Personal Finance

A Surprise Pregnancy Got My Finances on Track

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Logan Sachon: Tracy Moore, your book (Oops! How to Rock the Mother of All Surprises) is a how-to guide basically, to having a baby, written for people who had not planned on having a baby. And you do talk about your experience in it, but could you briefly explain where you were in your life when you got pregnant?

Tracy Moore: Sure! I was 33. I worked as a reporter at an alt-weekly in Nashville. I’d just gotten married a few months earlier. But everything about my life was super carefree, as it is when you’re just working and hanging out and have no immediate foresight. For instance, we had our edit meetings at a local dive bar at 2 or 3 on a Monday, and they began with a shot of whiskey and a PBR and didn’t end until 3 a.m. passed out somewhere. I went to a lot of rock shows, and spent a lot of time in dark bars. But psychologically, I just thought the baby thing was so out of the question, so beyond the perhaps more easily solvable issues having one would require — to stop drinking and stop smoking — I just was not even a baby person.

LS: Can you talk about your financial situation at the time?

TM: Yeah. My husband and I had about $90 between us when we discovered we were pregnant. I was a reporter making almost $40K at the time. He was in an awesome MegaMan video game band called The Protomen with 15 people in it, who actually got paid money for shows — rare in a local rock scene — but because it had 15 people in it, it took all that money to keep it going. So he did odd jobs to pay some bills. Together, we had the money to live, but we were so irresponsible with it — focusing it mainly on just entertainment, eating out and drinking — that it seemed like we never had any.

More background — we owned a house, but it was a house I’d bought with an ex. When we split, I got the house, and he also stuck me with a lot of credit card debt. So though my husband and I appeared to be on-the-grid on paper, so to speak — jobs, income, homeownership, marriage — the reality was that we were about as together as two people just out of college.

Ready or not — time to step up

LS: Pre-baby, had you guys talked about “growing up” and getting it together? One thing I was struck by in the book was that there wasn’t a discussion of, can we actually do this, can we keep this baby? You went from finding out you were pregnant to preparing for the baby.

TM: That’s a good question. My husband had been told he was infertile due to a medical issue as a teenager. We really thought it was not an option. We had the vague sense that it could still be viable, and that if we suddenly became determined to breed we could pursue more testing. So because of that, we probably had a false sense of confidence that 1) we wouldn’t get pregnant and 2) if we did, and that seemed like a really distant if, we’d roll with it then.

Also, among working class families, which is how I grew up, I never heard families discussed as something you “plan” anyway. People get married, they have babies, and they figure it out. So that attitude had been normalized for me in ways I probably wasn’t even totally aware of. It’s not that I didn’t understand the risks of unplanned pregnancy — in large part, that had informed my lack of a strong desire to breed. I saw how motherhood changed women’s lives. But I also felt that I had better prospects for rolling with it, if I just refocused my energies and money. I was employed and had a career, a degree, things that seemed to be a better launch pad for an unexpected pregnancy.

LS: So the way you were living before, broke, spending all your money on booze — that was a choice and less like, “idk how to get my [stuff] together, help.”

TM: Exactly. Well, I knew how to get my [stuff] together — or at least I understood why it was an essential path to get on sooner than later, I just wasn’t motivated to do it quite yet. In part, I think this attitude might be somewhat unique to sort of growing up poor and finding yourself in the middle class. I’d managed to get out of a really challenging background, gotten through college, and had a career figured out. I was just being a sort of aimless person otherwise, because I could, possibly until I had a reason to go in a new direction. I had also been a music critic for a few years and switched to being a staff writer, in large part because the lifestyle it required was so sleazy all the time. Booze, bars, bands. That was it. So I was making some small moves in that direction. I didn’t want to be a burned-out rock chick forever.

LS: Reading your book, a lot of the stuff you talk about doing — trimming down expenses, cutting drinking and smoking, taking care of yourself — is just like, really attractive adult stuff. I kind of found myself thinking maybe I need to have a baby to get myself in order!

TM: Ha! I joke to people that the best way to get a laser-like focus for your life is to get knocked up. I know it’s not how you’re supposed to do it, but isn’t that OK? . . . Alternately, my husband was thrilled to find out he could breed.

So his happiness and sense of like, we got this, was a big part of what made it easier to face. I still had the emotional work to do, but that helped buffer it. Well, that and food.

LS: What do you think would have happened if you hadn’t gotten pregnant? Would you still be in editorial meetings in bars at 2 p.m.?

