How much does it cost to be a single parent?

Freelance mother talking on phone with baby in arms.

It takes a lot to be a parent. A lot of money. A lot of energy. A lot of patience. And — let’s be honest — a lot of money. Haven Life wants to lend a hand. No, we’re not available to babysit, but we’ve spoken to some experts (plus a few moms and dads) to get their advice on starting a family, raising a family, and yes, paying for a family. These are their stories, and this is our “Growing Family” series

“Whenever I think about becoming a parent, there’s never a partner in the picture.”

This was a sentence I wrote in a personal essay when I was 24. The line turned out to be prophetic, because, less than a decade later, I got pregnant during a short-term fling. The pregnancy wasn’t planned, but I was in my early thirties, was fortunate enough to have a flexible career as a writer, and had already established a comfortable, freelance editorial consulting business. Not only that, but I wanted to become a mother.

Of course, I was also realistic — and afraid. While I was comfortable as a freelance writer, I wasn’t sure how much my budget would need to extend to provide for another person. I also was worried about long-term goals: How would I pay for my child’s education? Would we ever be able to afford a house? And what about daycare or a nanny? And while the health insurance policy I had purchased for myself provided maternity care, the high deductible meant I was going to be shelling out five figures just to give birth.

But, three years later, I have a beautiful, funny, Frozen-loving daughter named Lucy, and I was able to confront a lot of my financial fears. Now, I’m happy to talk to my friends, some of whom are considering becoming single moms by choice, about what I’ve learned. Of course, every person’s situation is different, but here are some of the financial concerns I came up against as a single mom, how I found a workaround, and what I now tell friends considering going it alone.

Be very clear on what your insurance does — and doesn’t — cover

I hadn’t planned on becoming pregnant, and the policy I had was pretty bare bones. So bare bones, in fact, that prior to getting pregnant, I hadn’t bothered getting a checkup in two years. Luckily, maternity care was covered (a crapshoot since the policy had been purchased before the Affordable Care Act mandated maternity care coverage) but my deductible was $10,000.

I knew that I would reach – and pass – that figure with a typical hospital birth, so I budgeted by taking on as many freelance clients as I could throughout my pregnancy. If I had planned to become pregnant, I would have looked for a policy with a lower deductible.

Women who do find themselves unexpectedly pregnant without insurance have options. For example, moving to a new state could qualify as a life event, which may allow you to sign up for an insurance plan — even while pregnant — and get coverage. Of course, moving is not always feasible.

Depending on your income, you may qualify for Medicaid. It also may be possible to negotiate discounts with medical providers. Reach out to a hospital to see if they provide a sliding scale fee for self-paying patients, or have grants for patients without insurance. Birthing centers may be less expensive options than traditional hospitals. The American Pregnancy Association has more information.

The best thing you can do is research options, ask as many questions as possible, and know that even if you’re single, you’re certainly not alone, and it is possible to navigate the financial part of the process.

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Plan your maternity leave strategy

When I got pregnant, I was a self-employed freelancer with an LLC. Again, hindsight is 20/20. Knowing what I know now, I would have made sure I had disability insurance, which can cover a portion of income for six to eight weeks post-delivery, depending on the type of policy you have.

As it was, as soon as I got pregnant, I took on a lucrative copywriting job, taking on additional assignments on nights and weekends with an eye toward both paying my insurance deductible and having enough money to pay for six months of potentially not working.

The upside of being a freelancer was that I found myself able to take on assignments, starting from when my daughter was about a month old. Of course, I didn’t have the same bandwidth I had before I became a parent, but was surprised by the amount of work I could fit in during naps.

Consider childcare options

Early childhood education is expensive, but it’s really helpful to know what childcare may cost in your state, as costs vary wildly depending on where you live. I always believe knowledge is power. Where I live, close to New York City, it’s not uncommon for daycares to cost $2,000 a month. That said, the sticker price may not be the actual price you need to pay. Some things to consider:

Ask if the center provides scholarships or grants. Sometimes, they have funding to provide discounts or scholarships depending on income.

Look into child care assistance. Depending on your income, you may qualify for government assistance, so do the legwork and see what options you may have. Child Care Aware, a national organization, provides state-by-state info on assistance options.

Consider a bartee. It may be possible to reduce tuition by offering services, such as writing the school’s newsletter, running their social media sites, or helping to clean and maintain the school. It’s worth an ask, especially if you have a skill they may benefit from.

Consider a nanny share. A nanny share is what it sounds like — instead of a nanny exclusively taking care of your child, the nanny may take care of two or three children at a time from different families, cutting down on costs. This can be something to look into in your neighborhood; signing up for Facebook or Nextdoor local parent groups can give you insight and info on other people who may be searching.

