Lessons from my worst money blunders: financial planning and starting a family

Planning for the many unexpected costs of having a child is crucial to starting a family on solid financial ground.

Paul Sakuma/AP/File
In this photograph taken July 14, Avi Yisrael looks at Barbie Dolls at a toy store in Palo Alto, Calif. Understanding the financial consequences of raising a child is crucial before making the decision to start a family.

Along my financial journey in life, I made a great number of mistakes. In this ten part series which runs from July 19 to July 30, I’m going to focus on ten of my worst mistakes and the difficulties and successes I’ve had in overcoming those mistakes.

I had a child without understanding the financial consequences of it.

When I was in college, one of my closest friends was a young woman whose parents had conceived her at pretty much the last possible moment from a biological standpoint. While she had a great relationship with her parents, I couldn’t help but see that she would be facing end-of-life issues with them at a much earlier point than I would be. Her parents wouldn’t be able to be involved grandparents. They wouldn’t be around to provide support to her during her early stages of adulthood and she’d be faced with helping them through their final years before she even had her own life completely in order.

Sarah and I decided, based on our experience with this friend, to have our children when we were young and to be completely finished with children by age thirty five.

We stuck with this plan, too. Eighteen months after getting married, Sarah was pregnant. Nine months later, we’re holding a baby boy. One that, unfortunately, we were completely unprepared for in a lot of ways.

First of all, our spending was completely out of control at that point. We spent $500 on a crib for the baby. We purchased almost every item you could imagine on the runup to his arrival, including lots of things that we never used. Huge piles of receiving blankets. Bottle warmers. Countless other frivolous things.

The real disaster, though, was our inability to forecast the big increase in weekly expenses. Daycare was a sledgehammer, adding $200 a week to our expenses. Add in diapers, some formula for supplementation, the cost of washing clothes and the cost of buying new clothes every few months or so as he outgrew them, and we found ourselves quickly in the hurt locker.

This situation was made even worse by the fact that we didn’t fully adjust our spending to account for this. Naturally, we ate at home more and we went out less, but even with those savings, we didn’t make up for the financial bomb that having a baby dropped on us.

Why did this happen? We simply didn’t think ahead. At the time of our decision to have a baby, we simply didn’t have the financial maturity to make it work. Rather than seeing the future arrival of our baby as a motivation for getting our financial house in order, we looked at it as merely another excuse to spend money on stuff we really didn’t need.

Children are more than that. Children deserve more than that. They come into the world helpless, reliant on your good judgment and ability to ensure that they’re safe and well cared for. If you’re caught up in other things and unwilling to put forth the effort to make your life stable, you’re not only putting your situation at risk, you’re putting that child’s situation at risk as well.

It was, in the end, my child that pushed me to begin my financial turnaround. I only wish I had made that revelation a year or two earlier.

What can you do to avoid this trap?

The first – and most obvious – choice is to think seriously about having children – and ask yourself seriously if now is the right time to have them. The choice to have children is not an easy one and shouldn’t be taken lightly, nor is the decision of when to have children. Spend some time seriously thinking about the costs – in terms of money, energy, time, and other factors – and whether or not the costs truly are outweighed by the benefits in your situation.

Second, plan ahead for children – and start that planning now if you think there is any chance of having them in a reasonable future timeframe. The sooner you begin to get your own financial house in order, the easier the arrival of children later in your life will be. Get an emergency fund started. Pay down your debts with a particular focus on maximizing your monthly cash flow (meaning pay off the smallest debts first). Invest your energy in building a sustainable career.

Third, use realistic, low-cost solutions for your child. Buy their clothes from consignment shops and Goodwill stores (that’s where we shop now for our children’s clothes for our four year old, two year old, and baby). Use cloth diapers. Buy a reasonable crib for the baby to sleep in. If at all possible, breastfeed and pump instead of relying on formula.

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