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Should you wait to have a baby until you pay off your debt?

Your heart – or ticking biological clock – says it's time to have a baby; your credit card bill, however, may be saying something else


If you wait for the perfect time to have a baby, it might never happen. But there are some steps you can take to minimize the financial damage,  even if you’re in debt.

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Your heart – or your ticking biological clock – says it’s time to have a baby. Your credit card bill, however, may be saying something else. That heart-versus-head argument is forcing a number of prospective parents to make a tough decision: Throw finances to the wind with the birth control? Or postpone having children until you pay off your cards?

The price of parenthood

In a 2016 poll,  7 out of 10 moms surveyed stated that they concerned about having enough money to raise their kids – an understandable worry considering that the average yearly cost of raising a child is $13,000, according to the poll. Add to that a maternity leave or a part-time postpartum work schedule that reduces income, and the resulting cash crunch can wreak havoc on your finances. “A lot of people don’t realize how expensive a child can be,” says Erica Sandberg, author of “Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families.”

“If you already have debt, you’re already behind,” Sandberg says. This is the case for 9 out of 10 moms surveyed for the poll.

See related: Don’t let money anxiety cause trouble in your relationship

For Kristina Windt, the financial cost of raising a child was enough to ditch her credit card debt before trying to get pregnant. “Kids and debt are both stressful,” she says. “If I’m going to be up most of the night with a screaming baby, I don’t want to be lying awake the rest of it wondering how I’m going to afford day care.”

Still, plenty of parents are winging it. Ellie Kay should know. The financial expert and author of “A Tip a Day with Ellie Kay” was $40,000 in debt when she quit her job as a stockbroker and had five children in seven years. “There’s this hidden factor that can’t be measured on the bottom line, which is, ‘Is having a baby right for us?'” she says. Still, she adds, being baby-hungry isn’t enough to keep a family financially afloat. “When we had our children, we accepted a much lower standard of living. We got creative in the ways we paid down debt and made ends meet. In two-and-a-half years, we were debt-free.”

Counting the cost

In an ideal world, everyone would erase their debt before becoming parents. “The reality is that if you wait until the perfect time to have a baby, it’ll never happen,” says Karin Maloney Stifler, a financial planner and co-founder of Walden Wealth Partners, near Cleveland, Ohio. “The decision always involves a certain leap of faith.”

Do your homework beforehand and you can ensure that your new baby won’t break the bank. Here’s how:

1.Analyze your debt. If you can afford to pay more than the minimum on your credit cards, have started to chip away at the total and have a cash cushion at the end of each month, your debt probably shouldn’t stand in the way of your plans for pregnancy. If you’re struggling to keep up with minimums or continuing to add to the balance, then you’re already living above your means. A new baby will only make your bad financial situation worse.

2. Crunch the numbers. Make a spreadsheet of the expenses you expect a child to add to your tab, including prenatal care, diapers, formula and child care. For estimates, talk to other parents, call day care providers and pediatricians in your area and browse baby stores. Also consider how the little one will impact your income if you decide that one parent should stay home and care for the baby – even if that’s not in the plan right now. “When I had my first child, I thought I was absolutely going to continue to work full-time,” says Maloney Stifler. “But once I had that baby in my arms, I changed my mind.”

3. Overhaul your budget. Want to make room for a baby? Slash your spending. “My wife and I made use of a 0 percent credit card transfer to consolidate our $8,000 of credit card debt, then we cut our expenses on things like cell phones, auto insurance, garbage bills and eating out,” says Joe Morgan.

4.Do a test run. Once you’ve made a rough estimate of how much you think you’ll need when the baby comes along, set aside that money now for credit card repayment and see if you can hack the tighter finances. “We knew that when the baby was born, my fiancee was not going back to work, so we practiced living on my income alone by putting hers toward debt reduction and savings,” says Shaun Ramos. “We managed to pay off $9,300 in debt.”

That reduced their credit card payment by $550 a month – money they were able to put towards care for their daughter, Hailey.

5.Keep your eyes on the prize. To keep herself from blowing the money from a better-paying job on extras, Windt had part of her paycheck direct-deposited into a savings account, which she used to pay off her credit cards. She also continually reminded herself of her ultimate goal. “I really tried to associate paying down the card with getting what I wanted: babies.”

6.Lower your expectations. While it’s tempting to spend on high-end strollers and designer onesies, avoid amping up your lifestyle for your baby’s sake. “Yes, you want the best for your baby, but the best for your baby is a good financial future for your family,” says Kay. “You might be buying a $60 car seat instead of a $300 one, but that’s OK.” Borrow gear such as swings and slings, stockpile on-sale diapers and hit consignment sales and garage sales for clothes and toys. If you really want a baby, you’ll be happy to outfit them for less.

See related: 4 ways to sabotage your child’s financial independence

The bottom line

For couples dreaming of pregnancy, tackling credit card debt probably isn’t at the top of the to-do list. To Sandberg, that’s like starting your own business without a business plan. “People say, ‘Oh, everything will work out,’ but the moment you get pregnant is the moment you need to start looking at your finances and say, ‘How can I make the most safe, secure financial environment for my growing family?'”


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