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Money makeover: Can we afford to have a baby?

Breanne and Larry Stone think they’re ready for a child, but they’re not sure they can provide for one. Money expert Carmen Wong Ulrich and relationship pro Tina B. Tessina get these newlyweds on the road to successful — and solvent — parenthood.

Like many young couples, Breanne and Larry Stone can’t wait to build a dream nursery filled with cute little onesies and a sparkling new crib. But as much as they’re looking forward to cuddling a newborn, this Indiana couple wants to make sure their bank accounts can stand up to the $15,000 a year on average that it costs to raise a child, according to a government study.

Look at your finances

“Last summer, I got a case of baby fever when a girl I work with got pregnant,” says Breanne, 25, a payroll clerk who earns $26,000 a year. “But since we have outstanding student loans, credit card debt, and house and car payments, I really would like to get our finances on track before we start trying for a baby.”

“Breanne jokes that we can’t afford kids because we can’t even afford ourselves,” says Larry, 26, an assistant department manager at a hardware store who earns $35,000 a year. Two years ago, the newlyweds bought a 90-year-old house that quickly turned into a money pit. “I’m sure we’ve spent at least $5,000 on home repairs,” says Breanne.

The house still needs a new roof and windows, and it’s not the only source of the couple’s debt. “Every time we get a card or a loan paid off, we say, ‘We’re not doing so bad,’ and end up buying something, like a computer or a new car,” says Breanne.

Plan your future carefully

Larry would like to get a college degree and boost his earning power, but because of scheduling constraints with his current job and their cash flow, Larry’s not sure the timing is right for this dream — let alone their shared goal of building a family.

“There’s never really a perfect time when a couple feels 100 percent financially ready to have a baby,” says Carmen Wong Ulrich, author of Generation Debt — and there’s no magic number on your bank balance that means you’re ready. “But you should feel in control of your money, be clear on your financial goals, and have certain systems in place — like a monthly budget that you stick to — to make sure you remain on track financially,” says Ulrich.

Just as important as financial stability, however, is a couple’s emotional readiness to parent, says Tina B. Tessina, PhD, REDBOOK Love Network expert and author of the upcoming Money, Sex and Kids. “I think it’s smart that Breanne and Larry want to think it through,” she says. “They just need to have a clear plan.”

Breanne and Larry’s balance sheet

Annual gross income: $61,000
Monthly take-home: $3,120
Mortgage: $590
Car payments: $655
Satellite TV/cable: $60
Phone/Internet: $145
Utilities: $180
Water: $40
Groceries: $240
Gas or fun money: $400
Debt payments: $565
Savings: $180
Total expenses: $3,055

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