It’s A Bargain, Baby: How To Save Money on Baby Stuff

It’s the most frequently told baby-related horror story: they’re so EXPENSIVE! There’s a grain of truth to the story – babies can, indeed, be expensive – but they don’t have to be.

Do you have a quarter of a million dollars? Yeah, neither do I, but according to the latest figures by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it takes approximately that much money to raise a child from birth to eighteen years.  That’s just one child.  It’s a sobering thought, isn’t it?  (Kinda makes you want to rethink that big family you always dream.)  Luckily for us, we aren’t required to have the quarter-mil in one lump sum – if we did, very few people would have children – but the fact remains that raising kids is expensive.  And when you’re a new parent, it can seem like a good chunk of that sum is doled out for baby stuff: diapers, wipes, formula, clothes, toys, and the endless parade of “must-have” supplies and gadgets.  Good news: you don’t have to break the bank for your baby’s sake!

Before Baby Comes

Let’s talk about medical expenses for a moment.  If you’re not yet pregnant, but trying, it’s time to practice some good preventative care: begin taking a prenatal vitamin (available without a prescription at most drugstores) and pop a folic acid supplement as well.  Folic acid has been proven to dramatically reduce the risk of neural tube defects and other severe conditions in developing babies.  If you don’t want to take a supplement, be sure to include lots of orange juice in your diet – it’s an excellent source of folic acid.  The bottom line is, the more healthy and well-prepared for pregnancy your body is, the better the chance for your baby to develop normally.  Not only will your good health benefit both you and Baby (which is the most important thing) it can potentially save you money on medical bills and special treatments down the road.

If you are expecting, the same goes for you – be as healthy as you can to give your baby a better chance of being healthy.  By taking good care of yourself and strictly following your doctor’s orders, you can avoid illnesses related to stress and poor nutrition, and therefore avoid extra doctor visits.  But if you’re pregnant, there’s more than just good health to think about now:  it’s time to consider the medical testing that generally goes along with pregnancy.  Hopefully you have good health insurance, but even so, it may not cover all tests, and you need to find out what’s necessary.  Consider each test on an individual basis.  For example, amniocentesis is a test used to screen for chromosomal abnormalities, congenital genetic disabilities and other conditions.  This type of analysis doctor usually recommends for women over age thirty-five, or those who have a family history of congenital disabilities.  If you’re a woman in her mid-twenties with no significant problems in your family history, do you need an amnio?  Probably not.  Make sure you thoroughly discuss the pros, the cons, and the necessity of every test with your doctor – and if he or she thinks it’s crucial, then, by all means, do it! – but by questioning the importance of each test, you may be able to avoid having those that are unnecessary and spending unnecessary money.

Baby’s nursery

You spend hours poring over baby magazines and websites, oohing and ahhing over the adorable nursery themes – and then your “ooh” turns to an “eww” as you look at the price.  It’s funny how even “shabby chic” décor, things that are made to look secondhand, can cost an arm and a leg!  With a bit of creativity, you can have an excellent nursery for an unbelievable price.

  • Paint is relatively cheap and can change the look of a room.  You aren’t limited to directly painting the wall one solid color; try fun techniques like rolling, ragging, stamping, or sponge painting to achieve different prints and textures.  Choose a color that will still be suitable as your child grows; baby blue might be perfect for your newborn son, but will he still like it when he’s five?
  •  As an alternative to wallpaper, try a wallpaper border.  It’s a lot less complicated to put up and can still “pull together” your nursery décor.  Or you can use a little paint and some foam stamps, which are available at any craft store and come in a variety of shapes from stars to duckies to flowers, to create your border design.
  • You can buy themed nursery accessories, but matching patterned and character-printed items are pricey.  Instead, buy plain, unprinted sheets, curtains, and lampshades (these are cheap) and then accessorize with accent items.  For example, if you want a Pooh-themed nursery, pick out a few accents – a Pooh wallpaper border, a Pooh rug, a Pooh wall hanging – and then buy your crib sheets and other essential items plain, in a shade that coordinates with the accessories.  You’ll fork over some cash for the accessory items, but it won’t be nearly as expensive as springing for an entire coordinated set.
  • Choose gender-neutral colors and themes to decorate with, so that you can use the same nursery décor for subsequent babies, no matter what their gender.
  • Be a do-it-yourselfer.  If you have any creative talent whatsoever, put it to good use when decorating your baby’s room.  Can you sew?  Try making your curtains or fabric wall hangings or slipcovers.  Purchase good-quality used furniture at a yard sale or thrift store and refinish it on your own (if you’re painting the furniture, be sure the paint isn’t lead-based).  Go through home décor magazines and keep a scrapbook of the nurseries that appeal to you; that way you have something to use as a reference while you’re shopping, painting, or redoing.
  • Skip the bedding altogether (except for the crib sheet).  Experts advise against using pillows or blankets in the crib anyway, due to the increased risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) when those items are present.
  • Comb thrift stores, yard sales, swap meets, and auctions (even online auctions such as eBay) to find nursery items at a fraction of their original price.
  •  For inexpensive art, frame pictures from children’s books.  You can buy used books for next-to-nothing, or use books you already have that may have a few damaged pages.
  • Use assorted sizes of family photos to create a collage on Baby’s wall.
  • When you buy a crib, consider spending a little more on a model that can be converted to a toddler bed later on.
  • Decide which furniture pieces will be crucial, and which you choose an alternative for (or do without).  Instead of purchasing a dresser, for example, save money by storing Baby’s clothing in decorative stacking baskets.
  • Ask around!  Sometimes friends, neighbors, and relatives are your best resource for hand-me-downs.  The bonus to this is that you’ll know what kind of homes the items came.

