The author taking advantage of free activities after the birth of her daughter.
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.
Here, one woman shares how she and her husband struggled to make ends meet while expecting their first child and falling in and out of employment.
By the time my husband was laid off from his job we had been trying to get pregnant for about seven months.
My brain knew that this change in our finances meant we should take a break from trying to conceive, but my ovaries screamed absolutely not. As an overachiever from a family where women are more likely to have an “oops” baby than to struggle with fertility, I was no longer thinking rationally. I needed to have a baby, and financial realities were not going to deter me. My husband, I think, was too afraid of the emotional fallout to suggest otherwise.
Of course, I got pregnant the following month — just as our health insurance coverage ran out. Because my husband was not a citizen at the time, he couldn’t collect unemployment, which meant I was now the sole income provider. Working 25 hours a week for $13 an hour at a newspaper, I brought home about $300 a week after taxes, which almost covered our $1,200 monthly rent.
Preparing for Baby While Just Getting By
While we were dreaming about life with baby, we were also trying to balance our new financial situation. My husband applied for dozens of jobs, to no avail. He even started delivering pizza, but was barely breaking even driving his gas-guzzling truck. I enrolled in state-sponsored insurance and began babysitting at night, overcoming first-trimester exhaustion in hopes of paying the bills. But we were sinking.
We knew we’d need to cut our costs significantly if we were going to get by. Luckily, the month after I got pregnant our lease expired and we moved to a tiny off-season rental on the New Hampshire coast for just $800 a month. Walks along the frozen beach with my massive belly and watching the waves lick the snow are still some of my favorite pregnancy memories.
To survive, we had to get creative. My husband often did handyman work in exchange for rent, and I bartered my writing services in exchange for a $150 3-D ultrasound I desperately wanted. A family that I babysat for gifted us a hand-me-down crib, changing table and clothes. I bought used cloth diapers (which isn’t as icky as it sounds) to save even more money. And we opted for grocery delivery (which cost $5) to ultimately cut our food costs by letting us meal plan and skip impulse buys.
Between frugal living and working whenever possible, we were breaking even. We wouldn’t have savings for the baby, but we were proud of how we were handling the challenge. Two months before I was due, after eight months of unemployment, my husband got a new job. For six weeks we both worked and finally saw our income exceed our cost of living. Then our baby arrived.
Kelly and her husband welcoming their new baby into the world.
Flooded With Bills — And Back to One Income
Two weeks before my due date the stress of the pregnancy caught up with me and my blood pressure skyrocketed. “You’re done working today,” my doctor said, putting me on strict bedrest. When that didn’t work I was induced three days later. We brought our baby girl home and my husband went to work the next day, unable to take any more unpaid time off from his new job.
Soon the budgeting strain during pregnancy seemed insignificant compared to the financial stress of parenthood. I was entitled to six weeks of disability payments through work, which offered me 60% of my salary — less than $200 a week. My husband was making about $500 a week, but our cheap seasonal rental had ended and we were again paying $1,200 for rent. I remember sitting on our porch, nursing my infant daughter and trying to put together a budget, tears streaming down my face because the numbers just didn’t add up.
This time, there weren’t many costs we could cut. Because of some minor medical issues and the astronomical costs of child care, I couldn’t return to work after six weeks, meaning we were once again on one income. Credit cards covered the gap; we charged about $3,000 over six months.
Turning It Around
Thankfully, our incomes soon took a turn for the better, and we continued to minimize our expenses as much as possible to get back on track. When my daughter was a month old I began a freelance gig that paid $10,000 a year and has turned into a career that now brings in seven times that. After six months my husband took a higher-paying job that led to a secure career with excellent benefits. We moved to a lower cost-of-living area, where our monthly mortgage is now less than that beach rental. By our baby’s first birthday we were able to start paying down debts, and when she was 18 months old we purchased our home.
Four years after my first pregnancy, I’m expecting again. We are both fully employed, with a savings account and minimal credit card debt. We’re actually able to enjoy the pregnancy and will both take time off when baby arrives.
Recently my husband said “Sometimes I wish we were having our first right now. It would have been so much easier.”
I paused. People have babies in all sorts of financial situations, but there’s no doubt that our financial distress contributed to our tumultuous transition to parenthood. Looking back, I agree that we should have spent more time weighing the reality of having a baby while broke — and I’m relieved that we’ll be welcoming our second with much more stable finances.