TM: Eh, it’s very likely. I honestly can’t imagine that I would have stopped smoking or being so cavalier about things anytime soon. Not that it’s so bad, it’s just not a sustainable way to live a long or particularly healthy life. I think we have fewer milestones now that signify adulthood, so it’s much blurrier now, this idea of when you’re a grownup or what one should do to be a grownup. I was 32, 33, and didn’t feel ready  . . . , and I’m not sure when I would have. And I had a vague sense of wanting to be better at budgeting, for instance, but no real road map and no major motivation when I was getting by just fine (so I felt at the time).

A real deadline for making changes

LS: Once you had to budget and save, how’d you find it — was it easy?

TM: Definitely something about the looming, real deadline makes it crystal clear what the priorities are. As I talk about in the book, just not going out drinking and smoking cigs and eating out all the time netted us 700 bucks a month. That was a bit of a shock to realize how much we’d been blowing. Stockpiling that was a short-term goal, to just get as much dough together as possible to cover any hospital bills and all the first supplies. I had insurance that was decent. My husband took a full-time job and would soon be covered. And we spent the rest of the time researching the most cost-effective, minimalist way to bring a baby into the world, while I kind of blubbered through my feelings, the other half of the equation.

LS: What was your husband’s job search like?

TM: He’d played in a band, but he would do pick-up work in the A/V world, installing audio/visual systems for corporations, hotels, etc. He was able to kind of beg for a job where he’d previously been a freelancer. It was steady work, but it meant travel and working 12 or 15 hours a day. This was the hardest part of the shift for us as a unit, that I was just pregnant and working and he was not around for a lot of it.

LS: So it sounds like a switch really did flip and you guys just totally got your acts together!

TM: Yeah, I certainly don’t want to make it sound cavalier, but I think there’s something to the idea of having an appointment you can’t refuse. The ability to focus so clearly on the on-the-grid aspects of stability freed up the opportunity to wrestle with giving up a sense of autonomy, and to ponder bigger questions, like who I would be as a mother, or how much of my old self was still going to be in there now that I’d have to focus on another person. All of that, to me, was enormously harder and more earth-shattering than just stockpiling money or eating in, or shopping for secondhand baby clothes. If I’d sworn myself to do all that stuff financially without a baby coming, I’d have been back at the bar in a month.

LS: Did you find yourself sliding back into any old habits once the baby came and your confidence was up? (“I got this.”)

TM: Well, I breastfed for 2.5 years, so it was not an option in terms of typical vice. I did that in large part because the cost was so low, comparatively, to formula. I did go see a show or two that first year, and would have a few beers, but it hasn’t been until recently that we’ve settled into probably who we are as adults/parents: people who take turns going out to shows, catch up with friends once a month or so, have three beers and get tired.

Which kind of brings up the idea that I found really fascinating during all this: At some point, you are just like everyone else who knew since birth they were going to have a kid. You stop feeling that you’re operating on this particularly disadvantaged learning curve after the first few months with the baby.

As for bad habits, moneywise. Once a money-blower, probably always a little bit of a money-blower. But we now have a savings account, an emergency fund, two extremely reliable cars, and the majority of our money now goes to daycare. We pay more in daycare than we pay for rent. We moved cities, and we now rent out our old house. It’s just a world apart from $90 and a house filled with cat hair and smoke. And my husband parlayed his various experience into a really great job here in Santa Monica. So, out of chaos and aimlessness, a proper American family has been born.

LS: Tracy Moore, making accidental pregnancy sound kind of awesome.

TM: Yes! Seriously though, no, I think the conventional wisdom, the idea that it all works out best when you’re out in front of the story of breeding, still holds, because a stable relationship and jobs and resources set up in advance are obviously better. But 49% of all pregnancies are unplanned. So it’s something people face all the time, without anything like what we might consider perfect circumstances. No one prefers to scramble I don’t think, especially when the stakes are high and things matter. However, I know from other mothers and reading message boards and mommy blogs that planning a pregnancy isn’t a guarantee that you won’t be thrown for a loop — emotionally, financially or logistically. That the experience is highly individual and highly unpredictable. So, if anything, my message would be not to go trying to find yourself where I was, but that, if you do, you won’t be the first person who rose to the occasion and pulled it all together for a great cause, in spite of the last-minute aspect of your preparations. And especially, that it has no bearing on the kind of parent you will be.

This post originally appeared on the Billfold. The content has been edited from its original version in keeping with Credit.com’s editorial policies.

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