28 Ways to Save Money When You Have a Baby

Your little bundle can cost you big. Here's how to avoid blowing your budget.

An image of stacks of dollar bills.
Photo: Getty Images.

Right after I gave birth to my first daughter, a funny thing happened: Virtually every dollar I owned seemed to sprout wings. Then one by one, they flew away—to the pediatrician, the drugstore, and any chain that sold cute kids' clothes. Sure, I'd known that a baby would bring new financial pressures. But when I saw my first postpartum credit-card bill, I totally freaked out.

If you have a newborn, you're likely panicking about money, too. No wonder: Depending on your spending habits and child care needs, you'll likely shell out $7,000 to $14,600 annually between now and your little one's second birthday.

But there's hope. Through trial and error, I learned a lot about raising a daughter on a budget. Now that my second girl is here, I've gotten even savvier. Here are ways you, too, can cut your baby expenses by half—or even more.

Hospital How-Tos

Try these strategies to save money when you're at the hospital to have your baby.

Say no to add-ons

Pass up a private room if there's an extra charge. Fees can vary wildly, from about $30 a day in Alabama all the way up to a $500 daily charge where I gave birth, in Manhattan. By opting for a two-person room for my second hospital stay, when a C-section required me to remain five days, I saved $2,500. With nurses popping in every hour, I would have had no privacy anyway.

Ask for coupons and samples

Manufacturers often lavish maternity wards with freebies, but the hospital staff is sometimes too busy to remember to dole them out. I got tubes of lotion and diaper ointment, coupons for stuff like baby wash and baby portraits, plus a surprisingly chic black diaper bag to hold it all—but only because I asked a nurse whether there were any samples around.

Take the toiletries

You can often keep some goodies from your hospital stay—namely the baby-care items stored in the cabinet beneath your little one's rolling bassinet (ask permission). Look inside, and you'll probably find diapers, swaddling cloths, alcohol swabs, a nasal aspirator, disposable nipples for bottles, a thermometer, and more. Leave them behind and you'll just have to shell out $30 to $40 later at the drugstore.

Budget Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is a low-cost way to feed your baby. There's no need to buy formula, bottles, or other feeding supplies. Even if you choose to breastfeed part-time, you'll still save money. Here's how to save even more.

Breastfeed, if you can

In addition to the convenience, bonding, and nutritional and immunity benefits offered by breastfeeding, nursing your baby is cost-effective. Not only is it healthy, but you'll also save at least $1,400 in your child's first year.

Borrow a breast pump

An electric pump can be expensive (about $150 to $800), and it's just the plastic attachments that shouldn't be shared. You can buy a starter kit of those for less than $45.

Seek out free lactation support

Find out in advance where you can get free breastfeeding advice. When you need help, you need it fast, which can limit your options. With my first daughter, I paid a lactation consultant $200 before recalling that my hospital had a free nursing hotline.

Local breastfeeding organizations may offer home visits or phone consultations at no charge. Additionally, labor and deliver nurses and your doctors typically can offer valuable advice as well.

Don't rush to buy a breastfeeding wardrobe

My mom bought me three $18 nursing tees shortly after I left the hospital. I spent another $36 on special bras. Total wasted when I had to give up breastfeeding 10 days later: $90. Since you'll spend most of your baby's first two weeks indoors anyway, wait at least that long and make sure you're committed to breastfeeding before you buy clothes for nursing in public. Plus, regular clothes often work just as well.

Cost-Conscious Clothes

Baby clothes are adorable, but the truth is that your baby doesn't need a ton of outfits. And they're likely to get covered in spit-up and diaper blowouts, anyway. So, save expensive or fancy clothing for later on and/or special occasions.

Buy as they grow

Don't buy baby clothes far in advance. Newborns can have sudden growth spurts, as my friend Heather learned the hard way. Last year she bought her infant son a winter coat in September, only to find he'd outgrown it by the time the cold weather actually arrived.

Scrimp on all-in-ones

You'll mostly layer them under other clothes. I once spotted several packs of slightly irregular name-brand all-in-ones marked down 70 percent at a Value City near my in-laws' house. You'd never notice the defects, and after a baby spits up on something, it doesn't look regular anyway. By the way, when it comes to staples like undershirts, all-in-ones, and socks, buy them in plain white. If (ha! when) they get dirty, you can bleach them for pennies instead of spot-treating stains with a $3.50 bottle of laundry spray.

Lose the shoes

You can spend about $30 on leather footwear for your infant. But babies won't be standing any time soon—and will learn to walk faster if they're barefoot when they're indoors. Use soft booties (I got ours for $1.99 at a closeout store) to keep feet warm when you're outside.

