Thursday, August 12, 2010

Expecting expenses

A couple of days ago, I was contacted by a young stay-at-home wife expecting her first baby, who felt a bit overwhelmed after going through lists of "necessary" baby equipment and hearing about everything she would "need". She asked me how we kept baby costs at minimum throughout the first year of our daughter's life. Here is my (slightly abridged) reply. 

Congratulations on the wonderful news of your pregnancy! I would encourage you not to worry about the financial side of this too much - I mean, I read some articles on "necessities" in the baby's first year, and the sums were so astronomical that at first I wondered how this could possibly be - until, of course, I continued reading and saw what was defined as "necessities" (daycare, formula, and a big bunch of brand new stuff). 

It's wonderful that you are staying home even though you don't have children yet, especially now that you are pregnant. I had lots of advice during my first pregnancy "to go out and make some cash while you can" - I'm so glad I didn't follow it. Being home now means you are getting used to living on one income, practicing your domestic skills, and perhaps working on various projects you won't be able to attend after baby arrives. Not to mention it's so much better for your health and sanity - you can rest when you need and make it to your prenatal appointments without worrying about taking time off work. 

The two big money-guzzlers that make people say it is so "expensive" to have babies are the costs of daycare and formula. If you stay home and breastfeed, those two are automatically eliminated - and you can considerably cut down on the "necessary equipment" list, too.

Personally, I can tell you we spent just a fraction of the "estimated average" baby costs for the first year - and we still have more than what I would consider true necessities. I would not say I'm the queen of frugality (ha! I wish I was), but we still made it through unscathed, so to speak. I wrote this post about baby expenses a couple of months ago, have you seen it? It doesn't really provide a list of what is "needed", but it gives a few pointers. 

I would strongly encourage you, before you buy anything new, to look at baby stuff people are willing to pass on, or sell after a brief use at the fraction of  its cost. Most baby things only get a very short and gentle use anyway, if we're talking about a small family. We got a lot of things from family, friends, and off online swap lists/second hand shops. 

If you know people are planning to give you gifts for the birth of your baby, make a list of what you need and pass it around, or simply tell them what you need - otherwise you might be stuck, for example, with a myriad of toys your baby won't look at for another year or so, but without things you'd find truly helpful to have. 

Here are a few specifics that weren't covered in the post I linked to earlier:

Car seat - if you have a car, of course. That's something I wouldn't get used, because of safety reasons, unless you're absolutely sure it wasn't involved in anything that could cause it damage. We got our car seat new but we chose something very simple, straightforward, and inexpensive. It did its job just fine. 

Someplace for the baby to sleep - we got a used baby bed (if you do that, make sure it's safe - no nails sticking out or something like that). It came with a mattress in very good condition, with a washable cover. We paid a fraction of what we would pay if we bought it new. But that baby bed wasn't even used for several months, because Shira slept in her pram in our room (we got the pram passed on to us. A smaller crib would do fine, but the bed we bought just wouldn't fit next to my bed and I really wanted to be close to her because she needed to nurse several times at night). Oh and we got some bedding for it of course, most of it gifts. Some families choose to co-sleep and forgo the cost of a baby bed :o). And if it's warm and your baby doesn't roll over yet, he/she can nap on a mattress on the floor. 

Baby bath tub - I know some parents wash their babies in the sink and/or shower with their babies, but I personally have found the bath tub to be tremendously helpful. I still use it now because (for obvious reasons :o)) it's difficult for me to bend and bathe Shira in the grown-up tub. 

Entertainment - Very small babies don't really need much in the way of entertainment. Mobiles, in my opinions, are hugely overrated - Shira always preferred to be placed wherever she can observe Mommy and other people doing real stuff. Even later on, you won't need that many toys. Better keep a few and rotate them. A large number of toys is an insane waste of storage space, since little ones get bored with them so quickly. 

Prams/strollers - Not strictly necessary but I've found it to be tremendously helpful. When Shira was tiny, I'd roll her in her pram to whatever part of the house I happened to be in, so she could see me and I could keep an eye on her. It's a considerable expense but, at least around here, many people offer to sell gently used strollers in very good condition. 

