27 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 may be worried 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 baby on a budget. Now that my second girl is here, I've gotten even savvier. Learn more about ways you can cut your baby's 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

Ask about hospital fees before you go into labor. Pass up a private delivery 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 for five days, I saved $2,500. With nurses popping in every hour, I would have had limited quiet or 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. By simply asking, 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 (just be sure to ask permission first!). 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

There are many ways to feed your baby—and fed is best. For people who can breastfeed, one of the advantages can be saving money.

Give nursing a go

If you exclusively breastfeed, there's no need to buy formula (a major expense—at least $1,400 for the first year) or a full set of bottles (though you still may want to have a few). Even if you breastfeed just for a short while or choose to combo feed with formula and breast milk, you'll still save some money.

Borrow a breast pump

Ask around among friends who have babies and young children a bit older than yours to see if anyone has a closed-system breast pump they are no longer using that you could borrow. 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. Alternatively, if you have health insurance, you may be able to get a new breast pump for free through your insurance plan.

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 delivery nurses, midwives, doulas, and doctors typically can offer valuable advice. Plus, don't forget that other parents (including those who are currently breastfeeding and those who nursed babies in the past) can often provide a wealth of advice and support as well.

Don't rush to buy a breastfeeding wardrobe

A set of nursing bras may be the only purchase you need to make for breastfeeding. Often, maternity clothing or regular clothing can double as your breastfeeding wardrobe. Flowing, loose-fitting tops or button-down shirts are great options. Large scarves or thin baby blankets can double as nursing covers. Additionally, if you ask around among people who have recently stopped nursing, you'll likely find someone who is very happy to pass on their nursing gear.

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, if you're looking to save money, consider saving expensive or fancy clothing for later on or special occasions.

Buy as they grow

Avoid buying baby clothes far in advance, particularly anything geared for a particular season, such as winter coats or swimwear. Newborns come in all sizes and their ages don't always match up with how baby clothing is typically sized. In other words, your 2-month-old could fit in newborn, 0-3, 3, or 3-6 size clothing. Also, they might zoom through a certain size or stay in one for a while before experiencing a sudden growth spurt.

Scrimp on basics

You'll mostly layer onesies and other basics under other clothes—and simple, low-cost designs are more than sufficient. I once spotted several packs of slightly irregular name-brand all-in-ones marked down 70% at a Value City. 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 (or rather when) they get dirty, you can bleach them for pennies instead of spot-treating stains with an expensive bottle of laundry spray.

Lose the shoes

You can spend $30 or more 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. Plus, baby shoes have a funny habit of falling off (or your baby will pull them off—over and over again!), so there's a decent chance you'll end up losing one or both shoes in no time. Instead, use thick socks or soft booties (I got ours for $1.99 at a closeout store) to keep your baby's feet warm when you're outside.

Seek hand-me-downs

Check with friends, neighbors, friends-of-friends, 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 special occasion clothes secondhand

Visit your local consignment shop or used clothing bins, and pick up all manner of outfits—from a princess dress to 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 and the Graco 6-in-1 high chair from Walmart, which can be converted into a booster seat and then a regular chair. Many cribs can be transformed into toddler beds later on, too.

Also, consider if any items you already own can be used for your baby. For instance, maybe you don't need a rocking chair dedicated to nursing since you already have a comfortable chair or sofa. Or you might already have an extra dresser or shelving unit you can use to store their clothing, books, and toys.

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 to a loved one who has offered to help out. Really, why expect yourself—a new parent who's likely exhausted and overwhelmed—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'll need to remove them whenever your child is in the crib. Safe sleep experts say that babies' sleep area should be free from these decorative items as they increase the risk of suffocation and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

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. The same goes for diapers, wipes, baby care products, toys, and clothing.

Then buy in bulk

Once you've found a brand you like, buy in bulk. When it comes to diapers, for example, 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

If you can, 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 local resources for classes and games

While it can be tempting to sign up for expensive classes with your baby, there are a lot of low-cost and free options. 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 had parent-and-baby yoga classes and weekly story time for pre-walkers—all free. Our library also has wooden puzzles and other toys we can play with while we're there.

Keep a baby care bag in your car

Stock your car with a bag of baby care basics. Make sure it contains three diapers, a tube of diaper rash ointment, a travel pack of wipes, an extra outfit, and if your child eats solid foods, a small shelf-stable snack. 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 Health Care Savings

Here are a few ways you can stick to your budget when it comes to health care-related expenses for your baby.

Take advantage of freebies

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

Call the pediatrician first

Another way to save is to call the pediatrician or nurse 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—or assure you that everything is fine and you don't even need to come in. I saved several $20 co-pays once I realized this.

Hold off on that ear thermometer

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 the costs of feeding your baby.

Hold on to free formula giveaways

If you plan to use formula, you'll naturally take advantage of free formula samples and coupon offers. But it's a good idea to do so even if you intend to breastfeed, as you still might want some formula on hand in case you end up needing it in a pinch.

Or you might decide to switch to formula sometime before age 1, after which most children will switch to cow's milk. Note that more than 85% 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. 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 and you have a flexible healthcare spending account (HSA), find out whether it will cover the difference. Mine did.

Get coupons

Sign up for baby-food company newsletters and coupon offers. Visit the websites of your favorite baby food brands (Gerber, Beechnut, Earth's Best, and Stonyfield are great places to start). 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

Making baby food at home can sound intimidating, but it's essentially just cooking and mashing a range of fruits, veggies, or meats. If you have the time, it's usually no biggie to mash steamed zucchini, cooked sweet potato, or a ripe avocado. Make one serving and save another and you've kept a buck or so in your pocket. This approach is especially cost-effective if you turn a bit of the extra ingredients from whatever you're already making for dinner into a meal for your baby.

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 if not properly stored. Additionally, portion out whatever you are feeding your baby in small amounts, that way you can keep the remainder fresh for the next feeding—and the leftovers won't be contaminated by the used spoon. You can always scoop out more if they're still hungry.

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