Preparing Financially for a Family

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By: Samantha Paxson, Chief Experience & Marketing Officer at CO-OP Financial Services

Anticipating the birth of your first baby is at once exciting and intimidating. Along with the countless joys this new little person brings comes the insistence that you plan your family’s financial future wisely. Still, rather than be daunted by the facts – according to recent estimates, raising a child from birth to age 18 costs on average about $230,000…and that doesn’t include the cost of sending them to college. It’s best to start at the beginning with a reasonable budget, thoughtful planning and a long-term dedication to savings.

Prepare for Lifestyle Adjustments

In a USA Today article, Matt Krantz offers suggestions for prospective parents to consider while planning to welcome a new baby. He recommends that couples first determine how they will reconfigure their lives and schedules to accommodate the new arrival. Will both parents return to work? What kind of child care will be needed? Should one parent stay home or work part-time?

Online resources, books and magazines are available to help you make the best financial decisions for your growing family; one of the simplest to build a basic family budget is at FeedThePig.com. Once you bring your baby home, you likely accept a new reality that includes shopping online for bargains and a pot of coffee at home instead of lattes out every afternoon.

When trying to make the most sensible decisions for financial stability, be realistic about the balance of work and family life you expect, future uncertainty, and the financial resources necessary to support your chosen lifestyle.

Some employers offer the ability to work remotely one or more days a week, so if you choose to return to work, it’s worth discussing this with your company. Some parents in fields including PR, journalism, law and graphic design begin consulting/freelancing for greater flexibility and to ensure that they don’t lose their professional skill set while raising their children.

Begin at the Beginning

Hospital bills for childbirth range from less than $2,000 to nearly $12,000, according to a recent Forbes article by Janet Berry-Johnson. Costs increase if baby or mother requires an emergency procedure or if there are other special needs. While it’s difficult to predict the exact costs of giving birth, Johnson-Berry urges parents-to-be to discuss the price tag with their physician and health insurance company to get some estimates.

Your baby’s arrival at home requires some juggling as you adjust to feeding and sleeping schedules. Checklists will help ensure that you have what you need for the first few days – diapers and wipes, plenty of swaddling blankets and onesies, as well as enough nourishing food and water for yourselves – freeing you to enjoy this precious time.

Budgeting for Baby

Talk-show host and best-selling author Dave Ramsey warns that new families must adjust to growing grocery bills, maternity and baby clothing, and baby furniture and supplies. Ramsey recommends seeking lower-cost ways of clothing your baby and furnishing the nursery; including borrowing items from friends who’ve recently welcomed babies, shopping at consignment stores or checking out discount outlets for gently used items. Ramsey also recommends that new parents pay with cash/debit cards to live as debt-free as possible.

Stash Away Savings

Financial experts recommend that everyone save emergency funds to cover between three to six months of expenses. In the nine months leading to the birth, parents-to-be should work even more diligently to stockpile additional cash and cut debt, Krantz writes.

According to RealSimple, new parents must legally receive 12 weeks of maternity leave via the Family & Medical Leave Act (given you have worked for a company of 50+ staff more than a year). However, it isn’t require to be paid, so some are forced to return to work for financial reasons before they are ready. Saving in advance is critical to preventing this.

In addition, states including New Jersey and California offer short-term disability insurance to residents, and a few others such as New York, Rhode Island, and Hawaii require that employers offer this insurance, which can supplement the salary you continue receive following the baby’s birth.

Most families spend between $12,290 and $14,320 a year to raise a child, he notes. Financial advisers can offer input regarding the best saving vehicles for new parents, including investments, savings accounts and deferred-tax accounts. See U.S. & World Report’s article, “How to Find a Financial Advisor If You’re Not Rich” for ideas on how to get started.

A Nest Egg for Junior

Junior’s birthday isn’t too soon to begin saving for financial obligations down the road, including college expenses. With 20.2 million U.S. students attending college in 2015 with an average student debt of more than $28,950, it’s more important than ever to know what college costs and identify ways to pay for an education.

Some parents request that family members and friends forgo baby gifts and instead contribute toward the child’s college education. These gifts can be an important supplement to parents’ savings, notes another recent U.S. World & Report article.

Another option is a 529 State Pre-Paid Plan account that allows you to pre-pay all or part of the costs of an in-state public college education at today’s rates. The funds may be converted for use at private or out-of-state colleges.

Go With the Flow

Any good financial plan has built-in room for change. Indeed, much of what is enjoyable about having kids is the unpredictability they bring. There is no one-size-fits-all means of financially preparing for your family’s needs, but Forbes’ Johnson-Berry notes that getting in good financial shape before baby lessens some of new parents’ anxiety while providing a solid foundation for future contentment.