Turns out there's a big difference in the actual cost of raising a child in the first year versus how much parents-to-be think it will cost.

surprised baby
Credit: EvgeniiAnd/Shutterstock

They're cute, cuddly, and downright expensive. It's no secret babies aren't cheap, but what may surprise you is that according to a new survey by financial advice site NerdWallet, a baby costs far more in the first year of life than most parents expect.

In fact, expenses will range from $21,248 to $51,985, depending on one's income and spending decisions. But as many as 18 percent of Americans who plan to have a child in the next three years think raising junior during his first year will cost less than $1,000, while 44 percent of Americans overall believe it will cost less than $5,000.

Um, a crib can cost $1,000! But NerdWallet's Insurance Expert, Amy Danise, told Parents.com financial planning for baby is all about spending priorities. While you still want to buy quality items, she recommends not putting your "worries or money" toward nursery items like a crib, or a car seat. Those costs "pale in comparison to putting aside money for a college fund," she said, adding that the survey found splurging on baby toys and products "was among parents' biggest regrets."

The problem seems to be that not enough would-be parents are planning ahead, or thinking about the many expenses associated with having a child immediately, and in the future. According to the survey:

• 3 of 10 parents had no money saved before having their baby!

• One quarter of Americans expect friends and family to help with the costs; this is true of 42 percent of millennial parents-to-be.

• Americans are misjudging some of the biggest expenses of having a child, namely, child care. As Parents.com has previously reported, child care can end up costing more than college.

• Nearly half of people think diapers and wipes (although expensive to be sure!) are going to be the biggest expense, not child care.

• Only 35 percent of survey respondents correctly believe child care is one of the biggest expenses. But according to NerdWallet, nanny care in a higher income family (making $200,000 per year) accounts for 52 percent of the cost, while child care center costs for families with a more moderate income (of $40,000-plus) still account for 38 percent of the total expenses within the baby's first year.

Other major costs parents are not considering are life insurance, an emergency fund (kids come with emergencies, trust!), and indeed, college tuition.

The takeaway? Danise told us, "Many parents don't plan ahead financially. Educate yourself." To that end, NerdWallet has developed a new tool for consumers to help them determine the true expense of raising a baby during the first year. Check it out to see how much food, life insurance, clothes, toys, gear, college savings, child care, and more will actually cost you.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and soon-to-be mom of 4. Find her on Facebook where she chronicles her life momming under the influence. Of yoga.