Raising kids these days isn’t cheap. New calculations from the USDA estimate that for the average family in America, it costs $245,340 to raise a baby. Parents will tell you many things about raising kids — that it’s exhausting, life-affirming, fun and often overwhelming — but they will never tell you it’s cheap. Even the most careful savers won’t make it off easy, but with some flexibility and an eye on your bottom line, it’s possible to minimize the cost of having a baby in your house tremendously. Here’s where to begin:
(Photo: Author breastfeeding at a reststop on a road trip with my daughter)
1. Breastfeed and minimize formula purchasing
Breastfeeding isn’t always easy or fun, but few can deny that it can save big bucks in formula costs. Babies need either breastmilk or formula for the first year of life, and formula costs can really add up over time. If your baby has a sensitive stomach, specialized formulas can cost even more. I’m a big breastfeeding advocate, as I’ve written previously here at PJ Media, and cost is a big reason why. Because I breastfeed, I have fewer costs associated with feeding my baby, no formula and fewer bottles, and no bottled water.
If you’ve found a brand of formula you like, ask for free samples and coupons from friends, your pediatrician and from the companies themselves. While I exclusively breastfeed, I like to keep a canister around our apartment in case I get hit by a bus. I asked my pediatrician, who gave me several, and I also wrote messages on social media to several formula companies, who also gave me free samples. Keeping formula in the house is a known “booby-trap,” which is what breastfeeding activists have indicated can get in the way of a healthy and long-lasting breastfeeding relationship. Despite this, my morbid need to always be prepared led me to keep it in the house regardless. I knew I was determined not to use it, and over ten months into my daughter’s life, I haven’t ever opened a canister.
Pumping can be a chore, and while breastfeeding can save money, that often comes at the cost of a mother’s time, especially if she’s working. Even if full-time pumping isn’t possible, keeping up a woman’s breast-milk supply can minimize formula costs, if it’s impossible to totally eliminate the need to buy formula. Breastfeeding isn’t all or nothing, and any feeding that can be made with breast milk instead of formula can help save a family money.
Insurance companies and FSAs (I get into that more later in the post…) can also help ease the cost of breastfeeding and pumping. Most insurance companies, as part of their increasingly expensive plans, offer breast pumps to anyone interested in ordering one. Contact your insurance company to see how to go about ordering one through them at no additional cost. Breast pumps aren’t “free”; they have been mandated to be covered by ObamaCare, which has increased insurance premiums across the board. While a breast pump through your insurance company isn’t “free” in the traditional sense, it does come at no cost to the mother. If your insurance company for some reason doesn’t offer a breast pump, or the pumps they do cover aren’t what you’re looking for, look into if your or your husband’s office has an FSA plan available. An FSA can pay for many costs related to childrearing, including a breast pump and some basic supplies (extra valves, tubing, etc).
If you’re having trouble breastfeeding, there are plenty of resources available to help ease any trouble you may be having. La Leche League is a wonderful resource, and most of the leaders are certified lactation consultants. They can help for free during meetings, and many will come to your house (sometimes at a cost) to help one-on-one. Even if they do charge for their services, getting off on the right foot with breastfeeding from the start, even if it costs several hundred dollars, can save many more hundreds of dollars down the line. The hospital you delivered at should also have nurses and perhaps even a hotline to help you address breastfeeding issues as well. If you do have to pay for a lactation consultant, inquire with your insurance company if they cover it. If not, this is another example of where an FSA can come in handy.
(Photo: A collection of the author’s cloth diapers, gDiapers brand)
2. Cloth diapers
Even with shopping sales and using coupons, diapering a baby for two to three years will never be cheap. While the initial costs of cloth diapering are large, there are no further costs associated with diapering a baby outside of laundering and the occasional replacement of a diaper due to wear and tear.
If you’re not sure if cloth diapering is right for your family, or which kind to use, there are several companies which offer trials with many different cloth diaper brands. Jillian’s Drawers is one company which offers this service.
