How to prepare for a baby (without going broke)

Preparing for a baby doesn't have to cost a lot of money. Magazines and TV ads will tell you that you need to spend a fortune in preparation for your little darling's arrival, but it's simply not true. When my husband and I were expecting our first child, my husband was working at a small radio station and had a pretty small salary. I was a teaching assistant at our local special education preschool, and my paycheck was also pretty small. Here are some of the things I've learned about preparing for a baby when you don't have a lot of money.

Borrow things. Women love to share maternity and baby items. Don't buy a lot of things before you publicly announce that you're expecting, because once you make the big announcement, you're sure to get offers of gently used maternity clothes, baby clothes, and baby equipment….as well as lots of baby advice. I think it's a rite of passage for women to pass down their maternity clothes to other pregnant women. Take advantage of it.

Buy used. There are many stores that consign strictly baby and children's items. Consignment stores are great for stocking up on baby clothes and baby equipment. Since the owners are usually very strict about what they will accept for sale, the items you'll find in a consignment store are generally in excellent condition.

Garage sales are another great place to pick up baby clothes. You can often find infant clothes in great condition for as little as $1 a piece.

Wait for the gifts. Don't go out and spend a lot of money on the baby as soon as you find out you're pregnant. More than likely, you'll have at least one baby shower, where you'll receive tons of baby clothes and all the little items you'll need, like baby nail clippers, towels, a baby bathtub, and much, much more.

It's also a well known fact that women love shopping for babies. So after your baby is born, you will probably receive even more gifts of baby clothes. So don't feel like you need to buy a whole wardrobe for baby right away. I recommend stocking up on some comfortable baby pajamas for the weeks following your baby's birth. When your baby is a month or so old, take stock of what you still need and shop from there.

You don't need everything. When you visit the baby section in a department store, you might think you need to spend thousands of dollars to buy your baby every last bit of equipment. You don't. You will need a place for the baby to sleep, a car-seat, some clothes, blankets for swaddling, diapers, and alcohol swabs to care for your baby's belly button.

Nice additions are a bouncy seat or swing, a sling, a stroller, a diaper bag, some soft baby towels and washcloths, some bibs for dealing with drooling, and burp cloths for dealing with spitting up. A changing table, bottle warmer, wipe warmer, and lots of toys really aren't necessary at all. Neither is an impeccably decorated nursery. Your baby will quickly outgrow typical nursery decor.

Consider Breastfeeding. This is definitely the least expensive and most convenient way to feed a baby. I was bottle fed as a baby, and my mom bottle fed all of my younger brothers, so I always figured that's what I'd do too…until I saw the price of formula. After nursing my babies, there's no way I'd bottle feed a baby. I'm not morally against it or anything, but breastfeeding is terribly convenient. And again…it's free.

Think about cloth diapering. Cloth diapering is coming back en vogue, and it isn't what it used to be. Now you can buy all-in-one diapers that are a diaper and cover in one easy-to-change package. Today's cloth diapers use snaps or velcro in place of pins, so there's no need to worry about poking baby with a pin. The prints are really cute, too. I used cloth diapers on my second child for a while, and it really wasn't much extra work. It's better for the environment, too. Though the initial expense of cloth diapers is greater than disposables, you'll recoup the cost over time.

If you're considering cloth diapering, The Diaper Pin is a great place to read diaper reviews and find places to buy cloth diapers. As with anything, don't go overboard buying diapers at first. Different diapers work well for different babies, and you don't want to be stuck with a huge stash of diapers that don't work.

Use a midwife. These days you aren't limited to having an obstetrician deliver your baby. Seeing a midwife often means a lower bill for your pregnancy and delivery. Most midwives are very sensitive to helping parents achieve the kind of birth experience that they want to have, rather than having a delivery full of medical interventions. If this appeals to you, a midwife might be a good option. Just make sure that your midwife is affiliated with an obstetrician for backup, in case something comes up that needs a physician's attention.

