In 2005, Sarah and I had our first child. In 2007, we added another. In 2010, we added a third. Today, all of them have gone through their infant years (and their toddler years, for that matter).
The fun part about having kids in consecutive order like that is that you have the opportunity to really test out different strategies for saving money while caring for your little one. We learned several lessons from our first child, several more from our second, and we really reaped the rewards with our third child.
Here are thirty things we learned during those years about saving money without depriving our infants of the wonderful care they deserved.
1. Avoid additional charges at the hospital. You will pay out the nose for things like a private room and personal toiletries and even television usage. Check – or have your spouse check – with the nurse about the additional cost of everything at the hospital. Some hospitals don’t charge extra for these things; others do, and some charge a lot of money for them. It never hurts to make sure before you flip on the television or use some of the bathroom toiletries (which you can bring from home).
2. Ask for free samples at the hospital and at the pediatrician’s office. Manufacturers are smart enough to know that if they give samples of baby products to the maternity ward for distribution to patients there (and to the pediatrician for those first few infant visits), the manufacturer has their foot in the door in terms of generating more business down the road from those parents. Many hospitals provide a “goodie bag” of freebies for patients, but some hospitals may forget about this and other hospitals may have even more things that they can give you. Just simply state that you want to try out lots of different types of diapers, wipes, pacifiers, and so on and most nurses will load you up with samples.
3. Call the nurse hotline and the pediatrician for quick (and free) advice before setting up an appointment. Many hospitals offer a “first nurse” hotline where you can call for quick medical advice without having to take yourself or your baby in for a checkup. Take advantage of this service before going in for medical appointments. Most of the little things that might send a new parent into a panic are easily explained and resolved by a medical professional who has seen these things countless times before.
4. If you’re having multiple children, use cloth diapers. The cost benefits of cloth diapering versus disposable diapering isn’t very clear if you have only one child, but once you start looking at multiple children, the cost savings is tremendous – on the order of thousands of dollars per additional child by the time they are potty trained. Cloth diapering can have a hefty startup investment, but over the course of the first child, you repay that cost compared to the cost of continually buying paper diapers. For subsequent children, the startup cost is already covered, so the cost per diaper change is drastically lower with cloth diapers and you wind up saving a ton of money.
5. If you don’t cloth diaper, buy your disposables in bulk. If you’re pretty confident that you’re only having one child and you choose not to cloth diaper, you can still save a lot of money by buying your paper diapers in bulk bundles. It might be harder to carry home those jumbo packs from the warehouse club, but you’ll save hundreds of dollars along the way. I also recommend shopping for diapers from Amazon.com and other online sources.
6. Buy most of your baby clothes at a secondhand store. Here’s the scoop on baby clothes: babies don’t wear them for long enough to wear them out. They don’t actually put any wear and tear into the clothes and they outgrow them within just a few months. Take advantage of that and buy most of your baby clothes from used sources. Look for children’s consignment shops and secondhand shops in your area and use them for your first stop for buying baby clothes.
7. Don’t bother with a wipe warmer. Wipe warmers had zero effect on how our babies responded to late-night diaper changes – they were unhappy either way – and the wipe warmer often dried out the wipes, leaving them practically unusable. Not only did it not do anything useful and wasted a bunch of wipes, it also gobbled down electricity. Don’t waste your money.
8. Use a bunch of soft rags and a spray bottle instead of wipes. Disposable wipes can be convenient, but they’re also on a never-ending replacement cycle. You’re constantly buying new packages of baby wipes at the store. A much better solution is to use soft cloth wipes – we used some simple flannel wipes that worked wonderfully. As for the spray, here’s a big collection of cloth wipe spray recipes; we just used a mix of baby shampoo and water with a drop or two of oil.
9. Don’t bother with a baby bathtub. A baby bathtub can be vaguely useful during the early period of a baby’s life when he or she cannot sit up without assistance, but you can actually give a baby a perfect bath in any tub or well-cleaned sink as long as you carefully support the baby while cleaning. We received a baby bathtub as a gift and used it for our first child, but by the time our second and third babies came along, we didn’t use it at all. It was much easier just to hold the baby and use a normal tub.
10. Buy big shirts early and use them as bibs. Rather than buying a bunch of bibs for the baby, we instead bought secondhand t-shirts that were a couple sizes too big and put those on the baby before feedings. If food spilled on the shirt, it was fine – the shirt underneath stayed perfectly clean. Not only that, in six months the baby could actually wear that shirt, whereas a bib can’t really be reused in any way.
