We all have regrets — money regrets, that is. But, like all mistakes, we wouldn't be who — or where — we are today without them. In our "Money Fails" series, real people share how they bounced back from financial slip-ups and what they learned along the way.
This time, a new mom explains how baby expenses took on new meaning after the arrival of her daughter.
Before having a baby, I expected to change a ton of diapers and wash endless spit-up-covered articles of clothing. I anticipated a severe lack of sleep. I liked to think that, as a planner by nature, I had foreseen most of the challenges of being a new mom.
But one thing that never occurred to me was how much money I would spend once my daughter arrived. Sure, I knew babies were expensive — the aforementioned diapers, the clothes they grow out of in two seconds, the college fund — but I could never anticipate just how many Amazon boxes would hit my porch in the first three months (or year) of my new baby's life. And just how shocked I might be to see my credit card bill each month because I could barely remember what the heck I bought.
Let me explain. As a freelance writer who took time off when my daughter was born, I spent much of the first few months of her life at home. Sitting on the couch or in her rocking chair, the majority of my day consisted of nursing and holding my (thankfully) sleeping baby in my arms. (I'm not sure what other little ones are like but mine didn't like being put down, ever.)
Yes, I should have slept when baby slept but, for the most part, I passed the time by messing around on my phone. When I'd exhausted the Facebook, Instagram and BBC News feeds, texted every friend back and read every email, I turned to another source of entertainment: online shopping.
First, the baby clothes. I made sure my daughter was outfitted until her first birthday with a full wardrobe, from sweaters to leggings to footie pajamas. (Because babies grow so fast and moms are supposed to be on top of that.)
Then, the sleep solutions. Around three months, my babe decided she wanted to wake up every two hours at night. For weeks. In a crazed haze, I spent my days scouring baby sleep sites and then purchasing whatever items the experts suggested: books, a rocking bassinet, weighted swaddles, arms-up swaddles, sleep sacks and a Stay Puft Marshmallow Man-looking jumper called the Baby Merlin's Magic Sleep Suit. It was all in the hopes that my husband and I might someday enjoy that "sleeping through the night” thing we'd heard so much about.
The author and her newborn daughter (thankfully) asleep.
I one-clicked toys, books and so-called "life-saving" items like disposable diaper-changing table pads. Then, when I couldn't think of another baby-related item to buy, I took to scrolling H&M and ASOS to get new clothes for myself. After wearing milk-stained T-shirts and ratty sweatpants day after day after day, I deserved to feel pretty again, didn't I?
Plus, not gonna lie, when you're taking care of a new baby and rarely leave the house, sometimes the most exciting part of your day — and the only adult conversation — happens when the UPS man knocks on your door.
Needless to say, my credit card bill ballooned. While I always pay it off in full each month, I wasn't bringing in the same bacon as I used to, causing a cash-flow issue. Having to ask my husband for money was definitely a new experience for me — and one I didn't want to keep repeating.
If there's anything comical about the situation, it's this: One of the things that appealed to me about breastfeeding is that fact that it's free — except, of course, when you spend most of your feeding time buying stuff on your phone.
Now our daughter is 15 months, sleeping independently and so close to being weaned I can almost taste that dirty martini I'm going to drink when we're done breastfeeding. The Amazon boxes have slowed. Looking back, here’s how I'd advise new moms to avoid binge shopping:
1. Only buy what you need right now. With online shopping and super-fast shipping, plus brick-and-mortar stores, of course, you can get basically anything you need when you need it. There's no reason to stock up on clothes, diapers or toys for the next stage.
2. If you can, borrow. Most parents will be eager to get the contraptions they bought for their baby out of their houses and into yours. Don't be afraid to ask. And always say yes to any freebies people offer, from bottles to sleep sacks to swings. Then pay it forward for the next new parents in your family or friend group.
3. Don't buy something because someone says you should. It's easy to get sucked into mom blogs' pronouncements that you need certain products in your diaper bag, or for feeding your child, or what have you. If you're doing OK without it so far, you don't need it. Save for the things you'll actually need.