There have been several posts lately in the blogosphere about babies and kids. As someone that has had three children and had her first during graduate school, here’s my two cents on how to save money on a new baby.
- You Don’t Need Stuff: Yes, you need a reliable car seat, a stroller, and a place for the baby to sleep safely, but there are all sorts of contraptions out there that you “need.” As a first time mom, you think you probably do. After all, people have had kids swear by this stuff. As a mom of three kids, let me tell you that half of the stuff people swear by now were not around when I had Penny. Things change quickly. The other half is probably recalled by now. Assess your baby before buying a bunch of stuff. Penny loved the swing. Florin only used the (borrowed) bouncer. You baby might hate that expensive contraption you purchased.
- Ask Around: We had Penny as students. In that situation, no one had hand-me-downs to give us. But once your circles expand into people with incomes and children, things change. We had several friends that had boys the year before Lui was born and we didn’t have to buy him one piece of clothing for the first year and half of his life. For the larger items, try to borrow. The period of time in which a baby uses those large items is very small. A baby swing or bouncer can really only be used until the baby can sit up around six months old. Exersaucers are awesome, but they are ideal from about just before sitting up to about crawling, which is another six month window of time. Even if people want them back for their next baby, they’ll probably be happy to loan you bigger items for that brief time to get them out of their house.
- Grandparents: As students, we asked our parents to help us out with the car seat and stroller. We asked for those for birthday/Christmas presents. That was a huge help. I’ve also discovered that our parents like to feel helpful when it comes to purchasing for our kids. They want to buy them things, but they don’t have a good sense of what they need. I always felt bad mentioning that Penny had grown out of her shoes or Florin needed a raincoat, but I find that those tips give the grandparents something they can be in charge of picking out that they know will be used and appreciated. Also, Mr. T’s parents had kept their baby backpack and port-o-crib from Mr.T’s childhood. While they are quite old, they are still in good shape. We used the backpack with all three of our kids and Lui still sleeps in the ancestral port-o-crib.
- Don’t Sing “Hush Little Baby”: Can you think of a song that teaches worse financial principles? Who needs a mockingbird to begin with? And what a trade-up if you get a diamond ring next! That baby will force that bird not to sing to get that diamond ring!
- Trade Babysitting: With Penny, we very informally traded babysitting with friends. Now that we have three kids and have friends with 1-5 kids, we have a babysitting group where we “pay” eachother with popsicle sticks with little hand-drawn smiley faces on them. One stick per kid per hour. This helps keep things fair and takes a lot of the guilt out of free babysitting. I never wanted to ask anyone to watch three kids so Mr. T and I could go do something, but when I have twenty sticks and someone is running low, us going on a date ends up being a favor for them! Just be sure you trust the people in your group because the “currency” is pretty easy to counterfeit. 🙂
- Make Your Own Baby Food: I purchased regular applesauce (because it’s pretty much exactly the same as the one in the baby food jars but way cheaper) and baby oatmeal to start my kids out and to mix in to other foods for the first year. All the other baby food, I made. It’s so easy to steam a bag of frozen peas, throw them in the blender with some water, and freeze them in ice cube trays. I always had bags of ice cubes in the freezer of carrots, peas, sweet potatoes, green beans, and broccoli. When it was meal time, I would throw a few ice cubes into a bowl, microwave it, add some applesauce, and I was ready to go. This method is great because your baby is eating a variety of foods (mostly vegetables), trying different combinations, and you know exactly what is in the bowl.
- Cloth Diaper (or Don’t): We purchased 12 cloth diapers with Florin and used them sporadically for both Florin and Lui. I’m sure that over the course of the two kids we’ve definitely made up the cost of the 12 diapers even using them off and on as we do. Especially when you count the times we used them without the liners for swim diapers, which are much more expensive when you purchase disposable. (Also, as a tip, we purchased all these fancy laundry soups for our cloth diapers, but they were way worse than Tide. Use Tide for your cloth diapers.) When we’re home and not stressed out, we cloth diaper full time. When we’re out and about or just overwhelmed with life, we use disposable. Which leads me to…
- Give Yourself Grace: Having a baby is hard. Transitioning to having a baby is hard. Having a baby when you already have a kid (or more than one kid) is hard. You don’t need to add more stress to your life by feeling guilty that you can’t handle cloth diapering this week or that you had to buy some baby food. The person who invented baby food pouches deserves my money. That person is a genius. These were not around when I had Penny and Florin. Unless you had babies in the pre-pouch days, you won’t appreciate what a game-changer these things are. You can purchase a machine to refill them, but I’ve had good luck with thoroughly washing out the store-bought pouches and using a basic condiments bottle to refill (though it’s still a hassle). Take this parenting thing one day then one week at a time. When I had Penny, I thought “maternal instincts” just meant I’d know what to do as soon as she was born because I was her mom. Then she came, she cried, and I had no idea what she wanted. It turns out “maternal instincts” just means that you spend enough time with your baby that you learn what they want. You learn how they communicate. But that means those first few weeks when you’re trying to learn a new language is especially tough. Do what you have to do to try to enjoy it as best as you can. If that means take-out dinner one night or buying diapers not on sale because you ran out, so be it. Your entire budget won’t be shot and you’ll figure this out soon enough.