A reader recently asked me to write about what money-saving advice I would give to someone having a new baby. This is not an easy question, since there’s so much to consider. As part of my guest writing for Lending Tree, I used February’s “love and money” theme to talk about some of the lessons from being a parent, in a more general sense.
Today, I’d like to get into things I’ve learned specifically when it comes to spending on a new baby. If you’ve followed our baby expense reports, you know that overall spending has been low, compared to the “national averages,” which I’ve found to be really meaningless, since they’re national and they’re averages.
Having looked back on these reports, some of the other baby posts from the last year, as well as our checking register, I’ve drawn a few lessons I think anyone with a new or upcoming baby can use.
The Top 10 Tips
#1: Try as hard as you can to breastfeed
I don’t know the cost of formula because I’ve never had to buy it, but I’m told it has a hefty price tag. Any parent who’s had to formula-feed their babies will testify to that.
In talking with the nurses at the hospital, we found out that many women are either so exhausted, frustrated, or indifferent, that they’ll simply give up breastfeeding if everything doesn’t go smoothly. From personal experience, I can tell you that it’s a learning experience for the baby, too. It takes a little while for things to “click.”
#2: Join a warehouse club
Over the last year and a half, many people have tried to convince me that their secret place to buy diapers has the best price in the world. To date, I’ve found none that have beat the price I pay at my Sam’s Club (or Costco, which we belonged to last year).
Dollar for dollar, joining a warehouse club has been one of the biggest cost-saving measures for the baby, simply because of the sheer volume of diapers and wipes the little guy goes through. (Or now, as he transitions to real food—things like Almond milk, which are terribly expensive at the supermarket).
#3: Get creative with daycare
Like formula, I don’t know the real cost of daycare, because our little one has yet to step foot in one. I know that we are fortunate and lucky to have the kind of family setup we do, but it also didn’t come about by accident.
My wife and I, along with the help of her family, carefully designed our work situation to where my wife could work for her parent’s business from home while taking care of our son at the same time.
Given the cost of daycare today, and the amount of money you’d have to earn from a job to offset that cost, it’s well-worth some investment of your time to brainstorm creative ways to keep your child at home or with loved ones during the day.
#4: Find the right second-hand markets
Babies seem to be the perfect candidates for a second-hand market—they need many different things at different price levels, they outgrow or outplay nearly everything very quickly, and most used items are at near-new condition and can be readily shared, sold, or given away.
Given all those factors, it’s no surprise that you can get almost anything you’ll need for a new baby in gently used condition. Your task, then, is to look for these markets whenever you need to buy something. For example, Craigslist is an excellent place to find used baby furniture, while friends and family or sites like ThredUp might be good sources of used baby clothes.
#5: Buy good-quality health insurance
A lot of people don’t get health insurance for their kids because they believe that smaller bodies somehow correlate with smaller doctor’s bills—not the case! Your infant will visit the doctor about 8 times in the first year of life, averaging hundreds of dollars in exam and vaccination fees at every visit.
Good-quality health insurance plans can be very affordable, especially for babies that are mostly healthy. These plans will cover well visits and emergency care in a variety of ways. To give you an idea of cost, our son’s plan costs less than $100 per month and all well visits and shots are covered 100% (at no cost to us). Other plans might use a co-pay type of arrangement, which is what many people are used to.
#6: Avoid trading time for money
Very often, people are willing to exchange their hard-earned dollars to save a little bit of time out of their day. We’ve already talked about how expensive it is to put your child in daycare. But there are plenty of other examples where you can shave off expenses if you’re willing to do a little of the leg work yourself:
Make your own baby food from fruits, vegetables, and proteins you buy at the store and cook at home.
Avoid convenience items, like bottle warmers, and opt for using hot water in a pot instead.
Engage in active play with your kids instead of sitting them in front of an Einstein DVD for hours.
#7: Try very hard to weigh now vs. later
Many new parents can’t wait to run out into stores and buy up everything they can for their new bundle of joy. I know because I’ve been there, and I understand how insanely difficult it is to wrap your head around the fact that maybe a few extra dollars in their college fund would be better use of our money than the things they “need” now.
Babies, frankly, need very few things. “Everything else” is designed to make them look “cute,” make us look like good parents, or have the child be preoccupied with something other than us. Babies, as I’m also finding out, don’t get any cheaper as they grow. In fact, the cost seems to climb steadily.
As a result, it’s probably a good idea to save a bit of your extra money now so you can have it for use on your kids later. Having things around is good—it gives you something to do. Having cash around is better—it gives you options.
#8: Don’t stock up on consumables (which means everything)
Our frugal mind sometimes get in the way of rational thinking when it comes to buying things for our kids. We see a great deal, and we want to buy up half the store’s supply of whatever’s on sale, because that’s what worked in the past, especially for consumables like toilet paper and shampoo, or even things like clothes.
The same kind of approach doesn’t work well for kids, since they outgrow or destroy almost anything they come in contact with in the first…gee, probably 18 years (to be determined). On the flip side, the good thing is that you already have the tools to predict how much of something you’ll probably need by estimating your child’s growth. This is how we know how many diapers to stock up on, or when to stop accumulating clothes for the current or next size.
#9: Spend time with your baby
This might sound like an odd tip for a list of ways to save money on a baby. After all, I’m pretty sure that’s not gold or cash in his diaper—so what’s the point?
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but spending time with your children makes you realize even more how much they don’t need. They’re perfectly happy combing through your hair, throwing a golf ball through the air, or banging away on the kitchen pots. Meanwhile, the expensive toy you bought them is sitting in the corner of the room, in like-new condition.
Many parents unfortunately forget this lesson and start buying out of guilt. Also sad is the fact that no toy will ever replace the love a parent can give—you have to put in the work to reap the rewards.
#10: Use your network and research for more reviews & tips
I’ll close with one final tip that I hope you walk away with. You can be the most frugal person in the world, pinching pennies like there’s no tomorrow. The fact is though that very few of us are prepared to deal with the new expenses that babies bring.
That’s why using your extended network (friends, family) for suggestions, and doing careful research about the purchases you intend to make can save a lot of wasted money in the long run. I can’t even begin to count up the money I’ve put away instead of spending because of good advice from a loved one or timely suggestions from resource sites, blogs, or even review sites like Consumer Reports.
What would make your top-10 list?
That’s what comes to mind when I think of the best advice I could give a new parent today. But different things have made an impression on all of us—what kind of lessons have you learned that you’d share about parental frugality and “making it” as a new parent?
Please share your thoughts in the comments!–