by Michelle Jones
Babies can cost a fortune to care for. Or, at least that’s what we’re told. The truth is you can do many things to save money when bringing your new little angel into your family. As with all good budgeting, you just need to know the difference between needs and wants.
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The Absolute Must Haves
Babies must have two things (besides lots of love, of course), they must have milk and they must have diapers. Food, clothes and other things are important too, but we'll talk about that next time. Right now we'll just cover the basics.
Our family has been blessed with four children so as you can imagine, we've found many ways to save money over the years. I've listed just a few of the ways we saved on baby supplies below, though I would also love to share many more with you at a later date.
The First 6 Months
You may already know that nursing your baby will save a small fortune, not to mention the health benefits for you and the baby - but the first six weeks can be quite an adjustment for the new mom. If you’re having any difficulties you can contact your local lactation consultants and they will answer your questions for free (the hospital should also be able to refer you to a group nearby, or even give you a list of phone numbers to get help).
Some consulting groups charge a fee for this service, but most of them are still free. Even just talking to an experienced mom in your community will help. The hospital will usually give the new mom some helpful booklets to read, and some even provide those paid nursing consultants free of charge during your stay, so make good use of them while they're available.
Fortunately, I was able to nurse all of our children for the first 12 months. It was a wonderful and precious time of bonding, great nutrition (only 1 minor ear infection through raising all 4 children!), and even though it was exhausting at times for me, it was of course FREE!
Now as much as I would like to recommend nursing for the first 12 months (or as long as it's okay with your doctors), I do realize that this is not always possible. Please do not feel bad if it doesn’t work out, a lot of healthy babies are being raised on formula too!
If you’re using formula and are low income, states here in the U.S. have a program called WIC (Women Infants and Children), that’s available through the health department. Call your local office and set up an appointment to see if you qualify.
If you don’t qualify for the WIC program, use coupons! You can even call the manufacturers for more coupons (also see the links in our newsletter each month for free coupons). In general, the pre-made formulas are much more expensive than the powder mixes, unless they're on sale. You can save money by stocking up on sale items, just be careful to note the expiration dates!
There are expensive bottles and there are cheap bottles. When our babies reached the age of being able to drink juice (around 6 months) and whole milk (around 12 months), we always bought the cheaper ones and they worked just fine. You can usually find them at the discount stores, for .50 cents each, and that’s a lot better than paying over $2.00 for fancier brands.
The cheaper bottles work just fine, and with each new baby all you have to do is purchase new bottle nipples, which you'd have to do with the expensive bottles as well. And sometimes, you can even find these on sale at the grocery store, though discount stores will usually have a better deal.
If your baby will take one, more power to you. (We had four babies and only one of them liked pacifiers.) So don’t invest too much money on them before the baby arrives. Many babies will refuse to use them, and usually the hospital will provide you with a free one.
With our first child we used cloth diapers, see my previous column "Save a Bundle Using Cloth Diapers and Homemade Diaper Wipes."
But with the next three children, we used disposable diapers because we felt they were truly worth the extra money (to save a little bit of time, and a lot of sanity). The best bet for saving money on disposable diapers is to use the store brand. Not only do the packages cost less, but they usually have a few more diapers (per package) compared to the popular brands. And believe it or not, the store brand diapers go on sale just as often as the others, even using a coupon for the more expensive brands will not beat their price.
With the new style of cloth-like disposable diapers, most store brands have updated theirs as well. But I do not recommend buying the cheapest store brands. Most stores have two styles of diapers; the cheap, cheap ones (which are usually plastic), and the next level up which costs a little more. Always get the better store brand, I’ve never had a good experience with the cheapest ones, and leaky diapers are not fun for anyone!
As I also discussed in the previous column on cloth diapers, making your own diaper wipes is also a great way to save money. Now I know some very frugal moms who use washcloths instead, but making the homemade wipes will only cost about 50 cents a box and it's really nice to be able to just throw them away instead of having to wash them, but it's really up to you. If you can use washcloths you'll save even more!
As a busy work-at-home mom, during the last few years of our 'diaper years' we even ended up just buying whatever store bought wipes were on sale and used coupons when possible. Buying the refill packs is also helpful, and not being loyal to a certain brand (especially in the event of a sale) is even better.
Whenever I go shopping my eye just naturally scans down the aisle looking for the sale tags first. Then I do a price/quantity comparison, store brand versus name brand, etc… It may take me a little longer to shop this way, but it’s a great way of saving (and therefore earning) money for my family.
Have you been wondering why everyone in your town has the same diaper bag? It’s because the hospitals are handing them out (free) to new parents, sometimes even two of them, depending on the product samples being given away (i.e., marketed). The best ones even come with a bottle pack, and two small ice packs inside.
If you can live with the free diaper bags kudos to you! I always try, but I confess I did end up buying a Winnie the Pooh bag for our last baby when they went on sale (mainly because I really wanted it--it was SO cute!--and I guess I just felt it was okay to splurge a little since we discovered she would be our last baby). But I did at least keep the free bottle pack and the ice packs, that was such a nice gift.
If you stick with the free diaper bags and run into trouble when you see everyone in your play group or church nursery has the same one, simply put a special tag on the handle, or even just a label on the side of the bag with your baby’s name on it. This will help you and the nursery workers be able to find your bag more easily.
You can also find diaper bags at yard sales and consignment shops, though I know it’s nice to have a new one and in a style that you like. And really, you’re going to be carrying that diaper bag around everywhere you go, for the next 2-3 years, so if you feel you just have to have a nicer one, I’d say it’s worth the money. The one I purchased cost around $9.00, and we enjoyed it for several years.
Cloth Diapers for Burping
Having at least one package of cloth diapers on hand is great (the flat, non-folded kind). Especially if you have a baby that’s prone to spitting up, which two of ours were. I kept a stack of them folded up in our living room and we just grabbed a new one as needed. They’re easy to wash, and also help keep your visitor’s clothes clean if they'd like to cuddle or feed the baby.
They can also help protect the baby’s sensitive skin. Our first child was severely allergic to laundry detergents and would get a rash on her face when anyone held her without a diaper cloth between her and their shoulder. That’s actually why we started using them in the first place, but it turned out to be such a great idea we’ve used them with all four children. The same package of cloth diapers has lasted us for 10 years! (And they’ll make great dust cloths for another 20 years!)
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