Baby on a Budget

by Dawn Lloyd

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Many first time parents suffer from "sticker shock" when they begin registering for baby gifts and purchasing the needed baby accessories. It's natural to desire all of the latest gadgets and adorable clothes, but it adds up quickly. As the mother of two small children, I've found a few tricks that can make parenting easier on the wallet.

The Nursery - The purchase that I was most excited about with each pregnancy was the crib set - it was also the most frivolous. Crib sets easily run between $100 and $200! Although they may seem to put the finishing touch on the nursery, you'll actually get very little use out of them. The comforter is adorable and is the most expensive piece in the set, but the day baby comes home, you'll put it up and probably never use it again. Due to the risk of SIDS, it is not recommended for baby to sleep with a comforter or other soft bedding. Mine is actually hanging on the nursery wall as an over-priced decoration.

The crib skirt is also pretty, but not very practical. I had one for my daughter's nursery and it only served to get caught in the crib each time I lowered the rails. The only bedding necessary is a few crib sheets and a bumper pad. You can pick these items up for less than $35 and put the other $65 - $165 to better use.

Carefully consider your crib purchase. Remember, on average, a baby will spend less than two years in a crib. A popular choice is a convertible crib that grows with your child. It begins as a basic crib, can be used as a toddler bed, and ultimately transforms into a twin bed. A convertible crib can be purchased for a few dollars more than a regular crib, making it the most obvious cost effective solution.

One item you can do without is a changing table since it will serve no useful purpose once he/she hits toddlerhood. You can purchase a special pad that attaches to the top of a dresser and is far less expensive than a traditional changing table. Another option is to simply change baby in the crib by placing a washable changing pad under baby.

Baby Accessories - The first thing every expectant mother wants to do is register for or purchase all of those make-my-life-with-baby-easier items. Save your money! There are a few that I would label as initial "must haves" such as a bassinet, swing, and car seat, but there are many more that you can absolutely live without - namely diaper wipe warmers and baby food organizers.

Many of these items will only be used for a few months, so consider purchasing from friends, consignment sales, or yard sales. The only item that should not be purchased used is a car seat. It is recommended that car seats be replaced after any automobile crash, even a minor one. It is impossible to tell by simply looking at the seat if it has been damaged; therefore it is best to only use a brand new seat, or one that you are positive has never been involved in a collision.

Clothing - Shop the consignment shops and sales. You'll find that your baby outgrows an outfit before he/she has the chance to break it in. I eagerly await the semi-annual children's gently-used clothing sales! I take outgrown clothes to sell, and then shop for next season's wardrobe. With a little luck, I usually manage to break even! Most of the clothes, toys, and accessories are in excellent condition, at a fraction of the cost of purchasing new.

I also graciously accept hand-me-downs from friends and relatives. I have several newborn sleepers that have been passed back and forth between my sister-in-law's and my children. They are now awaiting the arrival of Baby #5! For those well-worn items that aren't quite "going out in public" material, I save them for pajamas, messy art projects, and just plain bumming around the house/rolling around in the mud outfits.

Diapers - Purchasing diapers by the case can save you several dollars per month. Usually the "supercenter or warehouse" stores have the best prices. Be sure to sign up with your favorite diaper company for money saving coupons. I receive coupons almost every week for $1.00 - $2.00 off per pack (which can also be used to purchase cases). Watch your Sunday sales paper for specials -- If you're not particularly attached to one brand, you can save money by purchasing whatever brand is on sale each week.

Cheaper isn't necessarily better. I have found that most generic brands are not as absorbent as the name brands, and they also tend to run smaller. If you purchase diapers by the case, one size could mean 20 diapers less per case. You may actually be paying the same, or even more, for the generic brand!

Consider cloth diapers. Cloth diapers mean more laundry, but if that doesn't bother you, it can save you quite a bit of money in the long run. There are many new accessories, such as leak-proof covers, which are making cloth diapering popular again.

Breastfeed - Breastfeeding has obvious health advantages, as well as the convenience of always having milk warmed and ready to go. However, the financial advantages are often overlooked -- Breastmilk is absolutely free. If you are planning to return to work or need to leave your baby with a caregiver, an excellent quality breast pump can be purchased for less than the price of a two-month supply of formula. Many mothers have successfully pumped, allowing them to enjoy the benefits and cost-effectiveness of breastfeeding, while enjoying the freedom of bottle-feeding. Contact a local lactation consultant or La Leche League for breastfeeding advice.

Formula - If you are unable to breastfeed, or choose not to, you will find formula to be expensive. Join the baby clubs sponsored by the formula companies. You will receive free samples as well as coupons for up to $5.00 off.

It is also possible that you may qualify for WIC, a government assistance program. With WIC, you will receive formula, milk, bread, cheese, and cereal during your baby's first years. Contact your local Department of Social Services to see if you qualify, based on your income.

Baby Food - At 50 cents per jar on sale, it is much less expensive to make your own baby food. Did you know it's rather simple to make homemade baby food It only requires a very good blender or food processor, a steamer or boiling pot, ice cube trays, and a few minutes of your time. Making your own baby food has the distinct advantage of you controlling what goes into your baby's sensitive tummy. You determine how much, if any, spices and sugar your baby gets.

Clip Coupons - Clipping coupons and sorting through them each week may seem time consuming, but the savings can really make a difference. As mentioned in other sections of this article, most name-brand diaper, baby food and formula companies offer substantial coupons for joining their mailing lists. Other sources of savings are grocery and drug store baby clubs. I recently received a package of coupons from a local grocery store, including free diapers, baby food, cotton swabs, and apple juice. Combined with the other coupons I had clipped and taking into consideration it was double coupon day, I knocked nearly $60 off that grocery bill!

Yard Sales - You'll be amazed at the great deals you can find at yard sales! Baby furniture, accessories, and even clothing can be purchased for pocket change! Many parents simply want to clean out the basement or attic and are willing to let these items, which are often in excellent condition, go for a fraction of the cost.

Be conservative and use a little common sense. Keep in mind that in twenty years, your baby will not remember whether you used name brand or generic diapers or bought his/her clothes at a consignment sale. Try a few of the above suggestions, and watch your savings add up!

Dawn Lloyd is the owner/editor of She and her husband live in North Carolina with their three young children.

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