Slings/carriers - Some people say they can't do without their slings or baby carriers, some say it's a waste of money and space. It's very difficult to know in advance what will work for you, so it would be ideal if you could borrow a sling/carrier you consider purchasing, and try it to see if your baby likes it. Again, this can be bought used, and you could make your own baby wrap from simply a very long, wide and stretchy piece of fabric (you don't need to sew for it, just hem). We have a baby wrap (which we got from my sister-in-law - she bought it and never used it) and a snugli-type carrier (the latter currently being used by one of our baby nieces). The wrap was convenient when Shira was very tiny, and the snugli when she could hold up her head. Both types of carriers were good for short outings, and I preferred the stroller for longer outings. 

The point is, even if someone tells you something is "necessary", it doesn't mean you must have it. It's amazing how many things women have done without when they needed to. My in-laws raised their five children in a 2.5 room apartment. My mother-in-law never had any strollers or slings - she carried her children in her arms until they could walk. She never had a high chair - she sat her children in her lap until they were old enough to sit in an adult chair. She didn't have a baby bath, she washed her babies in a big pail she placed in the tub. She used simple flatfold cloth diapers which would always leak onto the few baby clothes she had, and she was always washing by hand because if she had waited for a full load the baby would have nothing to wear - and she was much too frugal to run the washing machine when it wasn't full! I'm not saying I'd want to live quite like that, I'm just giving her example as an illustration how many conveniences it is possible to do without. 


Kate said...

If any readers live in the United States, try freecycle and craigslist for used baby supplies.

Cloth diapers, those initially expensive can save on cost. An inexpensive version is to get the prefolded ones people often use as burp cloths, some vinyl pants, diaper pins and soft washcloths. These work well during the day, but you may still want to use disposable at night.

Wash cloths instead of wipes. They work better, and save you all that money.

Instead of a bassinet, get a pack and play with all the bells and whistles. My pack and play has a bassinet and a changing station. It's great! I can wheel it anywhere, I forgo a changing table, and when baby's too big for the bassinet, I have a playpen for them to play in/sleep in when necessary.

Fancy crib bedding is unnecessary (and dangerous). It is mostly for looks. Baby is much safer with a fitted sheet and one of those wearable blankets or swaddlers.

Moby wrap - a MUST for me.

Anonymous said...

Hello, interesting article; you seem like a dedicated mother, ie you don't want child care etc if you don't have to, yet it was a surprise to read that you don't seem to agree with co-sleeping, just judging by how I reacted to your response to the young wife's questions. I'm intrigued as to why that appears to be the case...

Thank you.

PhDCow said...

While I have no problem with baby supplies from other people, I would caution new mothers to check the products to see if they've been recalled.

Recently, drop-side cribs and some high chairs have been taken off the market for safety concerns. Also, if getting a car seat that isn't new, be sure to ask whether it's been in a car accident since car seats shouldn't be used after an accident because of structural integrity.

I definitely agree with the washcloths as baby wipes. Even the sensitive baby wipes can still be too harsh.

Also, my children are now 8 and 6 and they still sleep in fleece footed sleepers during the winter. The same style that they wore as infants. Keeps them warm and comfortable!

justme27 said...

Good stuff.

We co-sleep, so that takes care of crib and bedding.

As to a carrier, I suggest trying out a ring sling or WOVEN wrap. Moby wraps and such are stretchy and like you said, Mrs. Anna, they're best for tiny babies. A woven wrap can still comfortably hold my 17 month old on my front or back or hip.

For info on carriers (types and cost and uses) go to They also have a section on their forums called "For Sale or Trade" where you can get a used carrier for a cheaper cost. Or even check out the "Free for shipping" section if you're in need.
Also, this program gives free carriers to moms in need.

Gothelittle Rose said...

It's old "folk knowledge" in my area that, if you don't have a place for a baby to sleep, you can just remove a bureau drawer, empty it, and put a folded blanket in the bottom of it.

Probably because most people, even if they don't have a crib, bassinet, stroller, or Pack 'n Play, will at least have a place to put their clothing.

