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KERA's One Crisis Away project focuses on North Texans living on the financial edge.

Paying For Baby's First Year Can Push People Into Debt And Out Of The Workforce

Raising a child costs a parent just over $13,000 in that first year, according to a new survey.

Baby's first year is full of milestones, like first smile, first steps and first round of shots.

Everything about the first 12 months is new — including a major new line item in the family budget.

"The average amount spent on this child in the first year, was $13,186," said Mike Brown with consumer website LendEDU, which recently surveyeda thousand parents of very young kids about first-year spending.

He says almost one of every three people they spoke with was spending at least 30 percent of their household income on baby's first year.

"The most costly expense went to things like toys, diapers, strollers and clothes," he said.

Then came baby food followed by health care and childcare.

Getting ready financially

Brown says more than half of the people surveyed had saved money in advance of baby being born — not enough, though.

"The average amount saved was $9,331. Even still, you're still about $4,000 short of what the actual cost was," he said.

Worse than not saving enough, or not saving at all: going into the red. About a quarter of the people surveyed said they took on debt after having their baby. The amount averaged $6,000.

Changing roles at work

Bringing a child into the world means figuring out how to balance work and parenthood. Mike Brown says the two don't always mix.

"Thirty-one percent said that they had to ask for a more flexible work schedule, which included working from home," he said.

And almost a third of people had to quit work altogether and become a stay-at-home parent.

A quarter of people said those first-year costs were steep enough that they needed to let a few years pass before having more children.

First-year costs made another quarter say that they were totally done having kids.

"This cost of a baby is putting a significant financial constraint on a lot of Americans. More than half of them, in fact," Brown said. "So it will be interesting to see how that plays out down the road, if we continue to see Americans waiting longer to have kids and just having less kids in general."

With a U.S. fertility rate that's dropped seven years in a row, it looks like a lot of would-be parents have decided to do just that.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.