4 Ways to Fabulous(ly Cheap) Parenting

budget parenting tips

budget parenting

As a new parent, it seems like everywhere you turn there’s a new gadget or cute gizmo that your kiddos need. In the hazy excitement of my most recent positive pregnancy test, I found myself wondering, Should I get a Mamaroo? Oooh my baby would look so sweet in a precious little bonnet! And what kind of stroller should I get? Will I need a bigger vehicle to fit all this stuff?! Cue panic and budget crisis. I’ll be honest, even though it was my second, I found myself very tempted by all things baby this past time around the pregnancy block. If I didn’t have a budget laid out for me on paper and if I hadn’t been restricted by a certain number of dollar bills in an envelope marked “baby,” I could certainly see how this new little one might’ve cost me an arm and a leg.

For instance, I bought a pack of diapers this week for ten dollars and thought, Didn’t I just buy a ten dollar pack of diapers just a few days ago? Woah, that’s over $500 dollars each year potentially, or much more if my baby has inopportunely timed poops! Yikes! Kiddos are expensive! But then I remembered we’ll be switching our newborn to cloth diapers as soon as her thighs are chunkier, and then I relaxed a little. I remembered all the sneaky ways we’ll save money so I can afford a pretty baby bonnet here and a Natursutten pacifier there.

Yes, parenting takes sacrifice. No, children aren’t free. But do they cost a fortune? Only if you want them to! (Okay, we’re not counting hospital bills here!) I’ve had some readers reach out to me for my honest take on how to plan for a new baby in a family budget. While I don’t have an exact monthly dollar number that it costs us to take care of our two littles, I do have some ideas on the cost of parenting during the early years and how you can be a fabulous parent without breaking the bank.

cloth diapers

reusable baby items

reusable baby items

The number one way we saved money on supplies for our children is to use cloth diapers. In these modern times cloth diapers really are a wonder! We use both velcro XS Bum Genious infant diapers for the early days and one-size Fuzzibunz that Lucy currently still uses. I love the Fuzzibunz because they have separate exteriors so if they become damaged (and they have), you at least can salvage the inserts and the replaceable elastic. Velcro tends to wear out, so I prefer diapers with various snaps that ensure a custom fit. Our Fuzzibunz diapers also have replaceable and adjustable elastic to customize the fit around the waist and legs. As I mentioned, they have inserts (cotton or super absorbant hemp) which absorb liquid while the fleece lining of the exterior keeps your kiddos bum soft and dry. When the diapers get dirty, throw them into a lined (with a reusable liner) trash can and wash them when it’s convenient for you, or subscribe to a laundry service.

Are they stinky? Yeah, they can start to cling on to the stink, and when they do, you just hang them out on a line and the smells and even the stains disappear like magic! Promise! Are they expensive? Yes— at first! But compared to the cumulative cost of disposable diapers, you will save lots of money with cloth. And you can even buy used cloth diapers to cut the cost significantly. We did, and I don’t regret it one bit! $350 for our entire cloth diaper collection. Just think about all the money you’ll save, plus the impact it will have on the environment by cutting back on waste.

cloth diaper supplies

reusable baby items

Similarly to cloth diapers, you can buy reusable wipes or even just cut cotton flannel into squares to make reusable wipes (more on that at the end of this post). You can purchase small wet bags for in your diaper bag and use an old wipes bin at home to store the cloths that you’ve soaked in a mild solution for using during diaper changes.

reusable baby items

My cousin introduced me to using cloth nursing pads, and while they didn’t work so well when I leaked a lot in the first month of nursing, they worked nicely further into our nursing experience. I went through over 60 disposable wipes (I like Lansinoh the best) in the first 4 weeks of this kiddo’s life, so you can imagine how the cost and waste of disposable nursing pads add up.

budget parenting tips

reusable baby items

reusable baby items

Unless you have money to burn, and feel the incredible impulse to do so, there is no need to buy all your baby things used! In fact, it’s borderline irresponsible, in my opinion. There are some things “they” advise you to buy new for the safety of your child, like a crib and a carseat, because you just don’t know the item’s history and wear and tear might make it less safe. Other than that, garage sales are the way to go, I’m telling you! Secondhand stores are nice too, but you’ll never beat the prices of baby things that you can find at garage sales, in my experience.

