Saving Big Money On Your Little Ones
By Emily McClements, Contributing Writer
Most people believe that welcoming a little bundle of joy into their life means parting with a big bundle of cash to get everything that little baby will need. From diapers and wipes, to clothes, car seats, bedding and feeding supplies, it is true that there’s a lot of stuff that babies need.
But, we really don’t have to bust our budgets just because we have little ones at home. There are many ways to practice frugality and reduce expenses while still providing for the littlest ones in our lives.
Stick to the Essentials
The first step is to really think about what things are truly essential for babies and young children, although this can sometimes be tricky when they hand you an overwhelming multi-page list of everything your baby “needs” while registering at the Baby Store, or when every mom you know has a different suggestion the one thing you “must have”.
It is crazy how much stuff such a little person needs. But not everything is truly a necessity. Some items are essential for some families, but not for others. For a good place to start, Stephanie did a great post over at Simple Mom on her essential baby items.
And although so much baby and kids stuff looks so cute and fun, you have to remember the reality that it all will take over your house. Sticking with less baby stuff from the beginning will save you money and save your sanity trying to organize, and store, and clean so much stuff.
The second step is to find what you need second hand. There is so much baby stuff out there that can be bought like-new or gently used, either because a child used it for such a short amount of time, or because it wasn’t an essential item for someone else and it never got used. I am a believer that you can find just about everything that you need for babies and kids second hand.
Garage sales, mom-to-mom sales, thrifts stores and consignment shops are obviously great places to find good deals on used children’s items. And now there are also so many online resources for buying used stuff it is becoming easier to source even specific or not well known items used from other families.
Saving Money on Baby Essentials
While there are many things that are negotiable as far as whether they are essential or not, there are still several items that pretty much every baby needs to have. Here are some ideas for saving money on those essential baby items.
Photo by 114bberry
Cloth diapers are more economical than disposables in the long run, but they require a greater upfront commitment. One way to ease the cost is to buy used diapers. Yes, this may seem gross to some, but really, you’re little one is just going mess it up right away anyway. I have purchased many of our cloth diapers used and have never had a problem with the quality. The best place I have found to buy used cloth diapers is diaperswappers.com.
If you’re not going the cloth diaper route, you can save lots of money on diapers by using coupons and following sales at big box retailers, drugstores and even online. Many of the deal bloggers will post when there’s a great sale on diapers, so be sure to follow a deal blog for your area.
**Stephanie’s note: The absolute best price I’ve found on chlorine-free disposables is Seventh Generation dipes from Amazon, by the case, and using Subscribe & Save through the Amazon Mom program. We buy these occasionally for trips, etc. and I’ve never found them cheaper!**
Although I haven’t tried it myself, the idea of elimination communication is intriguing to me, if not mostly for the reason that it would save money. Whether using cloth or disposable diapers, you would need to use fewer diapers, and you’re little one would probably actually potty train much earlier, eliminating the need for extended diapering. Just trying to present all the different options here!
With cloth diapering, we also use cloth wipes. Instead of purchasing the more expensive actual cloth wipes, I bought thin cotton baby wash cloths from the store and they work great for us.
Another option is to make your own cloth wipes. You can find flannel receiving blankets at garage sales or thrift stores, or use some extras that you may have received, and turn them into cloth wipes. You don’t even need to have any sewing skills. Pinking sheers will help to reduce fraying when cutting up flannel into squares to use for wipes.
Photo by VirtualErn
Over the past few years, I’ve kind of made it a game to see if I can clothe my children with only used clothing. I love to find cute, high quality second hand clothing at garage sales, thrift stores and consignment shops. There are also tons of great resources online for finding gently used childrens clothing. I believe, with a little bit of effort you can save a lot of money by building a complete wardrobe of quality used clothing for your kids.
Hand-me-downs are another great option for kids clothes. We have been blessed with generous friends who have given us all of their son’s outgrown clothing. They’re not planning to have any more children, so they pass along everything to us, and whatever I don’t want or use I can donate or pass along to someone else. I have only had to buy a few items of clothing for my son since he was born almost two years ago! I can’t even begin to calculate how much we have saved in clothing by receiving these hand-me-downs.
