When I first learned I was pregnant, my first thought was “me, a mother, seriously?” It was quickly followed by “oh my God, I’m going to have to sell my body on Ottawa’s coldest streets to pay for onesies and Winnie the Pooh toys!”
I’m happy to report that despite having no good insurance, I did not become a sex worker—not that there is anything wrong with that (except for the fact that it must be really cold pacing the sidewalk in Canada). Mark hasn’t bankrupted us so far. In fact, so far, I find raising a kid is less expensive than I had thought.
We are both self-employed freelancers. As such, we do not have benefits and I was not eligible for maternity leave or Employment Insurance (EI). On the plus side, we do not have any debts: I completed university in France where education is free and I paid for the classes I took at the University of Ottawa a few years ago out of my pocket. I have been working full-time since I’m 20 years old and Feng and I aren’t big spenders—honestly, we are fairly good with money and “doing more with less”. Consumerism is a North American trend I haven’t really adopted.
I’m also grateful for the Canadian healthcare system. As an Ontario resident, I’m covered by OHIP and I didn’t have to spend a dime for the medical care I received during the pregnancy (routine ultrasounds and tests were all covered) and for Mark’s birth at the hospital. And I have recently discovered we were eligible for some benefits, such as the Universal Child Care Benefit. It’s not a lot of money but it does help a bit.
Yet, our financial situation worried me all along my pregnancy. Would I be able to work with a baby? Would I have any work, period? Freelancing is not like having a permanent job—it does offer some freedom and flexibility but my workload slows down and picks up just like that, and the market isn’t great right now.
We didn’t spend a lot of money preparing for Mark’s grand arrival into the world. We bought a few basic items and a generous friend lent me a car seat and a stroller. I discovered that people enjoy buying baby clothes—we received so many outfits from family, friends and even my clients that I barely had to buy anything!
I stopped breastfeeding after a month and we switched to formula. Yep, that shit is expensive—about $25 for a large can of powdered milk. Fortunately, we got a bunch of coupons at first (best way to get consumer hooked to a brand, I know!) and we check flyers to see when it’s on sale—and when it is, we stock up.
I remembered diapers being very expensive in France but I find them more affordable in Canada. Pampers and Huggies, the two leading brands, offer huge boxes of 200+ diapers—these are usually the best deal. We also use wipes—bad for the environment but oh-so-convenient!—and it’s about $25 for a huge box of 700+ wipes. We are still using the ones we bought before Mark was born, so that was a good investment.
For both formula and diapers, the price range for the exact same product from one store to another is quite impressive. Places like Babies’R’Us or Loblaws have the highest price tag while there are often good deals at Walmart or Shoppers Drug Mart. It pays to shop around and to know the “real” price of such products so that you don’t get ripped off.
I also discovered a huge range of prices in baby clothes. In some stores, you can find super cute outfits for a high price tag—I’m talking $40 for a t-shirt! I have even seen a 0-3 month sweater for $100—no kidding. Do people realize it’s going to be spit on? While it’s okay to splurge once in a while, the more expensive isn’t the better when it comes to baby clothes. I focus on buying cotton clothes (easier on the skin) and I find great deals at Winners, Walmart, Old Navy, etc. I’m sorry but I’m not spending $50 in an outfit he will outgrow in two months. Mark will ask for brand names soon enough!
We are also starting to buy toys since Mark can play a bit (he kind of discovered he has two hands and can grab objects—yay!). I found quite a few things at Winners, such as rattles and soft balls. Chapters also has very cute baby toys—they are on the expensive side but there are sales often enough.
I was expecting our hydro and water bills to skyrocket but the slight increase has been reasonable. Yes, our utility bills are higher than usual (more loads of laundry and we plug in a small heater in Mark’s room when it’s cold) but hydro and water aren’t too expensive in Canada to start with and we have a very small house.
So far, we are doing okay. Thanks to the help of friends (hurrah for second-hand baby gear!), some common sense and shopping around, we manage—at least financially.