Skip the circumcision. If you aren't going to circumcise for religious reasons, consider skipping it all together. The AAP now considers circumcision an elective procedure, so many insurance companies aren't covering it anymore.

Prepare in advance for maternity leave. As soon as you find out you're expecting a baby, start saving money for maternity leave. Practice living on one income well in advance of the time your baby is born. This is also good advice if you're not going to be returning to work at all. You're more likely to succeed as a one income family if you have practice living on one income before you actually lose your income. It's hard to learn how to live frugally when you're not getting enough sleep.

Though it's hard to be completely prepared when you're expecting a baby, these are some good ways to minimize the financial impact of your baby's birth. Do you have other suggestions? I'd love to hear your comments!

More about...Planning, Frugality

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Cornelius
Cornelius
12 years ago

Yes I like the idea of using cloth nappies (diapers)instead of the plastic throw away ones. For a small cost in washing them they seem more natural.

I enjoyed reading the article.

Thanks for posting.

PL
PL
12 years ago

I have been invited to a lot of baby showers and every time I go to Babies R Us or buybuy BABY I’m just overwhelmed by the myriad of products that are displayed. I think that these stores make would-be parents think that they need to spend a lot on things for their newborns. I do not have any children, but have been thinking about it. On my small salary, this has been a big concern for me. Thanks for clearing things up!

FourPillars
FourPillars
12 years ago

Excellent post.

I would say as well – a lot of baby “stuff” just isn’t necessary right away. Things like a crib are nice to have but we didn’t use ours until our baby was several months old.

If you can get a deal on something before the baby is born then go for it – but don’t rush around the last couple of weeks to try to get everything.

Also – I recommend not using a diaper change table – kids have a habit of rolling out of them.

Mike

Lynnae @ Being Frugal.net
Lynnae @ Being Frugal.net
12 years ago

@ Cornelius – I definitely like the idea that cloth diapers are more natural. Our landlord even gave us a break on our increased water bill, because he was impressed that we weren’t filling up the landfills with diapers. So there are unexpected savings as well. 🙂

@ PL – Babies R Us would definitely have you believe that you need to spend thousands on your baby. But really, babies don’t need a lot beyond lots of love and attention. That’s the most important thing.

drhands
drhands
12 years ago

It must be so much easier to practice frugality when it means saying “no” to something for yourself. I’m sure it is hard to know what to do when every product says, “if you don’t buy this, you are ruining your baby.” You parents have my sympathy. Our good friends just announced to us last night that they are pregnant. And they said the main idea they have gathered from their reading so far is if they do ANYthing, they are going to hurt the baby 🙂 I should say that as I have watched my brother & his wife… Read more »

Joy
Joy
12 years ago

I really liked this article and agree on a lot of things having had a baby 21 months ago. My one objection is the “Consider Breastfeeding” suggestion. Many mothers do consider breastfeeding, like myself, and might end up not being able to for various reasons. For example, my son would not latch on properly, and I did pump (still cheaper than buying formula even though you need to rent or buy a pump), but after a few months, I was not making enough for my son. We turned to formula, and it was expensive! But there are ways to save… Read more »

Dennis
Dennis
12 years ago

My biggest fear with having kids isn’t when they are infants. It’s once they learn to talk and ask for things. I have no problem telling myself “no” when I want something I don’t need. But when my little girl or boy asks for something, there is no way I will be able to say no to them.

LJ
LJ
12 years ago

Excellent post! I couldn’t agree more! I wasted so much time and money shopping for my first baby, looking back I think it was silly. My 2 baby showers had me almost completely stocked up and all I really needed to buy was a crib, but I just had to go out and buy cute clothes and nonsense like a fool! Maybe it was the hormones! Children’s consignment stores are great for babies and toddlers because they will go through things so quickly, paying retail seems crazy. Any one outfit will either be outgrown or ruined beyond use with a… Read more »

Frugal Dad
Frugal Dad
12 years ago

So many people say “We are waiting to get out of debt to have a baby.” I agree with that advice when it comes to buying a house, but not when it comes to starting a family. Your article correctly points out that it isn’t that expensive to have kids, if you approach the event with the same frugal approach you should take towards other life events. Great article!

