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Living Well

Real Money: Preparing to travel without your baby (for the first time)

Leaving your baby behind for a much-needed weekend away can be nerve-wracking. Calm your senses a bit by making sure your caretakers are prepared.

Educating them on your child's schedule, dietary needs, and likes and dislikes is all well and good, but don't forget about their medical needs. We go over what to leave behind for your child's caretakers, from basic first aid supplies to feeding gear, even some useful items in the off-chance your little one comes down with a cold.

And don't forget to have a few extras of everything on hand. Trust us, something will inevitably get misplaced.

The basics

Take our advice: Stock up on more diapering must-haves than you think you'll need. That includes diapers, wipes and diaper rash cream. Amateur diaper changers always go a little too heavy on the wipes, am I right?

With FSA-eligible items like ointment, gas drops, and a hi-tech baby monitor to your arsenal, and you'll be more than ready to leave your little one. And if you're not ready, go anyway. Having a little time apart is good for both you—and the baby.

Outdoor must-haves

If your caretakers plan to take your little one on an excursion of two (don't panic—even the most novice babysitters can handle a walk around the neighborhood in a stroller), be sure they have all the goods to keep baby protected.

Be sure you have some infant sunscreen (keeping in mind sunscreen recommendations by age), a good water bottle and a sunhat. You may even want to spring for some sunscreen with bug repellent.

Feeding supplies

If you're little one is still breastfeeding, be sure to leave behind enough pumped milk or formula for the entirety of your time away, plus some extra. An FSA-eligible breast pump can help you save up some liquid gold for your little one. And don't forget to take your pump—along with some nursing pads, trust us on this one—on your weekend away. If your baby is formula-fed, be sure to have a few canisters on hand, as well.

Don't forget to leave specific feeding instructions on ounces, frequency, even which bottle your baby prefers (yes, this is very much a thing). While feeding your baby is like second nature to you, it's a whole new ballgame for anyone else.

Sickness remedies

Kids get sick at the most inopportune times. Let's face it, it's usually when you and your spouse finally have a trip planned for some much-needed R&R. But don't cancel your trip on account of a few sniffles. Instead, stock up on some must-haves like Boogie Wipes, a nasal aspirator, and a humidifier.

Once you have the supplies to ensure both baby and babysitter will be well-taken care of, it's time to take care of you. And that means getting away, sleeping in, and maybe even having an adult beverage or two. After all, you won't have your tiny alarm clock rousing you at 6:00 the next morning.

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our weekly Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it every Tuesday, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Living Well

Real Money: Flex spending from a parent's perspective

As a parent of a young child, making sure he's taken care of is my absolute top priority. Even though I'm not chasing after fancy private schools and designer clothes, raising a child isn't cheap.

According to USDA's Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, parents in the U.S. spend an average of $233,610 from birth until 17 years old. We're talking basic necessities like food, child care, housing and transportation. Most parents will understand some of the unexpected costs that crop up - many more expensive than anticipated.

One expense that new parents need to consider is health care. I'm not just talking about yearly checkups, flu shots and occasional trips to the emergency room. There's everyday essentials such as breastfeeding products, cold medicines, and even bandages with the cute little cartoon characters all over them.

All of the above makes an FSA an even more attractive choice, especially when it comes to your budget. Contributing to an FSA means you're saving money on taxes and the ability to purchase qualified medical expenses tax-free.

Here's how you can make the most of your FSA to budget for those unexpected (but inevitable) child health expenses.

Watch out for "just in case" items

We're all concerned about running out of diapers, band-aids or medicine when our child needs it most. But if you're buying items in bulk, chances are you may be wasting your money.

I learned the hard way when I bought boxes of baby wipes from the local warehouse club only to have them dry out on me. Or when I got a few bottles of supplements for my toddler only to realize he hated the taste. In theory, I was saving money. In reality, many of these items went to waste.

Before purchasing anything, see if you actually need them and how much you actually need. Scrutinize each and every expense and purchase so that you're not throwing money down the drain.

Make savings a priority

While most of us say we want to save money, in reality it's the opposite. It's not because we don't try. Maybe we're too sleep deprived and forgot to thaw out the chicken for tonight's dinner. Or we saw a really cute outfit that'll look great on our kid.

But if you want to max out your FSA, you can't leave it to chance. Sit down with your partner and figure out how you want to save money on medical care. And determine both your short- and long-term savings goals.

Having a clearer picture of these answers will help when you just don't feel like cooking instead of eating out or getting gourmet coffee for the third week in a row.

Focus on preventive care for yourself, too

Being a good parent doesn't just mean taking care of the baby. You need to be on top of your own health to do the job right. Plus, healthier parents end up saving more money in the long run.

First, you're not spending money on extra health care costs now or in the future. If your diet is less than stellar, you could be looking at a whole host of conditions such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. These could cost you a fair chunk of change just to maintain optimal health.

While having an FSA is great, so is not needing to spend the cash each month on avoidable health needs. Instead, there are simple things you can do to take care of your health now. This includes eating a healthy diet (that doesn't just mean switching to diet soda), exercising regularly and kicking bad habits such as smoking.

Children model their parents behavior, so if they see you making your health a priority, so will they. You'll save money on medical expenses, your overall budget and live a much healthier life.

You likely already knew that having a child was going to be expensive. But there's no reason to just give up trying to save money every chance you get. Whether it's for an appropriate everyday items, or an unexpected trip to the ER, your FSA might be more important than diapers and baby wipes…

(Well, we'll let you make the call on that one...)

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Whether you budget week-to-week, or plan to use your FSA for bigger things, our Real Money column will help you maximize your flex spending dollars. Look for it on Tuesdays, exclusively on the FSAstore.com Learning Center. And for the latest info about your health and financial wellness, be sure to follow us on Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Boogie Drops Saline Nose Drops Twin Pack

Clears and moisturizes stuffy noses and is safe for newborns and great for all ages.