Do you know how much a baby will cost you?

Children are expensive. Point. Regardless of your level of frugality, having children is probably more expensive than not having them. And yet, in the US, there’s a particular social pushback when you try to talk openly about the financial challenges of having children. The prevailing line is: “Oh, you’ll figure it out.” Although not entirely true, there is a difference between feeling a new increase in your monthly budget and not being able to afford what was previously considered comfortable.

Don’t be selfish or condescending about the potential costs of conceiving, giving birth, and raising a child. Under ideal circumstances, this is expensive, not to mention the tens of thousands it can cost couples experiencing fertility issues. It’s certainly not selfish to give up parenthood in part because the overall quality of your life may suffer depending on what’s available to you.

Prospective parents must consider the financial implications of having children just as current parents must weigh the cost of having children.

To be clear, this is not a manifesto to abandon children simply because of cost. Instead, it’s an attempt to normalize conversations about the full implications of choosing to have children. It’s hardly reassuring when the current estimate for a middle-class family to raise a child to 18 exceeded $300,000according to the Brookings Institution.

The “we’ll figure it out” style of preparation is especially worrisome in an environment of high inflation and difficult financial conditions. Nearly three-quarters of Americans said they would struggle to meet their financial obligations if their paychecks were delayed for a week, according to 2022 Earning a salary in America survey conducted by Art American Payroll Association. Notably, hospitalization for childbirth is probably one of the most common sources of unexpected medical bills in the US, according to findings published recently in the JAMA Health Forum.

Also, what exactly does “figure it out” mean? Does this mean you will be working more hours to cover the new costs? It seems strange to add a child to your life only to work long hours that prevent you from forming the bonds you need. Does it mean giving up your career to save money on childcare? Trying to find the perfect alchemy of what is practical and mentally healthy for both parents and in the best interest of the child is a tricky combination.

Unfortunately, when it comes to parental leave in the US, there are no protective bars in the US. The modest level of protection that exists is provided through Family Medical Leave Act, which protects work for 12 weeks after childbirth or adoption. It is unpaid and simply requires that your work be available for you upon your return. Without even going into how horribly meager these conditions are, the other problem is that FMLA is only required by the private sector if you have worked for your company for a year and your employer has more than 50 employees within a 75 mile radius.

Sure, your employer may be nice and provide paid maternity leave — and the requirements do vary by state — but that only counts 23% of civilian workersaccording to 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The majority of the country’s population, which is a parent, must pay for the leave on its own. A short-term disability plan, especially one provided by an employer, is another way to subsidize the cost of maternity leave. But that’s assuming you’re even eligible. Some self-employed groups, such as freelance writers, may find it difficult to obtain disability insurance.

As a self-employed woman who is the primary breadwinner, I find it very frustrating to realize that I am fully responsible for funding my maternity leave. My husband’s job offers paid parental leave. But assuming I had given birth, it would have been physically difficult to resume normal activities soon after the birth injury. It’s also difficult to discuss how to deal with childcare and whether one person’s career should take a temporary or permanent back seat.

In our situation, my income is higher, albeit unpredictable, but my husband’s job provides access to quality health care and a pension. None of us can really afford the luxury of backing out without significant long-term consequences for our family’s financial future. This is far from a unique situation.

Additionally, about 44% of Americans say they don’t have family nearby Pew Research. Those without family members who can help with caregiving struggle with the financial costs of outsourcing such caregiving—a valid concern, given that 51% of parents say they spend more than 20% of their household income on caregiving for children, according to the 2022 estimate. Care.com survey.

All of these factors lead to stressful dreams and frantic Googling. As a 30-something woman who realizes the choice to have biological children is now officially a ticking time bomb, I’ve spent many nights crunching the numbers to decide how financially ready my husband and I are to have children.

After all, the potential cost of $300,000 to raise a child to age 18 and another, say, $250,000 for college is simply staggering. It can also make parents-to-be (at least this one) worry that no amount of money saved up will feel like enough to make the leap.

It wasn’t until I came across a blog post by Eric Roberge, Certified Financial Planner and founder of Beyond Your Hammock that I found some solace. Under the bold name “What you need to save before you have a baby might not be the right question“, Roberge’s post argues that it’s a bit of a misnomer to focus on savings, and that you should instead focus on cash flow. Of course, there are upfront costs associated with having a baby, whether biologically or through adoption, but more importantly, how this the new item in your budget will correspond to the amount you earn.

Cash flow is also important, considering that the roughly $300,000 to raise a child fluctuates over time. Daycare costs will eventually be subsidized by the school, especially if you send your child to public school. But different stages of a child’s life can come with expensive activities or medical expenses (hello, braces).

The case, however, still stands. If you’re focusing on how much you’ll save or your future cash flow, it’s smart to calculate projected child expenses. Of course, it’s nearly impossible to account for and plan for every potential variable, but a basic financial safety net is practical and important.

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