As a mother of three, the youngest of which is just two months old, I can tell you definitively that having children is no way to “save” money. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t trade any of my kids for more money in the bank. However, with the cost of raising each child from birth to 18 estimated to be somewhere in the ballpark of a quarter million dollars each it’s safe to say that if I didn’t have kids, I’d have more money.
While everything from sports fees to college tuition costs parents over time, there is one time in every child’s life where wasteful spending is easy to curb: babyhood. From the minute you are pregnant through that iconic first birthday, the sheer volume of “stuff” available for baby – some necessary, some ridiculously over-the-top – is staggering. That is why it is so important to pay careful attention to what you actually “need” and take measured steps to save on those things.
The following list is by no means definitive, it’s not even close. But, after almost 7 years of “modern” motherhood and a two month refresher course in the needs of newborns, here are my top baby-related money wasters and ways to get around them:
Without engaging in the “Mommy Wars” on this one, I think we can all agree that breastfeeding is far cheaper in terms of your bottom line. Even with coupons, formula costs money whereas breastmilk costs nothing more than 500 extra calories of food per day for mom.
Clearly, if you truly cannot breast feed, formula isn’t a “waste” by any means and I am well aware of the issues that some people have breastfeeding – I’ve encountered many of them myself! However, for those struggling and worrying about money, I want to offer two additional suggestions:
For Working Moms
I went back to work when my oldest was 7 weeks old, so I get you. However, lately many insurance companies are covering the cost of a breast pump. In fact, I got the same model that I purchased for $250 for my daughter in 2008, for free for my son in 2015.
For Moms Who Struggle
Breastfeeding both my first and my third was a challenge for different reasons. The first time, I powered through it and did use formula as a supplement. This time, I went to a lactation consultant. Though it cost me $60 for that session, the cost is equivalent to only about a month’s worth of formula, on the low end. So, as long as I breastfed for at least 4 weeks following the session (which I did, plus more!) I broke even. Sometimes you just need to put costs into perspective.
Here’s another one that I know is a hot button issue, but cloth diapering is less expensive over time, even when you use coupons to buy the disposables. Plus, there is no denying the environmental benefit. But let’s be real for a minute because as I type this, my son is asleep in his Huggies. The best way to avoid wasteful spending when it comes to diapers is to plan ahead. This, for me, has meant a few things:
Shop Sales and Buy in Bulk
Buying diapers with coupons is no different than stocking up on toilet paper or shampoo, it’s all about keeping a ready stock and optimizing sales. Here’s the thing though: unlike toilet paper and shampoo, diapers don’t last forever because babies grow out of them. You need to find your own balance which is unique to your baby’s elimination habits, growth rate, and your own shopping schedule.
Ditch Brand Loyalty
Here’s something I have found after three kids – diaper explosions, at least with disposables, have as much to do with angle and velocity as they do with “leak protection.” Absent of a child who reacts to certain diaper brands, as my second did, trying to buy only one brand is incredibly limiting and costly, even when you take rewards programs into consideration. In all honesty, you will use so many diapers in that first year you are better off signing up for every reward program and sticking with the cheapest per diaper cost each week.
Balance the Use of Cloth and Disposables
Cloth diapers, outside of the initial investment, are cheaper than disposables, but there is a clear cost associated with them in terms of time and effort. Personally, I have found that the least wasteful tactic for my family is to optimize the cost of disposables by using the methods above during the newborn phase (when babies are too small for a lot of cloth diaper covers and use approximate 16 million diapers a day) and then transition to cloth once their elimination habits regularize. This may not work for all moms, but it works for me. The real “tip” here is to find your own balance.
Excessive Baby “Gear”
When I was pregnant with my first I distinctly recall going to the baby store with my sister-in-law and dutifully registering for every “suggestion” on the handy list that the salesperson provided. While most of those items were ultimately purchased by family and friends I cannot tell you how many of them represented money totally wasted. The fact that it wasn’t my money matters not.
There are some things, like a car seat, that are non-negotiable. However, a lot of the other stuff is not and many items, such as smartphone-operated gliders, are just over-the-top. Some of it may be convenient, but many items like swings only last a few months before a baby outgrows them. And, even worse, some babies just never like the things in the first place.
From my experience, sometimes the best items are the simplest. My son loves looking out at us from his car seat, propped on the floor. And when he gets fussy, the things that calm him the most are 100% free – my arms.
**What are some ways you have eliminate “wasteful” spending on your baby?**