Find a family friend with children slightly older than yours, and ask if they’d be willing to pass along their kid’s outgrown clothing to you. You can either return them when you’re done, or pass them on to someone else. Also, as your kids outgrow their clothing, be sure to bless others by passing along your hand-me-downs as much as you can.
Toys, Baby Gear and Other Kids Stuff
If diapers, wipes and clothes were all that a baby needed, it would definitely make life a little easier. But beyond those things, everything else is pretty much up to you and your family’s needs.
There are really very few kids things that have to be purchased new, but there are probably many things that you would rather purchase new, like socks and underwear. For baby items that you will be purchasing new, make sure that you always shop the sales, and use any and all coupons that are available.
Baby stores, as well as big box retailers, regularly run very good sales on kid’s stuff and often have coupons available to go with those sales. Watch the deal blogs, check out a store’s website, and just basically do your homework and wait to buy something until you can buy it on sale and preferably with a coupon.
For everything else, my main tips are, again, to buy used, and borrow from others. Once you have an idea of what your essential items are, keep your eye out for a second hand item that would work for you.
Also, let your friends and family know what you are looking for, and you might be surprised by what people will offer to lend to you, or just give to you if they are done with it. I think most parents understand that baby stuff can and should be shared with others as much as possible.
I’ve long said that babies are only as expensive as you make them. Keep them dry, warm and safe and you’ll have a content baby. I nursed all of mine two years a piece, later I clothe diapered my last and used (and continue to use) cloth wipes for extra cleaning. I have a hand-me-down schedule with a cousin and a neighbor. Toys have been shared and kept and used. Heck – my daughter was playing with my Holly Hobbie vacuum yesterday – that has been handed down from each of her siblings and it’s going on its 30th year. Keep it simple – in the end you’ll be happy with less clutter and expense and your child WILL NOT know the difference, babies don’t compare notes.
I’ve long said that babies are as expensive as you make them. If you keep them fed, warm and loved – you will have a happy baby. No gadget, toy, outfit or video is going to take the place of being held in the crook of mom’s arm. Keep it simple and you will find that life is so much easier with out the expense and clutter. I love going with friends that are expecting and help them register. Baby products are SO overwhelming. I’d recommend to anyone to take a seasoned mom with them to sift through all the “stuff.”
That is such a good idea Annie, to offer to help new moms register so they can sort through what is really necessary and what isn’t!
We saved money by not buying a crib or toddler bed. We needed something portable for naps, so we did get a pack n play, but once the kids were too big for that they went straight to a regular mattress on the floor. You need to have the room well kid-proofed, but you’ll need to do that once they learn to climb out of their crib anyway. Having a mattress on the floor also makes it easier to comfort your little one, just sit down beside them rather than hanging over the railing of a crib. Co-sleeping is also a great frugal option.
Just wanted to note that a car seat is one thing you shouldn’t buy used. These are the most expensive baby items we own! Also I have bought a lot of my kids’ clothes on mega-clearance a season or year ahead of time. I pay $2 – $3 an item in most cases, which is cheaper than even some resale stores. Recently I went to Goodwill and they had a sale 3/$1! I let the kids pick whatever they wanted, and I bought the rest of their wardrobes for the following year! Can’t beat that price. 🙂
@Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama, Wow, that’s crazy cheap! Our thrift stores in Canada like to price even kids clothes from more like $2-8 per piece. The lowest I find is $0.99 and it’s usually in terrible condition. I find that garage sales are much cheaper for me, because people are really motivated to get rid of their stuff. Or the children’s swap meet, because the mom’s don’t want to carry all their clothes back home with them. 🙂
@Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama, WOW I have never seen such a deal, and I really watch and shop around for deals. I agree with Stephanie for me yard sales are the cheapest I can get or season end consignment sales.
My car seats are new as well. I know people who use ones that are expired or have worn out straps and such and I just cringe. I am going to make another comment down further about car seats I forgot.
@Kate @ Modern Alternative Mama,
Yes, Kate you are right – I meant to mention that in the post, you should always buy carseats new, thanks for bringing that up!
