You guys have given me a lot of good advice over the past few weeks. Now it’s my turn to pay it forward.
A reader at another site I contribute to recently posed the question “How much does it cost to have a baby?” At first it sounded like a pretty innocent and straightforward query, with an answer dependent mostly on whether your taste and budget tends toward the hand-me-down umbrella stroller or latest-model Bugaboo, the backpack-as-diaper bag versus this season’s hottest pattern by Petunia Picklebottom. Not so. A few years ago when I asked some parent friends how much it cost to have their first baby, I remember them saying how surprisingly inexpensive it had been to raise their daughter, who was then about a year and a half old. “Diapers cost practically nothing,” Jim told me, “and you can get just about everything else used.” When my sister-in-law had her first baby last year, she echoed that sentiment: between gifts, hand-me-downs, and Freecycle, she was able to prepare for the arrival of her daughter at the low, low cost of about $400 American. (Granted, she lives in England, where the dollar is weak, but still…$400‽ Can it be true‽)
As for us, we’ve already experienced the extraordinary generosity of friends and family when it comes to feathering the nest for a new baby: we’ve received donations of everything from maternity clothes to a full-sized crib, and boxes upon boxes of baby clothes, blankets, toys, gear, and gift certificates. We’ve bought a lot ourselves, of course (especially on that first giddy shopping spree after finding out the sex of our baby), but even then a lot of our purchases have been from clearance racks, outlets, consignment stores, and eBay. We’ve even made a lot of things ourselves—we rehabbed and modified an old dresser for a changing table, and Simon sewed the baby the coolest guitar onesie you’ve ever seen—and yet…preparing for the new addition has still cost us an awful lot of dough.
What surprised me—and what may surprise those of you who haven’t yet been through this yourselves—is that the bulk of our money isn’t going where you think. It’s not paying for furniture or gadgets or feeding supplies. It’s instead going toward three things that, no matter how hard you look, you can’t borrow or buy used or on sale. You can’t find them on Craigslist, and you can’t register for them at Target or BabiesRUs. You definitely can’t handcraft your own out of pipe cleaners and glue. And here’s the real kicker: Unlike a fancy stroller or state-of-the-art, full-color, digital-sound, vibrating nursery monitor with CIA-quality nightvision, most of us can’t have a baby without them.
What are they? Here’s Part 1 of “The Hidden Costs of Having a Baby,” or “What I Think About in the Wee Hours of Third-Trimester Insomnia When Nothing Good Is on TV and the Baby Shows No Sign of Getting Over the Hiccups Anytime Soon”:
1. Maternity leave.
You’re getting time off work to recover from labor and to bond with your new baby! Hooray! Unfortunately, it may not be as much time as you’d like, and you’re probably also taking a pay cut. Depending on how your state government and/or employer allow you to combine unused vacation hours, sick leave, Paid Disability Leave, and time off in accordance with the federal Family Medical Leave Act, your monthly earnings are probably going to be compromised for the weeks or months you staying home. For freelancers and consultants, that income might even drop to zero.
If you’re trying to figure out how much a baby costs (or, if you’re really proactive, trying to figure out how much you should squirrel away in a savings account even before you get pregnant), it’s a good idea to research your state and company policies regarding maternity leave and do some rough calculations now. And don’t forget about your partner; he or she might want to take partially or un-compensated leave as well, which will further impact your available cash.
Sure, once the baby arrives you might not be going on vacation or even out to eat as often as you did in your former life, but don’t let that give you a false sense of savings security. If you’ve never worked from a budget before, now might be the time to start. Finding ways to shift and stretch your dollars can not only give you general peace of mind but help you feel as though you’re not a total drain on the family finances. If you’re up all night during maternity leave, it should be to feed, change, and soothe your child, not to stress about how much money you’re not making.
Maternity leave: It’s a blessing and a curse, but it sure beats the alternative.
(Check back later for “The Hidden Costs” Parts 2 and 3.)