Expectant parents expect to make mistakes.
And unless you did a lot of baby-sitting as a kid or have been a professional nanny, you probably aren't going into parenthood knowing, for instance, exactly how to soothe a screaming newborn.
It's going to be a similar situation when it comes to the financial component of parenting. There are so many ways to waste money as a new mother or father that to get used to it, you might as well take some dollar bills, toss them into a fireplace and watch them burn. (That was just hyperbole. We're not suggesting you actually try this.)
But even though it's inevitable you'll waste money as a parent, you'd do well to consider the many traps you could fall into. As everyone knows, parenting is expensive. Whenever the U.S. Department of Agriculture comes out with the average cost of raising a child, it's always high (approximately $245,340 to raise a child to age 18, according to USDA data from 2013, the latest year for which stats are available).
So if your family is slated to expand, avoiding these errors may save you hundreds, even thousands, of dollars.
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1. Not having health insurance – or failing to use it properly.
In 2013, Truven Health Analytics released a study examining five states and concluded that it costs an uninsured person approximately $30,000 to deliver a baby (and $50,000 for a caesarean birth). Even with insurance, you're going to pay a decent amount. According to the study, you're likely to spend $2,200 on a vaginal birth and $2,700 for a C-section.
That's why Michelle Katz, a Los Angeles-based licensed practical nurse and public speaker in health care, says one of the biggest mistakes she sees people make is not finding out what their insurance covers.
Things not covered can include "big-ticket items" like the epidural, Katz says, or a baby's stay in the neonatal intensive-care unit. And if you aren't paying close attention to your policy, you could miss that your chosen hospital doesn't accept your insurance.
Katz says she recently helped a couple negotiate expenses with their insurance company. The couple had triplets and had good insurance, but not good enough. Their insurance covered $800,000 of the delivery and hospital costs, but they were still on the hook for the rest of the bill – a whopping $1.2 million.
"I am hoping new moms don't assume that because their OB-GYN is covered that the hospital their OB-GYN practices in is also covered, because it may not be," Katz says.
Katz also recommends making sure your prenatal vitamins are covered by insurance, since those can get very expensive.
2. Delaying buying life insurance.
The last thing you want to think about when a baby is due is death. But life insurance is something you want to get in place as soon as possible, just in case, and then you can pretty much forget about that unpleasant topic until you have more kids, and you may want to get a little more.
Winnie Sun, a financial advisor and founding partner of Sun Group Wealth Partners in Irvine, California, notes that if the mother wants to be insured before the baby is born, ideally she should get life insurance before she conceives. If that's not possible, get it in the first trimester, Sun says.
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"Most insurance carriers will not insure a pregnant woman post first trimester," she says.
Some insurers will, and some even do during the second trimester, but insurance experts say that as pregnant women gain weight and become more at risk for conditions like pre-eclampsia, insurers become risk-averse.
3. Failing to budget for life after the baby comes.
It isn't that you need to look at how your expenses will change when you're buying diapers, although that's important. You should also be thinking about "the other big financial decisions," says Sun, citing items like starting a college savings fund for your child.
"Considering that babies generally cost the least amount in the first year, it's a good idea to get a handle [on] your spending before the bigger financial years arrive," she says.
4. Buying too much or the wrong stuff.
Lacey Langford, an accredited financial counselor in Summerfield, North Carolina, says the biggest money mistake she sees new parents make is "buying every latest and greatest baby item – and buying them brand new," she adds.
Some things, she says, you should purchase new – notably a crib and car seat, she says.
That's because both involve safety, and if you do purchase a secondhand crib or car seat or stroller, do yourself a favor and go to a search engine and make sure the item hasn't been recalled. The Consumer Product Safety Commission often recalls baby-related products (in January, for instance, it recalled Britax B-Safe 35 and B-Safe 35 Elite infant car seats and travel systems), and it's easy to imagine that many recalled items are never actually returned. Or you could end up inadvertently purchasing an item no longer considered safe. Drop-side cribs, where one side of the crib lowers, were banned by the CPSC in 2011. The cribs have been blamed for at least 32 deaths since 2000.
But while purchasing a used baby crib could lead to problems, it's generally another story when it comes to, say, a used baby monitor, toys or clothing.
"If your child can wear a different outfit for two straight weeks, that's too much," Langford says.
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5. Buying emotionally – and too soon.
Sure, your baby needs stuff, but are you listening to your head or your heart? La Shawn Paul, a clinical social worker and therapist in New York City, cautions against going overboard.
"We live in a society that forces consumption upon us, and marketers do a great job playing into the emotional desires of expecting moms," Paul says.
She also notes that not only can we fall prey to buying too much for the baby, but we can go overboard too soon.
And she is right. Think about your cash flow. Are you buying items like a stationery baby walker that your child won't really need until he or she is 6 months old? And if your baby won't be born for another five months, that's almost a year early, and you could have instead spent that money on something needed now.
"During the first couple of months, the baby does not need various means of entertainment, such as bouncers, swings and many other items that boast MP3 players and new technologies," Paul says. "Babies are really simple. All they need is love and care. To sum it up, all they need is you."
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