Eight steps to prepare financially for having a baby

Seven and a half years ago, I became pregnant, and soon after I learned I was carrying twins.

I recall the moment I found out. I'd already taken a test at home and now I was lying on a hospital bed while a doctor performed an ultrasound.

"There's the baby," he said. "Is there only one?" I asked, since twins run in my family. "Wait a moment ... oh look, there's the other one," he replied.

My husband and I are both Australian but we were living in San Francisco at the time, so our first decision was where to have the children.

For a number of reasons we decided to come home and we flew back into the heat of summer when I was seven months pregnant. We had to quickly get our finances in order, preparing for an extended period of time with me off work and my husband commencing a PhD.

If you've just found out you're having a baby (or babies), congratulations! Here's the financial advice I wish I'd had when I was in your shoes. Updated for 2017, of course.

1. Your budget

If the word "budgeting" makes you feel sick, you're not alone. But ignoring money won't make it go away, while reviewing your situation and coming up with a plan will usually help you feel better. I recommend jumping on to ASIC's MoneySmart website and using the Budget Planner tool. ASIC also has useful apps such TrackMySPEND to help you figure out the reality of where your money goes.

If you're aiming for you or your partner to be at home with the baby for an extended period of time, then you need a plan for getting through the lean patch. Think about what you can buy or be given secondhand, and what luxuries you can forgo. Don't worry, it's not forever.

2. Government parental leave

Were you working before the baby's birth and earning under $150,000? "Work" includes self-employment and prior periods of parental leave. If so, you may be eligible for paid parental leave from the government. This is 18 weeks at the minimum wage - currently $695 a week before tax. It's for the primary caregiver, but it can be split with other eligible people such as your partner or the child's other legal parent.

What people don't always realise is the government also offers "dad and partner pay", which is an additional two weeks' paid leave. This can't be used by the birth mother - it's use it or lose it.

If you weren't working, then you could be eligible for the "newborn upfront payment", which is a non-taxable sum of $540, and the "newborn supplement", which is a payment that varies by means testing and the number of other children in the family.

If you're having multiples, you can have multiple newborn payments or, if you're eligible, you can take paid parental leave for one child, and the newborn payments for other children.

3. Corporate leave

Check your employer's policies. You may be eligible for paid parental leave from the company in addition to the government payments. You may also be able to purchase additional annual leave.

Again, don't forget that both parents should do this. Many companies offer paid paternity leave, but men don't always take it up.

4. Childcare

Put your name down on several waiting lists for childcare as soon as you can. In many areas, especially in Sydney and Melbourne, availability is a huge issue. Even if you're not sure of your plans, I strongly suggest putting your name down so you have options down the track. The government is overhauling its childcare payments from next July - you can look at the Child Care Subsidy Estimator calculator at education.gov.au/childcare to figure out your entitlements.

5. Super

Not everyone can afford to make extra super payments, especially when the household is down a breadwinner. But if you can, it's a good thing to do. There are tax incentives to encourage people to contribute to their lower-income earning partner. This applies to child-free couples as well, but many people will become eligible for the first time only when they take time off to have children. After all, if one parent is staying at home, or working part time, there's a good chance they'll be earning less than $37,000 a year even if they weren't previously. If that's the case, the working partner can contribute to the lower income earner's super and get a tax rebate - the maximum rebate being $540 for a contribution of $3000. The payment starts phasing out when the lower-income partner earns $37,000 and stops completely when they reach $40,000.

6. Health care

If you have private health insurance, you'll probably be out of pocket for the birth of the baby. If you're using Medicare, it won't cost a cent. As a public patient you won't get your choice of doctor and you may have to share a room, but the quality of the health care is very good. Your choice, but budget accordingly.

7. A will

If you don't already have a will, you need one once you have children. It's not just about where your assets and property go, but more importantly so you and your co-parent can appoint a testamentary guardian who'll be responsible for the children if you both die. And while you're getting a will, make sure you have a binding death nomination for your super too, as that's handled separately.

8. Life insurance

Many Australians have death and total and permanent disability insurance, generally known as life insurance, through their super. But many families are under-insured, especially those with high mortgages. It's a mistake just to insure the main breadwinner. Consider also what would the surviving partner need if the children's primary caregiver died. They might need to work less, or to hire a housekeeper and nanny. Insurance is complicated and not all policies are created equal. While it's worth getting a quote for additional insurance from your super fund, it's an area where it can be worth talking to a financial planner.

Finally, keep reading the Money section - we run plenty of family finance stories. And if you like audio, please check out the Your Family, Your Money podcast on family finance I'm co-hosting for Kinderling Radio.

Caitlin Fitzsimmons is the editor of Money. Facebook: @caitlinfitzsimmons. Twitter: @niltiac.

This story Eight steps to prepare financially for having a baby first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.