Updated on 09.27.08

A Visual Guide to Saving Money with a Baby

Trent Hamm

I hear from a lot of expectant parents and parents of newborns who ask lots of interesting questions about what we actually do to save money with our infants. Though I’ve written lists before of the things worth doing to trim spending on babies, many of the people who write in are skeptical. Cloth diapers? Do you really do that? Don’t you need things like changing tables? What about clothes and toys and baby food?

In short, yes, we really do this stuff.

Given that, I thought it’d be worthwhile to post a visual guide to some of the ways we saved money with our infants. Currently, we have a boy who’s just shy of three years old and a girl who just passed her first birthday, so some of this stuff is still applicable (diapering) while other elements are starting to slip to the wayside (baby car seats and baby food).

Here are some of the best ways we’ve found to save money on typical baby items and baby care.

Cloth Diapers


Above is a picture of two of the cloth diapers we use – bumGenius one-size-fits-all cloth diapers. As you can somewhat see from the picture above, each one is adjustable with a number of snaps so that they’ll fit any size baby, from newborns to a three year old that only wears them at night. They also come with extra pads (which you can see above the right one) for when they start to produce a greater volume as they get older.

Taking them on and off is easy – they have a velcro strip across the front and the tabs just attach to the velcro, easy as pie. It’s just as easy as putting on and taking off a disposable one.

If you intend to have more than one child, cloth diapers can be a substantial savings. A friend of ours, Carrie, did a great analysis of the cost and figured that you actually begin saving during the second year with a single child and the second one is incredibly cheap. She calculated a savings of $200 in diapers for a single child over two years – for two children over two years each, cloth diapers alone save about $800. That’s quite a chunk of change.

Changing a Diaper

Changing table

What you see above is our usual “changing table.” Instead of buying an expensive changing table, we just use an old towel and change diapers wherever it’s convenient – in this case, on the floor of the family room. Not buying a changing table can easily save $50-100.

You’ll also notice a piece of cloth laying there – that’s what we use for wipes. Originally, my wife just bought a large piece of flannel – the cheapest soft flannel she could find at the cloth store – and cut it down to wipe-sized pieces, then hemmed them with her sewing machine. If you don’t want to go to all that work, just get a jumbo pack of washcloths.

It’s also useful to have a spritzer bottle with water in it (and sometimes a bit of witch hazel in with the water if you’re noticing diaper rash). This way, you can moisten the child’s behind a bit as you’re cleaning him or her up with the wipe.

After the business is done, we just stick the wipe in with the used cloth diaper and we’re good to go!

Not buying disposable wipes saves us about $100 a year or so per child, according to our thumbnail calculations.

Cleaning Up

Diaper pail

The first thing that expectant parents think about when they hear about cloth diapering is cleanup. “You mean I’m going to have to touch a dirty diaper!? Ewww!”

First things first – if you’re a parent of a newborn, you are going to touch soiled diapers. It’s going to happen, and within a week or two of changing several a day, you’re going to become so desensitized to it that you won’t even notice it. It’s simply a fact of life, and it doesn’t matter whether you’re using disposables or cloth diapers – you’re still going to be up close and personal with baby waste.

With the cloth diapers, we just fold them up like this with the wipes inside when we’re done (and any solid waste is dumped in the toilet and rinsed). Our wicker basket is effectively our Diaper Genie (another waste of a purchase you don’t need to make).

When it comes time to wash the diapers, we just spray a bit of deodorizer around the laundry room (mostly for our own benefit), then open them up, tug out the liners, and throw all of the cloth pieces into the washer. We do a load of nothing but wipes and diapers about once every three days or so. Then, when they come out, we stuff them how we like and fold them, usually in the family room in the evenings when we’re watching a movie or something. Easy as pie.

Diaper Bags

Diaper bag

Although we do have a “nice” diaper bag (received as a gift in our baby shower days), we often just use a simple canvas bag, especially for short trips.

Just toss a few diapers, a few wipes, a spray bottle, a few toys, a bottle, and maybe a snack and you’re ready to go for almost any day trip. The canvas bag is convenient to carry and – best of all – they’re often extremely cheap (or in the case of the one depicted here, free).

A good-sized canvas bag can take care of your diaper bag needs for just pennies. Don’t waste your money here.

Baby Food

When the baby is young, the best solution of all is breast feeding, if it’s at all possible. The cost of a breast pump is negligible compared to the savings and health benefits one gets from breast milk over formula. Formula is fine if breast milk doesn’t work out, but breast milk saves you hundreds of dollars over formula in that first year, often paying for a nice electric pump in just several months. Then, if you have a second child (as we did), it’s pure gravy.

Homemade baby food in the freezer

When the child gets older – especially in the six to twelve month range – they’ll be eating a lot of pureed and mashed-up baby food. While it’s easy to just grab the Gerber, it’s very expensive – $0.50 a pop really adds up if your child knocks back two of those per meal. Why not just give them a bit of your own table food? Just take some of your vegetables, soups, stews, and other things, and just blend them into goop in the blender, then pour them into individual jars (as we did above) or into an ice cube tray and pop them in the freezer. You can save $75 easily this way, plus you’ll have greater control over the freshness and quality of what’s going into your child’s stomach.

Toys, Clothes, and Bibs

Toys, clothes, and bibs are what yard sales are made for. Baby and toddler clothes at yard sales are only lightly used – a child usually only wears an outfit four to six times before they’ve outgrown the clothes at that age, at which point they head for the yard sale tables. Buy them in bulk – make an offer for everything that’s there and you can save $100-200 a year on baby clothes.

For bibs, the story is much the same – get them at yard sales. You can also get tee shirts much larger than your baby – toddler and small children’s shirts. Just put the shirt on over the baby before they eat instead of a bib – the tee shirt becomes the bib and can be pulled right off when done. This is a great (and cheap) tactic to use when they self-feed for the first few (dozen) times, as it can be very messy.

Inexpensive toys

Yard sales are also a place to get toys on the cheap. Just take your kid along and watch what they’re drawn to. The basketball hoop above was a yard sale find – our son fell in love with it around fourteen months and we picked it up for a dime. He still plays with it multiple times a week, almost two years later.

Additionally, just allow your kids to play with items around the house. There’s nothing more exhilarating than entertaining your child with a wooden spoon and several overturned pans in the kitchen. It’s a loud racket to be sure, but it’s great fun and a great learning experience for your kid.