If you’re committed to cloth diapering and know which brand you want to use, shopping used on Craigslist or eBay is one way to save some of the cost of the initial investment. There are Facebook groups for mommy co-ops as well as local groups for mothers in your area which may also make purchasing cloth diapers, inserts and accessories that much cheaper.
When you’re making purchases, either cloth or disposable, don’t buy the newborn size. Hospitals give out plenty of diapers, sometimes more than a family can use before a baby outgrows them. There’s no telling (usually, unless your child is premature) how big a baby will come out. Doctors’ and midwives’ predictions, even with an ultrasound, can be several pounds off. Bring empty bags with you to the hospital and pack away all of the diapers you receive. With every new shift of nurses, ask for more. The supply we accrued in the hospital lasted our family over two weeks, at which point we moved our baby into the small size of cloth diapers. Most friends who bought a case of newborn diapers before birth ended up only using a few before transitioning to a larger size. This is another reason to connect with other local parents: get the remaining diapers from their newborn cases for free or cheap!
(Photo: A children’s consignment shop in TimeOut.com)
The key to saving money on baby clothing is two-fold: rarely buy new and never pay full price. Set up a secondary email account and get on the email list for Carter’s and The Children’s Place, which often offer 30% and 40% off sales. Shop ahead for next season: once you get a sense of how big your baby is, and how quickly they grow, you can plan which sizes to get for the year ahead. At the end of each season, buy for the next. At the end of the winter, buy a snow suit for next year at a fraction of the cost. At the end of the winter, buy sandals and sun hats. This is your opportunity to buy new according to your tastes and style without breaking the bank.
All of that being said, buying new is overrated. Babies grow very fast, too fast to invest much of anything in their wardrobe. If your child has older cousins, ask their parents for hand-me-downs. Go to consignment shops and garage sales, get on parent listservs, and keep your eyes out for parents offering giant bags of clothes in different sizes for pennies on the dollar. Have a few nice outfits for holidays, pictures and parties, and let your kid wear stained hand-me-downs the rest of the week.
(Photo: A baby toy purchased by the author at a moving sale. The toy, along with several others, came with six gDiapers and two cases of gDiapers disposable inserts, over a $200 value, for $50)
4. Toys and gear
This is yet another purchase that babies will burn through within months. Most toys and gear (like a swing, bouncy seat or infant bath) have a limited shelf-life in your house, but fortunately, most toys are also made of plastic, which means they are easy to clean if you’re getting them used. There’s several places to buy used toys and gear: consignment shops, garage and moving sales, and Craigslist. Most “gear,” even if it has a fabric seat, can be taken apart and washed.
A note on used gear: One thing that should never be a hand-me-down or purchased used is a car seat. If a seat has ever been in an accident, even a fender bender when the baby isn’t in the car, insurance companies almost always have to replace the seat. That’s because even a minor accident can internally damage the seat, rendering it unsafe for use. With a used carseat, there’s no way to know if that’s happened unless, G-d forbid, you’re in an accident and the seat doesn’t work properly. Car seats also come with expiration dates (usually they can be found on the sides). I find the whole idea of a plastic seat “expiring” utterly ridiculous, but if your seat is expired and your vehicle is involved in an accident, an insurance company may not be liable for covering any injuries your child may have experienced while in that expired seat. That alone is reason enough to abide by the expiration date, even if you, like me, think it’s probably just an excuse to sell more seats.
(Photo: A screen shot of the FSA account of the author’s husband)
This is a health savings account offered by many employers. The funds for the account can only be used for specific medical purchases, but they are taken out of your paycheck pre-tax, which means your dollar has up to 40% more value. Ask your employer if they offer any kind of account like this, and if not, if they would consider making one available. If this isn’t an option at your workplace, carefully track and document all of these expenses, as they can be written off on most tax returns at the end of the year.
These accounts can be used for obvious medical expenses like prescriptions, doctor co-pays and medical devices. Less obvious uses for many of these accounts include breast pumps and supplies and a doula (a support person during labor). Fertility treatments are often also a billable expense for accounts such as these, as are ovulation test kits and pregnancy tests. Before you have the baby, you have to make it first!
