When you read some estimates of the overall cost of raising a kid, it’s hard to imagine that anyone can, but babies are had and babies are afforded. If you didn’t know it before, know this now: money can be gotten, and often legally. Money may well be the biggest logistical obstacle to push through here, other than the pushing through of the actual baby. You really have to take stock of what you’ve got (but more likely, don’t got) and rethink everything about your current situation, from employment to habitat to spending habits. Don’t bother killing yourself sweating a college fund right this second—you’ll do that later. Since this pregnancy was a surprise, just think small, bite-size pieces that get you squared away for the baby’s birth and those first few months of supplies.
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This means make sure you spend the next nine months producing the money to cover living expenses, any hospital bills that won’t be covered by insurance, newborn care supplies, and a few weeks off work, if you can swing that. (Do everything you can to swing that—you will never regret it.)
In short, rethink how you spend money. Which leads me to this point: Whether or not money is tight, you should now begin to stockpile, stockpile, stockpile, like your life and the life of your unborn child depend on it, because they kind of totally do.
Hold on to any paid time off for after you have the baby, and stop spending unnecessary money. Only spend what you have to! Get more money! How do you do that? Good question. You:
Sell Stuff: One word: eBay. Two words: Yard sale. More than two words: Can you refinance a car to get a lower monthly payment? Trade in that flashy Mini Cooper for a trusty old used Honda? This is a great time to take stock of all those quirky vintage valuables you’ve been hoarding and trade them in for diapers, formula, a hospital-grade breast pump, a comfortable maternity wardrobe, a crib, etc. Keep what’s irreplaceable, but save the majority of your can’t-buy-me-love sentiment for the baby.
Quit Going Out: Cutting out smoking, drinking, and all the attendant costs of dining out saved my husband and me an insane, embarrassing, and incredibly helpful $700 a month. Luckily, I didn’t feel much like doing any of those things once I was with child, and the sheer exhaustion of pregnancy alone may make you feel like staying in and watching reruns of Ally McBeal. Cook at home, get slothy, and nest.
Consider Cloth Diapers: You don’t need much to take care of a newborn, but you do need diapers. Well, there is a diaper-free movement, but that requires that you live in San Francisco and earn more than a quarter of a million dollars annually. The rest of us wannabe progressives will have to settle for old-fashioned cloth diapers. The good news is, they are much improved from the giant safety pin-fastened table napkin of yore.
For an initial investment of a few hundred dollars for starter packs, you can swing cloth diapers for the first year or two of the baby’s life (although huge babies tend to out-poop them pretty quickly). You can always supplement with disposables for when you’re on the go, but if you want to cut back on costs for diapering by a good third, this is the way to go, whether you’re a hippie or not. (Just kidding. Remember, “true” hippies go diaper-free.) Please note that this is only easier (and ultimately, kinder) if you live somewhere with your own washer and dryer. Hauling literally shitty diapers to a communal washer and dryer is a unique form of torture for you and me and everyone around us.
Consider Nursing: It ain’t always fun, convenient, or easy, but it is free. Well, mostly free. The associated costs with nursing are not much compared to formula feeding. That would include the nursing bras, which can be gotten secondhand or on the cheap, and the pumping equipment if you are back at work and someone else will be feeding the baby breast milk via bottle. Pumping equipment includes a pump, bottles, a storage system like plastic bags, and, of course, a refrigerator/freezer—so, not such a great idea if you’re a freegan vagrant. Keep in mind you’ll be hungrier, or what I call Pregzilla, while nursing, as it requires a few more calories than even pregnancy. Which means a slightly higher grocery bill. Still way cheaper than formula.
Exploit the Baby Shower: I was pretty meh about the baby shower, as I’m not a fan of forced small talk and dumb games, until I realized that I could get almost all the gear I needed for the baby’s first year in terms of gadgets and clothes. (Keep in mind that you usually only need about half of what those online suggestion lists would have you believe!) So I sat through two hours of yawn with people I liked, but also with people who I only sorta liked.