The point is don’t spend a lot of money on new toys, clothes, or bibs. There are plenty of cheaper options that are just as good.

Where We Didn’t Skimp

Although we found lots of places to skimp, there were a few places where we didn’t, and they can be described in one word: safety.


Crib We invested in an extremely sturdy crib for our son when he was first born and it was well worth it. He jumped up and down in it, tossed around at night, and tested the sturdiness of it time and time again (and still does, on occasion) – and it’s never budged an inch. Later, when we found we had a second child coming, we bought him a reasonably priced but very sturdy bed and had his little sister move into the crib. The sturdiness of the crib was well worth the cost – we never worried for an instant about the safety of either child.

Car seat We spent plenty to get the safest, sturdiest car seat we could find. Later, we bought the safest, sturdiest toddler seat we could find. In the event of an accident, we wanted the greatest chance possible of the complete safety of our children. Safety is an area we don’t skimp on.

Bottles For us, this is a safety issue. If we were starting over again, we would likely buy glass baby bottles – if we went plastic, they would absolutely be free of Bisphenol A. My wife majored in chemistry in college and she’s extremely concerned, so I tend to trust her on this one.

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  1. Solomon@ThingsI'mGratefulFor says:

    I saw the picture of the blended food in the fridge, and for a split second thought that you added breast milk to the food.

    Out of curiosity, isn’t having a baby the biggest drain on financial resources?

  2. Wonderful article. So many good points, and the photos really add to it. Thanks!

    I’m off to post about it on Baby Cheapskate.

  3. A Dawn says:

    I think having a baby can put a heavy dent on your finances. For those who already have a baby can follow tips like these mentioned in this post. For these who don’t have one yet, it’s a good idea to sit down with your partner and estimate how much would it cost (and what are the consequences) to bring a new face to earth, and if you are ready for it.
    A Dawn

  4. tadeusz says:

    Hehe, we’re expectant, worried parents too. As of sturdy cribs: my grandmother got solid oak one for my father, her first child. Now 50+ years later it’s still childproof, tested with many children (including me) and waiting for my baby.

    My point is: ask family, ask friends. They will have many items that rotate from child to child, as they grow rather quickly. You will avoid clutter passing everything to another child and freshen your relationships with happy parents.

  5. teaer says:

    Great tips.

    Another reason not to buy a changing table would be safety. I know several babies who have rolled off whilst their parents looked away for a split second, one newborn narrowly avoiding serious injury by bouncing off a pile of laundry below!

    There’s no need to buy an expensive new travel system or buggy for the baby. They can be got cheaply second hand or (even better) you can make yourself a sling for next to nothing by getting hold of 3-4 metres of slightly stretchy fabric. Just google for instructions on how to tie a wrap sling. They’re good for newborns to small kids (especially fussy babies), babies love them, stay warm and dry and it’s a free workout for their parents! You can always buy a cheap shopping trolley for getting groceries home whilst the baby sits in its sling.

    You can rub cooked food through a sieve to puree it if you don’t have a blender.

    Baby sheets: an old king/queen size bedsheet, chopped into sections and hemmed, usually makes 3-4 baby sheets.

    If the mother doesn’t have to spend a significant amount of time away from her baby a breast pump is not necessary. Depends on your lifestyle. I bought a pump and never had to use it despite feeding both kids until well over 12mo. Complete waste of money for us as I was the main carer and usually there anyway. You can also express milk by hand for small amounts, such as mixing with baby rice. And if you breastfeed the baby until over 12m there’s no need for expensive formula or follow on milk at all. Babies over 12m can drink goat and cow’s milk safely. But even for older babies and toddlers, human milk is usually still a healthier choice (according to the WHO), not to mention free!

  6. teaer says:

    tadeusz, sounds like you’ve already done this, but be sure to check the distance between the cot bars against safety recommendations as in older cots the distance is often too large.

    Eight members of our family (including me) used our family cot as babies until my cousin, who got her head stuck through the bars at about 3mo. If my Aunt hadn’t seen her do it and supported her head whilst my Uncle cut the bars something terrible could well have happened. Just to say that many babies having used a cot isn’t proof of its safety!

  7. A few other tips I’d throw in as a new mother(baby is 3 months now):

    Along with yard sales, consignment sales can be a great place for both bargains (I find that boy clothes sell more slowly than girl clothes, so I wait to go on the half-price day for steals) and to sell items when are done with them.

    If you do need to feed your baby formula, go generic. It’s half the cost or less of the name brands and so tightly regulated by the FDA that it’s the same. I find that I can really maximize deals at Walgreen’s and get my cans for about an average of $10 each.

    As they get a little older, don’t forget about the library as a great resource. From free activities and story time, to the ability to check out books, cd’s and movies. Instead of cluttering up your house and spending money on too many of these items you can keep a nice rotation going for free.

  8. xalape says:

    Another tip is to be looking out for freebies or you can use coupons to buy baby stuffs.


  9. Jodi says:

    Having a child (or more than one) may be a financial drain, but money isn’t the only thing in life. Money is a tool, used to bring enjoyment to your life and to others. It isn’t the point of life.

    also a note on diaper storage, you may want to pull apart the diapers before you put them in a bin. That way you don’t need to fuss with day old stinky diapers. Just dump the contents of your basket in the wash. Their are reusable liners, but in my opinion they are too pricey for the money they save. Just use a garbage bag.

  10. Cristina says:

    With regards to feeding baby table food: remember that babies have different dietary needs than adults, so table food will not always cut it. Also, the levels of salt that most adults consume is way to high for babies.
    However, there are plenty of websites dedicated to homemade baby food for those who want to venture.

  11. Anneliese says:

    Great resource! One comment. We cloth diaper at our house and I wouldn’t recommend the BumGenius. We bought a few for our twins as newborns and by the time they were 8 months old, we couldn’t use them anymore because the elastic was shot (and it’s not easy to replace the elastic in the BumGenius). The money we spent on those diapers was a bad investment. Our Happy Heiny’s, though, are still going strong, even though we bought those when my oldest was a toddler! They will easily make it through 4 kids.

    I agree that cloth diapers are not difficult. With twins, I’ve eliminated anything difficult from my routine, believe me! I second Jodi’s comment. We prefer to disassemble our diapers and put them in a diaper pail so when it’s time to do laundry, we dump and wash. A two-day-old pee pee diaper feels really gross to me and I don’t want to touch it.

