pinchin’ Mom wishes she would have done at the start of her parenting adventure.
“We didn’t have one,” said Fobes, a wife and now mother of three. “It was a list of the people we had to pay each month.” And when she decided to quit her job to be a stay-at-home mom, they still didn’t budget. “As a result, we often struggled to make ends meet, even though my husband makes good money.” Once they started a budget, Fobes and her husband say they eliminated more than $37,000 of debt in just over two years.
The first step to budgeting is knowing where your money goes, says Matt Becker, father of two, financial planner and blogger at Mom and Dad Money. When you track your spending, you can “make purposeful, informed decisions about how you want to direct your money going forward,” and use this information to track progress toward your financial goals, Becker says.
During pregnancy and through the first year, your budget will need to be flexible. Not only will you have diapers, food and new baby clothes to pay for, but also medical bills and child care costs. Estimate these costs upfront, to the best of your ability, and plan to re-evaluate each month or so. You can build your budget from scratch or use one of the many apps online, such as Mint, to help you get started.
Don’t forget to allocate some of your income to savings. It can be tempting to put the brakes on saving when money gets tight, but blogger Jessi Fearon of The Budget Mama says you’re not doing yourself any favors, and she would know. A mother of three, Fearon and her husband said they paid off $55,000 of debt in less than two years. “Saving money is the only assurance that you have that if and when something doesn’t go according to plan, you’ll have a plan B in place,” she says.
Prioritize needs over wants
“Babies don’t need a whole lot more than food, clean pants, naps and hugs,” says Emma Johnson, mother of two, finance journalist and blogger at Wealthy Single Mommy.
New parents may err on the side of buying “all of the things” for their new bundle of joy. After all, you never know what you’ll wish you had on hand. But our parenting bloggers say keeping it simple is best, and your child won’t realize you didn’t buy the top-shelf baby soap.
“I wish I had known that I didn’t need special laundry detergent or special wipes to wipe boogers and pacis with,” says Fearon. “Everything looked like a ‘must-have’ when I was a first-time mom, so I was overwhelmed with options.”
Kim Anderson, mother of three and founder of Thrifty Little Mom, recommends thinking practically and early, even when registering for a baby shower. “When I had my twins three months ago, I registered for tons of diapers and baby formula. These are the most costly expenses for new parents.”
As your children grow — and they will, quickly — consider selling their outgrown clothes on consignment. Stores such as Once Upon a Child and Plato’s Closet will allow you to both sell and purchase gently used clothes — a great option for parents who don’t want to buy brand-new outfits for every growth spurt.
“Many of my mom friends rarely spend any money out of pocket to keep their kids clothed,” using consignment stores and sales like this, Anderson says.
Safeguard against the unthinkable
“No one likes to think about their own demise,” says Fobes. “However, it becomes even more important once [your children] arrive.” Fobes says life insurance for parents is not optional, and other bloggers agree.
“Life insurance isn’t to cheer up your sad dependents in the event you kick off early,” says Johnson. “It’s to give your survivors a measure of security.”
Get enough life insurance to not only account for bills, funeral costs and any wages you bring into the household, but also the child care and house cleaning and maintenance that may have to be outsourced if you’re gone, Johnson suggests.
“These are the kinds of things you hope you’ll never need, but will be invaluable if you do,” Becker says.
Plan for your child’s future
If you want to help your child pay for college down the road, now is the time to prepare. Higher education is increasingly expensive, and while there’s a chance your little genius will receive scholarships, you can’t bank on it.
“The sooner you start to save for college, the less it will cost you on a monthly basis” when your child is enrolled, says Fobes. Depending on where you put it — a 529 college savings plan, for example — the interest on your money will compound tax-free, giving you larger gains the earlier you start, she says.
Keep your own long-term needs a priority
When you become a parent, it’s easy to put every ounce of effort into your child’s well-being. But when it comes to staying financially sound, and sane, you can’t forget about yourself.
“There are no loans to finance old age,” says Johnson, who recommends you keep retirement and personal long-term goals a priority, even over saving for your children’s college. After all, “you don’t want to one day be a burden on your children.”
“Being a parent is a lesson in constantly being uncomfortable,” which goes for the financial aspects of parenting, too, cautions Becker. “There will regularly be new expenses in your budget, expenses that are no longer relevant, and your income will likely change, too.”
Learning to roll with these punches, adjust accordingly and meet your financial challenges with long-term goals in mind won’t just save you some headaches. It will also model good financial health for the little ones you’re raising.