The Economics of Parenting

How can something so small cause such a major upheaval in your life? Not the least of this upheaval is financial. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that the average middle-income family will spend over $190,000 raising a child until the age 17 -- and that doesn't include any college costs.

But just as you find the extra time and energy you will need to take care of the little bundle of consuming joy, you will find ways to work it out financially.

Parenting

Planning for Parenthood

Brace yourself. You will be spending much more than expected to buy things you never even thought of. Start planning financially for having a baby as soon as you can - before conception if possible.

Set aside as much as you can every month in a savings account. The actual event of birth can be expensive as well as all the first time purchases you'll make. Don't forget to save some money for your maternity or paternity leave. This is usually unpaid time off work.

How much do you need? As much as you can save. Any funds left over make a great starter for a college fund. If you've amassed a considerable amount well before the due date, you can invest in a short-term CD or other insured investment. But don't tie up your entire fund in investments. Babies will not sign contracts and they have not agreed to your schedule.

Have a brainstorming session with an experienced parent to figure out all the things you need to purchase before the delivery. It will be extremely helpful to have most of what you need before the baby is born. Your spare shopping time after birth is reduced drastically. If you need to shop after the baby is born, try the Internet. Nobody on the Internet cares how loud your baby is crying, what you are wearing or what time it is when your baby gives you a free moment to shop.

Here's a starter list for your brainstorming session. This is far from a complete list, but it will help get you thinking.

  • Car Seat By law, you can't even take the baby home from the hospital without one.
  • Crib You want one that meets the highest safety standards.
  • Bassinet One with wheels will add to your mobility around the house.
  • Stroller Consider getting one that's part of a stroller/car seat combo. It makes transitions easier.
  • Baby Monitor "Baby calling Parents, come in, Parents."
  • Safety Gate Keep your newly mobile child away from staircases and other hazards.

Maternity and Paternity Leave

Most companies don't provide paid maternity leave - and don't have to. The Family and Medical Leave Act, which only applies if a company has more than 50 employees, ensures mothers should be able to return to their old job or an equivalent job up to 12 weeks after they begin their leave. The actual policy varies from company to company, especially if the company has fewer than 50 employees.

If you are a father, ask your employer about paternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act does not cover this time, but many employers are offering the same or similar benefits to their male employees.

Plan monetarily for maternity and paternity leave, as it is unpaid. You may be able to save up sick time and vacation time to continue receiving income for several weeks. But most likely, you will lose some income during this time.