Mikee
Mikee
12 years ago

We moved to cloth diapers for our third child, wish we did it with our other two. We will never go back (even though we aren’t having anymore).

I tell people this to this day and they go “That seems like so much work!”. But like you said in your post, its way easier now then what it used to be (from what I’ve heard).

Great post.

Sharon
Sharon
12 years ago

We have three boys, each about a year apart, and the one thing I’ve learned about planning for babies, is you really can’t plan. Of course, I mean that a little tongue in cheek. Yes, buy gently used, especially clothes (we had things that even with three boys got sold at a yardsale with tags still on them) and get as many hand-me-downs as you can, but go with new when it’s a car seat and make sure your crib is meeting current safety guidelines. Those hand-me downs may have slats just the right size for your little one to… Read more »

fiveberies
fiveberies
12 years ago

One more thing! Don’t forget to put the baby on your insurance! You have 30 days! Not 32!

Guess who learned that one the hard way? Two hospitalizations with minimal insurance will ruin anyone’s financial plan! Gah!

Great post – wish I could have been reading it nine years ago!

Lynnae @ Being Frugal.net
Lynnae @ Being Frugal.net
12 years ago

@ Joy – There are definitely times when breastfeeding isn’t an option. Thanks for pointing that out. @ Dennis – You’d be surprised at how quickly you learn to say no to your kids! LOL @ Frugal Dad – I totally agree that you shouldn’t base the decision to have kids solely on your financial situation. There will always be a good reason to wait. @ Sharon – That’s very good advice. Insurance companies can be dicey as to what they will and won’t cover, and it’s best to know ahead of time, so you can plan accordingly. And I’m… Read more »

Kat
Kat
12 years ago

You don’t need alcohol rubs for the umbilical cord site. Use of alcohol prolongs the amount of time it takes for the cord to fall off but is not any cleaner than using soap and water. Alcohol is only recommended with premature babies and in developing countries where risk of infection is higher.

Also while I agree that you don’t need a change table, I do think a mat is necessary.

FourPillars
FourPillars
12 years ago

One other thing I thought of – as far as the finances go I found that having a kid meant I couldn’t go out and do expensive stuff very often so I saved a LOT of money for that reason.

Mike

LK
LK
12 years ago

I appreciate this and any article/advice I can read on budgeting for baby. I’ve got the book Baby Bargains on order at the library, as well. We are spending this year whittling down our debt so that when we do try, and have, a kid we probably won’t be debt FREE but we will be in LESS debt than we are now LOL. We also want me to stay at home. Luckily, thanks to reading this blog and others, we have a savings account slowly accumulating funds to help offset my leaving the workforce!

Mr DebtBeater
Mr DebtBeater
12 years ago

Having six children, two of them still in diapers, I can easily say that the changing table we’ve had for 10 years is one of the least-used pieces of furniture we’ve ever owned…but somehow a necessity in every nursery setup.

We have 3-4 diaper-changing pads from the various diaper bags we’ve accumulated in different frequented rooms around the house each next to wipes & diapers. Messy pants don’t ever come at a convenient time or location, and sometimes running all the way to the nursery will make for an entire day of cleaning carpets. 😉

kat
kat
12 years ago

For moms who plan to return to a job, save ahead for daycare costs, if possible. With average monthly daycare anywhere from $1-3k in our area, it’s a pretty big bite (even when you are prepared ahead!). I put aside money for the first few months of daycare; it made the initial shock of paying a little easier, and got me used to our new budget earlier.

And once you’re back at work, check into a flex savings account to help cut taxes.

