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Like any loving parent, you'd walk to the ends of the earth and back for your child. That said, raising kids these days is anything but cheap. From birth to graduation day, the grand total comes to an intimidating $233,610 to raise a child in a middle-class home (or $193,000 in rural areas), according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We rounded up some of the biggest-ticket items parents face over the years so you can set priorities and minimize the surprises.

The first big hurdle: Preparing for the birth

While waiting for your bundle of joy to arrive, you have a pretty good idea that your world is about to be rocked — in a good way. But few can appreciate the economic pressures that accompany birth and paternity leave until they've been through it. If you're expecting, here are a few financial things to help you get ready.

Plan for your leave: You'll need several weeks off work to physically recover and care for your newborn. How can you finance two to three months off work if you're not one of the wildly fortunate ones with paid parental benefits? Here are three options.

  • Short-term disability: This voluntary benefit replaces a portion of an employee's income when they get sick or hurt. It also covers new moms who just delivered a baby. (If you're planning to conceive, don't opt out.)
  • Paid time off: Stockpile your vacation time and sick leave, but clear your plan with your employer, so you can confirm you're getting the compensation you expect.
  • Savings: Once you know how much time you need, and how much financial cover you can access through your employer, it's time to calculate how much you'll need in savings to make up for the rest.

Insurance premiums. Once the baby is born, the additional family member on your health plan will increase your premium. Second, if you're taking any unpaid leave, you may have to compensate your employer for your portion of your health insurance premiums. (Some, but not all, employers require this.)

Out-of-pocket medical costs. While you're stockpiling cash to help you finance parental leave, do factor your maximum out-of-pocket medical expenses. With high-deductible health insurance plans, and the average hospital labor, birth and overnight stay cost coming to $10,000 or more, it's not unheard of for new parents to end up with a hospital bill. Talk to your employer's human resource department so you can plan.

Worth a splurge: College savings accounts

The very best time to invest in your baby's future education is now — because the growth potential will be at its all-time high. If you can, open an account, and set up an automated monthly deposit, starting with, say, $25. Read here to find out why it pays to save for your child's education now.

Save your money: Baby gear

When it comes to clothes, strollers, cribs, changing tables and toys, gently used baby gear can be every bit as good as new. (Besides, baby will have no idea that he's sleeping in cousin Aiden's old crib!)

The toddler and preschool years: Mega child care bills

The top expense for parents with young children is child care. Life in Minnesota means you're paying some of the highest prices in the U.S. (By one estimate, the Gopher State ranks No. 4.) Full-time care for a 4-year-old costs Minnesota families an average of $12,252 a year, more than what they're spending on health care and housing. Though if you live beyond the metro areas, your costs are likely less than that. How can you pay less?

Rethink work: One option is living off one income until the kids are back in school. But not everyone can make it work. Some families shift their work schedules so they can use less child care and get their budget into balance. For example, one parent can work evenings, or drop to part-time hours, or shift their days off to weekdays instead of the weekends. It's not ideal, but if it reduces your bill by 30% or more, it can help you make ends meet.

Get those tax savings: At tax time, make sure you're maximizing all the child-care tax breaks you're entitled to, so you can offset at least some of those child care costs. For example, check with your employer to see if they offer Dependent Care Flexible Savings Accounts. How this works is your employer defers your child care expenses from your paycheck, pretax, and then you access the set-aside funds to pay your provider.

It gets better! Infant child care is more expensive than caring for children in school, so take heart. They aren't little for long, and eventually, those sky-high costs will be a thing of the past.

Worth a splurge: Date night

Spending the day with small children may make you smile, but it's also draining. When you need a break, don't feel guilty about taking time out for one-on-one time with your partner, a dear friend, or any other significant person in your life.     

Save your money: Expensive theme park vacations

At this age, little ones don't need much to make great memories. Skip the pricey bucket-list vacations and theme park tickets without guilt. Reading stories, baking cookies and exploring the park are just a few no-cost activities that will supply plenty of memories to fill a photo book.

Elementary school: A wider world of options

Once school starts, a child's world expands, and there's no shortage of opportunities to open your wallet.

Activities: If you're lucky, your community offers plenty of after-school and weekend enrichment, like music lessons, scouts, basketball, coding camp and math tutoring. But even a handful of activities can set you back several hundred dollars in a matter of weeks (especially at the start of the school year). Planning for these costs ahead of time can help to reduce unexpected activity fees or costs. 

Middle school and high school: First steps of independence

This is a time in life when teens are starting to take greater financial responsibility. Here are a few of the ones that impact your budget.

First personal electronics: As kids enter middle school, phones and electronics become a necessary expense. They'll be more mobile, so they'll need access to a phone line for after-school check-ins and rides home. Also, more schools are using tech in the classroom and requiring kids to have digital access to complete assignments. So they may need tablets and laptops.

First bank account: When teens take on more responsibility, they'll need banking tools to help manage and track their spending. Plus, they'll need a place to deposit their paychecks (and let's face it, it's much easier for you when you can make a quick transfer). Talk to your Minnwest banker about checking account options that are great for teens. 

First car: Eventually, teens will want their first set of wheels. Before they take this big financial step, you as a parent need to spend some time considering what you can and can't do for them. While plenty of parents can pass on an older car to their teen, others are willing to help with the initial down payment. A significant factor here is whether that vehicle is a need or merely a want, so be prepared for serious conversations with your teen.

Worth a splurge: The big trip

Teen years often present opportunities for kids to travel. Though supervised, these trips are away from their parents. Perhaps it's an out-of-state FFA convention, a band trip to a major coastal city, or maybe it's a service trip with their church. These not only give kids a chance to see new corners of the world, but they'll also be managing many things on their own, from waking up on time to budgeting their spending money.

Save your money: College campus tours

Gas, meals and lodging can make campus visits a costly prospect. Thanks to virtual reality and digital resources, your teen can get a good feel for campus life from the comfort of their room. Save money and time, and postpone the visit until it's time to decide.

From cradle to graduation, parenting is some of the hardest but most rewarding work you'll ever do! When you take time to get ready for the biggest financial hurdles, it just makes the job a little easier.

A savings account from Minnwest Bank can help you get ready for the next phase in your child's life, and prepare your family for unexpected expenses. Set up an automatic transfer from checking to savings, and watch your money grow.

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