We had a baby shower for our third because we gave away pretty much everything after our second. But i included in the invitation to bring second hand gifts only, preferably things from guests own children that they no longer needed. It was great! Even folks who didn’t make it to the party had great items from their kids to pass along to us. And there have been several things we have been able to pass along already to our other friends! Joining a local parent group through a yahoo list is a great way to meet people especially like minded parents. I’ve gotten so many cloth diaper hand me downs too through our group and lot of them were free!
The other way I save money on clothes is that when I need to buy new (this especially seems true for boys, but that might just be my town with my son’s age), I try to buy quality items on their cheapest sale. I have found that there are brands of kids clothes that fall apart the first time you wash them and that there are other clothes that hold up to the wear and tear of outdoor, wild toddler play. I shop for the later, whether new or at used stores, because I know that later I can pass them along to others even in our own family. It pays to only have to buy things once.
Many children’s stores have rewards cards and you can often be put on an e-mail list for sales. I found one of our local national retail chains even has a separate e-mail option for our local store that will tell you about sales specific to them. They often let you combine special one store sales with national coupons for discounts approaching consignment store prices. Just recently I was able to hand down an entire wardrobe to my niece from my daughter. Nothing had worn out and all my sister had to go out an purchase were a few season specific items.
@Christine., Some stores advertise that if your child wears it out before they grow out of it you can get a free replacement. This is another savings. My MIL used to do this for jeans for my husband since he always wore them out so fast. You’re right, sometimes buying quality is worth it. I refuse to buy certain brands even second hand that I’ve had bad experiences with. If I pay a few more dollars for something else and can pass it on to the next one then I am ahead.
With my first baby we lived in a upscale part of town and I had no friends as we had just moved there. Second-hand was ridiculously expensive. So I asked friends and family what they suggested I needed. The best piece of advice I was given was to buy white socks and onesies (also known as bodysuits) and then buy sleepers for the baby in gender specific colors. Babies don’t need to be dressed in outfits like adults. After having three children, I’ve come to realize one other piece of advice. Oftentimes you feel the need to stock up on something, be it bibs, burp cloths, receiving blankets and the like. Instead, buy one, save the receipt and don’t open it until you feel you need it. You will be surprised how much of those things you really don’t need or you don’t need much of.
@Rachel P., I agree about using sleepers. I used sleepers on my two kids for as long as I could (until either I found them inconvenient with the baby moving so much (mine are early movers) or I got to the point around 5-6 months that I had more pants given to me than sleepers and I ran out of using them for daytime use). I didn’t use outfits really either- just snap shirts either short sleeved or long with pants. Easy to find and comfy for the baby, and cheaper to use than outfits they may only use 1 or a few times at best. Plus…I think it makes them look like tiny babies longer and I like that. 🙂
We did part-time “elimination communication” in a very relaxed way, and it definitely has saved us money on diapers. Just before our son turned 6 months old, a friend mentioned she’d “#2-trained” her sons when they were about that age because they were so predictable and she simply held them over the toilet when they acted like they needed to go. We tried it, and we have only had about a dozen dirty diapers in the last 18 months! He learned to wait to do his business until he is on the potty at about 10 months (rather than us seeing his cues), and now we are coming very close to being #1 trained as well, at almost 2 years old. When I share this with friends, I always have to preface it with “We did this weird thing…” but it definitely turned out to be a money saver and a mess-saver, and something we’re hoping to be able to do with our next little ones!
I could not have made it without my baby swing. I had three kids in under three years and my first didn’t start sleeping through the night until she was about 3 1/2 years old… When babies go through times of not wanting to sleep my baby swing was my best friend. I would sleep on the couch with the baby safely strapped in the swing. Even one extra hour of sleep made such a difference. I got a good quality one that lasted for all three babies. It has also gone through a family members baby as well. When picking a swing look for one that swings both front to back and side to side. My first got sick with the front to back swing, but loved the side to side. 🙂
I think the cost of using cloth diapers vs. disposal diapers must vary in different parts of the U.S. It was slightly less expensive for me to use disposal diapers where we live. I didn’t require the name brand diapers; the less expensive store brands seemed to work well for both of my children. But to wash all those diapers and cloth wipes in very hot, scalding water would have cost more than buying disposal diapers back then, by a little bit of money, but now that natural gas prices have gone up quite a bit, it would be quite a bit cheaper to buy disposable diapers these days if I was needing to buy diapers for a baby/toddler. Just some thoughts on the flip side…sometimes, heating hot water in our hot water tanks can cost more than we think.