Kent Irwin eFinPLAN
Kent Irwin eFinPLAN
12 years ago

Great article, new parents always feel guilty if they don’t buy the latest and greatest saftey device, gadgets, also… When estimating your budget: 1 Know your health insurance benefits – study your health insurance policies to know exactly what your possible out-of-pocket costs are going to be for prenatal and postnatal care, and birth. 2 Know your maternity-leave benefits – study your employment manual to know your company’s policies for maternal and paternal time off. 3 Update life and long -term disability insurance because when you have children your need for life and long-term disability insurance will increase. Lastly, get… Read more »

Susan
Susan
12 years ago

I’m pregnant and practicing most of these, but a few thoughts. I’ve had a terrible time borrowing maternity clothes. Part of it has been the weather-it’s been so cold all I want to wear are pants and I don’t know where people find other women the same height and weight as them! But I’ve managed by buying a few things that all coordinate and mixing and matching. Showers: I don’t love the concept. I just don’t like asking people, who may make less money than me, for gifts. I would rather just buy less and plan a little more. I… Read more »

HollyP
HollyP
12 years ago

I wholeheartedly agree that not every baby gadget is necessary. I was the lucky recipient of many pieces of baby equipment, thanks to generous friends and relatives. However, there were lots of things my kids never used. You really need to make decisions based upon your child. Though I heard from many moms that it was a lifesaver for them, I never used my pack ‘n play. My kids hated it. However I got every penny’s worth out of the baby backpacks. And I found that even things that one of my offspring loved, the other one had no interest… Read more »

Sonya
Sonya
12 years ago

I like all of the advice here, mostly because it was what I was thinking of doing. I am glad to hear someone else who has actually gone through having a baby recommends what I was planning. That alone makes me feel better about this upcoming event. And I will definitely check out the non-pin diapers. Pinning the baby was my only concern!
To drhands: What would be examples of the “items I would not have thought existed, but are actually quite useful. So not all the new-fangled baby stuff is junk you don’t need”?

Rebecca
Rebecca
12 years ago

Thanks for the great information! We are considering having a baby in the next year or two, but are totally unprepared for daycare costs! I get a federal discount, and even with that, costs would run around $511 bi-monthly! That’s like taking on another mortgage! How do people swing that?!

Becky@FamilyandFinances
12 years ago

Great advice! I have a few years before my husband and I start on our family, but I love learning about this sort of thing now. It will hopefully save me a ton of money when the time comes 🙂
The cloth diaper thing is something I would never have considered before I started reading about it on blogs. I’ll definitely be keeping that in mind.

Kate
Kate
12 years ago

Great tips! I especially second the changing table. I never regretted not having one; I just put a changing pad on the floor and changed my baby that way… and there were no worries about her falling off the table. Dennis, I understand your desire to say “yes” to your kids. One way to say “yes” and still watch your pocketbook is to give your children an allowance and let them say yes to themselves until the money is gone. Except for Christmas and her birthday, I rarely buy my child gifts (and I try to really limit gifts at… Read more »

Marie
Marie
12 years ago

Buying used is great but avoid buying a used carseat – you never know if its been in an accident! If you’re planning on breastfeeding you may want to get in touch with breastfeeding groups like Le Leche League who can offer support before you have your baby (it can be a tough but rewarding experience). Also check your state and company’s policy on pumping when you return to work so you’ll know what to expect. Even if you wait for gifts get the carseat relatively early (around 35 weeks). My son was born 5 weeks early and we had… Read more »

greenfamily
greenfamily
12 years ago

Wanted to comment to Susan– yes it is hard to find used maternity clothes you like which fit well– since maternity clothes are sometimes more expensive found that buy hitting regular sales and buying larger sizes I could easily compensate for my baby belly. For example, I found tons of stuff at Old Navy (regular shirts, sweaters, etc) for super-cheap and I just bought larger sizes. Drawstring and yoga pants are perfect for pregnancy, as well as some of the low-rider jeans where the waistband sits very low under the belly. At the end of my pregnancy I did invest… Read more »

Susana
Susana
12 years ago

Great post!

adfecto
adfecto
12 years ago

My wife and I are approaching the time for us to have a baby (3 years and counting). The cost is intimidating so I appreciate all of the advice in this post.

