It’s no secret that having a child is an enduring process, both emotionally and physically. However, given how life-changing this event is, the financial aspect should also be taken into consideration – and what better time to prepare than before the delivery of your expected new arrival? At least that’s how my wife and I felt before we recently welcomed our new addition to our family.
Because of her background as a pediatric occupational therapist, my wife had more experience than I did with children. However, neither one of us had any experience in trying to financially prepare for having a baby. Together, we both learned a great deal on what important steps to take and I hope sharing that here making things a little bit easier for you.
The different financial aspects we considered will be discussed below to help you feel as financially prepared as we did.
In Part 1 of this 2-part series, the current state of and anticipated changes to your income and expenses will be discussed.
Part 2 will cover tips on how to improve your financial standing as well as financial recommendations to consider before, immediately after, and in the near future all timing around the arrival of your baby.
Congratulations on such an exciting time! Let’s get started on helping you get financially prepared.
1. ADDRESS DEBT
Let’s start off by addressing the elephant in the room – your student loans.
Sure, not all of us have them, but many of us do. And for those of us who do, those hefty monthly payments can surely cut into the money you would prefer to spend on your baby.
The first thing to do is know that, if you do have student loans, you’re not alone.
In 2020, the Annual Consumer Debt Study by Experian reviewed data on various debts in the United States and found mortgage debt, auto debt, and student loan debt to all be at all-time highs.
At 12% growth since 2019, student loans were found to be increasing at the quickest pace. However, while the Experian study determined that the average amount of student loan debt a millennial (defined as ages 24-39) has is only $38,877, we know that those in our professions typically have more – a lot more.
A survey conducted in 2020 by the American Physical Therapy Association in January 2020 found that out of more than 3,000 physical therapists and physical therapy assistants graduating between 2016-2018, almost 93% of recent physical therapy graduates are, on average, burdened with $152,882 in debt. This value didn’t even include mortgage debt and yet it towers over the average millennial’s total debt of $87,448 noted in the previously mentioned Experian survey.
This finding even led the APTA to acknowledge that a greater amount of debt can lead to the delay of life milestones such as purchasing a home or contributing to retirement accounts. Surely the financial preparation typically sought prior to having your first baby should be categorized along with these items. Having a plan to ensure your debt is manageable should be considered a major part of this preparation.
In fact, upon physical therapy school graduation, it’s in your best interest to already know the options you have and to pick a path on how to best handle your student loan debt. If you would prefer to pay off your student loans, then you should consider refinancing them to get a lower rate. You can read more about that here.
But student loans shouldn’t be the only debt you have a plan for. Any high interest debt, such as credit card debt, should also be eliminated or managed.
By having plans set in place for your debt, you can better ensure that it is more manageable when a baby brings new expenses to the table.
2. KNOW WHAT YOUR HEALTH INSURANCE COVERS
After assessing and planning for your current debt, you will want to determine what expenses you can anticipate in relation to expected, and potentially unexpected, healthcare costs for you and, separately, your baby.
Every policy is different. Some may provide more coverage than others and some may assist with the cost of additional services. Rather than waiting to be surprised by unexpected fees, call and find out as much about your policy as you can prior to having your baby.
Pregnancy And Childbirth Coverage
Here is a non-exhaustive list of potential questions to ask that range from the obvious things to items that may have not even crossed your mind yet:
- What is my deductible?
- Does my policy cover a NICU stay?
- Does my policy cover a home birth?
- Does my policy cover a C-section?
- Does my policy cover a lactation consultant?
- Does my policy cover a breast pump?
- Does my policy cover physical therapy?
- Does my policy cover acupuncture?
- Does my policy cover mental health services?
- What policy(ies) should cover my baby?
For those not covered by an HMO, one critical piece of information to obtain is whether your OB-GYN is personally considered to be in-network. It may not be enough that their practice group is in-network.
Finally, if you want to change insurance companies, be sure to research which insurance company has the specific coverage you want and when their Open Enrollment period takes place.
By learning as much as you can about your policy now, you can decrease financial-related stress in the future.
You also have to consider your health coverage for your baby. Different circumstances may provide different opportunities.
For example, if you are a single parent and you have health insurance through your job, then you will simply add your baby to your health insurance.
However, if you have a significant other, coverage options may differ state-by-state depending on whether or not you are married. If you each have separate health insurance, be sure to speak to each insurance company to best determine if your baby should be added to only one or both of these policies.
3. PREPARE FOR NEW EXPENSES
When your baby arrives, the last thing you want is to have budget worries take away time that could go towards the well-being of your baby. This financial-related stress is understandable, though. In fact, it’s so common that CNN has a page dedicated just to helping you estimate this cost.
In 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducted a Consumer Expenditure Survey, determining that parents who have two children and live on an annual income ranging from $59,200-$107,400 spend nearly $13,000 on each child per year. So, what can you do in anticipation of such an inevitable cost?
As with many anticipated financial burdens, the best method for success is to have a plan. Of course, children are not as predictable as we would all hope, so unforeseen costs will likely occur. Therefore, prepare for these expected costs but keep your plan flexible for the unpredictable.