A bureau drawer has the benefit (over just a mattress on the floor) of having raised edges to keep the baby in.

It is possible to have and raise a perfectly healthy infant with a bureau drawer for a bed, a sling (bought or homemade) to help carry, and a bunch of clothing and cloth diapers (or any soft rags, if you live in a third-world country). Baby only needs clean and warm and fed and Mommy and Daddy.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Anon, I have nothing against co-sleeping but personally I couldn't do it because the few times we tried, I was too afraid to roll over baby to actually sleep. :o) I know many people do just fine with co-sleeping, though.

Matushka Anna said...

Oh, I so agree with this post. When we were expecting our first child 12 years ago, we were as poor as church mice (funny, since now we *are* church mice - my husband is a priest - but we're still poor!). I had to realistically sit down and think of what we *really* needed. I still got lots of things we didn't actually need since this was the first grandchild on both sides, etc., but because of my lists, we got everything we did need without having to run out ourselves.

I would also add that a great place to get baby things is at thrift stores. Obviously there you will find a lot of worn-out clothing, etc., but you can also (with some looking) find some almost new clothes and sheets/bibs/etc. I remember finding four soft bonnets and four pairs of bloomers in a bin at a thrift store before #1 was born. I think they all came to a few dollars and you can't find them anywhere else.

When my SIL was expecting, she called me to ask about things that she would REALLY need, because the list provided by a major dept store was quite extensive. (Well, of course it was because they want to sell you more stuff!) By then, I had had five children and felt very comfortable telling her what was essential and what was a waste of money and space. That list of what you need is surprisingly small. Our consumer culture has blown things way out of proportion.

may said...

Re the baby's mattress - I hope that this will not be seen as alarmist but, in the UK, parents are advised to use reasonably new or under-used baby mattresses because of research that has linked older or well-used mattresses to a higher risk of SIDS (cot death syndrome), possibly because such mattresses tend to contain more bacteria. So whilst you could buy a mattress second-hand, the advice is nevertheless to check its condition carefully (as Mrs T obviously did) before purchase.

sibyl said...

A good post. One rule of thumb: any consumable product marketed especially for babies will be overpriced and easily reproducible.

For example, baby shampoo. Just use regular adult shampoo, but only a tiny bit of it! (Obviously, if he develops a rash, try a different brand.) Or baby lotion --most babies don't need lotion in our climate, but if they do where you live, just use a teeny bit of petroleum jelly or regular.

The kicker, though, is baby food. LIke, those itty bitty precious packets and cups and boxes of individual sized servings of -- wait for it -- apple juice, or oatmeal, or mashed up squash! Well, if you cooked your own squash in the oven until very tender, put it through a food processor or food mill, you'd have probably three full cups of cooked squash for about the same price as a four-pack of the "baby food" squash.

Never buy baby food. When a healthy, non-allergic child is ready for solids (sometime after the first six months) he or she can go directly to real food, mashed up well. We feed our babies mashed banana, whole grain cereals (well-cooked or soaked to make them soft enough), mashed vegetables, avocado, and tiny mashed up bits of whatever we're having for dinner, even if it has some spice to it. I figure, this is what they'll be eating later on; they might as well get used to it now! The expense is negligible.

Huge expenses you will thank yourself later on you did without: a changing table (very nice, but gets in the way and you end up changing the baby on the floor or couch anyhow); toys (they want to play with books, pots and pans, your hair, your shoes, and your computer); a diaper bag (a large purse really is big enough if you use disposable diapers, but if you do cloth a regular backpack is fine); a rocking chair (unless you really love rocking chairs yourself, my babies never have liked being rocked in a sitting position).

What we have found indispensible for having babies: some type of body carrier (sling, etc), stroller, car seat, a few clothes, diapers, excellent nutrition for breastfeeding mom (really! budget more for more calcium-rich food items, protein foods, and chocolate). If you didn't co-sleep, you'd need a crib and related bedding.

Anonymous said...