Exploit away, and keep those receipts. It’s hard to say what you’ll need most for your baby until you get into your own routine, but again, it’s less than you think. You need, at bare minimum, only five or six basic outfits, plus stuff to sleep in. Socks. Hats. Layers, depending on the season. You do not need baby shoes until your child is walking. You will probably use every onesie and baby blanket you ever get, and a basic grooming kit with a nasal bulb, thermometer, soft brush, and infant nail trimmers will be super useful. But if that vibrating chair doesn’t work for your baby, trade it for the jumpy swing your kid will love. A crib is useful at first, even if you end up doing the Family Bed—every baby needs a baby jail to go to. So buy one (new and cheap or secondhand and cheaper) after you research the cheapest, safest up-to-date one on the market.
Use Secondhand Stuff: Once word is out that you’re pregnant, you’ll have a gaggle of parents with older kids looking to unload on you every old car seat (make sure you can trust/verify that it has never been in an accident or been recalled, and is not more than three years old), bouncy seat, baby bathtub, newborn book, and rattle they haven’t had the time or courage to let go of. Take it! Take it all. You’ll buy your own special keepsake items for your baby, too, but in the meantime, you will save big by reusing other people’s stuff at no cost to you, and becoming part of the great giant oneness of parenting hand-me-downs. Pass them on when you’re done, and you keep the circle going. This is so great for toys, because newborns literally can’t tell if they are playing with a wooden spoon or a $300 Tiffany’s rattle.
With these tips, there’s no reason you can’t square away the logistics of money and stuff you need to have a baby and focus on freaking out about the rest of it. When in doubt, just remember these suspiciously simple yet totally true words of wisdom, passed down from mother to mother to mother: Somehow, it just all works out.
I remember when a mother I worked with told me that. I thought she sounded like some kind of cliché Stepford wife, passing along some trite little tidbit to ease my worry. But it was true. Somehow, with no money and no stability, we turned it all around and set ourselves up for the least amount of financial worry possible that first year. And sometimes, you discover that the thing you were most worried about not being able to cover is not a problem after all.
In our case, that was the hospital bill. We had calculated that with my insurance coverage, our personal liability in hospital costs might still be as much as $3,000 all said and done. What we didn’t realize was that a federal law requires an insurance company to cover a newborn under both parents’ policies. So even though my husband had just gotten a new job with insurance that had not even kicked in, we were suddenly double covered, and our total bill to have a baby at a reputable, upstanding university hospital, including all the gyno visits, was a whopping $300.
And as crazy-making as it all might feel, somehow, while you are chasing down all these loose ends, you find a kind of peaceful balance taking over. A kind of calm. A kind of serene self-containment. As you are intellectually freaking about logistics, something—hormones?—seems to say, this is all just as it should be. Just be in the state you are in. It is the beginning of not so much freaking out but instead marveling at what your brain and your body are capable of doing for you and for your baby.
And then, slowly but surely, you realize you are getting used to this being pregnant thing. You reach for the brass ring. You will pep-talk the shit out of this when you need to. You will learn to say a series of things to yourself, when you get overwhelmed with exhaustion and feelings and the money hasn’t all come together just yet, that will make you feel like you’re in a pretty cool war movie and have a pain-in-the-ass sergeant barking motivations at you: Remember your training, soldier! This is bigger than you! You can do this! You really can. Nope, this isn’t what you or I thought would happen, if we were thinking at all, but this is what has happened, and we’ve chosen it. We waddle straight into our new reality, even if we have to sometimes grab onto a very wobbly handrail.
Excerpted from Oops! How to Rock the Mother of All Surprises: A Positive Guide to Your Unexpected Pregnancy Copyright © 2013 by Tracy Moore and published by F+W Media, Inc. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.
About the Author: Tracy Moore writes Jezebel.com’s wildly popular weekly column, Motherload, a humorous, often exasperated look at the conventional expectations and frustrations of modern motherhood. She has also written for Village Voice papers, LA Weekly, the Dallas Observer, Nashville Scene, Houston Press, Rolling Stone Magazine, and Spin Magazine. She and her husband spend all the rest of their extremely limited free time wrangling a toddler who insists on drinking her own bathwater. You can read her column at http://www.jezebel.com/mother-load.