Are your finances ready for a 'babymoon'?
Carefree trip before the bundle of joy can cost a bundle
Infants, adorable as they are, can also be incredibly time and cash-consuming, which is why many parents-to-be take advantage of the months before birth to splurge on a just-the-two-of-us voyage.
Nicknamed "babymoons," these jaunts have been given a high profile by expectant celebrity couples such as Kim Kardashian and Kanye West (Paris), and Prince William and Kate Middleton (Mustique Island). Plenty of regular folks take them, too: A June 2013 survey by American Express found 37 percent of consumers with children under the age of 12 took one or are planning to take one before the arrival of another child. The figure shoots up to 53 percent for more-affluent consumers.
Excessive indulgence or a sensible expense? To decide for yourself, learn why some couples did it, and what personal finance experts recommend on how to take a money and credit-smart babymoon.
Meet the babymooners
When most people think of investments, the stock market typically comes to mind. Yet what about the energy you put in and then get out of a relationship? That, too, is vital, and is the most common reason parents-to-be spend on a trip designed to strengthen their commitment.
Such was the case for Tessa Garcia-Collart from Miami. She and her husband went to Cancun, Mexico, for their babymoon -- dropping about $2,000. "It was completely worth it," says Garcia-Collart. "It was a very intimate time for us to relax and enjoy the culmination of our 'single' life and the celebration of our journey into parenthood."
Recognizing that financial stress would have been counterproductive, the couple avoided borrowing and used tucked away funds instead.
Vicki Mayo, from Scottsdale, Ariz., also hit the road with her husband before each of their two children were born. "We knew time, money and reliable, trustworthy babysitters would be limited later," says Mayo. Their getaways were a few days at a resort in Breckenridge, Colo., for about $1,000, then Honolulu for twice that sum.
Those trips rekindled their romance and, asserts Mayo, gave them "a chance to bond again before changing the family dynamic with a new baby." To pay for it all, the couple used cash gifts from baby showers, saved the rest, and economized as much as possible by using travel discounts.
"I absolutely think it's a wise investment, particularly if you have a first baby," says Mayo.
It was completely worth it. It was a very intimate time for us to relax and enjoy the culmination of our 'single' life and the celebration of our journey into parenthood.
Babymooner from Miami
Another rationale for babymoons: The destination is ill-suited for little ones. Thus, Charlotte, N.C., residents Jim Cusson and his wife went to Alaska when she was six months pregnant. "We figured that we wouldn't be able to visit again anytime soon -- if ever -- with a new baby coming," says Cusson. "We chose Alaska because it seemed like a last-frontier kind of vacation, and we were determined to tackle it before the realities of raising a baby swallowed us up."
Their rugged, 10-day adventure totaled $4,500, all paid in cash. Was it worth it? "Absolutely," says Cusson.
Settling for a 'staycation'
That's just too much money, you say? Some personal finance experts would agree, and outline times when you might be better off staying home during your pregnancy.
"I have friends and younger clients with $600 in their account, the baby is due soon, and they say, 'Let's go spend it and do a babymoon!'," says David Ogman, a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley Wealth in Boca Raton, Fla. "I advise people not to do it unless they really have enough money."
Ogman is also dad to an 8-month-old daughter, so he recognizes from a professional and personal standpoint the need to establish a stable household before traipsing around the globe. "Diapers, unexpected health problems, they all add up," says Ogman. "That's why we didn't do it. We wanted to have that money going into our rainy day fund."
Diapers, unexpected health problems, they all add up. That's why we didn't do it. We wanted to have that money going into our rainy day fund.
|-- David Ogman
Expecting parents must analyze their overall financial picture carefully, says Ogman, and not plan a trip until they've set up a substantial emergency account. "Six months of your salary is always recommended, but as a new parent you'll want twice that." Then create a budget that includes important new bills, including life, disability and health insurance premiums. Don't neglect contributions to your child's college savings plan and your own retirement savings, either, he warns.
Money starting to sound tight? Exactly. And that's before assessing whatever debt you may be carrying. If it's high interest credit card debt or other finance fee heavy obligations, delay any unnecessary trip until you're deep into the black. "Young parents are almost always going to have some sort of debt -- student loan debt at least," says Ogman. "That's OK, but they may have also bought a house, two cars and owe on credit cards. That's when I really advise against the babymoon."
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Be cautious even when not in debt if you are thinking of charging the vacation. If you can't pay the total bill off in a month or two, forget it. "Putting it on the credit cards is a horrible idea!" says Ogman. "Substitute the babymoon with a 'staycation.'"
Taking a money-smart babymoon
Of course, there is another side of the economic coin. For people committed to traveling, adding another person to the mix -- even a very small child -- can up those costs. An extra seat on the plane, arranging for child care and staying at a safer (read, pricier) hotel can vastly raise the full cost. Therefore, leaving before the baby's birth can save you money.
That's a sound argument, say some financial experts. Just have your existing and upcoming essentials covered prior to booking, and begin saving early and aggressively.
"I encourage a babymoon, as this time away lets a couple celebrate and acknowledge the shift from partner to parent," says Kristin Harad, a San Francisco financial planner, whose company VitaVie Financial Planning focuses on the needs of young families. Before the trip, she recommends funding a 'baby startup' account. Made with direct deposits, it should have enough in it to pay for any of the baby gear or early support you may need or want before your child is born.
After that, figure out how much your desired vacation will cost and what you'll need to save if you don't have the cash on hand. For such a short-term goal, you won't have interest-bearing accounts working for you, so you'll rely strictly on deposits to accumulate the principal.
For example, if your desired babymoon is a $500 weekend at a nearby spa and you have four months to plan, set aside $125 a month. An African safari, however, could run $10,000. To get there, you'll either need to save $2,500 each month, dip into existing savings or downsize to something more realistic.
Before abandoning a travel dream, consider ways to reduce the costs, says Xavier Epps, a financial adviser and owner of XNE Financial Advising in Arlington, Va., who has recently helped several clients budget for their babymoon. Using plastic efficiently is one of his recommended strategies.
If you have a credit card with a rewards program, says Epps, the early stages of pregnancy may be the perfect time to use them in earnest. "Consider building up points on the credit card by using it as much as possible and paying it off each month until the month of the vacation begins. Then redeem the points for prepaid cards loaded with cash."
Ultimately, the purpose of a babymoon is to create a happy beginning for your growing family. "If you can't afford it, try to find a local place -- change the pace and make a memory," says Mayo "It's about that quality time, just the two of you, before you bring in that bundle of joy."See related: Pregnancy vs. paying down debt
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