11. Don’t bother with a bottle warmer. Our bottle warmer went completely unused. When we needed warm formula, we just started with warm water. When we were using frozen breast milk, we still needed to thaw it, so we just used warm tap water to aid the thawing process. The bottle warmer never did anything of use, so it just gathered dust and eventually disappeared in a yard sale.
12. Minimize toy purchasing; allow play with everyday objects instead. While we had a lot of baby toys thanks to many gifts from doting aunts, uncles, and grandparents, our babies often enjoyed other things at home just as much. They loved playing with plastic cups and plates, banging on pots and pans with wooden or plastic spoons, and playing with homemade rattles (a few pennies secure inside a closed container). You’ve got lots of stuff already in your house that your baby will appreciate as much or more than any toys you may buy for him or her. Rely on the inevitable gifts from family members to cover the toys and focus instead on just using household items for entertaining the baby.
13. Don’t bother with baby shoes. Shoes are undoubtedly useful once your baby is up on two feet, but prior to that, shoes serve no purpose whatsoever and are often quite expensive to boot. Outside of photo opportunties – during which no one really noticed the shoes anyway – shoes don’t help your baby in any way until they’re walking. Just skip the expense. (Besides, it’s likely that someone will buy them as a gift anyway.)
14. Use a “portable changing table,” otherwise known as a bath towel. We bought a changing table for our first child. By the end of the second or third month, we were mostly changing the child on a bath towel that we kept in our diaper bag (more on that in a second). This enabled us to effectively have a changing table wherever we happened to be at the moment. We would often change our baby on our bed or in the living room and the towel provided both a comfortable place for the baby and an easy-to-wash item if there was ever an accident.
15. Use a bag you already have as a diaper bag. Our primary diaper bag was a backpack picked up on sale at a department store. It worked perfect for the task and was much easier to carry than other diaper bags. From my experience, diaper bags are mostly just normal bags with “baby-themed” artwork and a substantially higher sticker price. The best part about a backpack that doubles as a diaper bag is that you can use it as a normal backpack once your baby outgrows the need for a diaper bag.
16. Keep a “backup” diaper bag in your car. This saved us money over and over again. We just kept an “emergency” diaper bag in our car with some diapers, some cloth wipes and cleaning spray, a few changes of clothes, and a few snacks for the baby in the car. We actually just kept it in a normal canvas bag that you can get at almost any store for a few cents. More than once, it kept us from having to stop for clothes or diapers in an emergency situation, which kept money in our pocket (and kept us from adding a ton of time to a road trip).
17. If possible, encourage the mother to use a breast pump. Breastfeeding is naturally less expensive than using formula, but many working mothers aren’t available to their child to make this work. The solution here is to use a breast pump, which can help mothers to store milk for their baby. Breast pumps can be expensive, but many hospitals will rent them out at a surprisingly low price, so consider checking with the hospital before investing in one. You may find, as we did, that the pump is really inexpensive and the milk also saves you a bundle.
18. Don’t bother with an ear thermometer. These things are rife with problems. The biggest problem is that ear thermometers (and skin contanct thermometers) are very inaccurate. They were often off by more than a degree, which is enormous when trying to accurately assess a baby’s condition. They were also quite expensive compared to an oral or rectal thermometer, and the traditional thermometers were more accurate (compared to the results that our doctor would get in the doctor’s office). Often, the nurses and receptionists wouldn’t even consider the readings from a home ear thermometer.
19. Make your own baby food in large bulk. It’s actually incredibly easy to do this. All you have to do is thoroughly boil a pound or two of a certain type of vegetable until thoroughly cooked and softened, then puree it in a blender until it’s at the right consistency for your needs. Usually, thickness is a matter of the amount of water you add, so you can gradually make it thicker as your baby gets older. I used to make containers of this to store in the refrigerator for a day or two and, sometimes, I’d pour it into ice cube trays for freezing. The cost per serving is only a fraction of what you pay for baby food at the store.
20. Get a “helper friend” for those first few weeks – and help that friend out in return when that friend has a child or another challenge. Helper friends can help with meals, return unwanted baby gifts, be there for support, and so on, all of which can save money and reduce stress. This could be a parent, a sister, a mother-in-law, or a close personal friend. Do not be afraid to ask for help! Often, people want to help but have no idea what to do. The big thing is to be open with your own help when the people in your life need it.