Rich Money Million
Rich Money Million
12 years ago

Once we had our kids, my wife decided to become a stay-at-home for the first few years. This decision cut our income in half and required sacrifice. We did it mostly becasue we strongly wanted our kids to be raised in their formative years by their parents, not a stranger. An added benefit is that it saves on daycare and transportation and medical bills (kids in daycare get sick more often). I’ve read that unless you make more than $30/year, it’s actually a financial loss to go back to work and put kids in daycare.

Jen
Jen
12 years ago

Just chiming in to second a couple of other posts. As someone who tortured my poor mother by refusing to breastfeed, I have to agree with Joy et al that it’s a good idea to be finanically prepared to have to supplement or replace breast milk with formula. For many women it is very hard emotionally when a child can’t/won’t breastfeed, you don’t want to make it worse by feeling unexpected expenses on top of it. And, until you actually have the kid, you just don’t know. I’m a little surprised only one commenter mentioned life insurance. I know so… Read more »

Rich Money Million
Rich Money Million
12 years ago

Adding to my last comment, another money-saving idea is to make your own baby food. We used a blender/food processor to make baby food from various vegetable and fruits and such, which can be frozen and thawed out later. Besides saving a ton of money by not paying for store-bought food, our kids are eating a wide variety of vitamin-rich, preservative-free meals. For Dennis who said, “when my little girl or boy asks for something, there is no way I will be able to say no to them”, I want to suggest that it’s important to say ‘no’ or ‘maybe… Read more »

JenTosa
JenTosa
12 years ago

Good post — we learned all this as we went along. I was lucky to work with some people who were happy to clear out the baby stuff just as we needed it! We have tried to pass along our stuff to others when we’re done with it. It’s pretty easy to say no to your kids if you’re comfortable with what you ARE providing them, and what you’re trying to teach them. I agree with pps about allowance. Our 4 & 6 yo both get allowances, so if they want junky things we don’t want to buy them, they… Read more »

Joy
Joy
12 years ago

I wanted to add in preparation for a baby, learn how to use coupons! We didn’t use coupon normally, but once we had our son and things got tight, I started to look for ways to save money. Coupons are awesome if you learn the right way to use them. Some grocery stores even double and triple coupons, so if the items is on sale and you have a coupon, you might get it for pennies or even for free. Even saving $5 or $6 is helpful on a tight budget! I subscribe to a mommies board in my area,… Read more »

martin
martin
12 years ago

We have our cloth diapers delivered here in Portland for $61/month. Of course, they pick up the dirty ones, too. I wouldn’t know how much disposables cost, but I would think they’d be more expensive than using cloth.

Rich Money Million
Rich Money Million
12 years ago

I meant more than $30K/year, not $30/year….obviously….

….unless you make more than $30K/year it’s a fiancial loss to go back to work and put a kid in daycare.

Eivind
Eivind
12 years ago

There’s a zillion-and-one reasons for breastfeeding -OTHER- than the price. So that’s a complete slam-dunk. It’s incomprehencible to me that anyone would ever plan anything else. Sure, there’s the cases where breastfeeding for various reasons don’t work, but that’s the small minority, 5-10% perhaps.

Google “health benefits breastfeeding” — and that’s benefits for BOTH mother and child.

Justin Dupre
Justin Dupre
12 years ago

SKIP THE CIRCUMCISION!????

Don’t set him up for torturous teen years. Get him circumcised before he knows how to even say circumcision. Once he knows what that word is, and that there are more boys that are circumcised (pending on what part of the world you are from of course) he will be awfully embarrassed. And then if he wants the surgery, he has to think about the pain it will cause. Oh my god. I’m so glad I don’t remember that procedure. Thinking about it makes me shiver.

