First, I’m going to apologize to those of you who tune in to my blog for things other than childbearing and child-rearing because those seem to be the hot topics here lately. But I can’t help it. Not only do I have baby on the brain, not only is it impacting my marriage, not only does it consume all my thoughts right now, but it seems like everyone I know is either pregnant or, more commonly, thinking about starting a family.
Chris and I were married at the age of 21. YEARS before most of our friends were even in serious relationships. Which means when we had our first baby, we were YEARS ahead of any of those friends again. Not that we minded. Chris and I have always kind of done our own thing. It doesn’t bother us to be different than others. And it has put us in the unique position of being the “experts” on the subject of having kids among some of our friends.
Chris and I as the experts. On parenting. I know…scary thought.
Anyway, in the past couple months I have been asked at least five times by five different good friends how Chris and I prepared financially to have a baby. When they find out that we spend $1,000 a month on daycare alone, you can see their eyes widen and hives start to break out on their chests. None of the couples could fathom ever having an extra $1,000 laying around for daycare, not to mention all the extra expenses that come with adding another person to your family. And so, each couple has asked us very politely, “How the heck do you pay for all that?!?!?”
First of all, I should tell you that $1,000 a month for daycare in our area is pretty high. We knew that. But we felt like if Bean was going to spend all day there, we wanted it to be the best we could possibly afford. So, while it strains us to keep him in such a nice center, we feel that is worth the strain. But even cutting the cost of daycare down to, let’s just say, $750 a month, it’s still a huge expense. And if you don’t need a daycare, there is still the cost of insurance, diapers, food, supplies, savings, and all the other little oddities that children require.
In short, kids ain’t cheap.
But I’ll tell you just like I told our friends, I don’t know one family who was financially ready for kids when they got pregnant. The truth is that (don’t freak out here…) kids cost so darn much there’s just no way to prepare!!! I don’t know if there’s a correct amount of money you should have in your savings account or if there’s an appropriate figure on a paycheck stub that says you’re ready. But I do know that when you say you are “prepared” to have children, what you really should mean is that you have a plan. You may not have it all together yet. You may still be working out the details. You may still wake up in cold sweats of panic in the middle of the night. But there IS a plan. That’s how we prepared financially for children. We made a plan and then we figured out how to stick to that plan as we went.
It would be a lie to tell you that we never had to cut back or cut down or cut out a lot of the expenses. Over the years since we were first pregnant with Bean, our spending habits have changed profoundly. We can’t simply just up and go out to eat, dropping $50 on a random Tuesday night meal for the two of us. We can’t simply drive away for a weekend because food, hotels, and gas all add up. We can’t splurge for no reason on things like ping pong tables and iPhones. But, it’s also not like we don’t ever get to do those things now because we have Bean, and soon little Gracie. We still get to do those things, it just takes a little more planning and strategy now. It’s not as convenient anymore to spend money.
And, you know, that’s not such a bad thing. Having Bean taught us not just how to be parents, but how to create, manage, and stick to a family budget. It taught us how to prioritize savings. It taught us to value things like health insurance and retirement plans. It taught us to look at finances not just as a day-to-day task, but as a long-term plan that we needed for our family. We needed to learn those lessons. We just happened to learn them because we had a baby on the way.
The funny thing about cutting back for your children is that you don’t even really notice it happening. I know that when we found out the cost of daycare, Chris and I about died. Where in the world would we find an extra $1,000 a month???? We didn’t have that kind of money. But little by little, we changed our spending habits and we cut out some of that extra stuff we had in our lives that we really didn’t need and by the time Bean arrived, the money was there and I couldn’t even remember what I had given up to make that happen. Because I was giving things up for my child, it didn’t feel like giving things up or sacrificing or even compromising. It just felt like we were sticking to the plan. It felt natural – stressful at times, but still natural.
Don’t get me wrong. There were times when it was really irritating and there were even more times when tightening our belt felt like tightening a noose around our marriage. I remember when we first got to Florida and I was unemployed and we were living in a terrible rental house barely able to pay our bills. For Chris’s birthday, his family sent money, like they always do. And Chris decided to take that birthday money and buy an iPhone for himself. He, of course, talked to me about it first, but then I just felt like a total loser saying to him that I thought he should put his birthday money in our savings account. But it had to be said. Here I was clipping coupons and driving all over town to find the cheapest groceries and he wanted to buy an iPhone! We had a huge fight about that one.
It’s not always easy to cut back and it’s not always painless. But what you get in return for that kind of drastic change in your spending habits makes it totally worth it. Sure, we can’t go out to eat every weekend, but this past Friday night Chris, Bean, and I sat on our kitchen counter eating pretzels, popcorn, and hot dogs for dinner. Then we sat on the couch and watched Nanny 911 while Bean brought us just about every book from his bookshelf and sang us every song he knew. There was no bath. There was no bedtime. And when Bean was just about to fall over asleep in the living room, Chris and I sat together with him next to his bed and took turns reading to him until he fell asleep. To me, it isn’t a sacrifice to give up a $50 dinner out somewhere to spend that kind of time with my family. It’s just part of our who we are. I’m happy to do it and, even more, I’m proud that Chris and I have been able to make changes like that so that our family can have what it needs.
So, if money is what is holding you back from having babies, let me tell you what I so eloquently told my closest friends:
Money comes and goes. It always will. But you plan for the unexpected and you celebrate the expected. And then you cross your fingers, pray like hell, grab your partner’s hand, and jump in. It’s only money, right?
Today I am grateful for my mom.