New parents brace yourself: babies come with a hefty price tag. (Full disclosure: take it from a new parent who is finding out.)
The statistics on the financial challenge of parenthood are eye-opening. When you include housing, food and education, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the average total cost of raising a child is $233,610. If you break that down into an annual amount, it's nearly $13,000 per year per child. That means the sooner you can start saving after the birth of a child, the better you are doing in managing costs over a dependent's young life.
While the Brookings Institution predicts the U.S. will see a decline in births this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, summer to fall is the most common time for babies to be born. If you find yourself welcoming a new bundle of joy during these challenging economic times, here are a few tips to ease the sticker shock.
1. Don't overbuy
For such little humans, babies need a lot of stuff. It's very tempting to go on an endless shopping spree as you get ready for your baby's arrival. But while you need to have the basics like a crib and a car seat in advance, it's good to pace yourself, especially with newborn clothing.
"It's hard to resist those adorable, itty-bitty baby clothes, but try not to go overboard," says Ashlee Neuman, deputy editor of The Bump. "Baby doesn't need a new outfit for every day of the month."
Neuman advises to stick to the essentials and be practical in purchases. She notes babies outgrow their clothes quickly, with the average baby growing 0.5 to 1-inch every month in the first six months of life, and 5 to 7 ounces every week in the first six months. By the time their first birthday rolls around they have most likely tripled their weight.
Courtney Dominguez, senior wealth advisor at Payne Capital Management, says maternity clothes can be another major cost for a new mom to cut back on since the items can only be worn for a few months and often become out of style by the time you may need to use them again for another pregnancy.
Dominguez says renting maternity clothes can be a great cost savings and many companies are offering modern clothing rentals such as Rent the Runway, the Loft, and Motherhood Rentals.
2. Borrow or rent big ticket items
Maternity clothes are far from the only, and definitely not the most expensive, purchase that might be a better rental.
Furniture like bassinets, gliding rocking chairs and special infant carriers are needed, but can quickly add up to something expensive you only use for a few months. A great option could be borrowing big ticket items from family or friends or renting them from a company directly.
For instance, one popular bassinet on the market is the SNOO smart sleeper. It's a bassinet that rocks and soothes the baby when they get fussy and start moving in the middle of the night. But for that convenience of rocking and shushing the baby automatically you must be prepared to pay up. The SNOO retails for $1,495 when purchased new. However, the company does offer a renting plan for $129 a month.
The maximum baby weight limit on the SNOO is 25 pounds and the company recommends babies sleep in it from birth to 6 months. If you break down the math – renting the SNOO for $129 a month for 6 months costs $774 – just about half the price of owning it.
But doing the SNOO math is more complicated than that. If you plan on having multiple children, or if you have friends and family with whom you know the item can be shared in the future, paying the full price may actually be the money-wise option.
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Another resourceful place to look for gently used baby items is Facebook. You might be able to find what you are looking for on Facebook Marketplace or in a "Buy Nothing" Facebook group in your town. A "Buy Nothing" group is a free swap where residents post new or used items for free pick up. The best part about this group is that when you are done with an item you can re-post it and free up space in your house.
Mary Bell Carlson, an accredited financial counselor and founder of Chief Financial Mom, says depending on where you live you may find buying items second-hand or borrowing could save hundreds if not thousands of dollars. She says items like playpens can be easily sanitized and used over again.
However, Carlson warns to be careful about borrowing items with expiration dates.
"Items such as car seats have an expiration date and they cannot be used after they have been in a wreck. It is often better to buy car seats new so you know they are up to date and safe for your child," she said.
3. Nurse (if you can)
The topic of breastfeeding is one of much debate in the mom world and it gets a lot of attention on social media and online forums — and ultimately, you must do what is best for you and your family. However, if you can swing breastfeeding, and all the challenges that come with it, from a monetary standpoint it is a cost-effective food source for your child.
"Overall, nursing your baby versus buying formula can be a significant cost saver," says Dominguez.
According to the Office of the Surgeon General, families who breastfeed can save anywhere between $1,200 - $1,500 on infant formula in the first year.
It also has significant health benefits for the baby. The Journal of Pediatrics estimates that if 90% of U.S. families breastfed exclusively for six months, the U.S. would save $13 billion from reduced medical and other costs.
Yet Dominguez notes there are extra costs associated with breastfeeding – like buying a breast pump, if you don't get one through insurance, and additional items like special pillows and clothing.
4. Call your insurance company
If you have insurance through an employer, make sure you talk to a human resources representative to understand your full maternity coverage. To maximize your savings, you'll want to know how long of a stay is covered in the hospital and which doctors are in-network.
Another perk of having insurance – you can set up a Health Savings Account or Flexible Spending Account.
Neuman says if you have a Flexible Savings Account or Health Savings Account set up through your health insurance, you can use your pre-tax dollars to buy various pregnancy and baby essentials — everything from prenatal vitamins to postpartum belly wraps, breast milk storage bags, baby thermometers, infant formula and more.
5. Set up a 529 savings account
A great way to get a jump start on saving for college is to set up a 529 saving account. This is a tax-advantaged investment account where the money is used solely for educational purposes.
"529 plans are a great way to help grow and spend money tax free on college or K-12 private school expenses," says Nick Chason, a financial advisor at Proper Wealth.
Chason says many 529 plans offer a set and forget it target date investment fund option, which automatically reduces the risks in the investments as you approach the time when you may need the money. He says some states will even allow you to avoid paying state income taxes on the contributions to the 529 plan.
However, Chason notes that if the money in the 529 plan does not end up going to educational expenses, you will be subject to taxes and a 10% penalty.
"If you want more flexibility with the money you save, you could consider opening an account in your own name and ear-marking savings into that account for their future benefit — to be used for whatever they need — buying their first home, starting a business, learning a trade, etc.," Chason said.
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