What Having a Baby During COVID-19 Taught Me About Spending and Saving
If you became a new mom like I did this year, you were thrust into a huge life change amid circumstances that no parenting book could’ve prepared you for, from heightened health worries and social isolation to financial struggles. Finances often play a big part in how “secure” we feel as parents, while also influencing our mental health and livelihood. In 2020, I learned a lot about myself, my son, my marriage and my community—and how to effectively manage our money in particularly stressful times. While I didn’t experience many of the more pressing financial issues that others did, I still discovered a lot about saving, spending and splurging during this crazy year. Here are my top five takeaways.
Since I run my own freelance writing business, I worked extra hours last year to save up for my maternity leave. Growing up in a lower middle class family from Philadelphia, I was taught at a young age the importance of sticking to a budget and saving, so this wasn’t much of a behavior change. But after giving birth in January, I’m so thankful that I still had a nice chunk of savings in place when the pandemic hit. This nest egg made me feel more secure when I wasn’t taking on as many freelance assignments (as a sleep-deprived mom, I was already strapped for energy and brainpower). It can be hard enough to cover expenses let alone save extra on top of that, but if this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that saving for an emergency fund is absolutely worth the peace of mind.
After having a baby, my husband and I started to discuss topics like life insurance, our will and what we want our child’s future to look like should something happen to us. And with significant death tolls often reported in the news, COVID-19 pushed these big decisions to the forefront. My husband is an essential worker in a dangerous job, so frankly, his mortality is probably more on both of our minds than the average couple in their 30s. But it’s so important to talk about these things now while we’re still young and healthy. As the primary caregiver right now, I wouldn’t want my husband to have to spend most of his earnings on childcare should something happen to me. We’ve definitely learned that there’s no time like the present to have these big life talks.
Who thought we’d be as obsessed with paper goods as we are in 2020? While I’ve always been the type to make sure there’s a replacement on hand for the last bit of cleaner, soap, tissues—and yes, toilet paper—having a baby heightened that desire to have a cache more than ever. No mom wants to realize she’s using the last diaper in the middle of the night!
One major concern I’ve had is the availability of baby formula. Right before the pandemic hit, I was still breastfeeding my son, but I was already considering switching to formula. After everything went haywire, I was nervous about empty shelves in my town and “out of stock” messages online. I felt scared about what I would do if I weaned him and there wasn’t formula available, so I kept breastfeeding for a few more months. These days, I still stock up on things I need and try to buy two of something when I’m out—like formula!—but I think it’s also important to keep other people’s needs in mind. I never double up if that means I’m taking the last one of a product on the shelves.
During the pandemic, my husband’s family would often pick up extra supplies if they knew we needed something—like cleaning and paper products—and leave them on our front porch. My in-laws shipped us disinfecting wipes from South Carolina when they weren’t experiencing supply issues like we were. One of my mom’s friends whom I’ve never even met dropped off formula when she heard I was looking for it! I know now more than ever the importance of community and support for new parents, and I never want to take it for granted.
Now that the quarantine period is over where I live, I also pay a neighbor to watch my infant a few hours a week while I’m working from home. I’m thankful this option helps me keep my business running without having to incur day care expenses. I’ve come to understand what it means when someone says it "takes a village,” particularly during times like these. Among many things, motherhood has taught me not to be too proud to ask for help.
One money concern I had before having a baby was whether my husband and I would be able to afford a regular date night, knowing it would involve shelling out for a babysitter too. Since lockdown eliminated any concerns about going out, we instead spent money once a week ordering food from local restaurants. It gave us a break from cooking and felt nice to support neighborhood businesses during tough times.
I also discovered that spending a little more for express shipping can be worth it when you consider how it saves you time, frustration…and the need to leave the house. (Shout-out to the essential employees working in potentially dangerous conditions so I could have things delivered to my door while home with a newborn!) Before COVID-19, I thought running errands with the baby would be a good excuse to get out of the house, but that was the last thing I wanted to do during the height of the pandemic. The ease of shopping online probably caused me to spend more than I would have otherwise if I had to shop in-store, but it was a big help at a time when leaving the house felt dangerous and my husband was gone a lot for work.
Motherhood definitely isn’t what I prepared for in many ways, and experiencing it during this crazy year created even more challenges than anyone could have anticipated. But I’m proud of how far I (and all of us!) have come. At the very least, I’m practicing going with the flow more than ever before.
Diana Kelly Levey is a New York-based freelance writer and author of Your Perfect Diet Match (Simon & Schuster) and 100+ Tips for Beginner Freelance Writers. Her articles have appeared in Men’s Health, Prevention, Real Simple, Reader’s Digest and more.