When my husband Jordan and I were married, I had six figures in student loan debt. While kids weren’t in our plan for the near future, we knew they would be eventually. As I struggled with my monthly loan payment, I wasn’t sure how a baby would fit into our financial picture.
I know I’m not the only one who has these concerns. Student loans make up a majority of the $1 trillion in debt millennials have. And it isn’t exactly cheap to raise a child. According to the US Department of Agriculture, a middle-income family will spend over $233,000 raising a child – before the cost of college.
How do you deal with this cost while you’re also struggling with student loan debt? Here’s how to start crafting a plan that will work for you.
Get on the Same Financial Page
If you’re having a baby with a partner, have an open and honest conversation about your debt, goals, and how you want to approach money when the baby arrives.
This was the lesson that Jordan and I learned very early on, unfortunately, with a steep learning curve.
Six months after we got married I was still struggling with the weight of a monthly loan payment that was more than our rent. After work one evening, Jordan excitedly announced, “I got a raise! I was thinking we can start saving it in a separate account for our future kid’s college fund.”
I was stunned. Here I was drowning in debt and he felt financially stable enough to save money for a baby we were still years away from having. This was the nudge I needed to sit down with Jordan and walk him through all of my money concerns. Once he saw everything laid out, we were able to craft a plan together and schedule regular check-ins. This gave Jordan real insight into our full financial reality and helped keep me accountable to our debt repayment plan.
Decide Whether to Pay Down Debt or Save
One big question future parents who are struggling with student loans will face is whether to work hard to pay off the debt quickly or put more in savings.
Paying down debt before starting a family
While you’re busy taking care of a new baby, it can be a big weight off your shoulders knowing that you don’t have a debt payment to deal with. Jordan and I were still years away from starting a family when we made this our goal, so we took our raises, bonuses, tax refunds, and every spare dollar we could find to aggressively pay off my loans.
Steffa Mantilla and her husband took this route as well by making significant lifestyle changes before having their son. They drastically cut their expenses, cutting out things they didn’t need, like cable. They also learned to batch cook meals, which meant they could easily bring their lunch to work during the week.
By making these cuts, they were able to live on one person’s paycheck and use the other for debt repayment. When their son was born, they had paid off all their debt. In keeping up those money habits Mantilla was able to make the choice to stay home with their son. Now instead of repaying their debt, they’re focused on saving money for his education.
Boost your cash cushion
Paying off debt before having a baby isn’t always realistic and it’s not the right move for everyone. Because babies bring about unexpected costs, sometimes it’s better to keep extra cash in the bank.
Cat Alford realized the importance of having extra savings on hand. While her husband was in medical school—and amassing student debt—they were expecting twins. Cat immediately got to work creating a side business to boost her income and funneled all of that money directly into a savings account. By the time her babies were born, she had $10,000 saved to help with unexpected costs. And that was a good decision: before bringing the twins home, they spent $4,000 on medical bills.
Change Your Spending
Whether you decide to pay off the debt or save a little extra, planning for a baby means your spending has to change.
Once you know your financial goals, there are likely tradeoffs to be made. Alford was quick to acknowledge that having kids while paying off loans means that her family has to live differently.
While friends have moved to bigger homes and purchased nicer cars, her family of four shares a one bathroom home and drives older, economical cars. They’re forgoing some comforts to chip away at their debt, while still saving for other financial goals.
Embrace lifestyle changes
Babies can certainly be expensive, but they can also help you find new ways to enjoy your time. Mantilla realized quickly that to keep their finances in check, they needed to change how they spent their time.
Rather than gifting toys for birthdays and holidays, grandparents have gifted things like museum passes. This gives them a chance to get out as a family without spending a lot of money.
Vacations have also changed. Rather than spending money to go away, they’ve opted to do staycations, including a camping trip when their son was just 14 months old.
Go for used
Do you get sticker shock looking at the price of a stroller or the cost of those sweet little baby outfits (seriously, how are they so expensive when they’re so small)? So did I. Rather than wipe out our savings account on baby gear, I was able to find nearly every item I wanted for sale second hand. Depending on the brand, I was able to get items 40-90% cheaper and most of the things we bought were barely used.
As a bonus, as soon as our son outgrows something I list it for sale online.
I primarily used Facebook Marketplace and eBay to find deals. But you might also have luck with garage sales or from online consignment stores like swap.com and Thredup. And if you have friends or family with children just a little bit older, you may be able to benefit from hand-me-downs.
Student loan debt can make saving for a family feel out of reach but it’s possible with a thoughtful approach and change in spending.