Keepin’ it Cheap, Baby!

(or, how to keep your frugal ideals – or develop some – when it comes to your young’uns.)

Welcome to my post for Des Moines’ Frugal Blog Tour. I hope you can visit all the blogs on the tour this week and next.

The USDA, in its Expenditures on Children by Families 2009 report, estimates that parents spend an average of $11,700 for each baby in their first year of life. (Families in urban areas spend slightly more, and rural families spend slightly less.) I used the UDSA’s Cost of Raising a Child Calculator and discovered that, even after removing housing and child care expenses, I can be expected to spend about $4,000 on my two year old this year, and about $5,300 on my 6 year old.


The good news is that those statistics reflect the “average” American, not the super frugal American that you can become!

So let’s take a look at some of the major baby expenses and some practical ways you can reduce those expenses without sacrificing quality or safety.


Baby Equipment
Most “saving money with your new baby” articles give you lots of ways to buy baby “stuff” for less money, or will direct you to baby “stuff” that gets you the most bang for your buck. But few of these articles will challenge you to really consider how much “stuff” your new baby really needs.

I would encourage you, though, to really think through each and every purchase. For example, many “baby must haves” lists claim that an infant “bucket-style” carseat is an absolute necessity – but the vast majority of babies do not actually need an infant seat. Most convertible carseats can hold babies as little as 5 lbs rear-facing, and then can be turned around to front-facing for toddlers and preschoolers up to 65 (or more) lbs. Cutting out the “bucket” seat can save you about $200. (In addition, bucket seats are not safe places for infants when used outside of a car. They are heavy and awkward to carry around. Instead of carrying your baby around in a $200 infant car seat that will only fit them for 4-5 months, consider purchasing a $40 baby sling, which is not only lighter and less bulky, but will fit your baby until they’re in preschool – or beyond.) For more information about keeping carseats in cars, see this article at Mothering.

Strollers are often considered a Must Have. I’ll admit, we do use ours (I think we’ve used it about a dozen times with two children over six years) and they can be handy. Before you sink a lot of money into a fancy-pants model, though, seriously consider how much you’ll use a stroller. Where do you plan to take the baby where you’ll want a stroller? Particularly if you plan to use baby carriers or slings, you might not use a stroller as much as you think you will. Perhaps a better strategy might be to borrow a stroller at first, until you get a good feel for how much you’ll really use it. As an alternative, consider purchasing a cheaper (or a used) stroller, planning to move up to a more expensive model if you end up feeling like it would be a good investment after all.

Other baby equipment you could probably do without: Bassinet (babies can nap just as easily on the floor), changing table (babies can be changed on nearly any flat surface – including the floor or the top of a dresser), Exersaucer, Baby chairs and bouncers, baby bathtub (a sink, or mama’s lap works just as well), breastpump (unless you really have a need to pump, such as if you’re planning to return to work), and baby swing. Some families who plan to cosleep even forgo a crib (we put up a borrowed crib when pregnant with our first, but never used it, and never bothered to put it up with our second).

(Please note: I’m not saying there is anything wrong with any of these baby products. If your family, your baby, your neighbor, your aunt’s second cousin’s baby liked them – that’s fine. There’s no judgement here. But if you’re trying to save money – you don’t NEED any of these items to have a perfectly healthy, happy baby.)

But what about saving money on the baby equipment that you really do need? It goes without saying that buying used or borrowing is better for your budget than buying new. (Check out any items against Recall lists, and be sure to check them over to ensure proper, safe functioning.)  Garage sales, Craigslist, Ebay, friends, family, and secondhand stores can all be great sources of previously-loved baby equipment. The good new is, most baby equipment is used for such a short time, it’s usually still in pretty good shape.

Baby equipment is one area where having a well-established “tribe,” or what I call “purposeful family,” can come in handy – many families who don’t currently have new babies will have the equipment you want just sitting around unused – and will probably be willing to lend to you. Frankly, I look for nearly any opportunity to lend out my baby swing (a gift), since it’s huge and I’d rather not have to store it.

Cloth Diapers.

Lest there be any confusion, I own a business where I make and sell cloth diapers. While I have no problem with families who make an educated decision that disposables are better for their family, there is just no question that cloth diapers are a more frugal choice. I have spreadsheets that drive this point home in a ridiculous amount of detail here. There are plenty of resources in the Des Moines area to help you learn more about cloth diapers – particularly, Des Moines Cloth Diapering is a great resource.

Want to go even more frugal?
– Using prefolds with covers are the least expensive diapering option – not only because prefolds are cheaper than other types of diapers, but because they tend to last the longest, as well.
– If you have any sewing skills, you could try your hand at making your own diapers, which will usually be less expensive than buying diapers (usually!). Using materials you already have on hand and sewing your diapers without fasteners cut the cost even further. Don’t think you have diaper materials on hand? How about old Tshirts and kitchen towels?
– Buy used diapers. I usually discourage people from buying covers used unless you know the seller, since there’s a risk that they’re being sold because they no longer work. However, buying fitted diapers or prefolds used can be a real money-saver. Our local Des Moines Cloth Diapering has a used diaper “garage sale” twice a year, where we bring together families with diapers to sell and families looking to buy diapers. This sale provides buyers with a relatively safe used diaper buying experience. Every once in a while, you can find cloth diapers at secondhand stores or garage sales, as well.


