Granted all you want to do is stare lovingly at the magical being you and your partner created, there are five things that you MUST do when having a child for the first time.
I heard Jim Gaffigan once describe life before kids as almost perfect — you get to sleep in on the weekends, get to do whatever you want at night, eat at great restaurants, have extra money for the things you like, have a clean house all the time… and then you get to thinking, “you know what would make this even better? Let’s have A KID!”
My wife and I had that very discussion back in 2002 which led to the birth of our daughter in 2003. I remember coming home from the hospital with our little pink bundle, Piper, thinking, “surely I have to get someone to sign off on my ability as a parent?!”
Yet, everyday, millions of new moms and dads take their little bundles of joy home and spend hours upon hours just staring at them, totally unaware of the fact that life as they once knew it, is over.
The new life — the one with kids in the picture — changes what needs to be done almost overnight, yet there is no operator’s manual, no instruction guide. Most new parents rely on the guidance of their own, or at the very least their friends who are in the know, when making first baby moves.
Here are the 5 things you MUST do when having a child for the first time:
Create Your Baby Budget
Let me break it to you gently — YOU WILL LIVE ON LESS NOW.
Kids are friggin expensive. The USDA recently reported that the average cost to raise a child from 0-18 is now pushing $300,000. That’s not including the cost of college either. Have a kid today and you’re looking at an overall price tag with higher education of nearly half a million.
Your baby budget will simply take into account all of the new expenses you’re taking on. Between diapers, daycare, food and formula, not to mention the amount that you’ll be spending on takeout, your budget will change a bit from when life was good as a DINK (Dual Income No Kids).
The good news is when you create the baby budget, some of that money is coming from the fun you used to have. No more Jello shots, Jeager bombs, and Vodka Bulls on Thursday and Friday nights means you’ll have more for Pampers and Similac.
The budget is critical, especially when you’ve been used to living as two. While they say two can live as cheaply as one, three can definitely NOT live as cheaply as two. Unless of course there are some serious sacrifices.
Start a 529 Plan
College costs are rising at a pace about 3 times the rate of inflation which means if you have a child right now it’s likely to cost a quarter of million to send them to a state school in about 18 years.
529 Plans are college savings plans, generally administered by the state, with expenses kept to an absolute minimum and investment portfolios that are usually tied to the child’s age. So when a child is born, any money that is invested in the 529 Plan is invested with a long time horizon and put in aggressive investments.
Whether you have funds to put in the 529 Plan right now or not is somewhat irrelevant. By starting one, the goal is to give your well-meaning friends and relatives a place to put their well-intentioned dollars. As soon as that kid comes out, you’ll have aunts and great aunts finding every reason to go to the baby department at Target and buy the perfect onesie for your little bag o’ peanuts. But honestly, how many onesies do you think s/he will poop out of in a couple of days. You get much more than 5 or 6 onesies and someone is going to cry overkill. (Probably Dad.)
One of the smartest things we ever did for our kids was start a 529 Plan with the Iowa College Savings Plan. Iowa’s program has some of the lowest fees in the industry and the returns have been stellar for our kids. We encouraged relatives to fund the Plan instead of plastic trinkets and multi-colored playthings when they were super young.
Those gifts turned into investments that have literally doubled in value for each of our kids in the 10 or so short years they’ve all had accounts. So, put the 529 Plan at the top of the TO DO list as soon as junior rears his/her lovely head. In about 18 years, they’ll think you’re the smartest human in the world. (And then you’ll be really dumb for about 4-5 years, and then smart again after that.)
Get On The Same Page Financially & Otherwise
One of my closest friends has a saying we’re fond of in our house:
Yes, you’re no doubt in love with that person you just melded DNA with, and more than likely you know each other so well you could finish each others’… (not sandwiches!). So, it goes without saying that the two of you are so sympatico it isn’t necessary to identify roles, responsibilities and expectations, right?
The first thing you need to get on the same page about is money. It may have been no biggie for your hub to spend $10-15 on sodas and chips at the convenience store each week or for the Mrs. to have a healthy and growing purse or jewelry collection. Now that kids are in the picture, some of the money you used to use for “wants” may have to go back in the baby budget from above.
Another post about the 8 Money Questions To Ask Your Spouse will help guide the discussion.
Find common ground on how you’ll raise your kids with an allowance program. This has proven to be one of the biggest sticking points among parents I’ve counseled who are not on the same page when it comes to parenting. Typically one of you grew up with an allowance and the other one grew up without. By identifying and describing what system you’ll use, you’ll experience far fewer tantrums from the kids and more understanding dialogue with your honey.
What methods will you use to parent your child? Having an in-depth discussion about how you’ll discipline, what you liked and disliked about how your parents raised you, and what an ideal kid looks like at 18 might be a good start. When they’re first born, they can’t do anything that doesn’t melt your heart. (Even filling a diaper is cute.) When they’re 3 and throwing a nuclear meltdown tantrum at Target… not so cute.
WHO DOES WHAT
Does one of you wash bottles after the other one pumps? (These are very gender specific responsibilities as you might imagine.) Does one of you always get up in the middle of the night or do you take turns every other night? Are you both going to be responsible for cooking, doing laundry, emptying the diaper genie? It may seem somewhat trivial to have these discussions right now, but in the dead of night when you’re both sleep deprived (and about to stab the other in the face with a thermometer) you’ll be glad you did.
Get Out Together and Solo
Kids are important. Parents that love each other are even more so.
When date nights went by the wayside, so did our mutual affection, patience, and tolerance of small digressions. What happens when the kid(s) get ever more attention is a triangle effect. Only one side of the triangle is getting more energy at any given time and as a result one of the parents is feeling left out. If this happens for too long you’ll see a pulling away effect which is detrimental to a relationship long-term.
Date nights should be a budgeted thing. If you absolutely can’t swing the cost of a night out (or a babysitter for that matter), consider finding another family in a similar situation that you could swap favors with. You and your S.O. go out this Friday and then return the favor with the neighbor next week. Connection is a critical thing for parents — so make it a priority.
Taking care of yourself is equally important. If you’re in dire need of solo time, make that known. Yes, I get that you’d do anything for your child including not bathing for several days because you have stuff to do, but seriously, take a bath.
Get Your Affairs In Order
It may seem a bit morbid to suggest you need to finalize your last will & testament now that you have an heir to your (not yet accumulated) estate. However, nothing is more awkward than the grandparents fighting over who is going to take your kids in the event of an untimely passing of you and your spouse.
Far too many instances of parents dying prematurely in a car accident or a plane crash have happened with no guidance or legal guardianship for the kids.
If one of you handles the bookkeeping exclusively, make sure you document where all of the important statements are kept and where money is invested.
A simple will should suffice for now, but as your family expands make sure you have a trust in place that explicitly defines where money should go and when.
It’s clearly the last thing you ever imagine happening, but it is much better to be prepared in the event of a terrible accident than to have the lack of controlling documents leave your little loved ones futures to chance.
Becoming a parent is quite simply one of the greatest joys you’ll ever have in life. I’ve often said that you can never fully appreciate how much love you can have for someone until you help bring them into the world. These 5 things are on my MUST list in order to protect and keep my kids loved and protected, as well as their Mom cared for, honored, and safe!
Adam Carroll is the founder of MasteryOfMoney.com, the author of The Money Savvy Student, creator of the Raising Kids Who Thrive With Money Course, and the former head diaper genie disposal technician. His kids are now well-beyond the plastic potty chair. Adam’s goal is to create a more financially literate generation of Americans who can fix this mess we seem to have inherited and allowed to blossom.