Canberra Dad - tales from the front line of new parenthood


So babies are expensive creatures. You’ve got the direct hits on your wallet: buying pants with a wearable life of two weeks before their elasticity is annexed by your baby’s ballooning thighs. Then there’s the stuff you don’t expect. The knock-on costs. Some financial hits happen because of the choices you make once you have a bub.

Number 1. Childcare. Being a full-time stay-at-home parent wasn’t an option for either of us. I wrote about this last time, but basically, we both like our work too much.

Em and I suffer the Canberra curse. Both sets of parents live interstate. They’re only Newcastle and the Blue Mountains away, so they do visit, and we do go on dates. What we lose are the regular Tuesday drop-offs just up the road, where we’d get free babysitting, and our parents would gain the reassurance that their lineage will continue.

We had it pretty sweet for a four-month stretch that I’m going to call ‘financial la-la land.’ First, Emma was back at work, but we were still making interest-only repayments on our mortgage. Although we’d had a few tight patches, we’d managed by merrily siphoning money from one account to the other. Second, Jack had been in childcare for 10 weeks, but they hadn’t sent us a bill yet.

You can see where this is going.

‘Do you want the bad news?’ Emma asked me.

‘No,’ I said, but she told me anyway. A bill from childcare for $1,400.

There were a few problems with this bill.

  1. It was for $1,400
  2. We hadn’t budgeted to pay $1,400
  3. There would be more of them.

We’d have to dip into savings. Actually ‘dip’ is much too dainty a word. We were going to need a bucket.

Here’s where the second sneaky knock-on cost kicks in. On what Em and I make, affording childcare for one child would usually be doable. The catch is that we both want to spend time with Jack, and didn’t want that crowded into the weekend’s life admin, socialising and general exhaustion. So we both work four days a week.

That choice means a hit of a few hundred dollars every week. What that choice buys is time with Jack, carved out and set aside, just for us.

We want to sustain that, so we need to budget. This is embarrassing, but we’d been running our finances on ‘vibes’ and a general sense that having money in the bank is better than not having money in the bank.

I’m one of those people who believe all the world’s problems would be solved if we could just find the right app. I’d tried a few and even picked a good one — Pocketbook — in which magical money elves scan our bank feeds, automatically categorise transactions, and make us pie charts.

What we didn’t have was a way of doing anything with that information. Of actually making financial decisions about what we were going to spend.

I’d thought that having a baby might have pushed us to become financially responsible adults, but in the end it was childcare. I don’t want to keep having that sinking feeling of needing to hunt through our accounts for a large stash of money. So we’re going to sit down together at the kitchen table, while Jack’s asleep, and work one out.