For me, one of the most under used items was the diaper bag. I found preferred a backpack that I already owned - it was more comfortable because it was on my back and not slung over my shoulder and wasn't in the way when I was struggling with a stroller on the bus etc. And never mind the fact that it is less obvious than Winnie the pooh or the like ;)

I also didn't own a playpen until my daughter was about 7 months (at which point she wasn't used to it so she hated to be put in it.)

When she was old enough to sit up in it I loved the high chair - I could put her in it with some toys and cheerios or pudding etc and place it in the bathroom door way so I could shower more or less uninterrupted (I was a single mum)

Mrs. Anna T said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erika said...

A great way my husband and I have saved money on the "big ticket" items have been going to garage sales, often in nicer neighborhoods. We also have some friends who were getting rid of their old baby things. One friends even sold us her newborn Cloth diaper stash for$5. She had decided cloth wasn't for her. We got practically new stroller/car seat and portable play pen crib Thimbu for a fraction of a new one.

Mrs. Anna T said...

Sibyl, I didn't mention expenses for older babies (such as high chair, baby food, sippy cups, toothbrushes), but of course - we never bought any of those teeny tiny overpriced jars of mashed fruit or veggies. We used our blender, or more often, a fork, to mash some of whatever we had on our plates. I don't remember ever cooking separately for baby. She always eats whatever we're eating, and perhaps that's why she was always so ready to try "grown up" foods. I knew babies whose foods were always so carefully mashed and so carefully kept away from any salt and spices that they became extremely picky eaters once they reached toddlerhood.

Leah Brand-Burks said...

" I had lots of advice during my first pregnancy "to go out and make some cash while you can" - I'm so glad I didn't follow it."
Me too! I don't regret one minute of being a pregnant homemaker. It did wonders for teaching us to live on one income, plus, I was able to research just what was really needed for baby. Love this post.

Anonymous said...

I've got to chime in about the changing table. That was one luxury I'm so glad I went for! I didn't at first, but the way our crib side folded out meant that I had to lean over the side to change my baby in such a way that put a strain on my lower back. I was getting a chronic lower backache. Mine were too squirmy to be very effective at changing them on my lap or on the couch (yes, I even gave them hand-held toys)! I also had a fold-up vinyl pad that I could put on the floor if I was reduced to that.

One thing I found essential for our very mobile, on-the-go lifestyle was an all-cloth over-the-shoulder diaper bag. A woman in our church made it and it was deep, had long straps to carry over my shoulder, and pockets sewn into the inside toward the top to hold my wallet, checkbook, and whatever I mgiht need to grab for the baby (pacifiers, wipes, rattles). I used it for my purse as well as for baby!


Persuaded said...

Such a good answer for that young mama-to-be, Anna. Honestly, if I had it to do over again, all I'd buy would be cloth diapers and some cute, non-trendy, natural fiber baby clothes. We loved co-sleeping in our family, breastfed (of course,) and I have come to despise all of the bright garish plastic which it seems that all baby things are made of these days. The only luxury that a baby needs is his mama close by...

Laura said...

Oh, I completely agree! I went into a small panic (silly of me!) when I was expecting our first child. I looked and researched on lots of sites and tried to find exactly what we needed. We STILL overbought. I think you have a very good list of essentials here.

One more I would add for breastfeeding: A decent nursing cover. It really made all the difference for me to public nurse. I rarely had a nice ladies lounge to nurse in and hated hiding out in the car. I used a Bebe Au Lait... and just recently acquired a Udder Cover because they were giving away free covers for World Breastfeeding Week (just prepping for baby #3! lol!). From the look of it, the Udder Cover seems even longer, which is really nice to make sure no midriff is showing.

I also loved our co-sleeper. The bassinet didn't work as well, and the co-sleeper (full size) worked until our babies were 7 months old (or more). It also converts into a pack and play (though my kids HATED the baby cage! lol). We co-slept, but the co-sleeper was a good safety net in case they decided to roll... they'd roll right into the co-sleeper! lol

Skip the high chair and go straight to the booster seat with an attachable tray. If you aren't planning on feeding your baby before 6 months, you don't need a big ole high chair. The booster seat works until they are over 2 years old and can sit on their knees!

Catherine said...