Ask for hand-me-downs

Check with friends, neighbors, and anyone else you know who has a slightly older child about getting hand-me-downs. They very well might have baby clothes to pass on, but won't know you're interested unless you ask. People are often thrilled to give their kid's clothing a second life—and to have someone else take it away to reduce their own clutter.

Buy secondhand special-occasion clothes

Visit your local consignment shop, and pick up a princess dress or a tiny suit for a fraction of its retail cost. Chances are its previous owner wore it just once or twice.

Gear Up for Less

Try these tricks to reduce your costs when getting all the gear you need to take care of your baby.

Buy multi-purpose items

Look for furniture and accessories that do double duty. I'm talking about stuff like Target's Delta Children Adley Changing Table that doubles as a storage unit ($94) and the Graco 6-in-1 high chair from Walmart ($100), which can be converted into a booster seat and then a regular chair. Many cribs can be transformed into toddler beds later on too.

Return unwanted gifts promptly

Merchants often put time limits on returns and exchanges; you don't want to miss your chance. Incidentally, this is a great task to delegate. Really, why expect yourself—a new mom who's more edgy and disoriented than any character in the cast of Lost—to stand in line at the Baby Gap to return a sweater?

Don't buy crib pillows, toys, or bumpers

They're cute but useless, and you've got to remove them whenever your child is in the crib. Babies need to sleep in an empty crib as having anything in the crib can be a SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) hazard.

Try out items before you invest

Buy just one or two of something before you buy a bunch. For example, I got a dozen of a certain brand of bottles because everyone raved about them, only to find that my daughter wouldn't take them. She liked a different (less expensive!) kind.

Buy in bulk

When it comes to diapers, think big. Lugging home one of those 228-count cartons from the wholesale club is worth it—you'll save about $170 a year.

Do your research

Test-drive a stroller before you buy it. My best friend had an enormous, $350 model. So I bought it also—then discovered I couldn't steer it. When I told my friend I hated the $%^! thing, she laughed and said, "Me too—you should have asked."

Turn to your local library for classes and games

I spent $270 on a music class for my first daughter when she was 6 months old. With my second, I decided to see what our library offered. To my delight, it has mom-and-baby yoga classes and weekly storytime for pre-walkers, all free.

The library also has wooden puzzles and other toys we can play with while we're there. Lots of libraries are also offering virtual story times during the pandemic. Check your local library's website to see what is available or virtually visit any library's storytime, like this one from New York Public Library.

Keep a baby-care bag in your car

Make sure it contains three diapers, a tube of ointment, a travel pack of wipes, an extra outfit, and, if your child eats solid foods, a small snack (like a teething biscuit or some vegetable puffs). When you forget your diaper bag on an outing—and you will—you won't end up buying one (or all!) of these items on an expensive, a la carte basis.

Rx for Healthcare Savings

Here are a few ways you can stick to your budget when it comes to healthcare-related expenses.

Take advantage of freebies

Ask your pediatrician for free product samples. At almost every checkup, my older daughter's doctor slipped me a can of her costly formula or a vial of eczema cream.

Call your pediatrician to talk over a problem before setting up an appointment. A very experienced doc may be able to diagnose an illness right over the phone. I saved several $20 co-pays once I realized this.

Don't buy an ear thermometer. Most doctors recommend digital oral or rectal ones, which cost only about a third as much, for accuracy.

Food for Thought

There are multiple ways you can reduce cut back on the costs of feeding your baby.

Hold on to free formula samples and coupons

Nursing deserves every chance. But more than 85 percent of breastfeeding parents stop nursing exclusively by the time their baby is 6 months old—which means that most of us end up spending hundreds of dollars on formula at some point.

So, don't be so fast to throw away special offers, and do sign up for formula companies' newsletters on their websites (try Similac or Enfamil). Consider generic formulas, too. By law, they must meet the same quality and nutrition standards as the big names. And if you need a special formula blend, find out whether your flexible health-care spending account will cover the difference. Mine did.

Get coupons

Sign up for baby-food company newsletters and coupon offers. Visit gerber.com, beechnut.com, earthsbest.com, and stonyfield.com. Then do your shopping at a store that has a baby club: At my local supermarket, I get $10 off my next purchase after I've spent $100 on eligible items (including diapers, wipes, and some baby accessories). I saved $40 on groceries that way last year.

Make some baby food

If you have the time, it's no biggie to mash steamed zucchini or a ripe banana. Make one serving and save another and you've kept a buck or so in your pocket.

Keep your baby food fresh

Package crunchy toddler snacks in individual airtight containers as soon as you buy them. Cheerios and arrowroot biscuits go stale fast.

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