Budget Baby: How we afforded to have a baby during our PhDs


If, like me, you did the whole undergraduate degree + honours degree + PhD track in quick succession (and you want to have a child), you will most likely find yourself facing the fertility/PhD debacle. Do you risk attempting to have a child/children after your PhD when you’re a bit older and potentially less fertile, or do you delay finishing your PhD and improve your odds of conceiving? We chose option B (obviously there is no ‘right’ answer but!).

Speaking of "we", my partner is also doing a PhD. This means we are both that odd type of ‘poor’ where you are literally earning just above the poverty line but you typically come from middle-class familieswho may provide back-up/emergency financesto have had the opportunity to end up doing a PhD. This limited income for the all-consuming job that is a PhD thesis can make the idea of having a baby financially daunting. 

So here are some things we learnt when having our Budget Baby (who is just the best little person, by the way. Couldn’t resist at least one parent brag!).

Note: The only intention of this post is to share our experience (as a heterosexual couple in Melbourne, Australia); I make no claims about who it may apply to. And I’d love to hear others’ experiences!

Prior to becoming pregnant

Before attempting conception, we did a few things to save some dollars down the track (among other reasons).

Pre-conception check-up

My partner and I each visited our GP (there is usually a bulk-billed option on campus or nearby) to have a chat about our fertility intentions. Baby making is serious business that can take a huge toll on your body; having it in tip-top shape before (and during) pregnancy can save your family pain and dollars later. See here for things you may discuss.

Paid parental leave options

Each of our PhD scholarships allowed a small amount of paid parental leave. We read our contracts carefully and I had a confidential chat with my scholarships department. However, what we didn’t realise was that our work would not meet the income test for the government funded parental leave as well. Had we taken our scholarships part-time (which makes it become taxable income), we would have been better able to meet this test. There is also other available financial support from the government. I found navigating the Centrelink website to be a nightmare but the families’ department call centre to be very useful.

Other income

We knew we need additional income (on top of our scholarships) if we were to have our baby relatively comfortably (i.e. be able to make the next month's rent). As I was busy growing a human being, birthing it and then keeping it nourished with my body, my partner took temporary leave from his candidature and scholarship to earn more money for us. 

[Side note: some people have been surprised that my partner would take time out from his PhD to support his family (the fact that he is gaining experience in his field and contributing to his superannuation is not acknowledged). This appears to stem from the belief that only I, the woman, should make scarifies for us to have a child. Interesting.]

Talking to others who have been there and done it

I had a few vague chats with people in the office about their experience of having a baby during their PhD and then had a detailed, confidential chat with my supervisor about what kind of support I could expect; both were extremely useful.

Pregnancy & Birth

Maternity care

Private obstetric and midwifery care in Australia can be very expensive so chances are you won’t have much ‘choice’ but to go public. Public healthcare often has a negative reputation despite research suggesting it to be the sector most associated with positive health outcomes for mum and baby. For example, women who have midwifery-led care (as you typically receive in the public system) experience less intervention (e.g. forceps, episiotomy) and are more likely to be satisfied with their care, among other positive findingsWe had our baby within the COSMOS program at The Royal Women's Hospital; I cannot say enough about how positive the whole experience was!

This is a great summary of your options in Australia, and this is a decision aid that describes and compares different models of care. 

Scans and tests

We were offered several scans and tests throughout my pregnancy. Some were more necessary (for us) than others and some were covered by Medicare while others were not or only partially. For the ones we decided to have, we called around to see if it was cheaper at certain clinics (e.g. I found radiology clinics in well off suburbs wanted to charge more as they also gave you a DVD and 3D photo which we were not interested in). We also found that if some tests/scans were done by a certain date in the pregnancy they were able to be bulk-billed.

Childbirth education

Most hospitals have some sort of childbirth education, usually for a fee. Knowing a fair bit about the classes’ content already, I opted out of this and instead did my own additional research. This is not likely to suit everyone but it is another option. I borrowed books from the hospital library and bought some off eBay. I found this book and especially this podcast particularly helpful. My partner found this book to be great; it was one of few that didn't perpetuate the idea that all men will pass out at the sight of their partner’s vagina doing something that’s not for their own pleasure.

My midwife also gave me a link to an online course that her unit had purchased for women to use for free. My partner and I watched these videos together and would then discuss what they might mean for us afterward. We'd also discuss anything we'd come across in our own readings. Having these mini education sessions together was really useful to get on the same page about our preferences and for him to advocate for me should I have needed him too. 

Baby stuff

                Second-hand vs. new

Many people (with the best of intentions) told us to get as much as we could off eBay and Gumtree to save money. Unless you have a car, fuel and the time to organise pick-ups across the city this isn't actually that cost effective. We borrowed a friend's car and went to Ikea for the major baby items. They have safe cots, mattresses and sheets that perfectly fit the cots, etc all in one place for what we could see to be the lowest cost on the market. We used their website to create a shopping list that helped prevent us from buying a bunch of cute but unnecessary things (easy to do when buying baby things!).

We ended up spending quite a bit on a pram as we knew it would be very well used (we walk everywhere). After we knew which one we wanted we religiously watched the major baby stores for sales and also took advantage of a bank’s new credit card offer of $250 cashback when you spend $500 in one month (easy to do on a pram!).

We received a lot of hand-me-down clothing from families and a friend who had had a baby a year before us (which then went on to a friend who had a baby just after us). This was a big money saver as baby clothing is overpriced and will most likely be stained after the first wear. We also purchased a bundle of clothes off eBay and a few items from op shops which worked out to be great value. 

                Hiring

You can hire quite a lot of baby gear. For example, we hired our car capsule from this great company who delivered it to our house and explained how to install it for free. This capsule also fit into our pram when baby was tiny (great for making car to pram/home transfers when baby is miraculously asleep). You may also be able to hire car seats from your local council for an even cheaper rate (e.g. see here for City of Melbourne).

                Baby party

We’re not baby shower people but we ended up throwing a baby party (same concept without the games and all friends invited, not just women). In doing so we received some fun, cute baby things that we hadn’t allowed ourselves to purchase due to our budget. Also, growing a human is hard work; we felt we needed to acknowledge and celebrate this! A friend of ours organised a gift list for people to choose from, and we kept the whole event low cost by making our own food and using platters from an op shop. Lovely friends also bought more food as well as flowers for decorations. It all came together to look like a Pinterest board:


Exercise in pregnancy

There are lots of great free pregnancy exercise resources but it can be hard to know which are safe and appropriate for you and your pregnancy. I felt comfortable using this DVD by the Australian Physiotherapy and Pilates Institute and these mini yoga classes on YouTube. I also purchased a 10 week pass of prenatal yoga classes at my local midwifery clinic; it was a great way to socialise with other pregnant women, and there were some helpful tips for positions and breathing during labour and birth. I also went on a lot of slow walks around the neighbourhood – completely free!

I hope this is helpful. I may also do a future post on budget tips for after baby is born with regards to healthcare, parenting resources, childcare etc once I have more experience in the department!

Kate xx

PS This post was also a test for me to see what it was like to accomplish a piece of writing while caring for a baby. It took weeks to write; I suspect the next post will be some time away as will my return to my thesis! And I apologise for any spelling errors.

This is the second post in my PhD & pregnancy series; see here for the first on 'academic guilt and pregnancy.'