21. Talk to other parents you know who had children in the recent past. Not only is this going to provide excellent advice for you, it will also help you to identify local resources that might be really useful for a new parent. Even better, experienced parents may sometimes pass along some of their items to new parents. I know that we’ve given many batches of clothes and other items to friends and relatives who had children after our own.
22. Visit your local library. In our area, libraries are incredibly supportive of babies and young children. They provide a calming story time that works well for infants and toddlers and they also host a number of support groups for new parents. These groups can be a lifesaver in terms of building friendships with people going through the same experiences you are, as well as a tool for finding out useful resources and bargains for parents in the community.
23. Get your high chair secondhand. A baby only stays in a high chair for a year or so, yet many high chairs are furniture that is constructed to be reliable and to last for a very long time. That means picking up a secondhand high chair is a pretty good idea. Our own children have used high chairs that were used by their grandparents, so they can certainly stick around for generations and still do the job really well.
24. Test drive strollers before you buy one – and don’t be afraid to buy a used stroller. A stroller might seem amazing in an advertisement until you actually try it and realize it’s like driving a bus. Instead of just buying a stroller based on word of mouth and advertisements, try test driving them first. Start at secondhand stores and see if they have any on hand that fit your needs well. First and foremost, a stroller needs to be easy for the parents to push and navigate and that ease of use can vary based on height and other factors.
25. Don’t bother with crib decorations. They’re expensive, they serve no real purpose other than to look cute for the sake of the parents, and they also pose a risk to the baby. Instead, keep the crib quite bare with just a fresh sheet for the baby to lay on. Don’t add pillows and blankets and bumpers and other unnecessary things to the crib, as your baby really won’t get anything out of them and it can potentially increase the risk of smothering. Save your money for other things.
26. If there’s a particular baby product that you buy regularly, whether it’s formula or diapers or something else, visit the manufacturer’s website for lots of coupons as it’s basically printable cash. We were constant consumers of coupons for things like forumla (we had to supplement breast milk later in our infant’s growth) and we found that the best source for coupons was simply the manufacturer’s website. They almost always had great coupons on their products that you could easily download and print off. If you use disposable diapers, disposable wipes, and store-purchased baby food, coupons can save you a mint.
27. Don’t bother with burping cloths. Your normal hand towels and wash cloths that you already have in abundance will take care of these needs. They’re designed for it and you already have them on hand. We used hand towels over our shoulders for burping throughout the infancy of all three of our children. Devoted burping cloths just duplicated what hand towels already did and generally cost far more for no real reason.
28. Don’t devote an entire room to a nursery. Your baby isn’t going to need a full room. For our first child, our baby shared a room with several bookshelves and a computer desk. Later on, we used part of our bedroom as a nursery and then migrated the baby to share a room with siblings as the baby grew older. This kept us from repainting a room in pastel colors that would just have to be repainted again in a few years and also kept us from the expense of having more rooms in our home.
29. Don’t bother with special “baby” versions of ordinary things, like finger foods. If it looks like an ordinary thing that you can get in another area of the store, then that’s exactly what it is and you can virtually aways find it cheaper in another aisle. My favorite example of this is the containers of baby “finger foods” which are essentially small packets of insanely overpriced Cheerios. Just buy a box of Cheerios instead and if you need to take some with you as you go out and about, use a baggie.
30. Give yourself some quiet solo time on a regular basis. People tend to spend more money when they’re stressed out and long periods of parenting a baby without a break can lead to a ton of stress. Take breaks on a regular basis to simply de-stress. If you have a spouse, you should both be giving your partner completely child-free breaks to relax. If you’re a single parent, strongly consider living near a family member that can at least give you occasional respites. If you never get a break, you’re bound to make some mistakes.
Having a baby was one of the most rewarding experiences of our lives – but it was also one fraught with expenses. It did not help that there are many companies out there that prey on the anxieties and worries of new parents who just want to take care of their children.
Remember, the best thing you can do for your baby is to show them love and take care of their needs, which are actually really simple. Hold them close, talk to them, and show them love. Make sure they have milk and, later, foods. Keep them clean. Keep them safe. You don’t need a ton of expensive stuff to do that.