From diapers to formula to car seats to clothing, the dollars add up fast when it comes to newborns, and the parents’ budget can take a big hit.
And it’s not just expenses: A major financial consideration is the potential drop in income when a spouse goes on maternity or paternity leave after the baby is born, said Melissa Jennings, Budget for Baby Lead for the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society office at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune.
In her “Budget for Baby” workshops, Jennings advises parents who know that a spouse is going on unpaid leave — or isn’t returning to work — to put themselves on a one-income household budget right away and set aside the other income. This gives parents an idea what it will be like to live on that one income and can provide a savings cushion for baby expenses and other needs.
“If they’re on a tight budget, including the spouse’s income, they need to start cutting back now, if they plan to have any children,” said Rita Fountain, director of NMCRS at Camp Lejeune.
NMCRS has offered Budget for Baby workshops for years for active-duty and retired sailors and Marines, and their families — whether it’s the first baby or the fifth. They provide information about benefits, pay entitlements and tax implications of parenthood; financial strategies; and where to find other local resources and programs.
NMCRS also offers free, personalized family financial counseling to help adjust to the increased costs. They provide worksheets to help expectant parents compare the costs of formula and the costs of diapers at the commissary/exchange, and at local stores.
One important program for young families is the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, which is operated by the Agriculture Department in the U.S. and by the Defense Department overseas. Applicants’ income before taxes must fall at or below 185 percent of U.S. poverty income guidelines; for a family of three, that’s at or below $37,777.
Aside from information and education that may be provided by relief societies, contact your local family center to find out whether there are workshops, or other financial education programs available for expectant parents. MilitaryOneSource.mil is another resource for individual financial advice.
Some average costs, for starters:
Breast or bottle?: Those who choose to breastfeed can expect to pay about $150 to $300 a year on nursing pads, breast pumps and other items. Those who bottle feed spend, on average, $1,260 to $2,160 a year for formula, according to numbers from various national organizations compiled by NMCRS.
“I think there’s a misperception that WIC provides all formula and all baby food, that there is no out-of-pocket cost,” said Jennings. “They don’t realize it’s a supplement.”
Jennings advises expectant mothers that Tricare pays for a breast pumps and breast pump supplies; mothers should check for specifics and ask for prescriptions from their medical provider for those items.
Maternity care: Parents should check their Tricare plan to learn what expectant moms may pay for maternity care, especially if a pregnant spouse is moving home to be with her parents while her husband is deployed, Jennings said.
Diapers: Disposable diapers can average $864 and up per year; costs vary greatly by region. Always check prices at the commissary and exchange, but also keep tabs on pricing and sales at local stores.
Cloth diapers start at about $864 per year, not including the cost of washing and drying the diapers. Diaper services average $988 or more per year.
Car seats: A recent check of ShopMyExchange.com showed infant car seats ranging from $55 to $199. Unlike other baby gear, hand-me-down seats should be avoided: All seats have stickers with expiration dates.
“I tell them that’s the only thing they need to buy brand new,” said Jennings, who suggested families watch for programs like Target has had in the past, where they accept trade-ins of old car seats, and provide a discount coupon toward a new car seat.
(Already have your car seat? You may be able to find a thrift shop on or near your installation for other baby items. The NMCRS well baby clinic at Lejeune has its own, where moms shop free.)
CHILD CARE OPTIONS
For families who choose a Defense Department-run child care center, fees are based on total income, and are the same rates within those categories for all children, whether they’re infants or preschool age. In the civilian community, care costs generally fall as children age.
Parents who want care in a DoD facility need to start the research and application process early, because there are often waiting lists. Families who pre-register can find out how much the child care will cost.
In some cases the services will subsidize child care in the local community; families can find out more here at www.childcareaware.org.
Child care bites into the budget, and for some, it’s not feasible for the spouse to work. NMCRS sees some clients seeking financial assistance who are clearing $100 a month after the cost of child care, Fountain said.
WANT OR NEED?
Not all expenses are necessary. For example, many young military parents, like their civilian counterparts, think they need a new car because of the baby, Fountain said. They may have a two-door car, or think they need more room. Adding that new, larger car payment into the budget with all the other new expenses might not be a good idea.
Other expenses may tug at the heartstrings: Jennings said women usually get two or three ultrasounds while going through the pregnancy process at Lejeune, but some companies outside the gate do extra ultrasounds — to the tune of $200 to $300, she said — to determine the baby’s gender a few weeks earlier.
Parents may be offered a teddy bear with a recording of your baby’s heartbeat (for about $50), Jennings said, or be approached by a photographer offering to record baby’s first 48 hours for free … but not mentioning the charge per photo.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.