  12. Kelly says:

    I hate to knock cloth diapers, having only used disposables for our child:
    1) but what about all the extra laundry you do? The added cost of the water you use in your utility bills? -I know your laundry detergent is cheap :)
    2) And can anyone ever say for sure if it’s better to use more water to clean cloth diapers, or make more garbage by using disposables?
    3) And a final question: the smell of the cloth diapers in the baby’s room? Or do you immediately take soiled diapers to a different enclosed area, like the laundry room/garage/basement? Putting the cloth diapers in a garbage bag could help, but won’t really make the smell go away. Or maybe some people have different levels of tolerance and preference?

    These are just questions that I honestly can’t answer myself. We’re planning on having another little one in the future, and we’d love to make the best/most informed decisions! Great post!

  13. Andrew La Barbera says:

    Yeah yeah, just keep it up and you will be saving so much money you wouldn’t need to go to work. There’s more to saving money than saving money. After all we could go to work,come home,go to sleep and you will be saving money.I have some friends who spend twenty hours a week just getting coupons, buying stuff on sale and another 2 hours going to the right stores. Me, I work 40 hours a week,spend 2 hours shopping,that’s it. 42 hours versus 62 hours,whose saving?

  14. Lynn says:

    An option to consider for some people is buying used. There are sites like DiaperSwappers where you can buy a practically new (used once or twice, and often not pooped in, which is better than some baby clothes!) for 20% off or more! I have bought used Bumgenius diapers in excellent condition for $12 shipped.

    If that weirds you out too much (and who can blame you?) then you can always try selling yours later if they’re in good enough condition. Even ones that aren’t very pretty anymore might net you $5 a piece (either before or after shipping).

    I do always recommend using some sort of wetbag (which can be bought pretty cheaply – waterproof bags in the camping section of Walmart are only a few bucks) and it will contain the smell as well as the mess.

    I looove cloth diapering and it always makes me happy to see other people do it too.

  15. Erin G says:

    I actually DID blend breastmilk into baby food (and still do)… it’s a great way to add calories and nutrients (our son is small) and it helps smooth out the blending process. plus, it’s free.

  16. Erin G says:

    I should also mention that I inherited a crib (the same one I slept in, and that my DAD slept in!) for my son, and it has worked great. never underestimate hand-me-downs! Free baby stuff is exactly as cute as expensive baby stuff!

    You didn’t mention the biggest expense of having a kid, which I think for most families is childcare, or the loss of one parent’s income to stay home. My tip for that is NEGOTIATE – if you’re a good employee, and your job lends itself to it, your employer might be willing to work with you on the hours or location of your job. I’m in inside sales, with good numbers, and my boss was happy to set me up with a home office and let me cut back to part-time (handling only a few big accounts, and no new business), so I still have some of my original income, and NO childcare costs (except really busy days when I might hire a sitter to help me at home). In today’s workplace culture, these options really do exist so just ASK – the worst that can happen is they’ll say no. and the more demand there is for “flex” jobs like this, the more corporate America will learn that balancing work and home is really the key to a happy (read: productive) employee.

    this is a great post, I’m a first-time reader and I’ll definitely be back! :)

  17. Natasha says:

    Need to add. for some people a good change table could easily save money. If I had to change my baby from birth to toddler on the floor I would have spent a fortune on health expences on my back.

    So a change table to me is a good purchase. A well cared for one could easily be resold. the one we have is now being used for toy storage and looks quite nice in my daughters room.

  18. Mel says:

    My cuties were allergic to disposables so it was cloth diapers all the way. I rinsed all diapers in the commode, dropped them into a nearby water/bleach mixture in a covered pail, and washed baby clothes/diapers daily = no odor problems. As they got older I washed diapers a couple of times a week; still no odor problems and I have an acute sense of smell.

    About those baby cribs – hand-me-downs and pass-alongs are great but do be aware of increased safety standards, i.e., width of bars/railing slats have been narrowed over the years to eliminate babies from getting their heads stuck and choking/suffocating.

    If I did everything ever suggested, indeed I wouldn’t have much free time, but I pick & choose when/where/how I want to be frugal. I look forward to reading about the various ways suggested to reduce/re-purpose/recycle and save $$$ in the process. Keep up the great work, Trent. I also love to read everyone’s ‘in the field’ real-life experiences shared here, and I truly appreciate all of it. Thanks to all who take time to share.

  19. Donnita says:

    We stumbled upon bumgenius diapers and they are well worth the investment. Our son was born 3 weeks ago (7lbs 10oz) and we started using our cloth diapers after the first week and it has been great!! We have a high efficiency washer and we do a few washes to clean them. We usually wash them at night so they are clean in the morning.

    At first I thought it would be tough breastfeeding and cloth diapering but it is actually not that bad.

    I would however highly recommend a breast pump if you want hubby to help out with feedings when you are tired as well as to store milk before and after returning to work.

  20. greenfamily says:

    I am consistently amazed at the fuss made over what a financial drain babies are in our society. Thank goodness at least Jodi mentioned that money is not the only thing in life. Isn’t that what Trent preaches all the time? Be frugal when you can, but money is also for investing in quality. If babies aren’t one of the MOST awesome things in life, then I don’t know what we’re saving all this money for!

    It is SO easy to have a baby on a budget. Craigslist, yard sales, consignment shops, family & friends are all simple resources for excellent, quality items at rock-bottom prices. I can’t remember buying ONE single toy at full-price.

    And no, you don’t NEED a changing table. We had little diaper stations set up all over the house. Simple. No, you don’t NEED a swing, a bouncy seat, a saucer,a singing, dancing mobile, Baby Einstein, a boppy, or any of the other crap items that advertisers have convinced us our children can’t live without.

    Obviously a quality carseat is essential, but as far as the crib is concerned, many parents also choose to keep their baby in bed with them. Who is to say you even need a crib? Makes you wonder how people have managed for thousands of years without all this extra platic (often toxic) junk.

    Thank you Trent, for mentioning how worthwhile it is to let kids play with stuff around the house. Shoeboxes, spools, paper towel rolls, colorful ribbons, wooden spoons…kids LOVE that stuff, as long as you make sure they can’t choke on it. Also, thanks for mentioning the hazards of plastic baby bottles. I breastfed my son and plan on doing so again with my daughter (due in a couple days) and we are definitely using glass bottles this time for the occasions when I pump.