Cloth diapers do not need to be hot washed at all, unless baby has an upset tummy. A cold pre-wash and a 40 degree (gosh I just realised I don’t have a clue how U.S washing machines are set up. 40 degree wash would be warm but you could stick your hand in it quite comfortably) wash followed by an extra rinse is all diapers need. Throw in some tea tree or lavender essential oil for anti-bacterial qualities if you like but it is un-necessary. Frequent hot washing damages diapers.
Even if you washed every load in hot water, I find it hard to believe that disposables would be cheaper considering how many a child goes through. On a certain diaper forum, I have a ticker that counts how many diapers my 1.5 yr old has saved from landfill, according to how many changes in a day and it is over 4,000 and she could be in diapers for another year or more.
Be careful with tea tree and essential oils though. Some make diapers repel. I would recommend putting Biokleen’s Bac-out on the diapers instead. I think it’s more about the amount of water (lots!) than the temperature.
Best money saving advice I got was to cloth diaper. Turns out we love it!
To save on the up front cost I have mostly prefolds, flats (which I love and are as trim as a pocket), and covers. I have a small stash of (8) pocket diapers for town days/ daddy/babysitter. I bought some through diaperswappers.com and the rest through http://www.diaperjunction.com they have a certified preowned listing. The diapers where basically new but cost about $5-$10 less. We also, use a lot of hand-me-downs, and buy second hand. I learned with my first baby you don’t really need all the gadgets out there. A simple swing or bouncy seat maybe, but with baby 2 we skipped them all. I think baby 2 has been no worse for wear because of it. And he got way more tummy/floor time than baby 1 ever got. I also, only try to keep two nice outfits and a weeks worth of play clothes (8-10 sets). This really helps keep laundry under control.
Thanks for this post, it’s helpful and a great reminder that we can live simply, if we try to. Thanks to craigslist and local swap meets I’ve enjoy playing the 2nd hand clothing game – my kids wear all used clothing – great quality and also as I was them in cold water and air dry them i’ve actually been able to re-sell them all as well! We have used cloth diapers – and after your post about wipes I will start making those too. As for equipment thankfully people have either passed things onto us or we’ve purchased them on craigslist. As for toys – kids need way less than we think they do – they are much happier to play with one of YOUR ‘toys’ eg. a spoon and saucepan than an expensive battery operated store bought toy. I think it’s all about the time and the effort we need to put into spending less – AND being more aware of creating less clutter and rubbish for our world!
I think these are all great tips, especially the reminder to focus first on just not planning to buy as much Stuff. I’m a bit surprised, however, that you didn’t mention one of the biggest money-savers: breastfeeding! Every baby has to eat, and formula-feeding is still the default in our culture–according to ACOG (the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists), only 30% of mothers are still doing ANY breastfeeding by the 6-month mark. Formula-feeding is very expensive, but breastfeeding is completely free!
Hi Kathryn, thanks for your comment, you are definitely right that breastfeeding is a huge money saver! I’ve written about the benefits, including monetary, of breastfeeding over formula feeding before, and this post was already getting a little long. That topic is one that really deserves it’s own dedicated post!
My stroller is my essential baby (and toddler) item. I bought an Uppa Baby Vista and have never regretted the investment. We are car free and uses it every day and literally wore the rubber off the tires in 20 months. I chose well and they offer replacement parts so it was easy to get now ones. For other situations, it would be a total waste of money, but apart from clothes and cloth diapers I can’t think of a thing we use more.
