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How parents of multiples tackle financial challenges

By Marla Brill

NEW YORK (Reuters Money) - Kevin O'Reilly spends his life dispensing financial planning advice. But he wasn't exactly fiscally prepared when his wife Rebecca had triplets more than six years ago after spending close to $20,000 on fertility treatments. At the time she was earning a substantial salary as a project manager.

The plan was for his wife to return to work not too long after the delivery. That pretty much went out the window once they found out she was carrying triplets because of the extra care they required.

Although the loss of one income was the biggest financial challenge the couple faced, there were others.

"We had to buy a minivan because we needed a vehicle that could fit three car seats," says Kevin, a Scottsdale, Arizona-based financial adviser. "That set us back about $30,000. Then there's the cost of diapers, formula and everything else you need." While they have set up college savings plans for each of the children, the family has had to cut back substantially on retirement plan contributions.

As the media continues to follow Kate Gosselin and Nadya Suleman, thousands of families with twins and triplets quietly struggle with unique financial issues that most singleton parents don't face, or encounter more gradually. With the use of fertility drugs more than doubling the rate of multiple births since 1980s, many families now grapple with these issues.

In the scheme of things having to buy two or more of everything at once or the absence of hand-me-downs may seem like fairly minor inconveniences. But adding multiples children to the mix can have more serious financial consequences when premature deliveries and related health complications, which are more common with multiple births, lead to exorbitant hospital bills.

Research shows that the financial stress of multiples takes a real toll on families, according to a study released last year from the University of Birmingham in the UK. It found that 62% of multiple birth families reported being financially worse off after their babies were born, compared to 40% of other parents. Families with a multiples birth were more than twice as likely as others to categorize their financial problems as "quite difficult."

Just ask Christina and Matt Probeyahn. They certainly weren't planning on a triple stroller, triple diaper changes and triple everything else when she became pregnant just a month after their May 2010 wedding. After all, there had been no fertility treatments and the only multiple birth family member was her grandmother, a fraternal twin.

"When an ultrasound showed triplets we were shocked," says Christina, 32, whose sons are now eight months old.

That was just the first of many unexpected turns the Florida couple would encounter. Their triplets, born just 28 weeks into the pregnancy, all weighed less than three pounds at birth and had a number of health problems. The tab for their stay in a neonatal intensive care unit came to $1.3 million.

While the Probeyahns had health insurance, they hit an unexpected snag. In late December, when the triplets were born, the family was in the process of switching insurers. Months later, the two insurance companies are still battling over which one is responsible for the hospital bills.

"We're getting bills the insurance is supposed to be covering," says Christina. "And even if everything kicks in as it's supposed to there will still be tens of thousands of dollars we'll have to pay ourselves."

A weak housing market has made things even tougher for parents who need to expand their living space quickly. The Probeyahn's 1,200-square foot home is a tight squeeze for their triplets and an older son. But because they owe more on the mortgage than the house is now worth, moving isn't possible at this point.

When Joanna and Quintin Hassell found out in late 2009 that they were having twins, they already had a toddler in the house. "I was financially and emotionally prepared for another child, but two was a different story," recalls Joanna, a 33-year old public policy researcher.

With higher expenses, Joanna, who was making $56,000 as a state employee when she found out about the pregnancy, decided to move to a $67,000 a year position at a nonprofit organization.

"Even with good insurance we had a $5,000 hospital bill when the twins were born. We spend $2,200 a month on day care for three children. And of course there's the cost of two sets of diapers and everything else."

Despite these hurdles parents of multiples find ways to save money.

By using cloth diapers that cost about $500 for a one-year supply the Probeyahns save the $250 a month they'd pay for disposables. That helps offset the cost of baby formula, which runs $675 a month.

The Hassells began cutting back on discretionary expenditures when they first found out about the pregnancy. First to go was their home telephone, which they rarely used, and Quintin's gym membership. When they inquired about ditching their cable service, the provider agreed to lower their monthly bill from $120 to $80.

The Florida couple scouts out coupons from websites such as diapers.com, and gets baby supplies in bulk from a discount warehouse. They've managed to save enough to take a family vacation to Disneyworld around Thanksgiving, the first they've had in over two years.

The O'Reilly family goes to the movies during the day to save money, and takes advantage of no- or low-cost activities such as hiking. They go to cheaper restaurants and fewer concerts than they did before the triplets arrived.

"If possible, try to live on one salary as soon as you find out about the pregnancy in case there are complications," advises Kevin. "Look in every corner to find out where you can save money. And don't get caught up in buying stuff you think you need. Our kids are just as happy hiking as going to the local play place, and it costs a lot less."

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