He Said/She Said: What It’s Really Like Financially to Have Your First Child

Gabrielle Karol

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 realize 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.

  • pm16

    I would love to see a monthly budget relating to child expenses per age of the child to give an idea of how much it really cost. 

    • Jess

      Agreed! On top of that, maybe even a before and after budget glance to see how priorities/expenses shift.

  • Kate

    How much does the nannyshare cost in your part of the country?  Could you tell us a bit about how you cover his or her benefits?

  • Curly girl

    Peter & Delia, we’re in the NY area too and, with the higher cost of living here, share your concern about being able to save enough to send our very young kids to college.  As the first grandkids on either side of the family, everyone was so excited that they wanted to spoil the heck out of our kids (to the best of their respective abilities), but considering our limited space, we’ve asked our parents and grandparents to open their own 529s for our kids (in lieu of smothering them with toys & clothes).  They contribute most of what they would spend on the kids for Christmas and birthdays to their 529s and give each a very small gift (our kids are still so young that a balloon is just as exciting as a toy).  This is awesome for us because it helps to relieve some of the pressure of saving for college.  It also gives our parents and grandparents a feel good gift & tax deduction because of the states they live in.  As we know from LearnVest, compounding interest over 18 years goes a long way even on a seemingly small amount!  If your family members have the ability to do this, maybe it can help! :)

  • DMoney

    This was the most useless article I’ve ever read.

    • Midwest Living

      I agree I am getting annoyed by all the articles by New Yorkers and their money woes.  How about interview some people in more normal situations rather an such an extreme as the high cost of new york.  I find it impossible to relate to any of the articles because of their extremely self imposed high cost of living situation

      • StatenIslandersAreNYers2

         Not everyone in NY has such a high cost of living. I live in NYC but I live in Staten Island and commute every day to work [roughly 2 hours] to make living a bit more affordable [I make little less than 30K]. Although, I do see how one can get annoyed when someone is making 100K or even 75K complain about not being able to make ends meet. But, these articles are meant to show us other people’s point of view. Just like theirs, our point of view is neither right or wrong.

  • Emurdock

    Thank you so much. This was a great concept for an article and I loved that they were interviewed separately. Peter’s last comment hits home on the whole thing. That once you’ve saved for one thing, there’s always something else looming in the future. 

  • Barteau

    I live in LA and my husband and I had a baby last January.  Our expenses have been different because I have been staying home with our baby this year.  Because we have been doing all our expenses in cash for several years I can tell you with certainty that our additional baby expenses have been $200 or less each month.  One month we spent $300 but that month I bought a used crib and stroller and Pack-n-Play.  We use cloth diapers and I have made all our baby food so as he is moving more to table food our expenses have shrunk but I still budget $200 per month in case of overages.

  • Lauren

    Like anything, having a baby is as expensive as you want to make it. When I was pregnant with twins, my husband and I realized that the cost of childcare for twin infants made it not worth both of us holding down fulltime jobs, paying out tons of money in childcare, and then constantly being stressed because we both worked fulltime and were trying to raise twins. In the end, we decided that it was better for me to stay home, because of the opportunities that my husband had at his company, and the fact that he was in the middle of a graduate degree (Both of our jobs were on the table. This was not a gender-based decision). We re-examined our budget in order to align it with only one income, and cut expenses wherever necessary.

    We were lucky to get almost all of the baby necessities at our shower (car seats, cribs, stroller). We used cloth diapers, and our babies were exclusively breastfed until 6 months. Other than the additional expenses on our water bill due to the extra laundry (about $25/month extra), we spent very little money on them. At 6 months we started to add solid food, but made our own. I make about 2 weeks worth of food for roughly $5.

    You pay for convenience, which is what disposable diapers and jarred baby food is. Having a baby is a HUGE change in your life, but it is possible to do it without breaking the bank.

  • Rachel Weatherington

    I would love to see another interview with a less well-off couple in other parts of the country.  

  • liz

    While I think it’s great that these people are willing to give up so much to have children, it just makes me so much more sure in my choice to not have children. I think people need to be as financially prepared as possible before bringing a child in the world (or adopting one) and not do it just so they’ll have someone to love them or because they like sex and can’t figure out how *not* to get pregnant. Congrats to all these parents who are considering all the ramifications of their decisions.