    Great post, Trent!

  21. maggiesmommy says:

    I love these hints – now that my daughter is a toddler, she wears a lot of t-shirts so I’ve started layering her with a plain white or old stained onesie under everything she wears (t-shirts, dresses, etc). When it’s time to eat, I pull her over garment off and let her eat in the onesie. When we’re all done, I wipe off any solid food and redress her. Super easy and cheap!

  22. FrugalMom says:

    Actually breastfeeding for a year will save you not just hundreds, but thousands – an average of $1200 per child.
    Used cloth diapers rock – you can use them for a child or two and then re-sell them. It doesn’t take that much more time, just an few extra loads a week. And the energy used to launder cloth diapers is minimal compared to the production, distribution, and disposal of disposables.
    Babies are cheap – kids just get more expensive as they grow older and their needs (and wants) change

  23. Lyn says:

    I’m glad to see cloth diapering as an example of a money-saving (and better for the environment!) tactic. I think that the key is finding the right diapering system for your lifestyle. I know a lot of people that tried it, but gave up because they didn’t find the right type of diapering system for their needs. We got lucky the first time, but for some, it can take a bit of trial and error to get it right. This is where buying used and selling gently used diapers can work well.

    Some families can go even cheaper by using prefolds and covers instead of the more expensive pocket diapers. For us, the convenience of pocket diapers was well worth the extra money. It still ends up being cheaper than using disposables, especially since we are on our second child.

    I’ll take a stab at Kelly’s questions:

    1) Our water/energy bill is not much bigger for the 2-3 extra loads of laundry per week. We wash all of our other clothes in cold water, which helps make up for the extra energy used to wash cloth diapers. You can also line dry cloth diapers quickly for extra savings.

    2)While cloth diapering uses more water/energy in the home, the production of disposable diapers also uses a great deal of energy – consider the production, packaging, and distribution of these products. While cloth diapers also need to be produced, and delivered to various retailers, they can be reused thousands of times before they hit the landfills. Another benefit of cloth diapering is that the human waste goes into the sewer system for proper treatment instead of directly into a landfill.

    3)For us, a washable pail liner was well worth the $20 investment. We use one in the baby’s room inside a lidded trash can. The smell is barely noticeable at all unless I leave the lid of the trash can open. I also use a few drops of essential oils (tea tree and lavender) to help mask any odors. I separate the liners from the diapers before I put them in the pail, which means that on wash day it takes me about 15 seconds to dump the diapers in the washer. Barely enough time for the smell to escape. :) The pail liner gets washed right along with the diapers and no stinky garbage bag to throw away. I also use a small wet bag in my diaper bag to bring home any dirties that might happen while we are out and about.

  24. Julie says:

    I cloth diaper as well and use bum genius (although they only lasted to just after age 2 with my big boy!) and fuzzi bunz and some prefolds/covers. It definately saves money, especially if you are doing it with more than one child. And even more if you use diaperswappers, which I do, to buy and sell. As for the smell, you can buy these deoderizing discs that go in the pail to absorb the odor. Works a charm. As for using more water, I read somewhere that it was similar to if you added an extra person in the house (in terms of bathing). So, not that much more. Personally, I think extra water is better than adding both waste (the diaper and human waste) to landfills. I dump the waste in the toilet with cloth diapers (and disposables if I use them, like you are supposed to).

    And, I too, think cloth diapering is fun and it makes me happy to see other people doing it too! :)

  25. Jillian says:

    I find it sad that some people need things explained wtih pictures and still don’t get it. Try picturing your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandchildren standing next to a pile of diapers your child wore for the grand total of an hour or two that STILL haven’t decomposed. I don’t think they’d be smiling.

  26. sam says:

    We saved money going this route by asking for diapers for the baby shower. We found when our friends had showers they got tons of clothes, that the baby would only wear a few times before they outgrew them. We supplemented by buying some used but I understand why this is not for everyone. As far as the water issue is concerned our conceit was to buy reusable diaper liners, you can rinse them if its only pee and flush them if they are poopy. Some people say to wash on two cycles cold and then hot but after consulting our parents (who raised us both in cloth) we just wash with cold and sun dry for disinfection and stain control. Its more work but there is no doubt we save money and we fell like we do a little to save the environment.

  27. Meg says:

    We did everything you did (even diaper type) except the babyfood and that was only because I was around for the magical TARGET babyfood coupon where you could get like 40 jars of babyfood for 80 cents. It was a typo but they honored it! This time around, baby #2 will be appreciating homemade babyfood!

  28. Meg says:

    We just put our diapers in a Bummi bag (waterproof and smell proof) and then dump all the diapers as well as the bag in the wash inside out). No problem and no smell!

  29. celeste says:

    excellent post.
    we do much of what you described. though we did buy a changing pad and put it on a dresser in our room (until our baby is old enough to go in his own room and all of his stuff will move in there with him). we received covers for the changing pad from friends who no longer use their changing pad. We haven’t bought a single full price item of clothing — we received bags full of infant to toddler clothes from church folks, neighbors, family and other friends. Before he was born we bought bags full of clothes at yard sales (making sure to careful inspect each piece for stains and rips and such – a little worn bit didn’t bother us, who is to know if our child wore that bit into it, or some other child?) we even took all the duplicate or unnecessary items we received as shower gifts and returned them to buy necessary things we haven’t been able to find at yard sales and craigslist. glass bottles, stroller/carseat, great big carseat mirror, that changing pad (organic, because frankly the plastic smell of regular changing pads was hideous).

  30. jeff says:

    Stop breeding people. That’s the best way to save money.

  31. We do cloth diapers as well, though we’re more old school with pre-folds & covers. We also make our own baby food and received almost all of our baby clothes in hand-me-downs. And we also did not skimp on the car seat :)

  32. Mindy says:

    Crib – A crib is actually not an absolute necessity, depending on where your child sleeps. Our daughter slept on a mat on the floor in a corner of a room sectioned off with baby gates (which also served as a safe play area), until we moved into a house where she now has her own room. Now she sleeps on a mat on the floor in an otherwise empty room.

    Saving money – it is not just about saving money, it is also about conservation and simplification.

    Disposables vs Cloth – Another option is a diaper service, which could be an environmentally friendly option if the service is close to home, and they serve a large number of customers in a small area (a diaper service will do larger loads and most likely have a high efficiency washer).

