They look so innocent (and they are) when they're sleeping. But if you're a new parent, you'd probably see that you look exhausted (if you actually had the time and energy to check a mirror). You're totally absorbed in trying to take care of this tiny person, and you're far too tired to do your best thinking. Which is why a little one can make a big mess of your credit.
Sleep deprivation (yours and theirs) can do some funny things to your judgment. When my daughter was born, I was frugal with hand-me-downs and such, but I was also sleepy and desperate. If there was a $5,000 mattress that they promised would make her sleep through the night, I would have charged it in a nanosecond!
And babies come with costs you may not have budgeted for but honestly need to pay. Life insurance (for parents) and wills, for example. Well-baby visits to the doctor, diapers and perhaps formula will be ongoing costs you'll need to work into your budget. You may also be paying off bills for labor and delivery. Those higher expenses often require some changes in the way you budget. And it comes right as you're having a sea change in lifestyle.
Here are some things you need to watch out for.
Paying Bills Late
Whether you receive your bills via postal mail or email, be sure you take the time to open them and look at them. Assuming they are correct, pay them. (And don't assume you'll remember to pay them in a few days. That could be the day you've been up all night.) You may want to automate your bills, at least to make sure you are paying minimums, to be certain nothing goes unpaid while you are otherwise occupied. Just one late payment can have a major negative impact on your credit.
Developing a Fast-Food Habit
It's easy to turn to carryout when you aren't up for cooking. You know those friends who say, "Let me know if there's anything I can help with?" How about asking if they can turn a few bagfuls of groceries you bought into frozen meals for a week? Stock your refrigerator with healthy, nutritious food that can be eaten with one hand (some fruits, string cheese, peanut-butter-stuffed celery, bagels). Starving people don't tend to make great decisions, either.
Buying More Than You Need Before You Need It
Does the baby need a bassinet, a cradle, a crib and a pack-and-play? Even before he or she comes home from the hospital? Probably not, but it's easy to get excited. The baby will need a good, new car seat and a safe place to sleep. Much of the rest of it you can figure out as you go. Going into credit card debt before the baby even arrives can make the stress of your new arrival even more difficult. You might want to consider signing up for a credit card with a 0% introductory APR so you can have a little breathing room if you plan on making a big purchase before the baby arrives. The Chase Slate, for example, has a 15-month 0% offer that's highly competitive. (You can read our review of the Chase Slate credit card here.)
Confusing Wants & Needs
You want what's best for them, right? And the $400 stroller you saw is way better than the one your neighbor offered to give you. Or a new jogging stroller is kind of an investment -- because once you gather the energy to look in a mirror, you may decide you need exercise. And really it's for the kid, because fit parents have more energy. It's hard to settle for something that is not the absolute best available, especially when you are pretty sure your baby is. (I hardly used my jogging stroller. I never have been much of a runner, and my daughter would fuss the whole time anyway. I sold it for a few bucks at a garage sale.)
Failing to Record It
Especially if you use credit, it's easy enough to just grab what you think you need, swipe your card and worry about it later (if you remember to open the bill). Far better is to try to think things through ahead of time, asking more experienced parents for advice. A budget can be your friend -- it can even give you an opportunity to start a savings account for the baby's education. We know it's a pain to write it down, and you're tired, but you're doing it for them. Maybe you can at least put the receipt in an envelope.
Guarding your credit and saving money are also ways of protecting your child from the fallout of a big, unexpected medical bill, job loss and the like. An emergency fund and/or access to low- or no-interest credit (those are typically available to people with excellent credit) to get through an emergency can make a big difference in your long-term financial picture. Credit problems can lead to a cycle of debt and higher interest rates, and you don't want that, or the stress that comes with it, for your family. You can even do your own checkups of your credit health. You can get your own free credit report summary on Credit.com and track your progress as your work on improving your credit. And financial stability is a great gift to give your baby.