Somebody Asked… About Making Your Own Reusables

From Facebook:

Can you offer a suggestion for making the switch to cloth toilet wipes and tissues with things we have on hand? We have a huge box of old clothes that my hubby hasn’t seen or worn since high school (10 years ago), and I have basic sewing skills (straight lines, and 10 stitch options on my mom’s sewing machine that I hi-jacked 6 months ago, and she still hasn’t needed). At this point our budget won’t allow us to purchase these items, and in order to save the money we would need to make the switch…is that backwards thinking? Would love some suggestions if you’re willing 🙂

I’m happy to help.

You have a few options, and what you choose will depend on how fancy you want them, and what fabrics you have available.

  • Tshirts and other knits technically do not have to be sewn around the edges – they won’t unravel. If you have thicker knits, you can just cut them into squares and use those for hankies or wipes. If you have thinner knits, I’d recommend using those as hankies instead of wipes… some people use the thinner stuff for single-ply wipes, but I prefer something a little thicker. You know those annoying TP commercials about keeping you clean while getting you clean? Well, thinner knits don’t do a good job of that.
  • Thinner knits, you can double up and sew around the edges, just with a regular straight stitch. Again, they’re not going to unravel, so you don’t need to worry about the edges.
  • Soft fabrics that aren’t knits (flannel shirts, old towels), you can cut into squares, sew two squares right sides together, leave an opening for turning, turn them right sides out, and then topstitch.
  • Personally, I’d recommend saving things like twills or denims for other uses, as these won’t be comfortable as wipes or tissues.

So there you go! I hope that helps.

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.

Wow.

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.

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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.

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.

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Clothes
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.

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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!

Soy Fabric: Awesome? Or not so much?

Crafting a Green World brings us a great article on Soy fabrics. There’s a lot more information at the link, so go there to read the rest of it!

One of the coolest things about soy fiber is that it’s made using the byproducts from the creation of soy foods like tofu. That means soy isn’t grown just for fabric purposes, and that soy fabric production helps reduce waste.

The process for making the fabric sounds similar to bamboo: “Soy protein is liquefied and then extruded into long, continuous fibers that are then cut and processed like any other spinning fiber.”

This process is very chemical-heavy, but unlike a lot of rayon made from bamboo, it’s a closed-loop system, meaning they reuse the chemicals over and over rather than dumping them.

Crafting a Green World also did a great article on bamboo a while back (and they agree with me – bamboo is NOT the Eco-wonderful fabric that many want it to be).

“How do I convince that babywearing/clothdiapering/cosleeping/whatever is awesome?”

I get this question a LOT. A lot lot. Someone asked again on Tuesday at the evening Babywearing meeting. Here’s my secret. I don’t.

Here’s something to think about. The people in your life who continue to try to engage you in discussion about the choices you’re making do so because they continue to believe that you care what they think, and that they might be able to convince you. They continue to believe this because you continue to engage in conversation with them about it.

Stop talking about it. Problem solved.

“But, Sarah, I don’t bring it up! They do!”

Right, but do you answer? Stop. Don’t be rude, just don’t engage. “You know, that baby’s never going to learn to sleep on his own.” “Oh, we’re not worried about it. Hey, that reminds me, we’ve been hoping you’d share your recipe for corn salad. Do you happen to have that handy, and I can jot it down while I’m thinking of it?”

I’ve found that children are particularly good for these sudden subject changes. “What, are you still going to be breastfeeding when he’s in college?” “ha ha, maybe. <turn to child> Uh oh, I think you need a clean diaper!”

A recent one from my life. “You should coat a pacifier with honey to get her to take it.” “Hm. That’s something to think about. Oh, hey…(on to another subject).” And I did think about it. For like 2 seconds.

This is how I do it, personally. My family and friends stopped commenting when Wally was about a year old. I know they comment to themselves. That’s fine. They don’t comment to me. They know it is pointless.

Some people (like my husband) take a different approach. It works for him, but I don’t think everyone can pull this off. Randy’s snotty. “What are you still going to be breastfeeding when he’s in college?” “Well, we hope he goes to Drake, so he can pop over between classes for a snack.”

“But, Sarah, isn’t it better to try to educate those around me?”

Of course. And certainly give it a try, at first. I don’t suggest disengaging from the get-go. When you first make a new, controversial decision (like cloth diapering, you wild and crazy parent), people are bound to express their opinions, and most of these opinions will be based on misinformation. Absolutely, giving correct information is a good idea. Answering questions is a good idea. Many, many customers have been pleasantly surprised to find that family and friends were supportive of their decisions (including cosleeping or not vaccinating) once they understood the facts and/or the reasons.

