How I Overcame Money Stress With an Infant During COVID-19

These steps helped me step outside of constant financial "crisis mode."

An image of a face mask with money in it.
Photo: Getty Images.

I found out I was pregnant in Australia, on tour with a Cirque du Soleil show and about to leave for a new resident show stationed in Orlando, Florida. My partner and I knew his job transition would be an adjustment, but mostly, we were excited about settling down and starting a family. Then, on March 13, 2020, two weeks before the premiere of our new show, the pandemic reached us. I was five months pregnant.

Like most families in entertainment, we were financially rocked by the pandemic. And with the added stress of a baby on the way, it brought up additional fears—all alongside the actual fear of getting COVID-19. So we were forced to get creative, budget, and find ways to keep the joy of having our first child alive. Here's what I learned about overcoming financial "crisis mode" with a new baby on the way.

Having the Hard Conversations

For the first few weeks after learning that the new show was postponed, we didn't talk about our precarious financial situation. Most of our choices before the pandemic, like moving to Orlando and choosing a rental home, were based on the anticipation of show money—a show that never premiered after COVID-19.

My pregnancy news grew heavy as we watched our other friends on touring shows lose their jobs overnight. We sat on the couch watching the news in silence, just waiting for answers. We let the unspoken money problem float through our new rental home, which seemed to grow in extravagance day by day. The ceilings felt higher and the rooms seemed larger. I began to wonder: Why did we choose such an expensive house?

Like most people whose jobs were impacted by the arrival of COVID-19, we expected this to last a month at the most. But it persisted. Finally, we couldn't set aside financial issues any longer.

Money problems don't disappear when you ignore them; on the contrary, they usually get worse. So I read a few articles on how to approach money conversations with a partner or co-parent. Apparently, it's a hard topic for a lot of people (this knowledge in itself made me feel less alone).

Financial issues are the number one cause of divorce—and I can see why. People hate talking about money. Really. But in an article for Health, Kate Ashford describes how "talking about money with the key people in your life ensures you are all on the same page—and it can be enlightening on a personal level. It may help you get a handle on your own hopes and dreams, which you may not have articulated before."

For my partner and I, opening up about our financial fears was a huge exhale. Once we fanned out our situation clearly, we could make a plan of action.

Getting Creative With Income

Stay-at-home orders showed us that there are plenty of ways to work from home. But that's not the case when your job requires a theater or venue full of audience members. Live event workers were the first out of work and have been among the last to return, so working from home wasn't initially an option for my family; everyone in entertainment has either had to file for unemployment or find a new career path altogether, and fast. So we made it work: My partner found a day job at a car dealership that allowed him to stay socially distant, and I took on more freelance work while keeping up with our now-7-month-old baby.

Learning to Budget

For most of my life, I stayed out of finances and tracking my spending because I could. Even when I shouldn't, I let myself stay ignorant. To be honest, our life on tour allowed us to spend freely.

I know we aren't the only ones who learned about money the hard way when things hit the fan. Still, I wonder why my high school taught me more about Chaucer and the "appropriate" length of jean shorts than they did about taxes or sticking to a budget. I guess everyone is self-taught in this area, and I caught on late. I'm not blaming anyone; for me, it took a global pandemic to get sensible about spending.

So we got serious about money coming in and money going out. I researched "budgeting tips" and found helpful tools. We now follow a budgeting pie chart and an app called Honeyfi. Some months, we barely have enough, but we get by. Other months, we have to take a good look around and even ask for help.

Reaching Out for Help

The best part about having a strong support system is knowing you can ask for help when you need it. I let my friends and family know about our situation, and their support stretched far beyond baby registry items. Boxes of diapers still show up at our doorstep unannounced, quite often. Money appeared in my PayPal account one Saturday morning when medical issues came up. Certain family members consistently send Apple Pay transfers.

I was honest, as hard as it was. I told those close to me and my husband, "We are struggling. I don't know what to do. Please help." And the feedback was remarkable. A part of me felt weird asking for help, but I reminded myself that this is what family and friends are for. I would do the same for any one of those people, and I'll certainly pay it forward when I can.

As a society, the days of hiding money struggles are fading. In an InStyle article, Britni de la Cretaz dives into why gift registries are no longer solely for babies and weddings, and divorce registries are on the rise. Because life happens, and that's when we need the most help.

Embracing the Milestones

I often reflect on something a nurse told me when I went in for my induction in July 2020: "Babies don't need a lot of fancy things. They just need to be fed and loved." I don't know if she saw the look of dread in my face and knew I was scared, but hearing those words calmed me down tremendously.

We learned to embrace milestones as they come. Watching my son grow before my eyes repeatedly confirms that we don't need a ton of money to raise a healthy, happy baby. That's true for every first-time parent—but for us, during this dark time, it has truly been a source of strength to see our son's progress laid out in stages: the first time rolling over, sitting up, crawling, pulling up to stand, his first overnight trip. Every holiday. His first tooth on Valentine's day.

Watching a human take flight in their first seven months of life is pretty remarkable; in fact, it's priceless. Maybe we would've missed those moments otherwise. I don't know. But remembering what that nurse said reminds me that less really is more sometimes.

Taking a Break

Stepping away from talking and thinking about money is necessary. Money stress is its own category of pain. Because let's face it, wondering whether you've got enough for rent is a big deal. But throw in the fact that you're now responsible for another human life, and yeah, that's stressful. It's hard, but stepping away is a must. It will consume your entire life otherwise.

Remember, this is temporary. If you had told me at the beginning of the pandemic that our show would still be postponed a year later, it would've crushed me. The path from where we were to where we are now unfolded month by month.

There were days when I was pregnant where it felt like having a child during a pandemic was the worst thing that could've happened to me. But once my son arrived, everything changed. Yes, some moments are extremely hard. But having your first child is one of those life events that precludes worry—even if it's also the cause of that worry at certain points.

My son is my lifeline. He reminds me that there's always a way out. There is some light at the end of the tunnel. Life will go on. This is temporary.

Finding Community

I was fortunate to find community support through loved ones; not everyone has that luxury. For those who need it, there are several COVID-19 donation-based fundraisers happening locally through sites like GoFundMe. You can also research COVID financial assistance programs in your city or state.

I know it's a privilege to say that everything will be OK; most families are certainly not OK during the pandemic. An NPR article explains how most families feel their lives were ripped out from under them in 2020. We had the love and support of friends and family to get through it, and not everyone has that advantage.

Money conversations used to gut me, but now, talking through the hard stuff gives me hope. My grandfather says that money problems never fully go away; if it isn't this thing, it will be something else in the future. So it's best to get used to confronting issues as they come up.

I'm more confident in handling financial issues after this experience, but more than anything, I've learned that the stress of money doesn't need to override the joy of bringing life into this world. Sometimes everything happens at once, and that's how you find out what you're made of.

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