I love to buy used, or make my own (love to sew!). The only two things I’ve heard that are pretty important to buy new are cribs and carseats unless you are 100% sure that the carseat hasn’t been in an accident (I would trust from my sister for example a carseat). I never knew I loved to sew so much until my daughter was born and then suddenly it was FUN to make little things for her at a portion of the cost of buying new, and yet it was new. 🙂
The biggest way I save is to stock up in advance. Right now my oldest is in size 6 and some 7/8 sizes so I have fully stocked 7/8 and am collecting size 9+ too when I get a great deal. This way it also saves the rush of trying to get something when you really really need it. I shop 99% second hand, we only buy a few items new (on sale if we can) like good shoes since we are very active and I can’t find good ones used, swimwear since its harder and harder to find it modest…even for a 5 year old…underwear, etc. but then these things I also pass on if I can (usually can) to my other daughter. To stock up in advance I wait for end of season clearances in both retail stores and also thrift shops and consignment shops. If I can’t do that then I do the second hand stores regular prices. I usually have things around in bags or bins for at least a size or two in advance.
I know some people say that they can’t buy in advance for their kids especially as they get older since the kids “need” certain brands or refuse to wear an item but for us this is completely NOT an issue at least at this point. If the time came we would tell our kids that if they want specific things then they can make up the difference in cost if it became a huge issue and we would show them how to shop the frugal way so they can pick their own (approved by us) things. My daughter sometimes helps me choose and can wear whatever she wants from her drawers since its all appropriate but other than that I make decisions about what to buy. I buy all “classic” styles for the most part so its also not out of style a few years down the road when my younger child wears it…althought that doesn’t matter to me.
As for baby stuff most everything I have bought is used. I just bought new prefolds (I have found them to be the best for us) and some new covers. Oh and I did buy new my ergo although now there is more of a used market for that. I also think my moby wrap is indispensable.
Thanks for your comment Nola! Buying ahead definitely saves money when you’re not scrambling to buy new shoes when your toddler has suddenly outgrown theirs! I also try to buy ahead as much as possible, still buying used items, usually at garage sales and consignment stores/sales.
I also loved my Moby Wrap and found mine used on Ebay!
I forgot about caseats. Buy them new as you don’t really know about second hand. One tip I found out the hard way: check the expiry date on the car seat and the manufacturer date. When we bought the car seat for our daughter in November 2005 we didn’t use it until Feb 06 and it was MADE January 2005 and expired Jan 2011. So meanwhile we lost a year or use out of it, it was already one year old by the time we used it the first time! Try to get the closest manufacture date to the time you are using it.
Its also not worth it to get a car seat for later at a baby shower for the same reason.
The new car seat we got our oldest expires 9 years after manufacture (most are 6 years) This way we can pass it on more.
We also bought only 2 car seats for my oldest and it will last her until she is out of it. It will be the same for the next child. The convertible rear/front facing and a front/booster combo. For us that has worked out great even with two winter babies and very cold winters not having the infant seat for us is not an issue.
I like to buy in advance, as well – especially at the end-of-season sales. If I have a 6 month old at the end of the winter and jeans/long sleeve shirts are on sale, I’ll buy a few pair of 12 month-sized items, knowing that those should last us the following Fall and Winter. At places like Target or Wal-Mart, these items are usually marked down to $1-2 apiece at the end of a clothing season.
I couldn’t have survived without my swing and baby carrier. I bought a Graco swing barely used at a consignment sale for $30 (new it cost $80) and a Baby Bjorn carrier for $10. (They sell for $60 or $70 new). We also invested in mostly gender neutral clothing for the first 6 months. Fortunately, relatives enjoyed buying us dresses. Our summer baby mostly wore onesies anyway.
As she’s getting older I’m realizing how many clothes my daughter doesn’t need. She doesn’t need two or three outfits a day like she did as a spit-up baby. So I assume one outfit a day with a few extras. (We do laundry once week). That only means 9 or 10 outfits. Sure it’s fun to have more, but she doesn’t NEED them.
Thank you so much for including elimination communication. I have used EC part-time for both my 3rd and 4th children, starting at 3 months the first time and a few days old this time around. Not only do you save money, but I became a believer when I realized that my children were happier not soiling the nest, so to speak.
As far as equipment goes. All 4 of my kids loved the exersaucer. It was definitely one “essential” for us that most would consider nonessential.
I found a baby carrier (sling etc) very wonderful in helping to tote the little one and have free hands for the other kiddos (particularly when out shopping). Didn’t use one for my first baby.
