Babies can be expensive. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s calculator on child-raising costs estimates that you could spend more than $12,000 during the first year of your baby’s life.
But do you have to spend that much money? Maybe not. Since the day my son was born almost 16 years ago, I’ve never spent as much on him as the federal agency projects.
That doesn’t mean I couldn’t have saved more money, though. Here are six things other moms and I wish we’d known sooner about saving money on baby costs and tips on how you can avoid these financial mistakes.
1. Buying ‘must-haves’ that aren’t needed
“I wished I had known as a new mom all the things that are a waste of cash for babies,” said Carly Fauth, the head of marketing at financial education website Money Crashers, citing Diaper Genie systems and bottle warmers.
“Diapers need to go straight into the trash; no need to store them in the house,” Fauth said. “And a pot of hot water will warm a bottle just fine.”
Lindsay Sutton, the associate vice president of digital content for financial app Twine, wished she hadn’t spent money on an expensive glider rocking chair.
“Most of my nursing and ‘rocking’ the babies happened in bed or walking around,” Sutton said. “That money would have been better used by putting it in a college savings account.”
Before spending money on a gadget or item that someone tells you is a must-have, ask yourself whether you need it and whether it truly will make your life easier — and where the money might make a greater long-term, positive impact on your child’s life.
“I could’ve gotten by with buying way less,” said Lisa Sansom, the founder of corporate consulting firm LVS Consulting. “These things don’t make parenting any easier and only make more of a mess.”
2. Leaving necessities off the baby registry
Tangela Walker-Craft, the founder of lifestyle website Simply Necessary, wished she’d thought through what she included on the baby registry.
“Register for items [that are] useful beyond the newborn stage,” Walker-Craft suggested. “Request diapers, clothes, and other items in multiple sizes for when the baby is up to a year old.”
According to Investopedia, you can expect to use more than 2,700 diapers in your baby’s first year. If you estimate 20 cents per diaper, that could set you back about $540. Add on the cost of about $20 per month for wipes, and you’re looking at spending about $780 to keep your baby’s bottom clean and covered.
Having those items gifted to you — instead of spending your own money on them — can be a big financial help, said Walker-Craft.
Baby formula, utilitarian onesies, diapers, wipes, bedding, and other necessities might be boring, but requesting them on your baby registry can make a difference in your bottom line, especially if you’re struggling with student loan debt or other financial issues.
3. Spending on new baby items
One of my biggest regrets was buying so many little outfits for my son that were new. In the end, he ended up mostly wearing onesies in the first year of his life and grew out of the outfits quickly, often wearing them only once — or not at all.
This spending mistake also applies to other items, including toys, food grinders, bedding, mattresses, cribs, strollers, and highchairs. With secondhand items, make sure to clean and disinfect them thoroughly before using them for your baby.
“I wish I’d known about the great market in secondhand baby everything,” said Sansom. “The baby doesn’t care about color or style, and you can buy what you need gently used.”
Another tip is to borrow items instead of buying something you’ll use only for a few weeks. For example, my son’s bassinet was borrowed from my parents.
One exception might be a car seat because it’s a vital piece of life-protecting equipment. If you decide on a secondhand car seat, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has a checklist that can help you assess its risks.
4. Not knowing your company’s maternity leave policy
The Family Medical Leave Act provides certain employees with time off to have a baby, but it doesn’t require your company to pay you. In fact, the United States is the only country among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s member nations that doesn’t have a national policy for paid maternity leave.
Review your company’s policy carefully. Understand how much maternity leave you’ll have, especially if it’s unpaid, and be realistic about how you’ll handle your finances, Fauth recommended.
“You’re looking at a decrease in income at the same time your expenses are going to increase,” she said. “The sooner you can start planning, the better off you’ll be.”
Only 6% of all employers with 50 or more employees offer full pay during maternity leave, according to the Society for Human Resources Management, but 58% of employers provide some type of replacement pay. Even being on one-third pay can help your finances during this time.
Another option is to look into short-term disability insurance, Fauth said. In some cases, having a baby qualifies you for insurance payments.
5. Neglecting to start a ‘baby fund’ ASAP
Sutton wished she and her husband had saved up for a baby ahead of time — especially since she ended up with twins.
She worked for a company that offered full pay during maternity leave, but her little family still ended up struggling. Her husband quit his job to help with the twins, cutting their income. “We eventually adjusted, but we could have eased some stress in those early months with a larger savings account that we could have dipped into,” Sutton said.
Walker-Craft suggested opening a high-yield savings account and automatically transferring money into it regularly to save up for baby expenses.
To find the money for a baby fund, Fauth suggested examining your finances ahead of time, trimming expenses by using coupons, and looking for low-cost entertainment options before you’re forced to by the arrival of a child. Additionally, you can get friends and relatives to help with the baby fund by having them give money during the baby shower or via a fundraising page on GoFundMe or another crowdfunding site.
6. Not asking for help
Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for help. If you live close to family, get help with babysitting rather than pay for child care, suggested Sutton.
And if you live away from your family, like Sutton did at the time her twins were born, look for a babysitting exchange. “I wish I’d made more friends and did more play dates and traded off babysitting rather than pay for it,” she said.
You can request aid in other ways, including help with cleaning, laundry, or getting a break for an afternoon.
If close friends and family want to know how they can help, consider asking for gift cards to grocery stores and big-box stores such as Walmart and Target, suggested Walker-Craft.
“If you’re experiencing a drop in income while on maternity leave, being able to use gift cards to buy things you need for the household can be huge,” she said.
Make a money plan before it’s too late
We tend to think about the logistics of setting up the nursery and making sure we make it to the hospital. But it’s a little harder to think about the money realities of being a new mom.
Plan how you can use the baby registry, save up, and remove things from your must-have list to save money on baby-related expenses. Go through your budget and see what changes you can make, and start making those changes now.
“Prepare ahead of time, setting money aside prior to having a baby,” said Walker-Craft. “It can prevent unmanageable debt.”
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