Of course, what the headlines don't shout about is the huge discrepancy in those numbers. Low income families spend more like $145,500 over 18 years on their kids. High income families spend closer to half a million, and all of this has regional variation. Breaking it down, middle-income families spend about $13,000/year, low income families spend a bit over $8,000/year, and high income families spend about $30,000/year. The low income figure, when broken down into a yearly amount, doesn't seem so bad, but I knew it was still pretty inflated.
When HusbandX and I decided that we were ready to have a kid, we weren't in what most people would consider an ideal situation. I was working full-time, but not for very much money. I was right on the edge of what's considered a living wage for an Alaskan. HusbandX, meanwhile, had started taking classes toward a second degree. Thankfully, part of my benefits in working for the university (as most U's do) included tuition benefits. We still had to pay fees, but no tuition. And of course, he wanted to focus on classes so he didn't work much. One very part-time job working as the weekend roaster for a local coffee roasting shop (with the perk--ha!--of free coffee while he was working!) which paid about half of our monthly grocery bill. In addition, we were (and still are) paying off HusbandX's student loans from his first degree. So we knew going into this project that money would be tight.
What we did have on our side, thankfully, was a decent amount of savings. For six glorious and awful months, HusbandX worked as the environmental officer at a mine. Two weeks out at the mine, one week home. The schedule was brutal and neither of us wanted this to be a long-term thing, so we saved pretty much every penny of what he made, and those six months more than doubled our income for the year. When winter came and the company laid everyone off, we didn't mind so much, and it was after that when he started taking classes again.
Still, having savings didn't mean we wanted to dip into it. What if we needed that money later on? What if we wanted to buy a house? What if the baby ended up needing extra post-natal care for some reason, like time in the NICU? What if something happened I couldn't work, or if I got laid off? So many what-ifs which make having savings available a necessity. So we set about trying to figure out the cheapest way to have a baby.
She's nearly two now, and since her conception I estimate that we've spent only about $6,000, including all food, transportation, clothing, and medical bills. If I'd had a normal delivery rather than an emergency c-section, it would probably be lower by about $1-2,000.
How did we do it? Actually, it's been pretty easy. Mostly it just comes down to "don't buy stuff". I was going to start this list with the two biggies, breastfeeding and cloth diapering, but I feel like pretty much everyone knows that those can save money (even with external costs factored in, such as laundry detergent and extra food for a breastfeeding mom) and have either already decided in favor of them, or decided against them for perfectly legit reasons. My brother and his wife won't cloth diaper because they'd have to haul the dirty diapers down to the laundromat. Even if the money worked out in favor, the time spent and the hassle would be huge. And I know lots of moms who couldn't breastfeed so I, personally, refuse to pile onto the stack of guilt that seems to be de rigueur. There's no reason to feel guilty about not breastfeeding, for any reason.
So minus those two, here's my list of frugal baby hacks.
Check out your local Buy Nothing group
Most of them have Facebook pages. You can post stuff that you need, and people in your area willing to give up that/those item(s) will respond. It might not work 100% of the time, but it's a great place to start. Especially with baby items, it's been my experience that there are a lot of people who are super happy just to get rid of them by any means possible. And since babies only use things for a short amount of time, they haven't had much time to destroy them. Stains can be washed and it's not like the child will care when they're in a used bouncy seat or gnawing on a used teething toy.
Ask family and friends
I'm not talking about asking them to buy stuff for you. I mean that if you have family (siblings, cousins) or friends who've had kids, chances are they've got baby gear they want to unload. In fact, you might not even have to ask them. After we announced on Facebook that we were expecting a girl, I had a cousin message me to let me know she'd send us a few things from her daughters, including some cloth diapers. I did a happy dance. Just a few days after that, one of my second cousins (whom I never would have dreamed of asking about baby items!) messaged me to say that they still had some baby items from when their kids were small, and would we like them? Of course we would!
We have never had to buy the Munchkin a pair of shoes. Not a single one. Friends and family have always provided these for us. Most have been used by other kids, but a few pairs were new. Great-Grandma sent a pair of boots last Christmas (which haven't actually been worn yet because they were so big!), and some friends had bought boots for their son before last winter, but he'd grown out of them by the time winter started so they gave them to us.
Thanks to some friends who've decided that their daughter will be an only child, we were the grateful recipients of years' worth of shoes, and clothes up to 4T. Since our Munchkin is fairly petite and has been moving into new clothes with what the label actually says, that means we've got clothes for her until she's 4. I have two tote boxes filled with clothes the Munchkin hasn't even gotten to wear yet.
We also haven't been picky about what we get. Boy clothes, girl clothes, doesn't matter. Babies are all shaped the same anyway, and dinosaurs are cool no matter what your gender is.
We are passing along some of this generosity by sending a box of items to my brother and sister-in-law (who's due in just a couple more weeks!), and will continue to do so, at the very least out of gratitude that so many others have been so generous with us.
See if your parents have a stash of old baby clothes
Before the Munchkin was born, my MIL brought up a bunch of things which had been my husband's as a little boy. A stuffed dinosaur, some boots, a baby doll, some blocks and a train. On my side, my parents and I recently went through a trunk full of old baby clothes from my brothers and me. The Munchkin now gets to wear some of the best fashions of the 70s and 80s. She looks really cute, and the clothes and toys she's received are sturdy. They've withstood the test of time, after all.