But there are always going to be those people who won’t listen, or who don’t care, or who are just certain that their way is the right – the only – way. And that’s fine. We all have things we’re not willing to bend on. Then there is the small percentage who not only are convinced that you’re crazy, but who feel the need to constantly remind you of that. That is NOT ok. That’s when I recommend the “Oh, ok, thanks for your thoughts, change the subject” approach.

“But what if that doesn’t work?”

If you’ve tried talking reason, and then you’ve tried just disengaging, and it’s still not better after a while (at least a few months – it took some people in my life nearly a year to give up), perhaps you need to sit down and talk about setting limits. “I really love how much you care for the kids. (insert related compliment here.) But…” then talk about how their actions make you feel, and ask for their help in settling on a solution. Maybe they could agree to try to keep their comments to themselves. Maybe it gets to a point that you have to limit contact.

“But I really want to convince them! If only they would see how awesome babywearing/cloth diapering/cosleeping/whatever is, their lives would be changed for the better!”

Yes, maybe. But I personally think that this goal is unreasonable for at least 80% of relatives and probably 50% of friends.

Also, this should go without saying, but needs to be said. Do NOT complain about sensitive things to these people. If someone in your life disagrees with cosleeping, then don’t tell them that you’re tired because you were up all night with the baby. If someone in your life wants you to stop breastfeeding, don’t mention that your toddler recently started biting and you’re frustrated.

The reasoning here is two-fold. First, you’re probably seeking support in these situations, and you’re not likely to get it. Instead, you’re likely to get criticism. Second, if you’re really frustrated by the situation, you might find yourself starting to be swayed by this criticism, or well-intended but bad advice. “Oh, honey, just put him in his own bed and let him cry… you’ll feel so much better with a full night of sleep.” It can start to sound pretty good to a tired mom when presented by someone who really believes this is a great idea. You might decide to try it. You might hate yourself in the morning.

I think this might be the other half of my successful formula. One half disengaging, the other half showing no fear and absolute confidence. Part of the reason that my parenting choices don’t come up is that I never, ever discuss them.

Now, let me note that this is also a LOT like parenting. When we are having some difficulty with our children, one of the first things we should do is check to make sure that our expectations are in line with reality. It is not realistic to expect a 2 year old to sit still through an hour-long wedding, for example. So the first thing to do is adjust your expectations. It IS reasonable to expect a 2 year old to sit still for PART of the wedding with quiet toys, and then maybe need a bit more interaction from you to make it through the rest of the service. This is called being realistic.

It’s the same thing here. With some people, it’s not realistic to believe that you’re ever going to convince them. So you need to adjust your expectations.

Bamboo, and be careful what you believe

I’ve wanted to post about Bamboo for a while, but I knew just enough to be dangerous, and not enough to write a fully-educated post about it. Bamboo is, essentially, Rayon. Rayon is a funny fabric – it starts as something natural (trees, or bamboo) but goes through so much processing that it pretty much loses most of the properties of the material it started out as. And this processing is highly toxic. So, Bamboo, like other rayons, is not the eco-super-fabric it’s often portrayed as, particularly in the Cloth diapering community.

So as I’ve been mulling over how to post this without making everyone say “oh, yeah, prove it” and me being all “um, I can’t,” the wonderful Kathleen over at Fashion Incubator comes through again with her recent blog post all about Bamboo fabrics.

The FTC is concerned that consumers are being misled by greenwashing. Although rayon is a natural but man made fabric, rayon production is highly toxic (Avtex, the largest EPA Super Fund clean up site was a rayon plant). …

Claims of bamboo superiority are widespread on the internet and must be critically considered. For example, one site attempts to make the case for bamboo (rayon) by comparing it to cotton when a fairer comparison is to compare bamboo rayon to regular rayon. In truth, the only advantage appears to be that bamboo is quickly replenished but caveats (below) abound. Regardless, this advantage is comparatively negligible because regular rayon is made of wood recycled from lumber processing. Another site bolsters their claims of bamboo’s lower toxic load by employing a bait and switch, launching into a description of the lyocell process that is not (yet) used in bamboo rayon production. Unless one reads carefully, one can be easily misled to believe bamboo rayon production is less toxic and superior to regular rayon or cotton production and this has yet to be proven.

You really should go read the rest of her post. If you’re not a manufacturer, you have my permission to skip over the parts about labeling.