You'd better budget for that baby

Posted: April 18, 2014

WHEN I WAS having my first child, my friends and family were concerned.

Knowing my penny-pincher nature, they weren't sure I would buy much of anything for my newborn. So they threw me a shower. I received some wonderful and thoughtful gifts.

But you know what?

Most of the clothes and items were barely used. My baby girl - born 19 years ago this month - grew so quickly that I couldn't get her into the outfits fast enough. Some she wore only once or twice. Expensive educational toys were ignored in favor of jingling car keys or the cardboard boxes in which the items came. Gadgets and products that promised to make it easier to care for my baby often just got in the way.

I'm saying all this because if you're expecting, focus your finances on big-ticket items such as day care. Consider this from the U.S. Agriculture Department, which releases an annual report on the cost of raising a child. A family with a child born in 2012, with an income between $60,640 and $105,000, can expect to spend about $241,080 until the child is 17 for food, shelter and other necessities. For a family earning less than $60,640, expect to spend $173,490. A family earning more than $105,000 can expect to spend $399,780.

After the cost of putting a roof over the head of your child, the next biggest expenses you'll face are for care and education, including baby-sitting, day care, books, fees and supplies, and if you send your child to private school the cost of tuition.

Depending on your state, the average cost of full-time care for an infant in a day-care center ranges from 7 percent to about 19 percent of the state median income for a married couple with children, according to a report last year by Child Care Aware of America.

You can go to usda.gov and search for "cost of raising a child." The calculator can be tailored to estimate your costs based on where you live, your household size and income. You can compare what you spend to the national average.

Here are steps you can take to prepare for your little bundle:

Baby step 1: Start collecting price information. Before you can budget, you need to know what things will cost. Don't wait to find out after the baby arrives. Check out the major expenses, from diapers to day care.

Baby step 2: Baby-proof your budget. How are you going to pay for the expenses of raising a child? Either you're going to make more money or you'll have to cut current expenses, or both. *  Baby step 3: Dump the debt. Do as much as you can to get rid of it so that you can have more money for baby expenses.

Baby step 4: Build a savings safety net. Just as you have to baby-proof your house, you need protection in case of emergencies. Start or build up an emergency fund aiming for three to six months of living expenses.

Baby step 5: Start saving for college soon after the baby is born. In fact, when people ask what you need or would like, tell them that you would love a contribution to your child's tax-advantaged 529 college-savings plan.

Right now, you might be thinking, "A pet would've been cheaper."

Just kidding. As a mother of three, I know you'll get priceless joy from having children. Just plan and be prepared for the stuff that costs money.

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