If You're a New Parent, Pay Attention to These Expenses

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Bringing home that new baby will feel a lot less stressful if you have your finances in order.

Becoming a parent is one of the biggest transitions you'll ever go through. It can be stressful, especially at first, as my husband and I found out when we welcomed our son into the world earlier this year. But you can reduce some of that stress by being as prepared as possible. That includes bracing yourself for all the baby expenses that come your way. Here are five of the most important to plan for.

1. Medical care

I remember my first obstetrician appointment, when we went over the costs for a vaginal birth vs. a C-section. I remember thinking, "I can ignore all this C-section information, because it's not relevant to me." Fast-forward to a surprise breech birth -- my hospital bills nearly doubled from what I expected. And the expenses didn't stop there.

There are all the well-baby checkups during the first year. And those who experience complications like a premature birth or a baby with health issues often pay even more.

There isn't an easy way to know how much you'll pay for your baby's medical care, but having insurance can take a lot of the sting out of it. While deductibles can be expensive, you can budget for them. A health savings account (HSA) can help you cover these costs. And hospitals can help you set up payment plans if necessary, so you don't have to pay your bills all at once.

2. Feeding

No matter how you choose to feed your baby, you can expect to pay a lot during your first year. Formula feeding requires bottles and formula -- and you may have to try out a few kinds before you find one that works for your baby. Then there's all the extra dish soap to wash all those bottles.

If you're breastfeeding, you don't get off scot-free either. You need a pump and nursing bras. Plus, you need extra food, because you'll burn a lot more calories. And in either case, once your child gets a little older, you have to invest in baby food, bowls, spoons, a high chair...the list goes on.

Build a little cushion into your grocery budget to account for these expenses. After a month or two, you should have some idea of what you need to spend per week. But remember, as your child grows and eats more, you'll need to slowly increase this budget.

3. Clothing and diapers

Prepare yourself: You may reach 1,000 diapers changed much faster than you expect to. And that number just keeps on climbing. You can save a little money by buying diapers in bulk. Or you could opt for cloth diapers, though they have a higher upfront cost. They also lead to a lot more laundry, which may not be ideal for busy households.

Then there's clothing. It's difficult to gauge how much clothing you need in each size, because it depends on how fast your baby grows and how quickly the clothes get soiled. Sometimes, my husband and I get lucky and my son lasts over a day in one outfit. Other times, we go through four outfits in a day. It makes the laundry unpredictable, but one thing's for sure -- we're doing a lot more of it.

If you'd like, build in a monthly clothing budget. But remember, you may get some clothing from friends and family. You may also be able to pick up some clothes for cheap at a secondhand store. Plan for slightly increased utility bills, too, due to the extra laundry. After a month or two of this, you should have a better idea what to expect.

4. Baby gear

When I pack my son up to take him to the store or his grandparents' house, I'm amazed at how much stuff one little person needs. I've got the stroller and car seat, a fully stocked diaper bag, and toys now that he's getting a little older. At home, his high chair, walker, swing, and baby gym have staged a rapid takeover of our living space. And we haven't even reached the point when he can move around a lot yet.

Certain things, like a car seat, are essential, but a lot of these items are optional. If you're on a budget, be discerning about what you buy, keeping in mind how long your baby might use the stuff you've bought.

Once you have the essentials, it's up to you to decide how much to spend on extras. Figure out what you feel comfortable spending and build this amount into your budget every month.

5. Childcare

Childcare is a reality for most families where both parents work outside the home. It can be quite expensive, particularly in cities. For some, it's like adding another mortgage payment to the monthly bills.

You may not be able to avoid paying for childcare entirely, but there are some ways to reduce its costs. If you have friends or family willing to watch your baby on certain days, you may not have to pay for daycare every day. Compare daycare options before your baby is born and see how much each charges and what services it provides. Find out which is the most affordable option for you.

Adding a baby to your family can be quite a shock to the wallet, but just like you adjust to being responsible for a tiny human, your finances adjust, too. Soon, you may not even remember the details of what things were like before a baby was in your life.

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