  33. Elisabeth says:

    It seems like you’ve mentioned cloth diapers a couple times recently. Not that it’s any of our business, but I was wondering about your wife’s feelings about cloth/reusable menstrual products. I don’t have kids, and don’t plan to, but I use cloth menstrual pads, and noticed that many other women who do, and who also have kids, use cloth diapers, too.

  34. momof4 says:

    We put the cloth diapers liner in a bucket with a lid and baking soda and put it in the laundry room. yes there is an odor, but it isn’t overpowering. ( kind of reminds me of when I worked in health care.)

  35. Georgia says:

    Guess I’m so old I haven’t been noticing the changes in baby wear. I remember the old one size diaper sheet that you formed and pinned on the baby. We used disposables (in 64 & 67) only when traveling or visiting. Worked well for us. And, since we had moved to MO to work on farms, we couldn’t afford all the top of the line stuff. Besides, can you imagine a toddler getting all upset because he/she was in used cloth diapers and other frugal stuff? Leave that until they are in their teens.

  36. Jenny says:

    Agreed with so much of what you said. :) Cloth diapering is great for both the pocket book and the environment! :)

    We also breastfeed and mash/puree our own food for the kids when they’re in that stage.

    We yard sale, buy online, etc for used baby stuff. I buy new clothes when the kids get gift cards, if it’s on extreme clearance (like the same price as paying new AND if it’s budgeted or I use my blow money for it). Oh, and for Christmas, we usually buy a nice outfit for the kids. :) On sale, of course.

    And, we’re car seat snobs too.

  37. margot says:

    I used cloth diapers for both my kids. I put the rinsed, soiled diapers in a plastic bucket, half full with water with 1/2 cup of borax in it. Every 3-4 days, I would dump the whole bucket into my top loading washing machine and spin out the water, then wash them in hot water. No mess and very litle odour from the bucket! Wish everyone used cloth diapers.

  38. Jen says:

    Trent, Another great post! I too made all my children’s baby food. It’s so simple, and in my opinion much healthier then that bottled gunk. We used the ice cube tray method which worked out great. In fact, now that my children are a little older I still make the pureed veggies to slip into my dinners to boost their daily veg intake.

    I’m wondering about the cloth diapering though, since your children are in daycare. I started out using cloth diapers on my first, but once I went back to work could not find a daycare that would accept them so we switched to disposables. I would have loved to stick with them….

  39. Lisa says:

    I love that you mentioned making your own baby food. I don’t even bother with the bottling… after I puree my baby’s food, I put it all into ice cube trays. Then, when it’s time to eat, I just pop out an “ice” cube or two!

  40. Ruth says:

    I really enjoyed reading your post. We cloth diaper as well (also old-school prefolds & snappis though) and I love not having to go to the store every other week to buy more diapers. We have 2 kids & I’ve saved SO much money by using cloth. I also am addicted to garage sales for clothes, toys, etc.

    One thing I’d like to add is that we never used a crib. If you learn how to safely co-sleep with your baby, it is a perfectly fine & safe option. There are only a few “rules” (like no drinking alcohol, smoking, if you’re overly obese, sick, no blankets/pillows near their face, etc.). But everyone of those rules were not a problem in our house. We had a crib given to us and I think my son played in it once. My daughter never even saw it. I sold it & actually made money on that decision. When my son got old enough to roll off the bed, he slept on a crib mattress on the floor (also given to us) and now that he is a toddler we did buy a toddler bed (well, actually that was given to us too!). My daughter sleeps on a crib mattress now on the floor until she comes to bed with us. It’s great!

  41. LC says:

    Babies are surprisingly affordable. We got so many nice hand me downs. But the disposable diapers and formula were killers indeed. When they start driving, they become really expensive, but by then they can start making their own money. They grow fast!

  42. Shevy says:

    The biggest savings are to be found by breastfeeding exclusively (no solids) for at least 5 to 6 months, then adding mashed up versions of your own food instead of stuff in jars, cloth diapering and going to consignment stores for a lot of clothes in the early years (plus the gifts of clothes that all new parents seem to get).

    Worth spending serious money on: the safest car seats (infant and child) that you can buy and a sturdy, easy to steer and fold-with-one-hand stroller.

    A towel or pad on the floor or couch certainly works, but if your back or knees aren`t up to changing on the floor a change table can be useful. I had one from IKEA with 2 open shelves that wicker baskets fit into. The change table top can be removed, which makes it more useful in the long term. I just padded it with an extra baby comforter folded twice and had a flannel pad with waterproofing on one side over top.

    Then there`s the crib. First of all, as sturdy as that 50 year old crib might be, safety standards have changed repeatedly over the past 50 years usually driven by (very occasional) horrific, preventable deaths. Check for current standards as to width between the slats, make sure there are no finials, that the mattress fits without gaps at the sides or ends and that the bottom can`t fall out (those S shaped hooks that used to hold the bottom to the sides are now banned), etc. If it fails even one of the current standards, don`t use it.

    I`ve owned 2 cribs (one for my now grown kids, one for the 5 yo) and, frankly, I barely used them. Sleeping with your baby is much simpler and more natural (as well as being the norm in most of the world). The only caveat about sleeping with your child is that you shouldn`t do it with a waterbed (if anyone still has one) or if you take sleeping medication. My eldest daughter also had her little sister`s crib for her 2 children and used it a few times. It makes a good place to toss the clean but not yet folded baby clothes, but it`s not worth the $300 or so in my opinion.

    Glass baby bottles went out shortly after I was a baby, and for good reason. All babies go through phases where they drop or throw their bottles. I would rather use plastic, even with the chemical issue, than risk mixing baby and broken glass. I hope they will soon come out with a safer, unbreakable option. (Oh right, breastfeeding already exists.)

  43. kirstie says:

    I think this is a really good article. I agree with LC that babies are surprisingly affordable. They need lots of time, but despite what the television might lead you to believe, they don’t need lots of money. Most products for babies are unnecessary.

    Re: the use of energy v. use of landfill argument, I agree that it isn’t clear cut. However, given that disposables have only been widely used for 20 years? 30 years? and that many people in the world don’t use disposables, can you imagine how many nappies (I come from the UK) would be still hanging around if they had been used by every baby for even the last 200 years?

