I’ve never really been one for maths, but from the moment I found out I was pregnant, I felt like sums were all that was running around my head. Well, that and this question, endlessly: ‘How were we going to afford this?’
Living in London on a media wage (not too low, but definitely not too high), I’d become accustomed since my early 20s to worrying about money, but muddled along fine, juggling, balancing, scrimping, switching and splurging as I saw fit. But it wasn’t just me to worry about now was it? On the exact same wage I struggled to care for myself on, all of a sudden I was supposed to bring up (along with my husband’s wage, which is similar to mine) another whole human.
New humans, a glance around my friends’ houses showed me, seemed hugely expensive. What about that last bit of credit card debt I’d been trying to pay off for years? Adults with babies were supposed to have sorted that kind of stuff out, I thought, as I cancelled future plans in my head. Sure, not necking 12 bottles of wine a week was going to save a bit of money, but then there was 100 more costly things to buy instead. And with about eight months’ notice, it felt like there was no time to do anything that was really going to help. Any plans I had to ‘save’ were underlined with a panicked ‘not enough time, not enough time’ beat.
Sadly, I don’t work for one of those big firms all the careers counsellors say you should work for and that offer months and months of full pay - the money I would be given on the majority of my maternity leave doesn’t even cover the cost of my share of the mortgage and bills. I’d never been in a position where my actual income didn’t even cover my basic outgoings. That thought made me sick. Then there’s the bit when I go back to work and have to shell out more than half my wages for someone to look after the kid, so I can try and make more money to then… you get the pattern. Googling was, like with any anxiety, not my friend. ‘A typical newborn will cost £229,251 to raise to age 21’ headlines told me. £229,251?! That’s lottery money! Where does that come from? Certainly not my bank account.
So… that’s a sample of the stuff that was going through my head - and probably explains why, after a lifetime of good-sleeping, that for weeks after I found out I was pregnant I turned insomniac and was constantly concerned. I hated that I wasn’t enjoying things or feeling excited - my money panic loomed over everything. Our conception had been about as quick as it could be, and suddenly I felt foolish – had I not thought this through enough? Should I have racked up the savings before even trying? Fine opting into a girls’ holiday you later do the sums on and realise you can’t quite stretch to… but this was a human life I felt like I’d made a rash decision on.
And just to make me more stressed, well, you’re not supposed to stressed when you’re pregnant. A study - thanks again google - found that women who worried about their finances, were more likely to have babies with a low birth weight.
I felt alone in my concerns - back on Google, I found a few message boards about money, but little practical advice, or even an acknowledgement that I was supposed to be anything but thrilled to be pregnant - and already thinking about what colour buggy I was about to spend a months’ wages on.
My friends with kids never seemed worried either – their houses abounded with more and more ‘stuff’ and I can’t remember them ever saying to me, ‘That was a struggle actually’, or ‘I wanted the Bugaboo, but we just couldn’t stretch to it.’ I’d always known I’d earned less than my friends, but I hadn’t stopped to think maybe that’s why they had run ahead and had kids first too.
I’ve not gone too much into my own personal financial circumstances, not because I’m embarrassed, but because I’m not sure it matters. That sounds strange, but what the brief amount of clarity I’ve gained since my initial panic taught me, is that maybe my wages don’t matter. I’ve always felt that no matter how high your wages go, you live to them – and it’s been backed up many a time anecdotally by friends that earn five times more than me claiming to be ‘skint’. Money is relative – and I think that in pregnancy those worries are too. So, whether you’re panicking about whether you’ll be able to buy nappies, or whether you’ll get the posh pram you want, you could be open to this anxiety. Yes, of course, one circumstance is more dire than the other – but who claims any anxiety is rational?
The science backs me up too – the same study that linked birth weight to money worries, found that anxiety wasn’t linked to how much money a woman and her partner made – women across all income levels were stressed about money, and it was the perception of strain that made the difference.
I reappraised my friends – they probably just hadn’t told me about any money worries they’d had. Sure they’d talked about the blood, the poo, the post-birth sex – but money, yuck, we don’t do that. We as a society, and particularly women, are so so very bad at talking about money – of course it was probably no different in motherhood. Add onto that a dose of trying to maternally perfect, it’s no surprise friends hadn’t told me if they’d had money problems (I mean, maybe they just hadn’t had them, I don’t know). And maybe no surprise I couldn’t find much to help me online.
Then, a week or so Rebecca Schiller’s book, Your No Guilt Pregnancy Plan landed on my desk, and, on flicking through, I found her chapter on money worries. Fortunately, being a journalist, I was in the position to email her and ask for her advice…
‘Worrying about money in pregnancy (or even delaying trying for a baby because of money worries) is much more common than we think,’ said Rebecca, adding that if your pregnancy is unplanned, it can be a huge shock. ‘It is really common to spend thousands and thousands of pounds in the run up to birth - at a time when our incomes are often about to be slashed. We hear lots about products we "need" and are also often feeling anxious about the huge changes to come. Women often feel they need to spend a lot in order to be prepared - which isn't the case - but are then worried about where that money will come from. It's not something a lot of people talk about - perhaps because we don't like talking about money in general, or because it's not what pregnant women "should" be talking about.’
One thing that struck me about the advice in Rebecca’s book was that taking a step back and appraising what was really necessary was key. I didn’t have myself pinned for one who was easily swept up by consumerism, but it seems that pregnancy is a time when even the bargain-shoppers amongst us can be persuaded. ‘Babies do not need as much as we are told they do,’ says Rebecca. ‘If buying something you can afford helps you feel happy and excited that's brilliant, but if finances are tight know that all your baby really needs can be borrowed or bought for hundreds NOT thousands of pounds.’
As well as lots of practical tips (budget, save what you can, buy second-hand, lend from friends – and understand that things can be bought once the baby is born, rather than crazily stockpiling before), the thing that stood out to me was another piece of advice I had practiced all my life, until this point – sharing with others.
‘Do talk about your concerns. If you have a partner sit down with them - as of course this is their issue too - and outline what you are worried about,’ Rebecca advises. ‘Get good clear information from your HR team on what maternity leave and pay you will be entitled to (and check out Maternity Action's factsheets if you want to make sure the information is correct). Find out what child benefit or anything other allowances you might be entitled to and it can help to speak to friends and family too. Many of them will have been through this too.’