Justin Dupre

Ryan S.
Ryan S.
12 years ago

Working as a social worker with moms and babies… with some exceptions, yes, breastfeeding is best for babies and moms. The health benefits for both are great, but unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out. While (hopefully) not an issue for this audience, I also deal a lot with substance abusing moms–they definitely are not the best candidates to breastfeed their babies until they get and stay clean. 🙁

FFB
FFB
12 years ago

Great advice! I’d like to add: Keep your receipts! There’s been a lot of stuff we got either in duplicate or didn’t really need that we were able to return for items we did need. And Babies R Us is overwhelming but you don’t need everything they sell by any means. Put what you need on your baby registry. Plan on getting clothes from a lot of people. Try not to buy clothes if possible. You’ll get clothes as gifts and hand-me-downs and your little one will outgrow them at an incredible rate! We didn’t get a changing table more… Read more »

LK
LK
12 years ago

Please oh Please do NOT circumcize your child just to save them some embarrassment. What a horrid reason. Other horrid reasons include “I want him to look like his daddy” and “I don’t want his future girlfriends to think he looks weird.” Seriously – if your religion dictates circumcision that’s one thing, but for other couples, please research the procedure and come to an EDUCATED reason to do it or not do it – leave juvenile things like “He’ll get teased in the locker room” out of it. Rich Money Million, you said “I’ve read that unless you make more… Read more »

arg
arg
12 years ago

I have to agree with Justin. And I hope parents don’t skip the circumcision just to save money. They should make an informed decision about the health of their baby.

My nephew ended up having complications from not have the “elective procedure” and they got it done a few years later. Yeah, not a fun experience for him.

LK
LK
12 years ago

Please oh Please do NOT circumcise your child just to save them some embarrassment. What a horrid reason! Other horrid reasons include “I want him to look like his dad” and “I don’t want his future girlfriends to think he looks funny.” Seriously – if your religion dictates you circumcise, it’s one thing, but other couples should research the procedure and come to an EDUCATED decision on whether or not to do it. “So he won’t get teased in the locker room” is the most juvenile reason I can think of, for circumcision. *headdesk* Rich Money Million, I’d be interested… Read more »

Joe
Joe
12 years ago

Great post.
I posted a very similar article for the benefit of my brother a few weeks ago.
http://the-enobling-journey.blogspot.com/2007/12/how-we-got-ready-for-baby.html

Susan
Susan
12 years ago

Life Insurance and other estate planning: I agree that contemplation of these issues should occur even without kids, but they take particular importance with kids. In fact, it probably should be its own post someday. And yes, life insurance can expensive especially for us “older parents.” And there’s not much you can do about it.

dorothy
dorothy
12 years ago

Despite the constant well-meaning advice we got about how we shouldn’t try to wait until we were financially ready, and that “there’s never a good time, just go for it”, I still believe the best decision we ever made was to wait to have children until we were out of debt (six years after we got married). If we had still been paying on our student loans, there would have been many desperate months in our son’s first two years: In that time we have experienced three layoffs, an owner move-in eviction, and an involuntary short-term reduction to part-time work.… Read more »

ak
ak
12 years ago

On the topic of circumcision — there are reasons other than cosmetic and religious for why parents would not want to forgo this expense. Circumcision dramatically reduces the rate of penis cancer (1 in 600 for uncircumcised vs. 1 in 100,000 for circumcised). Rates of almost all STD/STIs and HIV are higher in uncircumicised males.
The few hundred dollars it costs for this procedure is worth the health benefit.

Sophie
Sophie
12 years ago

FWIW of the eight boys under age three in my social circle, only ONE has been circumsized (so far) and his mother is the one who is worried about teasing in the locker room.

fontraid
fontraid
12 years ago

Great article. One suggestion for those who are disinclined to go the cloth diaper route. My aunt and uncle just had a kid and have 3 types of diapers for her (yes, three!): the cheapest is for everyday in-the-house use, middle price is for going out on excursions, and most expensive is for nighttime. It makes for more management, but it works for them!

blogrdoc
blogrdoc
12 years ago

I’ve got two boys. We did the research and decided not to do it. Our pediatrician, who is a practicing Jew and a guest lecturer at the state medical school, told us that there is no convincing evidence that being circumcised presents less health risks of any kind. And then I did more research into my religion and found that there’s no theological basis for circumcision one way or the other. Then I figured, if I have this done, I have to live with myself that I’m totally having this done to save my kid some embarrasement, which (in my… Read more »

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