When you're sprouting a bump, being more budget conscious suddenly bumps to the top of your priorities. But how exactly do you save when having a baby feels like it comes with a mandatory 18-year spending spree? Well, here's the good news: "Kids definitely cost money, but they don't have to be as expensive as many make them out to be, newborns especially," says Matt Becker, a certified financial planner in Pensacola, Florida, and founder of Mom and Dad Money, a financial advice site for parents. There are plenty of small ways you can cut back on how much cash you're dishing out that will pay off in the long run. To start, here are 14 of them.
1. Shop online—but not for everything
How many times have you debated if getting out of your stretchy pants is worth a trip to the store, only to resort to loading up your online shopping cart instead? So easy. But not always a wallet-friendly way to shop. "I signed up for so many online retailers' mailing lists," says Deanna, a mom of three from New Haven, Connecticut. "I thought it would be a good way to save money because I'd be alerted to sales. But because so many of the clothing sites had minimums you needed to hit to get free shipping, I always spent more than what I intended, or there would be a deal I couldn't pass up and I'd end up with things I didn't really need."
The solve: Limit shopping on the web to must-have items typically bought in bulk (diapers and formula) but not unnecessary things (toys and clothes), and stick to places that don't charge a service fee and offer free shipping. And if possible, set up the automatic re-order feature so you aren't tempted to click around and end up with a shipment full of stuff you end up regretting.
2. Get smart about buying diapers
It's an expense you'll be shelling out for over the next few years, so have a game plan on how to get the best deals. Rule No. 1: Never buy diapers at full price—you can always get them on sale. To make sure you're spending as little as possible, compare prices from at least three places before buying, and always check the brand's site for coupons. Another money-saving trick: "I was never really loyal to one brand because I found numerous ones that worked just fine," says Tina, a mom of one from Miami, Florida. "So whatever one was on sale each month, that's what I'd buy."
3. Ask your pediatrician for samples
If you're planning to bottle feed, the cost of formula probably has you feeling a major case of sticker shock. When you leave the hospital, stock up your diaper bag with as much formula as the nurses are willing to give you. Just be prepared to ask—most health care facilities won't offer it up unprompted. And don't be afraid to request freebies from your pediatrician, too. She can load you up with everything from formula to eczema cream.
4. Check to see if your employer offers any perks
It's time for you or your partner to give HR a ring. Don't leave money on the table just because you weren't aware of programs that were available to you. "Depending on your income tax bracket, and your estimated child care cost, you might want to take advantage of any employer-provided Dependent Child Flexible Savings Accounts," Becker says. "That allows you to use pre-tax money to pay for child care." Side note: Even if you don't qualify for that type of program, or your employer doesn't offer it, talk to an accountant about taking advantage of the child and dependent care tax credit, he adds.
5. Opt for convertible gear
Choosing a crib that converts to a toddler bed is something that has to be on the list even if you've heard about it 37,490 times. It's a major money saver. But other gear can pull double duty, too. From strollers to high chairs, plenty of items will grow right along with your child so you aren't always having to buy another piece of baby gear. When perusing the aisles of your baby store, ask the salesperson to show you the best 2-in-1 or 3-in-1 options.
6. Take the No New Baby Clothes Challenge
When it comes to items that contribute to the health and safety of your munchkin, you can't wiggle out of buying something you totally trust. But clothes that your kiddo will outgrow (and repeatedly spit up on) in a few months? Not so much. "I just decided that clothing wasn't something I was going to spend money on that first year," says Monica, a mom of one in Chicago. "I got a lot of onesies and other outfits at my baby shower that lasted for a good six months. After that, I swapped out stuff my son outgrew and got bigger items through The Freecycle Network. I saved hundreds of dollars." You can also find moms who are interested in doing clothing swaps by posting on your local parenting board. Cha-ching!
7. Buy at the end of the month
When it's time to purchase big-ticket items, do it later in the month. Plenty of stores require their salespeople to meet certain sales goals, so it's more likely you'll score a better deal when the person helping you is feeling the pressure to hit their quota. It's unlikely that they'll shave giant chunks of money off the price, but a few negotiating tactics that will likely score you a good deal: If you're buying a pricey piece of baby gear, like a stroller, ask if they can throw in any extras, or ask if there are any coupons the store can offer up.
8. Share your stuff with your sweetpea
The cost of your baby's beauty routine—soaps, shampoos, lotions—can add up over time. Borrow this idea from Jess, a mom of one from Riverside, California: "I was looking over my receipts after having my daughter, and I realized that some of the bathtime products I was getting for her were more expensive than my own. It was crazy—she didn't even have hair! So I decided to put a little more thought into what I was using on myself, and started buying scent-free and gentle stuff that I could use on both of us."
9. Cash in on items you don't need
The one thing moms-to-be and new moms don't have much of: energy. So returning certain baby gifts you've received—either because they're duplicates or you just don't need them—probably doesn't fall very high on your to-do list. But standing in the returns line is really worth your time. If you have gift receipts, you can get money back, which you can set aside for future baby-related expenses.
10. Consider borrowing
To save some bucks, nix buying any items you'll only use for a short amount of time. Instead, see if anyone you know can temporarily lend you what you need, like Angie, a mom of two from West Chester, Pennsylvania, did. "I really wanted a bassinet so my baby could sleep in my room, but I just couldn't justify the price for something I would only use for a few months," she says. "I was talking to my friend about it and she connected me with her sister who allowed me to use hers."
11. Call your insurance company
Trust us, a breast pump isn't something you want to pinch pennies on. You'll be using it every day, and usually when you're in a state of exhaustion, so you want it to be as simple, comfortable, and easy as possible. But unfortunately, they aren't cheap. To help offset the cost, call your insurance company to see what your plan covers. If you're really set on a brand they won't agree to pay for, check each manufacturer's site—they offer help and instructions on what to say to your insurance company to help you get what you want.
12. Shorten your shopping list
It's natural to go into nesting mode when you're pregnant. Translation: You're stocking up on every single little thing. A better approach? Buy the absolute bare minimum, Becker says. Newborns really need far fewer things than we think they do, so save the shopping for after baby arrives when you can better gauge what's necessary. An added side benefit: With a little person in tow, you're much less likely to meander through each aisle, which means a smaller bill when you get to the checkout.
13. Remind friends and family about your registry
Whenever you have a baby, everyone from your neighbor to your great aunt will want to flood your house with food, flowers, and tiny onesies. If you've already got a fridge full of ziti, consider updating your registry and sharing a link to it as an alternative option for people to gift you with something you really need.
14. Go the reusable route
If you're tired of always swiping your credit card because it's time to buy [insert a variety of baby items here] again, there are plenty of products where you can opt for the reusable options, like cloth diapers or breast pads. Not having to continually purchase the disposable version can definitely help cut baby-related costs in the long run.