How Much Does It Cost to Have a Baby? (Hint: Brace Yourself)
When it comes babies, there’s a lot you can’t prepare for (hello, sleep deprivation). But there are some nitty-gritty things you can anticipate. Case in point: The cost.
Don’t get us wrong—it’s daunting. But sitting down and mapping out just how expensive the first year of parenthood really is will give you a clearheaded picture of what to financially expect when you’re expecting.
Want an official number? The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the average annual cost to raise a baby is $12,680 for the first year of life. (And reminder: That’s not counting the cost of prenatal care or any expenses related to the actual birth.) But as you can imagine, that amount greatly varies based on where you live and how you choose to raise your child.
Here, a deep dive into the financials (plus, savings tips) so you can begin to figure out how much it costs to have a baby during that very first year.
Prenatal Care and Delivery Costs: $0 to $12,000
The cost of prenatal care and childbirth in the U.S. depends on two very important factors: 1) The type of insurance you have and 2) The type of delivery you have. According to FAIR Health data, the national average charge for a vaginal delivery is $12,290. In other words, that’s the out-of-pocket cost for anyone uninsured or for someone receiving services outside of their plan’s network. For a C-section, that price goes up to $16,907. And reminder: This is simply the cost to cover the actual birth.
Assuming you have insurance, the cost of childbirth goes down significantly—in fact, the typical health plan could cover as much as 95 percent of delivery charges, according to a Thomson Healthcare study for March of Dimes. Still, most parents end up with some out-of-pocket expenses. Think prenatal visit copays, non-essential services (like that prenatal massage) or the cost of a private room. And, should you have a deductible or extenuating circumstances where additional testing is required, you could find yourself with significant medical bills to pay.
How to Prepare: As soon as you learn that you’re pregnant, get on the phone with your health-care provider and have them walk you through the total costs (prenatal care, labor and delivery, pediatrician coverage) of having a baby under your current plan. You can then use that info to make informed decisions—like switching to an in-network sonogram facility or starting those prenatal Pilates classes you totally didn’t know were reimbursable. You’d be surprised at the range of out-of-pocket expenses that insurance won’t touch (see above about that private room). It’s always better to know up front—and, if possible, set aside money in a tax-free flex account to pay for these expenditures.
The average baby requires 2,500 diapers in the first year, and at $50 for a box of 150 (we’re talking no-frills, no cute patterns), that's definitely a lot of poop.
How to Prepare: It’s all about shopping strategically. Buy diapers in bulk (we recently snagged 168 Pampers Swaddlers for $50 on Boxed), or opt for an online subscription plan. For example, Amazon allows you to save 5 percent (sometimes higher) on diaper deliveries simply by choosing to set it and forget it. And to really cut costs, you could plan to use cloth diapers, a choice that’s good for your budget and the planet.
Baby Gear: $4,000 or Higher
According to BabyCenter’s online cost calculator, this is the approximate amount a family spends on necessities ranging from the car seat to the crib to the stroller. The good news is that a lot of these items are onetime purchases, like crib sheets and baby bath tubs. This total also includes the cost of decorating the nursery, but again, with a no-frills approach.
How to Prepare: Lean heavily on family and friends and put as much of this stuff as you can on your baby registry. And for any big ticket items you don’t receive, it’s best to selectively shop second-hand. (One of our editors snagged a $700 Baby Jogger Double Stroller for $200, and another got a Mamaroo—normally $250—for $100 and it was practically brand-new.)
Formula and Food: $500 or Higher
You’ve got two options here: Breastfeeding or formula (at least for the first four to six months before you start introducing solids). Breastfeeding is more cost-effective, but you still have to stock up on nursing supplies—everything from bottles to pump parts and the actual pump (although most are covered by insurance, FYI)—which can add up to around $250, according to BabyCenter’s cost calculator. Formula can get expensive, too, depending on the brand you choose. Expect to spend at least $100 a month.
Once solids come into play, your average monthly grocery bill will increase by about $60, per BabyCenter. But that’s if the baby is eating what you’re eating. If you rely on pouches—especially the organic kind—it will be more.
How to Prepare: Breastfeeding is the ultimate cost saver here, although obviously that's not always an option. Then, when you do start introducing solids, you can save by making your own purees as opposed to buying them.
Pacifiers, Clothing and Toys: $1,400 or Higher
Don’t be surprised if you find yourself shelling out for a zillion different pacifier types to find one that is “just right” or falling head over heels for a $55 romper.
How to Prepare: Budget, budget, budget. Did we say budget? This is the category that can spiral out of control the fastest. But if you set a monthly limit—and stick to it—you’ll find yourself in good shape. You can also register for lots of clothing or toys, or rely on used items or hand-me-downs. (Trust: You know a mom who is looking to clear out her basement.)
Pediatrician Visits and Medicine: $300
Even those well visits come with copays—and, a word of warning, there are a lot of checkups in the first 12 months of life. You’ll also need to budget for medical needs, according to BabyCenter’s cost calculator, whether that’s an over-the-counter product to treat eczema or simply a restock of Infant Tylenol. Before your baby arrives, get back on the phone with your insurance provider and find out exactly how adding a child to your plan will affect your premium, copays and deductibles. This will give you a chance to do the math and, if needed, explore other options like ACA plans.
How to Prepare: Take extra steps to find a pediatrician that’s in network, and take advantage of a flex account, if your employer offers one.
Childcare: $10,000 or Higher
This is one of the biggest kid-having expenditures, though it clearly varies greatly from family to family. According to Care.com, one in three families now spends 20 percent or more of their annual income on childcare with an average weekly cost of $211 for day care and $580 for a nanny, as of 2018.
How to Prepare: Get a jump-start by touring day-care centers early and polling other parents about the going rates. If you wait until maternity leave, you may already be out of luck when it comes to availability at the most cost-effective places. (Some day cares have waiting lists months in advance, in fact.) Then, use an online budget calculator (like this one for childcare) to tally the annual expense. If it still feels impossible, don’t fret: There are ways—like exploring a nanny share, where two families split the cost, or pausing your 401(k) contributions for a year—to get creative and save. You should also ask your employer about your options for a child care FSA. Some allow you to put up to $5,000 in an account, which you can in turn put toward day care costs, tax-free.
College Savings: $600 or Higher
The sooner you set up a 529 plan (which offers tax-free growth and withdrawals as long as the funds are used for education), the sooner your friends and family can start making contributions to it. You may also want to set a monthly savings goal—as little as $50—and automate it.
How to Prepare: This is a “nice to have” expense in the first year, but keep in mind that, in 18 years, the estimated average cost of a private college is upwards of $150,000 a year (and around $55,000 for state universities), according to online college calculators. In other words, it's never too early to start squirreling away funds.