If your readers are from the US, some county health departments offer car seat rentals or free ones you can borrow. Since legally you'll have to get a couple of car seats throughout the baby's life as they grow, this can help save money because you don't have to buy new, but you're still getting a good (health dept approved) seat.

Also, around here fire departments will install them properly in your car and can also give you hints are where you can get low-cost safe seats.

Harper said...

Regarding carseats, in the US many fire departments have a carseat trade-in program. We got our used from them for a small donation. The fire department uses them to train people on how to install them and "sells" ones that are in good condition, new enough to be in compliance with current regulations, and less than five years old (the plastic can become brittle after that) for a minimal price/recommended donation. They have also checked to make sure the seat isn't subject to any manufacturer recalls.

Harper said...

I'd also add that it's best to consider significant second hand purchases and hand-me-downs carefully. If you find something that looks like a good deal, go home first and look online to find out if the product has been recalled. I found out that was the case after the fact with two major baby items that were given to us.

The research takes only a few minutes, and the results are well worth the minimal time investment. :D

Anonymous said...

Great post as always, Anna! Love your blog. Your ticker says you have less than 2 weeks till the little one arrives! I know you had an earlier post saying how you wish you had more time to learn before he she/came, but I just know how good of a mom you must be to Shira and will be to the next one! They are very lucky babies to have a mom like you. Do you know if you're having a boy or a girl?

Thoughts and Prayers,

Lady Anne said...

Anna, you said you had a difficult time co-sleeping with your daughter. Health departments in the U.S. really discourage parents from co-sleeping for just the reason you mentioned - it's too easy to roll over on the baby! The only way I ever co-slept with my little ones was when I fell asleep on the sofa with the baby on my chest!

I didn't have a changing table, per se. We had a roll-around cart (I don't think they make them any more, but my "babies" were born in 1966!)that I used instead. A folded crib pad fit perfectly on the top, I kept baby powder and tissues, etc. on the middle shelf and folded diapers on the bottom.

Disposable diapers are such a "racket". My girls wore cloth diapers and were trained by eighteen months; I've seen children who look as if they are old enough to go to school in disposable diapers. Yeesh! A dozen cloth diapers cost as much as one large package of disposables and last forever. My grand children wore the same diapers their mothers did, and I may still have a few around here to use on any prospective grandchildren.

Hannah @A Mother in Israel said...

Lady Anne, according to research by Dr. McKenna, breastfeeding seems to be key in preventing co-sleeping. It's extremely rare for a nursing mom to roll over on to her baby--it has to do with the sleeping positions.
As for carseats, even if you don't have a car you should try to get hold of one,for when you ride in a car, taxi, or bus with belts.

Becky @ Sowing Little Seeds said...

After having 4 children in 4 years I definitely have a better grasp on what is necessary for a baby than I did with my first one. There are only a few things that babies actually need: A safe place to sleep or be put when they can' be near mommy, clothes, blankets, a carseat, mommy's milk, and love and safety.

I totally have to say that cloth diapers (and wipes) may seem daunting and expensive at first but they are a great investment, especially if you are expecting to have more than one child. I did not start using cloth diapers until my 4th child was 9 months old (she is 20 months now) and they have already paid for themselves. They don't take much extra work - just an extra minute at each diaper change (10 minutes a day) and an extra load or 2 of laundry every week. I figured that if I had used cloth diapers starting with my first child I could have saved about $8,000 - $10,000 dollars over the years in diaper costs and another $2,000 in wipes. (You could nearly pay for a child's education with diaper cash ;)

Cloth diapers can be purchased used as can anything else you need. Trust me, every piece of clothing and blankets WILL be thrown up on, peed one, etc and they will be outgrown before you know it. Buying used is a great money saver.

Lastly, toys. After 4 children I can tell you they don't need them in the first year. For thefirst 4-6 months they will be content being held and rocked, sung to, read to, and just shown love and safety. After this they will enjoy pots and pans, stacking objects (canned foods or wooden blocks) They will play with things in nature outside and explore their environment. Those bright shiny plastic toys will only detract from the natural wonder of the world around them.

I can't wait to have my next one becuase I will be able to take all I have learned and keep things simple.