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Are babies expensive?

by Karen on January 20, 2011

Throughout my pregnancy, everyone who gave me advice agreed on a lot of things. I’d love the baby instantly. He’d grow too fast. He’d be worth all of the discomfort of pregnancy. (They were all right.)

There was one thing they couldn’t agree on, though. Half of them said to prepare myself because babies are SO expensive. The other half told me babies don’t cost much at all.

I was really curious to see who was right. Two months into parenthood, and I can see where the disagreement comes from. The answer: it depends.

Baby expenses begin long before the baby is born. We needed a car seat, somewhere for baby to sleep (we chose a bassinet for the first few weeks and a crib for later), clothes for the baby to wear, and diapers for the baby to, well, you know. The rest of the baby stuff is optional, but nice to have.

While it’s possible to buy secondhand, shop around for deals, or accept hand-me-downs (we did all three of those things), the truth is that the initial startup costs for baby can be steep. Thankfully, we have a huge support group of family and friends who gifted us with everything we needed.

Once the baby’s born, formula can be one of the biggest monthly expenses. If your baby doesn’t have special dietary concerns, off-brand formulas can provide the same nutrition for a fraction of the price. The cheapest option is breastfeeding (it’s basically free if you do it exclusively), and I’m incredibly grateful that it’s working out well for us so we can avoid the expense of formula.

Diapers are another huge monthly expense. Newborns use 8-12 diapers a day, so the costs really do add up. Buying diapers on deep discount and using coupons can cut the cost tremendously. So can cloth diapering. By hunting for deals, buying seconds (slightly imperfect but new diapers), and sticking with the economical prefolds and covers system of cloth diapering, I built a stash that will last throughout my baby’s diapering years for under $300. That works out to about $10 a month if the baby spends 2 and a half years in diapers. That number drops even lower if you use your diapers for a second or third child.

Our generous friends and family provided us with enough new clothing and hand-me-downs from Judah’s cousins to keep him clothed for the next year. He has enough outfits in each size that I can get away with doing just one load of his laundry every week. He wears the same things all the time, but that’s okay with me. When he grows out of the clothes we have for him, we can shop garage sales, thrift stores, and clearance racks to keep clothing costs down. Until he’s old enough to complain about it, he’ll be wearing the same handful of outfits every week.

These are just the expenses that you can control, though. The biggest expense for us (and one that we unfortunately can’t do anything about) is health insurance. When my husband and I were both covered by individual policies, the cost to add our son was going to be astronomical — $400 a month added to the $500 we were already paying to insure the two of us. My husband’s new job offers family insurance for about half that, which is a relief. But our health care costs are much higher as a family of three than they were as a family of two.

Later we’ll see changes in our food costs as Judah starts eating solid foods. There will also be education expenses and recreational costs as he gets older.

These expenses that you can’t control are the reason why it’s so important to save money on the expenses that you can control. Cutting costs where ever you can will make it easier to afford the expenses you can’t change.

My point is this: if you’re pregnant or want to get pregnant, how expensive (or inexpensive) your baby will be is entirely up to you. Like so many other expenses, the choices you make will affect your budget. If you buy everything brand new, pay full price for diapers and formula, and fill your baby’s closet with more clothing than he needs, the costs can be astronomical. But with a little careful planning and frugal know-how, your baby’s first year doesn’t have to affect your monthly budget that much at all.

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{ 7 comments }

1 Robyn @ Frugal 'n' Fit! January 20, 2011 at 9:25 am

I couldn’t agree more! We’ve been battling diaper rash so have been using disposables, but if it weren’t for that, our costs would be almost nil!

2 Mary @ Tips & Treasures January 20, 2011 at 9:46 am

Totally agree. Babies can either be really expensive or not so much. We did breastfeeding, second-hand items, shopped clearance, used coupons and were lucky to receive lots of gifts when I was pregnant. So our two babies were not expensive at all.

Now that our kiddos are 3 and 4.5, they are just starting to get more expensive. With lessons, and equipment and/or clothing for those lessons, and birthday parties with classmates, more clothing needs, school things, etc. Oh and then there’s the increase in gas when you’re driving them back & forth to school and dance lessons, etc.

It also costs an arm and a leg for the 4 of us to occasionally go out to dinner. Then if we want to go to an aquarium, baseball game, movie theatre, museum, amusement park or whatever, there’s 4 of us to pay for! It gets super expensive and we rarely do those sorts of thing.

So we save by using coupons, shopping sales and clearance, finding free outings, frequenting our library, and cutting out alot of extras. Just like you said, save where you can, so you have money left for the expenses you can’t control.
Mary @ Tips & Treasures´s last blog post ..Free sample of Cover Girl Nature Luxe Foundation

3 Marci January 20, 2011 at 11:07 am

Another option for baby and all things really, is to investigate if your new community has anykind of a freecycle group. I joined one awhile back here in Houston. It is an email list that you can offer things you don’t want anymore to the list, and you can pick up things free that other people don’t want. The variety and generosity of others is truly amazing! and did I mention-free!

4 KC January 20, 2011 at 12:07 pm

I think the most expensive component, which is not discussed here, is daycare. We live in an expensive city and we both have to work full-time. Full-time daycare for an infant ranges from 1400-2100 per month!

5 Kacie January 20, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I think babies CAN be expensive, like you said. So far, my kids aren’t. We have extremely awesome health insurance, which helps me say that. Breastfeeding and cloth diapering also help my cause.

Second babies can be way cheaper, since if you still have all your baby gear from #1, that’s less stuff you need to get for them.

After we take the tax credits into account, i think we’re a little bit of money ahead. HAH!

Now, whenever we get baby #3, it’s going to be expensive since we’ll need a bigger vehicle. But if we have baby #4, no big deal, since hopefully we’d still have that same van.

College expenses are a whole ‘nother story. :)

6 Karen January 20, 2011 at 2:41 pm

KC – I agree with you, daycare is probably the biggest baby expense for families who need it. I realized that I’d left it out completely after I finished writing this post. When I got pregnant, we looked into daycare costs and weighed whether it would be worth it for me to work. Unfortunately, at this stage in my career in the industry I was working in, I couldn’t earn enough income to justify high daycare costs, so I made the decision to work from home. But yes, leaving daycare out was an oversight on my part.

7 Hannelene January 23, 2011 at 12:58 pm

Definitely daycare! My baby goes to a daycare subsidized by my husband’s office and it is still $1400. Then we also had to use disposable diapers since daycare will not do cloth.

The other expense (obviously not a necessity, but important to us) is traveling to visit family. Driving cross country with an infant means more stops and an overnight stay somewhere, and flying means one extra ticket.

Great advice to save where you can though…
Hannelene´s last blog post ..A Simple Scarf

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