    Now if you really want to save money, I suppose elimination evacuation is the way to go!

  44. Rhonda says:

    It has been a long time since I have had babies, but being in the Navy and I was a stay at home mom, finances were tough. (I also had two in diapers at the same time.) Children are not cheap. As mine got older, that is when the expenses really shot up! I used cloth diapers. After I rinsed them out in the toilet I just threw them in the washer and soaked them in vinegar and baking soda until it was time to run the washer. Yes, the loads were small most of the time, but if you are worried about the extra usage of electricity, cut it down somewhere else. Turn off the tv and take the baby for a walk. Everyone loves to show off their baby! I air dried them on the clothes line.
    Yes, I made baby food. Steam vegetables and puree them in blender. You know they are fresh that way. Smashed bananas was a favorite. I made icecubes out of the pureed food and defrosted them before it was time to feed.
    Hand-me-downs are good. Just make sure if you get car seats, cribs, etc, that there is no recalls and all the safety features are intact.
    WIC is a great program to be on when you have small children. Formula is a killer if you are not able to breast feed (which I was not able to). To help cut down on food costs if you have to buy formula, check into clipping coupons, shopping as frugally as you can, or buying into Angel Food Ministries if it is available in your area.

  45. Miss Thrifty says:

    I am loving this post – and I don’t even have kids! I guess it’s the thinking behind it that I really appreciate. Lots of nifty ideas.

  46. brooke says:

    I also love this post. I am almost thirty, and the hubby and I want to wait a few more years before having kids, BUT, thanks to TSD, I most definitely will be using cloth diapers when I do have kids. And I like the idea of using disposables when traveling or visiting. It seems a little bit like dieting- it is more work, and you have to give yourself some outs (like the disposables when traveling), but the outcome (financially and environmentally) is worth the effort.

  47. Wendy says:

    I love cloth diapering, and, living in the desert, I initially had issues with the extra water. However, water is used (a lot) to manufacture diapers. Also, the extra water used for a load of laundry every two or three days is comparable to how much water a toddler uses when he is potty trained and flushing the toilet 6-10 times a day. That depends on the efficiency of your washer and your toilets, of course. If you have old toilets, the wash water will be much less.

    I got a changing table, modern crib, armoire, clothes, and many other things for a quarter of the original price on craigslist, and most of those things will last though a couple of kids with enough life left in them to sell.

    –> My big question is this: if you have a second kid when the first is 16 or 18 months old, do you need a second crib???

  48. Wendy says:

    Oh, and Tushies makes a gel-free disposible diaper for those traveling times where a washer/dryer isn’t handy. For the record, gDiapers are not gel-free.

  49. momof4 says:

    to wendy

    No you don’t need a second crib. Put the newborn in a pack and play for 6 or 7 months until the 1st child is older, then move oldest child to a big kid bed. I would just put a twin mattress and box spring on the floor, with a rail and a baby gate at the bedroom door if you feel this is needed. Then just add the bed frame as the child gets bigger. That’s what we did…

  50. genie says:

    I use bumgenius diapers, too! Right now, I put the used diapers in a rubbermade tote with a lid but am switching out to a wet bag that can go in the laundry with the diapers.

    The smell issue? There isn’t one – yet. We breastfeed and the poo just doesn’t smell that bad. I am guessing that will change when she starts on solids beyond rice cereal but that’s not for a month or two more.

    Energy for laundry… Yes, it does use water to wash them, but we have a seriously low water bill, I don’t think it is adding that much. And, I line dry all of my diapers, which reduces the impact even more.

    My best find for saving huge amounts of money are baby/kids consignment sales! My area has them twice a year and they are “the” place to get all things baby at a reasonable price. We got her crib, mattress and most of her clothes there. This fall, I’m inventorying what she has now, what we need for the next 6 months and then going in with a list. I can get cute designer outfits for $2 each. They also have tons of toys and books, stollers…

  51. Vanessa says:

    I don’t have any kids, nor do I know much about them, but I had an idea on saving on baby food.

    If most baby food is nothing more than finely purred regular human food, and you can make your own in a food processor and freeze it in ice cube trays, then wouldn’t it make sense throughout the course of your pregnancy to be purree-ing and freezing all your leftover food. For instance,usually after each meal my partner and I have a small amount of leftovers, about a few spoonfuls. Maybe we eat it, maybe we try to save it for another recipe, maybe it gets thrown out. But if you were to mush up and freeze all those leftover spoonfuls of soup, stew, casserole, and dinner, then you would slowly accumulate close to 9months of ‘leftover’ homemade baby food. No real cost to you as you had already written off that food, more environmentally friendly by not buying packaging or throwing out leftovers, and easy for when the baby comes. Does anyone else do this?

  52. gwen says:

    You might want to try a dry diaper pail as your baby gets older. I know when we use BumGenius, which is only at night, since we use another type during the day, they get pretty smelly. We use a reuseable pul lined bag in a trash can with a tight lid and toss the diapers in. Same thing as you do, but I don’t think I could stand the smell for a couple of days with diapers sitting out in a wicker basket.

    Changing tables, though, I don’t think I could live without something taller to change my babies on. Especially now that I’m expecting our third and our second is still in diapers, it makes it so much easier to change him. We used to do the floor, but our kids are squirmy and it was uncomfortable. Our first was changed on our freezer (which was in the living room of our small grad student apartment) and our second has been changed in the crib (we sleep share in our bed), but I just picked up a changing table for $25 (pad and two covers included) through craigslist so that I could move the diaper changing area into the bathroom, which helps when you have pretty stinky poops and you need to rinse them in the toilet.

    Cloth diapers are great. I’m psyching myself up to doing the cloth wipes. I think I might go ahead for pees, but it’s the others that I need the encouragement for….

  53. Kevin says:

    @Kelly – the amount of diapers thrown in a landfill – that don’t biodegrade and are filled with tons of human waste – are absolutely worse than the little bit of extra water used in a laundry cycle.

    We also use the bumgenius diapers and love them. We use a cheap plastic trash can for the soiled diapers – I agree those Diaper Genies are a huge waste of money. We usually do use store brand wipes, but have experimented with just paper towels soaked in water – they also work well.

    We didn’t have a changing table for a long time, but found one at a church rummage sale for $20. It has 3 drawers under the changing table top which hold diapers, wipes and other clothes and a door on the side to hold toys and books. It was a welcome addition to our son’s bedroom. Best of all, we just saw the “new” version of this at Babies R Us for $220 – so we got it for $200 less than retail – and it is as good as new.

