And baby makes three! New parents have many adjustments to make, and the expense of raising a baby can be one of the big ones. Decorating a nursery, buying baby furniture, clothes, diapers, a car safety seat, a stroller – these expenses can add up very quickly.
If you’re on a tight budget, the first consideration is not what the neighbors or relatives or co-workers expect, rather the question to ask yourself is, “What does the baby need?”
First and foremost, the baby needs to arrive in the best condition possible, so if you’re a smoker, start saving money before the baby arrives by giving up that addiction. Think of the money you’ll be saving for the rest of your life.
The same is true for alcohol and any other recreational drugs that you may enjoy. Unless you can stay away from them completely for the next nine months (or more if you’re going to breastfeed) you’re running the risk of damaging your unborn child and creating all manner of unexpected expenses later in your child’s life. Raising a developmentally-delayed child brings with it a surprising number of extra costs and difficulties. Every time you deny yourself a glass of wine, put the money you’d have spent on it into a savings jar and save up to buy something special for the baby.
Don’t even look at department store displays if you want to save money on clothes that baby will wear for a few weeks at best. Go to thrift stores, garage sales, and second-hand clothing stores, where you’ll find better quality items, practically new, for almost nothing. The trick is to shop often and pick up a few really good, versatile items in whatever size happens to be available. Chances are, if you’re having a baby, so are some of your friends or relatives and you’ll need baby gifts, so gender-specific clothing that you don’t use will make a welcome baby gift for someone else. Boy or girl, you’ll need only undershirts, sleepers, caps, and blankets at first, tee shirts, jeans, sweaters, pajamas, jackets and hats later on. By the time baby arrives, you can have a substantial basic wardrobe that will last into his third or fourth year. However, do leave those cute little snowsuits, swimsuits and summer wear at the store until you actually need them. It’s hard to predict what size your baby or toddler will be wearing in six months.
If you have friends or relatives with children the same age as yours, perhaps they will be agreeable to swapping clothes as one child outgrows them and another grows into them. It’s delightful to look at family photo albums and see the same cute outfits appearing over the years worn by friends or cousins.
A newborn doesn’t need much space. For the first few months a big laundry basket or a good-sized plastic baby bathtub will make a cozy bed, but you need someplace to set it off the floor away from drafts. Instead of spending money on a fancy crib right away, buy a natural sheepskin that will cushion baby’s bed wherever you choose to make it.
A change table isn’t a necessity; setting baby on the bed and sitting down to change diapers is actually safer and easier. All you’ll need is a small rubber or plastic sheet to protect the bedding.
A big money saver is breast feeding, and there’s a definite bonus in knowing that your baby is getting the best nutrition possible, as long as you eat healthily and drink lots of water. The downside is that you’ll have to spend some money on nursing bras (which you can start to use when your breasts fill out during the later months of pregnancy)and possibly some new tops because your breasts may stay quite a bit larger than they’ve ever been before. The other bonus here is that your uterus will return to pre-pregnancy size much more quickly than if you don’t nurse, so you’ll be able to get back into your jeans and skirts sooner. Simplify your life by introducing bottle feeding right in the hospital. Ask the nurses to give your baby a bottle of water if he wants feeding when you’re asleep. Buy a couple of small glass baby bottles and encourage the baby’s father and babysitter to offer a bottle of water so that you can be away from baby for an extra half hour. Reserve bottle feeding for water or formula – by the time you start to introduce fruit juices baby will be able to manage a sipping cup. Infancy is the time to set eating patterns for life, so make meal times distinct from the rest of the day. Don’t create a child who can be pacified only by putting something in his mouth.
Cloth diapers are another big money saver. There are all sorts available, and each style has advantages. Buy single packages of several different styles and see which works best for you. If you buy plain flat cloth diapers, rather than padded, contoured ones, they can be folded to whatever size baby needs and used right through until your toddler’s toilet trained. By then they’re ready for the rag bag. If you buy more expensive, fitted diapers, and use them for only a few months they’ll be good as new for the next baby. Either way, they’re far less costly than disposables and much less damaging to the environment. The only other expenditure with cloth diapers is a sturdy diaper pail with a lid and a box of Diaper Pure to keep the odor under control. If you’re breast feeding, though, dirty diapers will have very little odor. If you don’t have your own washer and dryer, a diaper service will likely be less costly than disposable diapers.
Bath time can be stressful. There are a variety of different baby bathtubs and bathing frames to support baby in the tub, but the easiest way is to just take baby into the tub with you. Start the bath running while you undress yourself and the baby in the bedroom where you can set her down on the bed. Don’t step into the tub but rather sit on the edge of the tub with baby in your arms, swing your feet into the tub and then slide in. Don’t try to wash your hair or relax in the bath; this is baby’s bath, and often a feeding as well. Getting out is awkward, so call your spouse to come in and take the baby out to be dried and dressed while you run some more water, lay back and relax for a while.
A newborn doesn’t need toys. Instead invest in a good baby monitor so that you can spend time in the yard or the kitchen when baby’s sleeping. A good stroller is another pricey but worthwhile investment. If you buy a sturdy one at the outset, it will last for all your babies and maybe a few more. It should have large wheels and a plastic cover so that you can take baby out in rain or in winter and navigate curbs. Both of these, while they may not show up in garage sales will often be available second-hand. If you don’t see any advertised, call in to the local radio station’s swap-and-shop program or post ads at the local mall or on the internet.
Baby car seats, also expensive to purchase, are often made available by service clubs. You pay a fee to rent the seat until your baby outgrows it and then exchange it for the next size up or return it and buy one that you can use for the next couple of years.
The first toys you will want for your baby are things to chew on. Your real keys are not a good chew toy, but baby will want them when he sees them, so buy him a set of thick hard plastic ones on a ring, along with some softer plastic liquid-filled chewing rings that can be put in the freezer to provide some relief from sore gums. These are not expensive, and should be purchased new at the drugstore or discount store and frequently sterilized with boiling water. When baby starts crawling, he’ll want to be near you, so when you’re in the kitchen, give him access to a cupboard with pots and pans and lids and some sturdy wooden spoons that he can manipulate and clang around in. Being able to empty the cupboard and climb into it will entertain him as much as the stuff in it. Start training him to put away his own things by helping him to put everything back in the cupboard before feeding him.
When it’s time to start introducing solids, use a blender to puree your own food rather than buying jars of baby food. Just don’t add salt or spices until after you’ve taken baby’s portion out. Add a bit of milk or carrot juice to get the right consistency.
All the toys and baby furniture you’ll ever need are available at yard sales and garage sales for a fraction of the new price. You may have neighbors or relatives who will lend you things, sell them at a discount or be happy to give them to you just to get them out of the house. Don’t be proud!
If you can possibly manage it, put away $100 or $50 or even $20 a month in a registered education savings plan. The interest that accumulates over the next eighteen years will go a long way toward paying for your baby’s post-secondary training or education.
Don’t worry about keeping up with the Joneses. Consider only what baby really needs, and you’ll find that money isn’t always the answer.