Baby’s mealtimes

Breastfeeding is a big money-saver.  The cost of a year’s worth of formula can range from $600 to $1200, not to mention what you’ll spend on bottles and their accessories.  There are other significant advantages to breastfeeding as well: kids who get breastfed gets better protected from SIDS, are ill much less often (also a money-saver when it comes to paying for doctor visits!), have less chance of developing allergies, asthma, and tooth decay, are less likely to be obese, and do better in school.  There are also benefits for moms too: breastfeeding mothers lose baby weight more quickly, and have better protection against postpartum anemia and even some types of cancer.  There are a few “start-up costs” associated with breastfeedings, such as nursing bras, absorbent pads, and breast pumps and bottles, but none of these are necessary, and even if you buy them all they’ll only cost you $200 – $300.  If you nurse exclusively for a year or so, you can skip the bottle stage and teach your baby to drink from a cup, thereby eliminating the expense of buying bottles and nipples.

When your baby is older, you can save some cash by making your baby food.  Commercially prepared baby food is up to three times more expensive than homemade!  You can make baby food from either canned or fresh vegetables; if you buy canned, make sure it’s the salt-free variety.  It’s simple, quick, and cheap.

  • If you use canned vegetables, drain most of the juice, saving a little bit in the bottom of the can.  Dump everything into a blender or food processor and puree until it’s smooth.
  • If you use fresh vegetables, cook them in plain water and then use the same method you’d use for canned veggies.
  • For older babies, you can introduce meat by pureeing a piece of meat with a bit of sodium-free broth.
  • You’ll need to cook harder fruits, such as apples, but most varieties you can puree with a little juice or water to achieve a smooth consistency.
  • Once you puree the food item, pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze; when it’s time for Baby to eat, pop out a couple of cubes and microwave them until they get thawed.

If you buy five cans of vegetables, you could potentially get about thirty meals out of them (depending on how much your baby eats.)  That’s stretching five cans of veggies a long way – and saving money!

A high chair isn’t an absolute necessity, speaking of mealtimes.  You can use a baby swing, a walker, or a stroller or hold the baby on your lap while feeding.  If you feel you need a high chair, you can always find a bargain on a good used one.  And don’t worry about buying unique dishes for your baby, he’ll be just as happy eating off an adult plate.

Baby’s diapers

It may seem inconvenient at first glance, but if you’re trying to save money, cloth diapers are the way to go.  Don’t worry, these days, cloth diapers are more convenient than they used to be.  Instead of pins, many of them have Velcro or snaps.  They can save you a bundle, especially if you hand them down for your subsequent children to use.  They’re not as hard to sanitize as it sounds, either: wash them in a load by themselves with regular detergent and bleach, add a quarter-cup of vinegar to the rinse water to neutralize the bleach, and hang them outside to dry – the sun’s UV rays are very efficient at killing bacteria.  You can buy cloth diapers at a diaper service (check your yellow pages) or in the baby section of almost any discount store.

If you opt to use disposables, as many of us do, there’s no right way to defray the costs except clipping coupons (and stocking up on all the freebies you can at the hospital!).  But to avoid a big shock to the bank account, it’s a smart idea to start stockpiling diapers the minute you find out you’re pregnant.  Don’t spend too much on newborn diapers, just in case your baby’s too big for them – but sizes one and two are great to have on hand.

When it comes to saving money on baby wipes, you have a couple of options.  First, you could buy a pack of washcloths specifically to use as wipes, dampen them before changing Baby, and wash and sanitize them just as you do cloth diapers.  Or you can make your wipes using this money-saving recipe:

  • One roll of paper towels
  • 2-1/4 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp. baby shampoo or baby bath
  • 1 Tbsp. baby oil

Cut the roll of paper towels in half, removing the cardboard tube from the center.  Mix the water, shampoo or baby bath, and oil in a plastic container (if you have an old baby wipe container, that would be ideal, but you can also use an airtight Tupperware-type container).  Place half a roll of the paper towels into the pot, put the lid on, and turn the container upside-down to soak the towels thoroughly.  When you’re ready to change Baby, then pull the towels from the center of the roll.

A final diaper tip: instead of using a pricey diaper pail deodorizing disk, use a car air freshener refill.