    As for toys and clothes – we’ve gotten so many hand me down clothes from nieces and nephews we’ve hardly had to buy any so far. And most toys we’ve received are gifts from family members. Our son is 1 now and I bet we’ve only spent $40 on toys ourselves.

  54. LC says:

    I am expecting next spring and debating about cloth diapers. I think I’m for it but my husband is on the fence. A few questions:

    How many cloth diapers do you have?
    Have you ever tried the flushable liners? Are these easier/cleaner?
    Do you use a front loading machine? What kind of detergent?

    I think that even with the high cost of diapers, it’s not the “things” that make a baby expensive, it’s the child care. This is a huge issue for families, since good day care can cost over $10,000/yr, and cutting back to 1 salary is also a major hit.

  55. Gilora says:

    I have to say I’m amazed that you were able to find a day care center that accepts cloth diapers. All of the day care facilities that I visited in my area (NYC suburbs) require disposable diapers and wipes.

  56. greenfamily says:

    In response to the crib question…we put our son in a twin bed when he was 18 months old. Initially I had visions of him roaming around the house at night pulling books off the shelves and onto his head, but we never had any problems. Matter of fact, he LOVED his new bed! What used to be a 30 minute screaming ordeal in his crib turned into a wonderful, peaceful new nighttime routine and he always went right to sleep. We didn’t even have a bed guard but he never fell off the bed and he didn’t come crawling in bed with us. It was a marvelous (an unexpected) transition.

    Not to say that every child will be like this, but you may be surprised. I certainly wouldn’t invest in a 2nd crib– the pak-n-play idea or even a bassinet for your newborn’s first couple months would be much cheaper than a crib.

  57. Carrie says:

    LC – Many people start newborns off with 24-26 diapers – that allows you to wash diapers every 2-3 days. The more diapers you have the longer you could go between washing, and each individual diaper will have less wear, because it is part of a larger rotation of diapers.

    As for flushable liners – my experience is that they don’t offer much in terms of being easier or cleaner. For me, only in certain circumstances did they seem to be easier – as in, if the baby only pooped a minimal amount, and it was not very solid. And, more importantly for me, I found that they don’t degrade well enough for my septic system, and even in homes that have sewer lines, they can clog up the line, and cause all kinds of unpleasantness in the house. I’ve seen it recommended to use a liner when using diaper cream and baby is wearying pocket diapers, because the creams can interfere with the urine passing through to the absorbent insert. I found that the disposable liners still let the diaper creams through, so it seemed pointless there, too.

    I’ve read in cloth diapering forums that front loaders sometimes don’t do as good a job cleaning diapers as a top loader. The kind of detergent to use really depends on your situation – you can find charts online that detail the recommended brands of detergents, and why they are recommended. One site is http://pinstripesandpolkadots.com/detergentchoices.htm I think this site is where many other sites get their info.

  58. Carrie says:

    Correcting myself – that should read 24-36 diapers for a newborn!

  59. MVP says:

    I’m considering using cloth diapers and am wondering, along with LC, a couple things:

    I’m curious about the logistics about getting rid of the solid waste in the toilet. What do you use to scrape it into the toilet?

    To the commenter who suggested saving food during your pregnancy, I don’t think that’s the greatest idea. For one, your baby doesn’t start on baby food till several months after it’s born. At that point the frozen food cubes would be up to a year or more old, which may not be very tasty. I think a better idea might be to start saving the food when the kid gets closer to eating real food.

  60. Ida says:

    When it comes time to wash the diapers, we just spray a bit of deodorizer around the laundry room (mostly for our own benefit), then open them up, tug out the liners, and throw all of the cloth pieces into the washer. We do a load of nothing but wipes and diapers about once every three days or so.

  61. MF says:

    Any ideas of where to find glass baby bottles?

  62. margo says:

    I am expecting in the spring, but have not started interviewing daycares. I have been told that most (all?) do not allow cloth diapers because of the hassle. If this were not the case, we would definitely cloth diaper. I live in a fairly progressive part of town, so I am hoping to get lucky and find a daycare that allows them.

  63. Kansas Mom says:

    We also use cloth diapers, though I prefer the Dream-eze to the bumGenius. Snaps last longer than the velcro and they dry faster. For the baby, the Gerber prefolds from Target (something like $11 for the fancy organic ones) work great in a gdiaper cover and liner. (They didn’t work well enough for our 2 year old.)

    I do recommend a liner to hold the dirty diapers. I also add a little cloth moistened with some lavender essential oils which is the best thing I’ve found for the smell. (We have two in diapers and wash every other day.)

    Something else to consider: In my experience with cloth and disposables (disposables for the first born), the cloth are much better diapers. We will go months without a cloth diaper leaking…that means you need fewer outfits for baby and have fewer stains to deal with.

  64. NoSked says:

    For those of us who do not use reusable cloth wipes, here’s a great recipe that will reduce the cost of disposable wipes.

    I started using it when my 16 yr old was a newborn; I still make my own disposable wipes because they’re great for everything (i.e. quick cleanups in the car, quick wipe downs in the bathroom before guests knock on the door, thorough wiping when my toddler doesn’t quite get it all after going #2, etc.)

    Just remember 2-2-2!
    1 Roll of paper towels (Brawny is strongest, but any will work)
    2 Tablespoons baby soap or shampoo or any gentle liquid cleanser (NOT anti-bacterial if you intend to wipe little bums)
    2 Cups of tap water

    Step 1- Cut the paper towel roll in half, so that you have 2 rolls about the size of toilet paper rolls. (Tips: 1. Serrated knives make a fuzzy mess, use a non-serrated blade 2. Don’t waste your time/money trying this recipe with TP, it doesn’t work!)
    Step 2- Re-use a plastic container that is the right size and has a good seal. I bought a canister of dispoable wipes and simply re-used the container because the lid came off and the wipes tore at the performations nicely.
    Step 3- add the soap and water. Mix well but don’t make suds.
    Step 4- Insert 1 (of the 2) paper towel rolls. It may be tight, you have to get the hang of squishing the roll just right to fit in your container.
    Step 5- When the roll has absorbed the water mixture (a few hours, or overnight), remove the cardboard roll and thread the inner-most wipe through the container lid hole.

