When my wife and I had our first baby a little over a year ago, we knew a wild ride was on the horizon....

When my wife and I had our first baby a little over a year ago, we knew a wild ride was on the horizon. While we had a rough idea of how to deal with his sleep schedule, what he needed to eat, and how often to change his diaper, we knew next to nothing about how he would affect us financially. Needless to say, we’ve learned quite a bit since that cold January morning.

You know how it starts out: you meet someone, fall in love, and decide to have 2.2 kids. The financial aspect is often an afterthought. That’s pretty scary, since one U.S. government report puts the amount required to reach age 17 at a staggering $222,360. I’m pretty sure I don’t have a quarter million sitting in the bank. For many parents, a big concern is how they’ll continue to provide for the family and build a career after their baby is born. We are lucky because my wife is able to work from home while I continue my career and support us full-time. I have an unbelievable admiration for what single parents must go through. Based on the experience we’ve had, here are a few ways that having a baby has affected our finances:

You might give up or pause your career. Just as my wife did, you might decide that raising your kids first-hand is more important than not interrupting the growth of your career. While this choice might set you back financially, it’s a trade-off based on your own set of priorities. Since we’re young, we also understand that there will be time to make up for these lost wages down the road. Learning to adapt and evaluate options is key. For example, you can work from home, find part-time work, go back to school, or come up with other creative arrangements.

Buying in bulk starts to really make sense: Warehouse clubs seem to be heaven-sent. If for the diapers alone, clubs like Costco and Sam’s Club make even more sense once you have a family. Buying in bulk can be a great money-saver. Target, for example, which many people consider to be fairly competitive, was recently selling their largest pack of 116 Huggies diapers for $28.99 (just shy of $0.25 a diaper). My standard Huggies pack of 204 at Sam’s Club was $38.98 (about $0.19 a diaper). 6 cents sounds like nothing until you realize we’ve gone through about 3,000 diapers this year!

Functionality trumps aesthetics. “Cute” is not a benefit! Since almost everything is either soiled, chewed, dropped, or eaten within months or even hours of being bought, how something performs is the #1 factor in our decision to buy. At times, that might also mean paying a little bit more.

The second-hand market is your best friend. Babies are ideal for second-hand markets, since many toys, furniture pieces, and even clothes are lightly used. Finding where to look is half the battle, but thankfully more and more local markets and even websites are popping up to facilitate these exchanges.

Eating at home saves bundles. Leaving the house with a young child can feel like a NASA pre-launch checklist that never ends. It’s no surprise that eating out has fallen down our list of “conveniences.” If that wasn’t reason enough, it’s unlikely that I would let my child eat much of anything on a typical restaurant menu. As a result, we’re eating at home on most nights, saving loads of money, and truly spending time as a family.

Don’t always buy things that you think you’ll need. While my wife considers me the king of preparation, it’s entirely possible to take it too far. Without having a better idea of what you’re going to use (which comes as you go through the experience), it can be tough to make buying decisions beforehand. For example, we swore that a rocking chair was going to make a great addition to our nursery and would be invaluable when the baby came. Had we waited to make the purchase for a few months, we would have realized that my wife was going to be doing most of her breastfeeding on the living room couch.

The baby industry is huge. If you thought keeping control of your money was hard during a wedding, having a baby is not much better. Marketing gurus know exactly how to push your buttons, and are happy to separate you from your hard-earned money. Tap into your resources wisely – your family, friends, and the power of the Internet – to find good advice on what is and isn’t worth the cost.

Cash is king. Having money in reserve is the best thing you can do to help with the unexpected expenses of childbirth and beyond. Oddly enough, most of the expenses that have exceeded our expectations have been small—but add up quickly. All of the milk bottles, crib sheets, baby detergents, and everything else you never knew existed make an appearance sooner or later.

Don’t always buy things that you think you’ll need. While my wife considers me the king of preparation, it’s entirely possible to take it too far. Without having a better idea of what you’re going to use (which comes as you go through the experience), it can be tough to make buying decisions beforehand. For example, we swore that a rocking chair was going to make a great addition to our nursery and would be invaluable when the baby came. Had we waited to make the purchase for a few months, we would have realized that my wife was going to be doing most of her breastfeeding on the living room couch.

All things considered, having a baby was the second-best thing that’s ever happened to me (hat tip to my wife for the first). You hear that all the time, but it never really sinks in until you experience it first-hand.

The lessons are many, they’re valuable, and will hopefully last a lifetime… I leave you with this thought to ponder: “Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” ~ Neil Postman

Photo: Jessica Merz, via Creative Commons 2.0

Wojciech Kulicki, who goes by “Wojo,” is the founder of the blog Fiscal Fizzle, which provides a variety of personal finance tips, tools, practical solutions, and resources. He’s also an architect and a new dad.

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February is Love and Money month on the LendingTree blog. Interesting in learning more? Check out this post on 6 Tips for Balancing Love and Money.

Posts by guest bloggers represent their own opinions and beliefs, and do not necessarily reflect the views of LendingTree/Tree.com.

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