When it comes to being a first-time parent, the prevailing wisdom seems to be that you can read all the books, do all the research and yet … there’s no real preparing for what the actual experience feels like.Which is kind of what makes the whole thing so exciting, not to mention overwhelming.
In fact, while most expectant parents know that having a baby is a huge financial undertaking, a recent nationwide survey conducted by LearnVest and Chase Blueprint® showed that only one in five women and one in four men feel financially prepared to have their first child.
Close to 30% of women feel not very prepared or not at all prepared. That’s a lot of nervous soon-to-be parents!
To get a better sense of what the financial experience of becoming parents is actually like, we sat down with a married couple* whose first son was born earlier this year.
Because the relationship with money is so personal and unique to each individual, we interviewed each parent separately to see how their takes differed.
See what they had to say about how their spending and saving changed, the best advice they received, and the most difficult decisions they’re facing now.
*Names have been changed.
How did you realise you were ready to start a family?
Peter: Delia and I were married in 2008 and always planned on spending a few years as a married couple before starting a family. Ultimately, the timing just felt right, and our son was born in February 2012.
Delia: We always knew we wanted a family, but wanted to be married for a while before starting. I turned 30, and started to hear my biological clock ticking—especially because we didn’t know how long it would take to get pregnant. If anything, though, Peter needed to convince me that it was time to start trying.
Did you change your spending habits before having your son?
Peter: In terms of spending, we actually upped the amount of money we spent on entertainment before William arrived because we knew we wouldn’t have much opportunity to eat out at restaurants, see shows or go to the movies after he had.
We also moved from a one-bedroom apartment into a two-bedroom apartment, which was definitely the biggest financial change.
Delia: Right before he was born, I wanted to go out to dinner a lot—a last hurrah!
Did your saving habits change before William was born?
Peter: We opened up a special savings account for the expenses for the first few years of our son’s life.
Delia: We opened up a CD to save for some of the expenses of having a newborn child. We also made sure that we had our emergency fund fully saved up, just in case there were complications that would prevent me from working when I was expecting to go back, or something like that. I always knew I wanted to return to work, but I wanted to be prepared just in case.
How have your spending or saving habits changed since you had William?
Delia: One thing is for sure: It was definitely a lot easier to save money before our son was born! Moving into the larger apartment changed our ability to save significantly, and we’re looking to find a new place with less rent.
We have a lot less disposable income now, and we eat out a lot less than a couple without children. We also used to take small trips about once a month, but we don’t anymore.
Peter: Babies are expensive, and particularly so in New York City. The biggest expense is the nanny we share with one other family. She is fantastic and we couldn’t be happier with her. Then of course there is the two-bedroom apartment, which is definitely a luxury.
We mostly cook and blend our own baby food, so that saves some money, but diapers, formula and other miscellaneous items add up. Our friends and family have been incredibly generous with hand-me-downs, so we have not had to spend money on clothing.
In terms of savings, we opened up a 529 investment account through New York State to help finance college for our son one day.
Has it been difficult to adjust to your new lifestyle?
Delia: I miss going out to dinner with Peter. We went out for lunch together recently, just the two of us, and it was so nice to be at a restaurant alone. For the most part, however, it doesn’t feel like sacrifice, though, because it’s an entirely new life stage.
Peter: Some spending habits are easy to cut back on as a matter of course. We just don’t have time to gallivant around the city eating at restaurants, catching concerts and boozing late into the night. Other spending habits have shifted, too. For example, we spend more money on groceries because we are eating out less.
Have your priorities shifted?
Delia: Since our ability to save is largely affected by our larger apartment and the cost of our son’s nanny, we’re constantly having the city vs. suburbs conversation. Rent and daycare would be a lot less in the suburbs, but the commute would be tougher on me from my job in Manhattan.
Now, I can be home with William in 15 minutes. And being a new mum in the city is awesome in many ways—there are lots of other great new mums that form a community.
But as we start to think about this, it seems clear that having lots of amenities and being close to hip bars is a lot less important, while being close to outdoor space is higher up on our list of priorities.
Lastly, I’ve also realised how hard it is to foster a life that supports a family. Having time to really concentrate on your family is often at odds with being able to work and provide the resources for cool opportunities for your family. Time has never felt so precious to me.
Peter: In terms of shifting priorities, my son’s future education has become of top priority to me. Given the rate of increase in tuition at secondary and higher educational institutions, it’s hard to comprehend how in the world we will ever be able to afford his education.