Some friends of ours didn't have to buy pretty much anything for their baby. The mom's parents had saved everything from her niece's baby- and childhood, including the furniture. Since our friends also had a girl, they had pretty much everything they needed to get going. How awesome is that?
Rockin' an outfit last worn by one of my brothers in the late 70s,
and hand-me-down sandals.
If you do need something, see if you can make it
Before the Munchkin was born, after we had all of the cloth diapers assembled, I realized that it would be fairly easy to do cloth wipes as well. So I cut up an old, torn flannel sheet and serged the edges to make wipes. Ta-da! No one cares if they're oddly sized, or if they're not perfectly square. We just wet them down and wipe away. Total cost: $0. (Even the sheet was free--my MIL had given us some of her old sheets when she realized she had too many. We used them as sheets until HusbandX tore them by accident, then used the fabric as many ways as we could.)
When this summer was coming up I realized that the Munchkin needed some warm weather jammies. All we had were the full-length footie jammies, which would have been fine in Fairbanks, but not so great in Seattle where it actually gets hot. So, I made some nightgowns out of old men's shirts. (I'll do a tutorial soon.) Total cost for that project was $0, and she loves them.
Instead of buying disposable training pants, I made some cloth ones. (I followed this tutorial and used regular 2T/3T underwear.) Even for me, this was a ridiculously easy project. If I give myself a fairly generous wage for my time, I estimate they cost me about $2 a pair. Disposables are anywhere from $.28 each to $.58 each, and purchased cloth training pants (which often don't have the water-resistant outside that mine do) are at least $3 each. Not only did I save money, but I can pass these along to friends when we're done. I've found them to be incredibly durable so they should make it through at least four or five kids before they wear down.
Check anywhere that has free or cheap furniture
Curbside dresser with a "free" sign on it? Even if it's ugly, sanding it down and adding a coat of paint will do wonders. If something is broken, it's worth checking to see if that can be fixed, or if it can be done without, like drawers. Add some baskets instead. There are hundreds of Pinterest-worthy tutorials on how to transform a piece of furniture. Even if you don't already have the skills needed, watch a few Youtube tutorials and give it a go. At worst you're out the cost of the materials, if you had to purchase some, which is far cheaper than the cost of buying something brand new that you later find you don't like, or which breaks apart before the baby's second birthday.
If you have to buy, always, always buy used
There are so many used baby items floating around out there that I don't really see how anyone could get away with only having new items for a kid. That would just be crazy, and I shudder at the thought of the cost. Value Village, Goodwill, consignment shops, eBay, and Craigslist are always the first places to go to. The very first outfit we got for the Munchkin was the very day we found out she was a girl. We needed to go to Value Village anyway for some maternity pants and HusbandX found an adorable blue plaid dress for $2.99. He held it up to me with pleading eyes and just said, "Yeah?" It's too small for her now, but it's still his favorite outfit of hers.
When we have had to buy clothes, they've all been used. Total, we've spent less than $100 on clothing for her, including all winter gear for living in Fairbanks.
This last one is tricky. I don't actually care much for Christmas and birthday presents. I feel like they take more away from those occasions than they add. People stress out over them and so frequently, what's given is junk. However, I've come to realize that some people are givers who just really like to get gifts for others. My mother-in-law is one. She shows her love by giving gifts. Instead of crushing her by saying that we don't want her generosity, we let her know what would be most useful for us. That way she gets to express herself and her love in a way that feels comfortable, and we get items which will be used and loved. (I also feel a little bit less guilty about this--yes, guilt for accepting gifts happily given!--because my MIL is savvy and almost always gets used items.)
We are also lucky because our Munchkin is the first grandbaby on both sides, and the first great-grandbaby for at least one person. So our families have been really excited and love to get the Munchkin things. We've just steered them toward what she really needs, and it makes everyone happy.
Potty train early
After reading the book "Diaper Free Before 3", we decided to give early potty training a go. And I do mean early. We started sitting her on the potty at about 6 months, when she was starting to be able to sit up on her own. (We still held her up, don't worry.) I won't go into all the details (maybe in another post, if anyone's curious?), and potty training is still ongoing, but it has reduced our need for diapers so much. Even with cloth diapers that's important because it's reducing our need to launder (water,electricity, soap), and reducing the wear and tear so they last longer. At an age when most parents are just starting to think about potty training, I can confidently state that my kid is mostly daytime potty trained.
Don't buy stuff
This is the last on my list, but by far the most important. Babies just don't need all that much, certainly far less than we're constantly told they need. I was both surprised and pleased by how little we found that we actually needed, even living in the cold north where temps regularly dropped to -40 or colder. We've donated so many things as we realized it was all just an overwhelming amount of stuff, only half of which we used. (I suggest finding a women's shelter or some other organization which directly helps out women and children.) Blankets, toys, and clothes have all been given away to people who need them far more than we do, and when we've decided that we're totally done having kids, all of the no-longer-needed items will be put back into the stream of used but perfectly usable baby gear for others who need it.