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What Having A Baby At 19 Taught Me About Money

Sophomores in college typically need to worry about what they want to major in, or what they’re going to eat from the dining hall that evening. But during that year, I found myself pacing up and down a hallway, waiting for my doctor to come out with the news.

I was already working as a substitute teacher and at a part-time job on campus to afford my tuition, and my husband-to-be was riding on the loan bus and working with his father. We had been together for four years, but it seemed impossible that, on the cusp of pursuing our academic and career dreams, we would be tossed into the “dropout bin” our high school guidance counselors warned us about not even a year before, when we left for our university — the one we’d carefully decided to go to together. I was absolutely terrified. How on earth could we afford a baby when we hadn’t secured anything to help us start our future?

Broke, terrified, and not knowing what to do, we did the most typical thing a young adult can do: we turned to our parents. Neither of us comes from any sort of money. My parents were divorced and had just come out of their respective bankruptcies, and his had always lived paycheck-to-paycheck. Nevertheless, they opened their hearts and homes to us until we settled on a plan.

The first thing my father suggested was to build a budget and set up an appointment with the OBGYN. I carefully planned the next nine months of expenses and scoured the internet for the best-priced baby essentials, only to be knocked off my feet when we found out we were nearly three months along. Now, with a little over six months to plan, I knew we wouldn’t be finishing school. My husband (then boyfriend) dropped out immediately and jumped into a night retail job at a chain construction store in addition to the days he worked with his father. I worked out arrangements to stay employed with the school even though I wouldn’t be staying for the semester, and I armed myself with classifieds to find a third part-time job, eventually landing at a restaurant.

We collectively moved into my childhood bedroom at my father’s house. We worked hard saving tips, collecting secondhand baby items, and sharing my old hand-me-down car back and forth to work and appointments. Our family blessed us with a small baby shower, getting us the big-ticket items we so desperately needed: a crib, some baby clothes, diapers, car seat, and stroller. All the “silly” expenditures we were used to as teens — movies, concerts, arcade games — had to be cut from our budget. We had $35 a month in our budget for “fun money,” but on our rare days off together, we would do “free” things, like a picnic, a trip to the beach, and the occasional fast food treat. It felt a little pathetic how tightly we clung to our budget, filling sleepless nights (due to baby kicks and trips to the restroom) with couponing. But we were also excited for what the future would bring and how much joy the new life would give us.

The months wound down, and thanks to rent-free living and low utility costs from our parents, we’d saved about $13,000. My final month of pregnancy was slow-going due to both the college and school I subbed at being out of session, but by then, I had hunkered down and started to teach myself insurance lingo, the language of pre-birth papers and post-birth certificates, and social security applications.

I was under 25 and unmarried and still covered by my parents’ insurance, but I was confused by the wording in the insurance about my child-to-be and their coverage. We had been assured by the carrier that they would be all set, but once I had a chance to review I realized that they had been incorrect. I called their office late on a Friday and expected to hear back on Monday. Sunday, we hosted a Father’s Day party, and early Sunday night I was in the hospital giving birth. I was so scared of racking up a bill that I took no pain relief; by Monday morning, my son had arrived. I also received a phone call from the insurance company saying my worst fear: that he would not be covered.

Luckily, my state utilizes CHIP and I’d filled out the paperwork in a frenzy just in case. Between the two of us, we had accrued just over $11,400 in bills over my pregnancy and birth — but we were responsible for just $1,239.

Having my son taught me not only to be aware of your money and account for expenses, but also to treat money like the necessity that it is. That regardless of how “young” you are, to read the print on everything, and advocate for yourself, because if you don’t, you may not be able to avoid a crisis. You should plan for the worst, even when you expect the best. You can save yourself a world of hurt, and treasure those who are close to you, because every little thing helps.

Katherine has done the impossible: After years working for the Department of the Treasury, she has found a soft spot in her heart for taxes. When she isn’t working, she’s taking care of the New Hampshire home she shares with her husband and two growing boys.

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