Clothes can be a major expense, but saving money here is so easy. Buy used. Borrow from friends or family with kids slightly older than yours. Ask family members for hand me downs. Buy clearance. There’s really no reason to ever pay full price for baby clothes.


Baby Food
Some families decide that formula is what’s the very best choice for their family. However, from a financial standpoint, you can’t beat breastfeeding. Not only is breastmilk free, but it also comes in attractive containers! Breastfed children also tend to be sick less often, resulting in reduced medical expenses, as well. Breastfeeding is not easy for everyone, but seeking help from the local LLL or a qualified Lactation Consultant (look for someone who is board certified – they will have the initials IBCLC) can definitely pay off here.

Once baby starts eating solid foods, making your own baby food will save tons of money, as will skipping the “baby” versions of regular foods. For example, they do sell “baby” fruit juice – but it’s just juice. Buy regular juice, and then dilute it half with water, and voila! Juice for the young’uns, and at a significant cost savings over the “baby” juice. Even better – skip the juice entirely. It’s a really concentrated source of sugar, and pretty unnecessary in a baby’s diet. For baby foods, there is really no need to purchase commercial baby food at all. Babies can eat what you’re eating – just smashed up. Are you having roast with potatoes and carrots for dinner? Scoop some out and mash it up for your baby, it’ll be healthier and cheaper than serving them jars of beef, potatoes, and carrots from Gerber.
Belly at 8 months

Prenatal care and Childbirth
I want to start off this section by saying that I totally understand that not everyone can have their “ideal” birth. Despite our best efforts, some women really do need a C-Section or other interventions.

That said, the way you plan for your child’s birth can have a dramatic impact on the cost of your child’s birth. Midwifery care, for example, is dramatically less expensive than OB care. (And don’t assume that just because an OB is in network on your health insurance that care with the OB will result in less out of pocket expense for you than a midwife. Our out of pocket, after insurance, cost for Wally’s basic hospital birth with an OB was higher than the basic cost for a midwife would have been. Still kicking myself for that one, and not just because of the money!)

Whoever your chosen provider is, it can often pay to ask about ways to save money. If you pay in advance for the birth at the hospital, will they give you a discount? If you’re paying with cash instead of insurance, will they give you a discount? If your chosen provider delivers at multiple hospitals, you can choose the hospital that charges less for the same services. You can even choose a provider partly based on their expenses – not all providers cost the same amount of money, and providers who charge more aren’t necessarily better. (Recently, my husband needed a sleep study to diagnose his sleep apnea. Calling around to a few different providers netted us a savings of over $1000.)

Planning to avoid many common interventions in childbirth  (such as pitocin, epidurals, etc.) or in prenatal care (ultrasounds, tests that are routine but not medically necessary) can also dramatically reduce the expense invovled in having a baby. Those things aren’t cheap, and they often lead to more things that aren’t cheap.

An interesting point here, though, is that sometimes spending money can help you save money. For example, taking out-of-hospital childbirth classes can help you learn to be an advocate for yourself, and save you money in the long run on unneeded tests, procedures, etc. Hiring a doula has been proven to help prevent interventions in childbirth – and will likely save you money in the long run, as well.

I know the idea of considering cost when talking about medical care is pretty controversial in this country, but it’s this attitude that has helped us land where we are with skyrocketing medical expenses. You wouldn’t take your car in for body work without asking how much it’s going to cost and doing some comparison shopping – there’s nothing wrong with shopping around for medical care, either.

Yes, Babies can be expensive. But they don’t have to break the bank!


Author: sarahtar

Hi, I am Sarah, owner of Wallypop ( and Boulevard Designs ( I homeschool, work from home, and, along with my husband, raise 3 kids, one of whom has special and medical needs. Turn ons are people who are polite, honesty, and really good root beer. Turn offs are mean people and people who make my life more difficult.

4 thoughts on “Keepin’ it Cheap, Baby!”

  1. This is a fantastic post! I’m going to be sending this to a few of my prego friends who are trying to save some cash. Oh, and if you can sew you can make some really cheap baby clothes (that are even cuter then any you can buy!) And a way to save on medical costs is to eat properly and to exercise, it really saves tons! And saving the baby clothes and toys from previous kids (not all of them, but enough to get by) also saves tons. My husband called me a “baby stuff hoarder” until our second came around and we barely spent any money on him at all.

  2. I have to say that I don’t feel like prefolds are the cheapest. I think flats are! just fold into a rectangle and put them in a cover.

    And I don’t like the calculator-I can’t customize it since I don’t pay for child care etc.

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