MONEY

How an un­ex­pected preg­nancy forced one fi­nance guru to re­think her bud­get.

ELLE (Canada) - - Storyboard - By Brid­get Casey

I FOUND OUT I was un­ex­pect­edly preg­nant the day af­ter my 31st-birth­day party. My boyfriend and I could still mea­sure our relationship in weeks, and I was liv­ing alone in a sparsely fur­nished one-bed­room apart­ment in Cal­gary. I had just wrapped up a tu­mul­tuous first year of self­em­ploy­ment as a per­sonal-fi­nance blog­ger but had yet to master the seem­ingly im­pos­si­ble task of is­su­ing my­self a reg­u­lar pay­cheque. Even though I had money saved (obvs, I fol­low my own ad­vice), my monthly in­come was feast or famine. There were times when I earned enough that my bank ac­count looked like I’d re­ceived a small in­her­i­tance from a reclu­sive long-lost un­cle, but other months I barely brought in enough to cover my rent. In other words, I felt nowhere near fi­nan­cially ready for a baby.

I wasn’t emo­tion­ally ready ei­ther. I had breezed through my 20s rack­ing up de­grees and job ti­tles, op­er­at­ing un­der the naive be­lief that I was too re­spon­si­ble and ac­com­plished for any ma­jor life event to catch me by sur­prise. Get­ting ac­ci­den­tally preg­nant felt pro­foundly care­less, even though I had been to­tally care­ful. (PSA: The 2 per­cent fail­ure rate of con­doms is no joke.) The mag­ni­tude of re­spon­si­bil­ity was crush­ing, as was the price tag. Ac­cord­ing to Sta­tis­tics Canada, the

av­er­age cost to raise a child from birth to age 18 is ap­prox­i­mately $250,000, which made my sud­den sit­u­a­tion feel a lot like be­ing signed up for a mort­gage while I was sleep­ing.

The up­side to preg­nancy is, un­like, say, cov­er­ing a bro­ken dish­washer, you have nine months to save money be­fore your baby ar­rives. You can breathe a lit­tle eas­ier when you re­al­ize that you don’t have to buy ma­ter­ni­ty­wear un­til your sec­ond trimester and your first day­care bill won’t come due for a while. While my body and my fu­ture no longer be­longed en­tirely to me, my money still did—for now. And I had to make the most of it.

Bud­get­ing isn’t glam­orous, but when the un­ex­pected strikes, the de­gree of pre­dictabil­ity it pro­vides is ex­actly what you need to stay sane. With the help of friends, fam­ily and Google, I made a list of all the one­time pur­chases and monthly costs that come with hav­ing a baby. I then rec­on­ciled my in­come with my up­com­ing new ex­penses to de­ter­mine what I could af­ford and what I could save.

Thank­fully, dras­tic life changes of­ten lead to dras­tic spend­ing changes. My wine bud­get in­stantly be­came $0, and ex­haus­tion and nau­sea dur­ing preg­nancy forced my din­ing-out bud­get to dwin­dle right af­ter it. My favourite stores didn’t carry ma­ter­nity clothes, so I didn’t even feel the urge to shop when I walked through a mall. In­stead, I spent time brows­ing on­line sales and seek­ing out con­sign­ment stores, look­ing for a wardrobe in­ex­pen­sive enough to jus­tify wear­ing it for only a few months. I quickly grew ac­cus­tomed to quiet nights in, trad­ing the fast-paced ex­cite­ment of my child­less years for the calm prepa­ra­tion of wel­com­ing a lit­tle some­one new. My life­style changed so much that even with­out putting any re­stric­tions on my spend­ing, money started ac­cu­mu­lat­ing in my bank ac­count—one of the perks of a bor­ing so­cial life, I guess.

I set up a ded­i­cated “baby fund” to cap­ture that cash I was no longer spend­ing. Ev­ery Mon­day, I trans­ferred $50 from my chequing ac­count to this fund. I still use it to this day. It’s true that $50 won’t solve all your fi­nan­cial woes, but it can slowly but surely make a dif­fer­ence. Once my daugh­ter was born, ad­di­tional sources of in­come, like the Canada child ben­e­fit, which is a monthly pay­ment from the govern­ment to Cana­dian fam­i­lies, and child sup­port from my baby’s fa­ther, helped with my new ex­penses. (FYI: Canada.ca has a list of all the ben­e­fits and tax cred­its you’re en­ti­tled to as a par­ent.) Not hav­ing to worry about pay­ing my bills while try­ing to get the hang of mother­hood (sleep de­pri­va­tion, learn­ing to breast­feed, all that good stuff) meant that my at­ten­tion was fo­cused where it was needed: on my baby.

But my time off didn’t last long. Since I’m self­em­ployed, I re­ally couldn’t af­ford to take more than a three-month ma­ter­nity leave from my com­pany. To make the tran­si­tion eas­ier, I re­turned to work slowly, start­ing out with only three hours a day, two days a week. Be­tween our breast­feed­ing sched­ule and the parental sep­a­ra­tion anxiety I bat­tled in those early months, I phys­i­cally couldn’t do more. But as my daugh­ter grew and I learned how to in­te­grate work back into my life, it got pro­gres­sively eas­ier. Now, when my mom friends lament jump­ing back into 40-hour work­weeks af­ter a year off with their ba­bies, I’m glad I had the lux­ury of re­ar­rang­ing my life around my new role as a mother on my own time.

My daugh­ter’s first birth­day is rapidly ap­proach­ing. Our days have now set­tled into a peaceful rou­tine of work and play, and it’s hard to re­mem­ber a time when I wor­ried whether I’d be able to make it. We don’t al­ways get to choose what hap­pens to us, fi­nan­cially or oth­er­wise, but we can con­trol how we re­spond to it. My dili­gent bud­get­ing and plan­ning paid off—and be­cause of that I was able to make un­ex­pected par­ent­hood part of my ordinary life. It’s proven to be as ex­pen­sive as promised, but it’s also turned out to be the best in­vest­ment I’ve ever made. n

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