Some accounts like this can also be used for childcare expenses, provided they come with a receipt (if you’re paying your nanny or daycare on the books they should be able to provide one for you). Childcare expenses are usually the biggest-ticket item for working parents, and the possibility of saving up to 40% of the cost can be astronomical for many families.
(Photo: The author’s 10-month old daughter’s lunch)
6. Baby-led weaning
Instead of investing in baby food once your child turns six months old, investigate the glory that is baby-led weaning. It is lazy parenting at its finest. The whole concept is that babies, once able to sit up unassisted, are capable of eating real food, right off your plate, as long as you observe some basic safety measures. It’s not the perfect feeding system: it can get very, very messy.
In addition to saving myself money on baby food, I’m also saving myself the frustration and time of spoon feeding my daughter during meals. The parenting saying goes “food before one is just for fun,” meaning, babies don’t need any additional nutrition besides breastmilk or formula for the first year. The second half of their first year they’re exploring new tastes and textures. Baby-led weaning is a great way to raise a confident and curious eater, in addition to helping their mobile dexterity by letting them pick up any food they’re interested in consuming off their tray.
image via shutterstock / Piotr Marcinski
7. Childcare exchange
If you’re like most parents, you sometimes desire a night out with your significant other. These evenings out just became a lot more expensive after you have a baby however. Not only are you paying for dinner and a movie, but now you have a babysitter to pay on top of it. Most parents, myself included, just can’t stand spending over $100 to have a Tuesday night date with their spouse. This is where your new friends you discovered locally come in handy. Set up a childcare exchange with several other parents. One night a month, agree that either yourself or your spouse will sit in their house or apartment as your friend’s child sleeps so that they can go out and have a date night. In exchange, they will do the same for you another day that month. Suddenly you have a much cheaper date night on your hands, all for the cost of spending an evening on someone else’s couch.
(Photo: A receipt of the author’s for a new car seat, purchased during a Mother’s Day sale six months before her daughter’s birth)
8. Buy new only when they’re steals
If there’s some things you just insist on buying new, wait for major sales. Some sale days are obvious, like Black Friday, but there are many other days in a year that items you may need are put on clearance. LifeHacker has a great list of when things go on sale throughout the year, which is great to keep bookmarked for the next time you want or need to make a big purchase like a mattress, dining room set, or in this case, a stroller.
Not sure what constitutes a “steal”? A good metric is the website camelcamelcamel.com, which tracks price fluctuations on Amazon products over time. Even if that stroller is on “mega-sale” at a big box store, it might not mean that it’s any cheaper than what you could find on Amazon (or elsewhere) another part of the year. Do your research on the big purchases, and set price alerts on camelcamelcamel for the smaller ones. If you know your kid will eventually need a sippy cup or snack set, put a price alert on it when they’re newborns, and click buy when the price is right, even if your baby is only a few weeks old. There are some things you will just have to buy new, and getting a good deal on them can make those many small purchases take less of a chunk out of your bank account.
9. Build a registry
People love to buy babies things. Without a registry, family, friends, coworkers and random friends of your parents will be flying blind, which usually results in a lot of newborn clothing that your child will immediately outgrow. A registry at a major store like Buy Buy Baby, Babies “R” Us, Target and/or Amazon is a good way to direct your baby’s new fans and admirers towards constructive gift buying.
Most stores, after an event date (either a shower or the birth itself) has passed, will offer a completion discount. This is an incentive to open several registries, so you can use several completion discounts. Buy as little as possible yourself before the baby is born, anticipating not only gift giving, but also the windfall of this completion discount.
10. Buy in bulk during sales
This is just one of those general lifehacks that become even more important when you add another mouth to your household. If your baby is like mine, they will eat their weight in Cheerios. If you see Cheerios on sale at Costco, don’t just buy one double box, buy several. If your child is obsessed with a certain kind of fruit pouch and it goes on sale, buy a case.