This part one of a series on what a baby costs the first year and how we spent 90% less than the national average. To read part two of the series, click here.
A new baby is exciting and slightly terrifying for many reasons. Besides all the anxieties about your health, delivery, sleep deprivation, baby care, etc., you’re probably a little anxious about how you’re going to pay for this bundle of joy. Health care costs alone can feel daunting, but the list of everything your baby will need in the first year starts to feel totally overwhelming. When my husband and I started thinking about and planning for a baby, I was worried that we wouldn’t be able to afford such a high maintenance tiny person, and I was especially worried that I wouldn’t be able to afford to quit my job and stay home. (Necessary caveat: My decision to quit and be a SAHM was the best for me and our family, and I in no way pass judgment on working moms.)
So, like the personal finance nerd that I am, I obsessively started researching how much a baby costs. And what I found shocked me. In 2015, the USDA published a report that stated the cost of a first child’s first year was a mind-blowing $12,980. Twelve. Thousand. Dollars. My jaw literally dropped. There was no way we’d be able to save that kind of money before we had a baby! But after doing a little more research and creating my own list of what we’d actually need, my worries faded. A baby was going to cost much, much less than $12,980.
In fact, my daughter just celebrated her first birthday, and after doing a bit of nerdy spreadsheet work, I discovered that her first year cost….$1,258. That’s right, less than 10% of the national average. (That number does not include labor and delivery or insurance premiums.) Much of our savings we can attribute to the generosity of friends and family who gave us gifts at our baby shower, or graciously handed down their previously used items. So to be fair, that cost may have been higher if we didn’t have great support, but still nowhere near $12,980. In this article, I’ll note what we were given in each category and what it would have cost if we had purchased it ourselves.
How We Saved for It
Before our daughter was born, I was working part time for a software company. When I got pregnant, we immediately stopped spending anything I was making. We’d always saved the majority of my paycheck anyway, so this wasn’t a drastic financial shift for us. We use a budgeting software called You Need a Budget (referral link), and it made it easy to put my income into our savings. My paycheck was split into a few categories: 10% went to our charitable giving, 45% went to our “Babies” fund, and 45% went to our retirement savings. After 9 months, we had $1000 in our “Babies” fund. Because I’d planned out our spending for baby’s first year, I knew we were really close to what we needed. With our careful budgeting in You Need a Budget, I also knew we had some wiggle room in my husband’s salary to cover the difference.
What We Spent
Diapering is the big baby cost that you can’t get around (at least in the US, China seems to have it figured out). We spent $282 on disposable diapers and wipes the first year. We were gifted a few Amazon gift cards that we used to order three boxes of diapers, so realistically, that cost would have been closer to $350.
We used disposables exclusively for the first ten months, and then I got tired of spending money to fill a garbage can. I found a bundle of used cloth diapers on Craigslist for free, and spent $67 on cloth diapering gear. I got
- A wet bag
- Travel wet bag
- Special diaper ointment (no petroleum for cloth diapers)
- Stripping detergent
- Diaper liners
- Diaper refresher kits to replace the worn out velcro and elastic on the used diaper shells (to be honest, it turned out to be a HUGE project).
Now we use a combination of disposable and cloth, which has cut our monthly diapering cost by ~60%.
So should you do disposable or cloth diapers? It depends. Let’s assume your child will be in diapers for two years. In disposables, that total cost will be $700. And if you decide to have a second child later on, that cost will be an additional $700, for a total of $1400. But they are so easy and so convenient, which is worth a lot in New Parent Land.
Plus, let’s consider the environmental cost. Two years of disposable diapering will generate about 2,000 pounds of non-biodegradable waste: a literal ton of garbage.
Buying cheaper diaper brands would potentially save you $150 per year, but I didn’t find that it was worth it. Cheap diapers (Luvs, Up and Up, Parent’s Choice) needed to be changed more often and gave my baby diaper rash, so we stuck with Huggies almost exclusively.
Cloth diapers, if you were to buy a supply new, would cost $300-$500. That would last for the full two years, plus the two years of a possible second child. This would potentially save you about $1700 for two children or about $350 for one child. The savings is obvious at first glance, but cloth diapering has its drawbacks.