  65. Brittany says:

    Woo hoo for cloth diapers! However, we use prefolds and I knit & lanolize their diaper soakers. I have two children in diapers (one is 2 and the other is 3 months) and I don’t even want to THINK about how much money we’d be spending on disposables!

  66. Elizabeth says:

    @MF- Gerber makes them in both regular and itty-bitty baby size. Babies R Us has them for around $1 each.

  67. Randy says:

    Regarding bottles:

    MAM makes BPA-free bottles that are actually pretty nice. In addition to the fact that they’re BPA-free, they also have a diaphragm in the bottle that allows air to enter the bottle without leakage.

    We use cloth diapers, but store the to-be-washed ones in a lined, foot-operated trashbin to keep the urine smell down to a minimum. Over time, the urine breaks down into ammonia and can be a bit overwhelming if not kept in check.


  68. katherine says:

    What a coincidence that I just found and subscribed to your blog yesterday and this is your top post. This article is very similar to one I’ve been writing in my head for a while to post over at BeCentsAble.net on the Tuesday Green Space feature. I will definitely reference your site when I do. My experience with cloth diapers has been the same–not a big deal and it saves us a lot of money. We also don’t scrimp when it comes to safety. The crib and car seat are basically the only new items our daughter has. Great article.

  69. rohini says:

    Hi Trent
    We are planning to buy a crib for our baby, what would be the decent range of cost to get a sturdy crib?


  70. Jasmine says:

    Consider these:

    EC (Elimination Communication) – Google this and/or “nappy-free” or “diaper-free” and you will find a plethora of free information about how to go without using ANY diapers at all! Or, use them less often – it’s your choice and it’s 100% possible. Look it up and find people’s first-hand instructions!

    Co-sleeping – put the baby in the bed next to the mother and lower the baby’s risk of SIDS. Again – Google “co-sleeping” for the facts – for instance, NO you will not “overlay” your baby… mother’s sleep is lighter anyway and she will rouse even if the baby moves in the next room… so why not make things easier by keeping the two together! Sex life of the parents is said to be better with co-sleeping too because the mother isn’t worried about the baby in the next room – and don’t worry, babies don’t know what you’re doing!

    Baby-wearing – save on carrycots, prams and strollers. The Ergo carrier can convert from newborn through to toddler, supporting head, back, etc and distributing weight evenly on mother’s front or back (or father’s!). Facilitates EC and breastfeeding-on-demand, as you see and hear the baby’s signals.

    Extended breastfeeding – if you can do it. Exclusive breastfeeding for longer than 6 months is recommended by the World Health Organisation. What did parents do before puree was invented (i.e. blender or sieve)? Breastfeed for longer! Even when a child starts solid foods they can still breastfeed… the world average age of weaning is somewhere between 4 and 7 years of age.

    Natural toys – blocks, cloth balls, plants, beads and pasta and beans when they are older. A small child 4 or 5 years of age doesn’t need the complications of Disney characters. Teach them how to do real work in the garden and the kitchen. I know a 6 year old who can cook the main family meal. Her little sister weeds the strawberry patch. (Eating the strawberries at the same time of course!) Life is fun… if they get to take part in it. Instead of excluding them and distracting them from real work with plastic “stuff”, let them participate in the real workings of the family home and they will feel very important and have fun doing things with you.

    When a second child comes, you can tandem-breastfeed, co-sleep with the new baby and give the elder child a new bed, and when the new baby grows up he or she can go into the big bed with brother/sister. Small children enjoy the company and will eventually move themselves to seperate beds when they feel the need.

  71. Tara says:

    @ #30 Jeff: I would go out on a limb and say that it is not meritorious to have no hope or joy in life, which is the sentiment conveyed by your comment!

  72. Jacinta says:

    @ #33 Elisabeth. Cloth menstrual pads (re-usable) are certainly a very personal choice, but as someone who’s made that choice for myself, I can say that I’d never go back again.

    Gone are the ammonia smells from being out and about for too long on a hot day, gone is the chaffing from the plastic protective layer folding and bunching and then rubbing, gone is that sound you get when the pad unsticks as you seat yourself at the toilet, gone is that wet, soggy feeling because the pads don’t breathe.

    My pads don’t have a plastic protective layer, so I do need to be a little more careful about leakage. I also notice the smell of blood a little more, but apparently others can’t tell. They are comfortable, and effective.

    There’s also the cleaning… for most of us getting your own blood on your hands during menstruation is pretty much inevitable. So I take my soiled pad, rinse it in cold water and drop it in a bucket full of cold water with a little bit of laundry detergent in it, and leave it to soak with the others for up to 2 days. (If it’s hot, or if I can’t do a load in that time, I change the water and re-rinse everything individually every 1-2 days).

    I then drain out the rinse water and wash with my regular clothes then hang them in the sunshine and fresh air. Sometimes they have soured while soaking. This does not rub off on the other clothes in that load, but if they still smell after washing and drying, I just put them back in the machine, all dry, and wash them with the next load. That’s usually sufficient.

    Yes they stain a little. Stain remover can help. I’m sure I’m not the only woman to have a few pairs of underwear that has been spoiled by miscalculating the start time, or by failures in my products, but the number of these hasn’t changed dramatically with my change of products.

    It’s so awesome to be able to walk right past that part of the supermarket and to not have to care. To know that I always have sufficient products at home, and which I can easily throw into my suitcase for when I travel. And I do travel. So far this year I’ve spend an average of 1 night in 3 in a hotel. Usually though I’m away for a week at a time. In these cases, I just roll the pad up and throw it in with my other dirty clothes. When I get home, I rinse them all, soak them in stain remover for a day or night, and launder as usual.

    I teach wearing them, I go to client meetings wearing them, I travel on trains, planes and on buses wearing them… They’re great. I would never go back.

  73. Sarah P. says:

    I so badly wanted to cloth diaper, but we had a shared facility in that particular apartment, so cleaning them wouldn’t have been possible. That’s definitely going to be something we do with the next baby.

    We did breastfeed 100%, though! And I never pumped, so we didn’t have to bother with bottles or purchasing a nice pump. She was a picky eater who hated baby food, so we didn’t bother with that, either. We went straight to solids after she was a year and we nursed for two years. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

    I love all of the suggestions here! Definitely don’t skimp when it comes to safety! Very good tip! :) Excellent post!

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