A stroller for many reasons.
We did like the swing, even if we only used them for a short time period (once they were big enough for the exersaucer we ditched the swing).
There were times when we needed SOMETHING to help us out, usually once siblings came home from school (they needed snacks, homework, etc.) and also during dinner prep—the swing and exersaucer were invaluable. They also helped tremendously when we wanted the baby to not be on the floor (to keep out of harm’s way from active siblings) and my hands/arms were busy with other things. Great thing, all of these items are wonderful to get second-hand!
We used a borrowed portable play pen/bed for the last one(we never did get the crib out), only to put the baby down where she couldn’t roll off the bed and get her off the floor so she wouldn’t get trampled by an active and eager toddler, especially when I was busy in the kitchen or other parts of the house.
This is the sum total for my 4th baby, up until she was older, and I bought her a couple of toys from Etsy. This was all she used. I love my simple life!! 😀
$300 for water birth tub- *worth every cent*
$50 lambskin ( http://www.childrensneeds.com/
$89 Storchenweige wrap
$30 organic cotton babylegs
$20-30 organic cotton tees
$26 Indian unbleached prefolds 15 ct. ( http://www.cottonbabies.com/ )
$20 organic baby wash and bottom balm ( http://www.earthmamaangelbaby.com )
$0 cloth diapers (hand me downs); organic cotton crib sheet cut in strips for wipes; crib mattress pad used on my bed for nighttime EC; car seat was left over from #3 baby.
I am pregnant with baby number five and although I have most everything I need some things are pretty worn out. This been an unplanned pregnancy I have made it a goal to make it a low cost pregnancy as well. Thanks for these extra tips.
I feel silly writing this….but I’ve never heard of just using thin baby washcloths as wipes, nor has it ever occurred to me. Sometimes I just need another mother to point out the obvious–thanks for being that mother!
@Anne, They really do work just fine. That’s what I use, too!
@Anne, That’s what i use too – it works great! In fact, the one “real” cloth wipe I have (got for free when I ordered some cloth diapers) is my least favourite to use!
Mine isn’t eco-friendly except I didn’t have to waste water washing the washcloths. For wipes after messies, I use one thick PAPER TOWEL (Viva or other heavy brand), wet it in the sink (I used to also keep some water in a container to dip paper towels in by the diaper table in case I forgot/ hadn’t noticed we had a messy to change). My babies tolerated it much better than any store-bought wipes. I think cheaper than wipes, but for me it was so they NEVER had a rash. And they never did except when I used a wipe when we were out of the house. Wipes destroy skin– try using it on your face and you’ll see your skin break down in days!
Thanks for this post – I find you can really go crazy with the baby stuff… if you allow yourself to believe you need all those convenience items. It really depends on how much space you’re willing to sacrifice in your home. Different people will have different ideas of what is “worth it” for their family. I think that just being mindful of this (asking “is this really necessary”) will save you money. I have to say, however, that my one absolutely necessary baby item would have to be our Ergo. We wouldn’t be able to leave the house at naptime without it… I love it, and it’s worth every penny.
@beth@redandhoney, Ditto on the Ergo. It was the first brand-new pricey item that we purchased ourselves (other than gifts) and it is absolutely worth it! (Although, I do prefer a sling or wrap style for newborns)
@beth@redandhoney, Yes the ergo for me too is worth every cent. I’m not sure it will make it to a 3rd baby its that used (in a good way). But I only like it past 4 months or good head control (my babies at 4 months). Before that I do not like the insert and like my Moby wrap.
Hey, Ladies! Just a note about buying flannel for wipes. . .
If you wait until the big sales around Christmas time, you can get yards and yards of flannel by buying a king-sized sheet set when they go on sale. I got a TON of flannel for less than $15 this way. I cut some up for larger-size swaddling blankets and now I have a great deal left over for making baby wipes. You could even use it for diapers if you serge the edges and fold it like a flat diaper. (Check youtube for the angel fold and the kite fold.) Or make some doublers.
Also, I just found new pocket diapers for $5 each, if you are concerned about buying used at http://www.sunbabydiapers.com. They have pretty good reviews! 🙂
Enjoy saving money on your sweet little ones!