- It takes time to wash cloth diapers: about the same as a regular load of laundry.
- It is less convenient to change a cloth diaper. Stuffing an insert, tucking in the diaper liner, and snapping it closed seems like it wouldn’t take that long, but throw in a flopping and screaming toddler, and it takes an eternity.
- Cloth diapers are super stinky when dirty. They need to be kept in a well-sealed diaper pail or zippered wet bag, or they will make your whole house smell like a barnyard. But keep them closed up and washed frequently, and they are not any worse than disposables.
So it’s really up to you and your situation. If your child will be in daycare or with Grandma most of the time, and you plan on only having one child, maybe disposables make the most sense for you. Or maybe your sanity is worth the money. But if you will be home with your baby most of the day, and are willing to commit to cloth, they are a great way to save money long term.
I personally love doing a combination of cloth and disposable. We use disposables when we’re out and about, traveling, on wash days, and overnight. But cloth diapers work great for days when we’re home together, and it saves us 60% on diapering every month.
Unlike diapers, it’s really easy to lower your clothing cost. We spent $127 on clothing, because we were fortunate to get a lot of gifts. We got three garbage bags of hand-me-downs. Quite a bit of that clothing was in poor condition, out of style, or duplicated, so we ended up a third of it. We also received quite a few new outfits at my baby shower. Had we purchased all of her clothes, I estimate that we would have spent $200.
For our $127, we got
- a bundle of 45 newborn items (used)
- a pair of leather moccasins (new)
- a pair of faux leather moccasins (new)
- a pair of leggings (new)
- two dresses (used)
- four pairs of pajamas (used)
- a sleep sack (used)
- 3 piece outfit (used)
- bundle of 12 month clothing (used)
- misc. clothing to fill needs in different sizes (used)
- 3 pairs of shoes (used)
- swimming suit (used)
- skirt, two sundresses, overalls (used)
The baby shoes were a waste of money. My daughter will not keep them on for more than five seconds, and she still doesn’t walk, so shoes are completely pointless. (But they’re so cute!)
The used clothing was purchased from three different sources. Garage sales are my favorite way to buy baby clothing. Typical garage prices are 10% of what the items would cost new, so it’s by far the cheapest way to shop. If you want to find great deals at garage sales, it takes a little strategy.
- Check Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, and local newspaper for ads on Friday and make a list of the top 2-4 sales you want to visit on Saturday.
- Look for ads that have addresses in nice neighborhoods and list items you need.
- Don’t bother going on Saturday to a sale that started on Friday because all the good stuff will be gone.
- Get up early and be at the sale right when it starts.
- Garage sale shopping takes patience, but not a lot of time. We only go from 8-9 am every Saturday. After 9, we assume everything good has already been sold, so we head home to start our day.
The second place I buy used clothing is thrift and consignment stores. We have three different thrift stores nearby and a Once Upon a Child. Thrift stores typically are priced at 10-30% of what you’d pay new, and consignment stores are usually 50%.
- Monday and Tuesday are the best days to shop at thrift stores because they get so many donations over the weekends.
- A couple of our local thrift stores will run big sales a few times during the month, marking most items down 50%.
- I signed up for Once Upon a Child’s email list, so I get notified when they run their big end of season clearance sales.
A few of the items were purchased from individuals on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace. The pricing is typically similar to thrift stores, but I have bought bundles of clothing that came out to less than 50 cents per item.
- When buying clothing on FB or Craigslist, ask how many kids have worn the clothes. If it’s more than one, the clothes are probably more worn than they are worth.
- Also ask if the home has pets or smoking. Although you can wash clothes, I usually pass on these items too.
- Always meet in a public place to buy or sell, and try to take someone with you, just to be safe.
My initial worries over affording a baby quickly dissipated once I sat down and did some planning. Saving ahead of time eased a lot of the financial burden in the first few months when our expenses were the highest. And a little extra creativity and effort saved us hundreds of dollars on diapers and clothing. If you want to know how we saved money on feeding, gear, and other expenses, click here to read part two of this series.