Four years after getting married — and after a lot of financial planning — Jennie Kennedy and her husband welcomed their baby son into their Spokane, Wash., home.
Kennedy, 34, recalled their discussions before their son was born: " 'Are we ready? Are we in a good spot?' We probably over-thought it because we put off getting pregnant."
Not quite. Kennedy and her husband took all the right steps before having a child, including putting money aside and analyzing their finances, experts say. Adding a child represents a major financial stress: The cost of raising a child today is $233,610 – excluding the cost of college – for a middle-income family, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The stakes may be higher for new parents than in previous generations, thanks to a combination of changing demographics and economic pressures.
Women are delaying motherhood, a trend especially pronounced for college-educated women. That means new parents typically have a better financial foothold than in earlier decades, yet it can deliver other challenges, such as a higher rate of fertility problems and tough decisions about balancing work and family.
Where to start? First, financial experts recommend socking away six months of living expenses, which will help if a parent wants to take unpaid time off from work or if the family encounters surprises.
Next, get a grip on your budget.Estimate how your expenses might change after the baby arrives. While there will be new expenses – such as higher costs for food, clothing and child care – some couples may spend less on restaurants and entertainment, said Adrienne Penta, senior vice president at Brown Brothers Harriman's Center for Women & Wealth.
"Think about what your life will be like after a baby, which isn't the same as two professional people in the city," Penta said.
Financial programs such as You Need a Budget or Mint can help would-be parents set up a budget and model expenses after a baby. One of the biggest costs is child care, which can vary considerably depending on your location. Talking with friends and family who have relied on child care can give a sense of your area's costs, said Kelly Barrow, a wealth management adviser with financial services firm TIAA.
Setting up a health savings account (HSA), available to people with high-deductible health care plans, can also prove helpful, as New York mom Priya Raghavan discovered. She and her husband relied on an HSA to help cover unexpected medical expenses, such as an unplanned hospital visit for their newborn daughter.
"I was surprised because we have good insurance," Raghavan said.
With more adults putting off parenthood, some are finding themselves blindsided by another health expense: fertility treatments. One round of in vitro fertilization (IVF) can set a couple back by $15,000, and often multiple rounds are required to conceive. Adoption within the U.S. can range from $15,000 to $40,000, while international adoptions can cost as much as $50,000, according to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, a division of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Put some legwork into research, such as what benefits your employer offers and how the fertility industry works, said Kelley Long, a certified financial planner with Financial Finesse, who herself is pursuing IVF treatments.
"If I had to go back and start over, I would do things differently," she added. "Part of educating yourself is knowing what costs are negotiable," such as fertility drugs.
Lastly, create a will and take out life insurance before the baby arrives, financial experts say.
"Everyone needs a plan, if you have $100 million or $150 in your bank account," said Brown Brother Harriman's Penta. "Take a 50,000-foot view before you have these people in your life who have personalities and needs."
Saving for a child's college education is another step, although 529 plans are typically opened for a child after their birth because it requires a Social Security number for the beneficiary. Consider asking family members to contribute, rather than buying a new toy or clothing, experts say. College costs rose more than 3% last year, outpacing inflation, and the average private college now costs almost $47,000 annually.
Raghavan said her advice for people who may be thinking of starting a family: "Start saving."
She added, "Prioritize what you want for your child and for yourself. It shouldn't be that hard, but every little thing adds up."