What to expect when you’re expecting? Excitement and nerves for sure, but money fears might factor in as well. Starting to freak out? Don’t. Kate Levinson, Ph.D., a family therapist in Oakland, California, and the author of “Emotional Currency: A Woman's Guide to Building a Healthy Relationship with Money,” explains why talking about your money stress can help minimize it. The perfect time to start, she says, is before the baby is even born. Here’s how.
Having a kid is an intense transition. Isn’t money stress a natural response?
Levinson: Of course. But it doesn’t mean that everyone has the same type of response. For some, the thought of starting a family means focusing relentlessly on their fears: How will we ever have enough money to pay for child care? When can we buy a bigger place? They might put off having a child until they’re 100 percent ready, which is never going to happen. Others bury their heads in the sand. They don’t want to pay any attention to the money stress at all. But neither of those reactions—fixation or denial—is particularly helpful. Our fears and anxieties only grow when we don’t deal with whatever is bothering us. That’s why looking at our financial lives and getting help is so important. It can help you rationalize your fears about taking the next step or your anxieties that you’ll be a good parent from your real financial concerns. Looking can actually diminish your anxiety and fear.
What about expectant parents who want to put off budgeting until the baby comes?
Levinson: No one should be making major financial decisions when they’re in a sleep-deprived state with a newborn. It’s really important to pay attention to the anxiety before the baby comes, rather than pushing it away. If not, the anxiety goes somewhere: sleepless nights, midnight raids on the refrigerator or tension in a relationship. Anxieties are the mind’s way of trying to protect us, of alerting us to something that needs attention.
So how can we seek relief?
Levinson: Anxiety won’t go completely away—having a baby is a huge responsibility—but if you identify what you’re worried about, you can get help managing it. Face your finances, and if you’re worried how you’ll support a new member of the household, take the steps to figure it out: create a budget, identify discretionary spending that can be adjusted, meet with a financial planner. Taking steps is very empowering and combats stress. It’s also really helpful to have a support network, to be able to talk to other parents about how they dealt with starting a family and managing finances. If you’re anxious that having a baby will impact your career, other working parents can offer lots of insight and support.
You mentioned that relationship tension can be a way that money stress bubbles up. Why do you think that’s so common?
Levinson: There’s a taboo around money, which stops us from talking about it, even with our partners. Money can be a sensitive topic—we might feel we have too much or too little of it, that we have more or less than our partners, or that we manage it this way or that way. Often, our spouse has opinions about what money means and how it should be spent, and we have different opinions. For some people, starting a family is the first time they’re really scrutinizing not just finances but also class values: Does having a child mean buying a house? What about private school? Will we both be working parents? What does it mean to be good parents? We think we’re talking about the same thing when we’re evaluating a $500 crib, but we can be talking about really different pros and cons. Money stress is scary, and it’s a complex conversation to have.
What’s the best way to find a shared language for that $500 crib?
Levinson: Begin the conversation by recognizing that there isn’t one way to deal with money. You want to talk about the dollars and cents of starting a family, but also your emotional reactions as you find out how much a hospital stay costs or realize the price of child care. There’s not a right way or a wrong way to react to money, and knowing that makes it easier to talk about the emotional component as well.
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