To get you started in the right direction, below is a non-exhaustive list of one-time expenditures you can research for cost and prepare to budget for:
- Car Seat
Of note, my wife and I were planning on splurging on purchasing the car seat as new to ensure it had the most updated safety features and was not expired. However, we were grateful when a close friend offered to donate theirs to us and the expiration date had not yet passed.
Not only will you have to be prepared for the cost of one-time purchased items, you should also anticipate some recurring costs. Here are a few examples of expected major recurring costs to keep in mind:
- Baby Wipes
- Baby food
Another potentially major recurring expense can be childcare. While not applicable to everyone, this can actually be the most expensive item to prepare for. In fact, ChildCare Aware of America reports that the average annual cost of center-based daycare in the United States is $11,896 for infants and $10,158 for toddlers.
Whether you are anticipating this need right away or not, considering the potential expense now may help you better weigh your financial options and plan accordingly. In addition, it can take time to find, research/interview, and select a nanny or daycare. Therefore, planning in advance is your best way of decreasing both emotional and financial burdens.
Childcare options to consider can include a full-time or part-time, at-home nanny/babysitter, a daycare setting, or having family/friends help out. You can also mix and match these options to find what best suits both your values and your finances. Keep in mind that the cost of paid childcare can vary greatly, not just by type but by geographic region as well.
Here, ChildCare Aware of America breaks the cost down of infant care by state using an interactive map. We found that it can be helpful to talk to friends or family near where you live to make sure you find a trusted childcare option at an appropriate rate.
Of course, there are plenty of other potential expenses you will want to consider, but those already mentioned will help you begin to prepare so you can work on creating or modifying your monthly budget.
4. PREPARE FOR A DECREASE IN INCOME
Unfortunately, not only will you have to prepare for an increase in expenses, but you will likely be faced with a decrease in income as well. Depending on your situation, this decrease may be temporary or permanent and it may be experienced prior to the arrival of your baby, after the arrival of your baby, or both. Sometimes these circumstances can be expected if you have already made life decisions in advance. Sometimes, things just don’t always go as planned.
If you or your significant other are already anticipating a transition to becoming a stay-at-home parent, you can practice preparing for this by living off of only the income you would anticipate having. This can be easier said than done, especially after reading about the expenses covered earlier, but it will help prepare you for when the time comes to actually make that transition.
On the other hand, if a circumstance arises that is not anticipated, you may find that you require an extended amount of time off from work. If this time period requires you to go without pay, make sure you are prepared for the unexpected. Hopefully you’ve already stockpiled an emergency fund of 3-6 months at a minimum. If so, you may still want to consider adding to this original emergency fund amount.
Before my wife was pregnant, I was working both a full-time physical therapy job and a physical therapy side hustle on a consistent basis. However, as her due date neared, we decided to decrease the number of the hours I devoted to my side hustle. In addition, we decided to maintain this cutback after our baby arrived. This is just another potential scenario to keep in mind if you are accustomed to making a certain level of income via multiple income streams.
5. KNOW THE RULES FOR TAKING TIME OFF FROM WORK
There are laws, both on a federal and state level, that you should be aware of when planning for the arrival of your baby. Knowing these laws can be beneficial in addressing how much time off you can take and how to best prepare for the financial impact of taking this time off.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993
This federal law allows an employee to take time off from work due to 1 of 3 extenuating circumstances:
- A severe health condition afflicting either yourself or your family member
- Reasons relating to military deployment
- Time for the birth (or adoption) and bonding with your child
FMLA allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks off from work. However, these 12 weeks are unpaid time off and must occur within a year of birth or adoption.
FMLA also ensures that, during your FMLA time, your employer must pay the usual portion of your healthcare benefits and, after your FMLA time is up, your employer must return you to the same or equivalent job position.
Keep in mind that you do not have to use all 12 weeks od FMLA time at once. For example, if you only use 9 weeks of FMLA for the birth of your baby, you would still have 3 weeks of FMLA time remaining to use towards another potential FMLA qualifying event.
FMLA applies to both female and male employees. However, to qualify for FMLA, the company you work for must have at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius and you must have worked for that company for at least 12 months. Those 12 months do not have to be consecutive, though. You must also have worked at least 1,250 hours during those 12 months.
It is important to note that, since FMLA is only available to those working in a business that has 50 or more employees, it does not apply to smaller private practice groups.
State Laws for Expecting Parents
Since FMLA only provides unpaid time off, some states have passed their own laws to provide benefits improving upon FMLA. In general, these laws may provide employees with a longer period of time off and/or provide employees with a certain amount of temporary income.
Be sure to research the state you live in to find out if you may be able to secure these additional benefits. The following states currently provide at least some of the previously discussed state benefits:
- District of Columbia
- New Jersey
- New York
- Rhode Island
I hope you’ve found this information helpful so far. In Part 2 of this 2-part series, topics of improving your financial readiness before, during and immediately following the birth of your baby will be discussed. For now, please share any questions or comments below. Personal experiences are welcome!