Babies cost a lot—even more than you owe to Sallie Mae. But you don’t have to throw your finances out with the bathwater when you have one.
Lots of people do have kids and debt at the same time, and make it work. And those people aren’t that special. So no, you don't need to pay off your student loans before having a baby.
Back in 2017, the US Department of Agriculture studied how much families spend on child-rearing. According to the study, a middle-income, two-parent family who had a child in 2015 could expect to spend about $12,350-$13,900 per year on child-rearing—or $233,610 from birth to age 17.
With that in mind, here's how you can get your finances in shape to prepare for your bundle of bills, er, joy.
Before you start trying, pay down what you can
Add up how much you and your partner owe in total. Then pick a smaller, attainable amount to pay down. That’s your goal here—not total payoff, but a level of debt you can reach in a reasonable amount of time—and realistically manage along with a baby.
There are two main tactics for aggressively paying off debt. These are:
The Avalanche Method
How it works: Tackle your most expensive student loan first.
Put extra money toward the loan with the highest interest rate, while making maintenance-level payments on your other loans. When that expensive loan is dead, move on to your next-most expensive.
The Snowball Method
How it works: Pay off your smallest student loan balance first. Then tackle the next-smallest.
This method is great for people who need the positive reinforcement of making progress quickly. You get a few early successes while you pick off the low-hanging fruit. After you pay off one account, take the amount that you were paying there and add it to your next targeted loan. You won't feel like you're paying any extra, but you'll be whacking away at the loan principal.
Once you reach the debt goal you’ve set, you can put your loans back on maintenance mode, put the extra money you would've used on them toward savings, and start trying for a baby.
Refinancing your student loan to a lower interest rate can help you lower your monthly payment or save money over the life of your loan. You can also stretch out the term of your loan (from, say, ten years to 15) to lower your monthly payment even more. That will free up extra money every month that you can spend on baby essentials or put toward savings.
According to our data, people who refinance save an average of $253 per month—and $16,183 over the span of their loan.
To stay home or not to stay home? Do a test run
Childcare is a huge expense for parents. Either one parent stays home with the child—meaning you’ll now be living on a single salary—or you’ll pay for daycare. And that's no small expense. According to a recent Care.com survey, one in three families spends 20% or more of their income on childcare.
For some families, childcare is so expensive that it actually costs less to have one parent stay home.
If you’re considering stay-at-home parenting as an option and you’re not sure you can afford it, try this: for a period of time, put the entire paycheck from the partner who would stay home in a savings account. Don’t spend any of that money or put it toward bills.
This is a great way to see what it would be like to live on one paycheck—and build up your savings while you’re at it.
Stay frugal when the baby comes
Even if you're frugal when you spend on yourself, it’s easy to fall into a habit of buying expensive equipment, clothes, food, and other essentials for your baby. It feels like you're doing something good for them—buying them the best of everything. And ads for baby things certainly capitalize on that feeling.
Don't get suckered.
Instead, get to know your local consignment stores; keep an eye out for garage sales; and hit up your friends and family with older kids who are looking to offload their hand-me-downs. Don’t be tempted to upgrade your car or home until you can really afford it.
You can do it!
Having a baby and student debt can seem daunting—but people pull it off all the time. Take a look at your debt payoff strategy, do a test run if you’re thinking of having one parent stay home, and keep your expenses small—even when the baby comes.
If you’re financially prepared, you should be able to create a secure, happy home for your child—no matter your debt load.
Thinking of refinancing? Check out Refi Ready to see how much you could lower your monthly student loan payment.