Baby’s bath time

It may be tempting to buy a baby bathtub, but it’s just an extra expense.  You can bath smaller babies in the sink, and you can always hold any baby carefully in a tub filled with only about two inches of water.  You won’t be leaving Baby unattended in the bath for any period at all anyway, right?  Baby washcloths and hooded towels are cute, but also unnecessary.  It’s a good idea to purchase soap or body wash made especially for babies because their skin is so sensitive that even mild bar soap can irritate.  But you can use regular shampoo; avoid getting it into Baby’s eyes.  Did you know that baby oil is just pure mineral oil, plus scent?  Compare prices; you may be able to save a bit by purchasing plain mineral oil instead.  Also, it’s cheaper to use cornstarch in place of baby powder – again; it’s just a matter of scented vs. unscented.

Baby’s wardrobe

It’s so easy to fall prey to the allure of adorable baby outfits!  But then you end up paying twelve bucks for an outfit your baby wears a couple of times and then outgrows – so generally, they’re not worth it.  Some tips for frugally outfitting Baby:

  • Buy only two or three newborn-sized garments, in case your baby is too big for them at birth.  You can always roll up the pant legs and sleeves on larger-sized outfits if necessary.
  • Buy gender-neutral clothing so that you can hand it down to your future kids – boys or girls.
  • Check out yard sales, thrift stores and the like.  Baby clothes are outgrown so fast and worn so infrequently that you can usually find a fantastic bargain on perfect quality things.
  • Take out a classified ad in the paper stating you’d like to buy children’s clothing in whatever size you specify.  You can name your price, and sometimes people want to get rid of their kids’ old stuff so badly that they’ll give it away.
  • Send the word to friends and family that you’re looking for hand-me-downs.
  • Avoid buying clothing with lace, embroidery or anything else that might require special care.
  • When Baby outgrows her sleepers, cut out the feet and use socks, or allow Baby to go barefoot.
  • Frequent the clearance baby clothing racks.

Baby’s playthings

These days, we buy our babies much more than they need.  The pressure to buy Baby the “right” toys and make him a pint-sized genius is intense.  The truth is, stimulation and interaction are what makes babies smarter – not a fancy or high-tech toy.  Babies are just as happy with a pot lid and a spoon, or a cheap set of brightly colored plastic keys.  In fact, they’re happiest when they’re dancing or playing or talking to you, so interact as often as you can – it’s free!  Instead of buying the “baby-oriented” classical music compilations (you know the ones), just buy a regular CD of classical music, which is about half the price or even less, and play it – the only significant difference is packaging, and Baby isn’t going to care what’s on the CD case, anyway.  You can buy used toys, but be sure to sterilize them before giving them to your baby thoroughly.  We don’t recommend used stuffed animals because they’re hard to sanitize.

Baby’s “big-ticket” items

The crib.  The stroller.  The Playpen.  The car seat.  These are all items that can be expensive.  Are they necessary?

  • The crib: you can buy a used one, of course, but you’re safest purchasing a new crib.  Consider it an investment and splurge a little.
  • The stroller: unnecessary.  In fact, it may end up being more of a burden than anything else – trying to get it in and out of the trunk, lugging it around, maneuvering Baby through the tough Christmas shopping crowds come holiday season.  Instead of a stroller, opt for a backpack-type baby carrier or swing.  They’re cheaper and much more convenient – you have your hands free to do other things.
  • The playpen: unnecessary.  It’s nice to have, but you can get by without it; use baby gates (tip: pet gates are the same, but for some reason, generally much cheaper) or a crib.
  • The car seat: necessary!  It is another area where it’s best not to buy used.  The good news: you can get a free car seat, and it’s easier than you may think.  Some car insurance companies offer a free car seat if you attend a safety seminar, so check with yours. Individual states’ highway patrols and auto clubs do the same thing.  It’s something worth doing a little research!

If you find yourself having to pay a lot for a crib or car seat or other necessary items, then put it on layaway as soon as possible (like when the second line on the pregnancy test appears) and pay on it in small increments.  It’s much more comfortable on the wallet that way.

Final bits of money-saving advice

Have a shower.  The chances are that one of your friends or family members is just dying to throw you one anyway!  You’ll get a lot of stuff – necessities and those extras that you may want, but wouldn’t splurge on – and you can return any duplicate or unneeded items for cash, or exchange them for things you do need.  All you’ll have to spend is a few dollars for thank-you notes and stamps.

Your parents, in-laws, and other relatives would probably be glad to help you by pitching in on or paying entirely for, baby things – especially the bigger-ticket items.  It can’t hurt to ask, or at least shamelessly drop hints!

Take advantage of samples, freebies, and coupons.  There are a plethora of websites out there that offer long lists of such things.  Before leaving the hospital with your newborn, stock up on all the free stuff, they have to offer – and ask for more.  Many hospitals will gladly oblige; they have plenty of samples, diapers, etc.

Raising Baby doesn’t have to put you in the poorhouse.  With a bit of creativity and ingenuity, you can provide your baby with everything he needs without having to cut corners.  Who knows maybe with all the money you save now, you can pay for his college education later!

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