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Ask for what you need

My biggest concern when I had my daughter was to make sure I had a good start in her college education fund. I made it clear to my family and friends that was a priority and set up a 529 plan. A 529 plan can be set up prior to a baby’s birth, naming yourself as a beneficiary, and then changing the beneficiary to your child once they are born and have a Social Security number. I’ve also asked my friends and family to donate there in lieu of gifts on birthdays and holidays.

It may be uncomfortable, but being honest about finances with your parents or relatives can make for a great conversation. I have one single mom friend whose parents gave her the money they had earmarked for her wedding when she decided to become a single parent on her own.

And of course, this conversation isn’t exclusive for single parents. Married parents, too, may find this a valuable conversation to have with relatives. That way, you ensure you’re getting what you really need — and not a million duckie onesies.

When it comes to “stuff,” go second hand

A few close friends threw a baby shower for me, which was so helpful in getting the larger items — stroller, baby carrier, high chair — that I used every day. But even though I had a friend help me with my baby registry, I found that a lot of what I thought I wanted wasn’t what I actually needed. The friend who helped me lived in the suburbs, and I live in a city. Because of that, I used a baby carrier constantly, and the stroller she recommended was too clunky and hard to bring up and down subway steps. In retrospect, I wish I’d asked for more contributions to my daughter’s 529, diapers, and gift cards. What I learned is that so much stuff is sold second hand via buy, sell, trade groups on Facebook, and it’s easy to get the exact products you want at a fraction of the price if you just wait and figure out exactly what you’re looking for.

Don’t panic shop

I laugh when I look through my Amazon orders and see the list of items I bought during my daughter’s first month of life. I bought an infant SPF-50 swimsuit for $50. Never mind that she was born in late April, we had no immediate vacation plans, and many pediatricians, including my own, suggest waiting until three or so months for a dip in the pool. When I was in those sleep-deprived early stages of motherhood, I was extremely susceptible to marketing, and I bought so many things I could have done without.

That said, you will do a certain amount of experimentation before you find products that work for you and your baby. For example, although I had planned to exclusively breastfeed, I needed to give my infant bottles pretty early on. I went through a few different options before I found the ones that worked best for her, but each bottle set cost around $15 to $20. This is where getting gift cards in lieu of gifts at a baby shower can be helpful.

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Pad your emergency fund before baby arrives

The first year of your infant’s life is expensive, and you may find yourself spending more than you expected. Having some sort of financial cushion can be helpful. For example, my daughter had problems nursing. I had several lactation consultant appointments, not covered by insurance, at $150 each. I also made the decision, based on the advice of the lactation consultants, to have my daughter’s tongue tie revised — a minor in-office surgical procedure where the small connective tissue that connects the tongue to the bottom of the mouth is disconnected with a laser. This procedure wasn’t covered by my insurance and ended up costing $1,000. The good news is, at least in my case, these costs tapered off during the first year.

Prepare for the unexpected

One of the biggest adjustments to becoming a parent was the huge realization my life was no longer mine alone — and that I had a tiny human counting on me. Because I was a single parent, I was all the more aware that there wasn’t a backup if I were to die, and it was important that I make clear legal decisions — and do the paperwork to back them up. I needed to make sure that I was her sole legal guardian in the eyes of the law and if I were to die before she reaches the age of maturity, plan for who her guardian would and how she would be provided for.

At the very least, creating a will that includes guardianship details, as well as considering buying life insurance, can be important steps to take to help make sure that your child is provided for. Since you’re likely to be pretty busy once your child is born, a lot of these financial and administrative to-dos can be done while you’re pregnant. For example, you can purchase a term life insurance policy online and add or change the beneficiary to your child once your child is born.

And while you may feel costs are adding up fast with a child in the mix, you may be surprised that the monthly cost of a life insurance policy could be less than a monthly supply of diapers. For example, a 35-year-old woman in excellent health looking for a $250,000, 30-year-term policy may pay around $20 a month for coverage.

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Consider talking with a pro

As you adjust to your new normal, it can be helpful to speak with a financial advisor, such as a Certified Financial Planner™ professional, about budget plans with kids, your goals, and anything they might recommend for your unique situation. This is another expense, but in my case, it was helpful, especially in coming up with where, how, and the timeline to save to achieve some goals like buying a house.

Take it one day at a time

One thing that helped me get through pregnancy and my daughter’s infancy on my own was the realization that many coupled-up families were just as freaked out as I was. Having a child is a huge change in your life, no matter how financially secure you may be. Taking things one day at a time, asking questions, doing research, and calling in professional help when needed can give you less anxiety and more clarity.

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Anna Davies is an editor at Haven Life. She has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, Refinery29, Glamour, Elle, and others, and has published 13 young adult novels. She lives in Jersey City, NJ, with her family and loves traveling, running, and trying to find the best cold brew coffee in town.

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (ICC15DTC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Not all riders are available in all states. Our Agency license number in California is 0K71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.

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