reusable baby items

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of being pregnant or adopting and wanting to buy all the cute things! There seems to be a product for everything these days— even cute little drying racks with grass and trees for airing out bottles after washing. (I use a dish towel on my counter, but that’s not to say I haven’t been tempted by the cute drying racks!) I thought it might be helpful to talk about what I ended up regretting purchasing and what I’m glad I splurged on. This goes beyond common sense things, like the fact that babies don’t need robes, special hooded towels, or custom-sized bath tubs (when you have a kitchen sink). Those are all cute baby gift ideas, but here are a few things a mom will really enjoy using!

best baby splurges

practical baby purchases

  1. Infant positioner- A seat like the Bumbo or the Baby Snug are perfect for helping little ones sit up straight when they have the desire but haven’t the muscle strength yet. They’re great with a tray for play time but are really wonderful for feeding your baby solids before she can sit well in a high chair. I found my Bumbo for $1 at a garage sale, believe it or not!
  2. Nursing Stool– I never understood why this was a thing until after long stints of nursing in the rocking chair. Their angled top is perfect for comfortably lifting your legs to create a nice surface to rest baby on and bring her closer to your chest while nursing. It’s one of those things that you’ll understand once you get it, and your back will thank you!
  3. Ergo Baby Carrier– It’s one of the most (if not the most) ergonomic baby carriers on the market that are designed best for baby’s body and for the wearer’s comfort. They are easy to strap on, unlike wraps which are sometimes a hassle to put on in public. Wearing a baby helps develop the bond between mother and child and is also wonderful for running errands hands-free and for getting things done around the house when all your baby wants is to be held. Just keep in mind that you need a special insert for babies 7-12lbs.
  4. Travel Bottle Warmer- Sometimes you need to warm a bottle but are stranded with only a vehicle and no way to acquire hot water. This bottle warmer plugs into your car and slowly warms a bottle (about 20 minutes ought to do it) so while it will take a little forethought, it will save you from a hunger disaster more than I can say! It has a timer too so you won’t overheat the milk.
  5. Baby Swing- People swear by the Momaroo for their colicky babies, but I found just a simple inexpensive swing from a secondhand store was all that our children have needed. I tried going without a swing for a while with our first child because I just didn’t want another big baby item in my house. But when I finally broke down and got one I was amazed at how it could put both of my children to sleep when I couldn’t.

practical baby purchases

  1. Boppy Pillow– It’s nice to have baby lifted by pillows of some sort while nursing, but you can easily just use stacked throw pillows. Or, if you have the money to buy a nursing accessory, do yourself a favor and buy the My Brest Friend pillow instead! It’s easily one of my favorite supposedly needless purchases and makes nursing comfortable for my and my baby.
  2. Stationary Baby Seat- I bought this Fisher Price vibrating seat from a garage sale, but end up using the swing instead or the Bumbo as they get older. While it is a nice seat, I’ve found you really don’t need to have both a swing and a stationary seat, and the swing is a life saver so it wins out in my mind.
  3. Breast Pump- Turns out our insurance would have paid for one, but I didn’t know that at the time. Agh! I did get a Madela Pump in Style and adore it, but I guess I could’ve saved my money for something else.
  4. Bottle Warmer- I still end up overwarming the bottle in the warmer, and find that microwaving a bowl of water and then submerging the bottle into it is the best way to go.
  5. Baby Food Freezer Containers- At first I thought I would just use cheap Rubbermaid containers, but these OXO containers are perfectly sized for appropriate mealtime portions and are great to drop into my diaper bag to take on the go. Also, their square shape makes it easier to pack a bunch into the freezer or to stack in the refrigerator. But you know what? I ended up just pouring the purees I made into ice cube trays, popping out the frozen cubes of food, and storing them in freezer bags. Then I could mix foods together (like sweet potatoes with avocado or apples with barley) easily without having to defrost an entire container and then mix into a new container.

 Multi-Use Baby Swaddle

practical baby purchases

practical baby purchases

One of my very favorite baby items are these Aden + Anais swaddle blankets (as seen on Juniper above). These lightweight and semi-stretchy square cloths are great swaddle blankets, but they also are perfect lightweight blankets to use in the summer, to lay underneath baby to protect surfaces from spit-up or leaky diapers, to tie around your neck as a perfect lightweight nursing cover, for draping over the carseat for shade or privacy, and they make a handy burp rag to drape over your shoulder after feedings. That’s six uses for just one cloth! Besides one nice, warm baby blanket, I’ve found the muslin swaddle to replace many of the other textile accessories that usually end up on a baby registry.

best baby activity centers

baby play stations

Soon you’ll discover that your baby wants constant entertainment and you might not be up for the task. That’s why it’s nice to have the following toys:

  1. Walker– Walkers are also a great way to help your child practice walking before she can do it on her own. But come on, she’ll be walking soon enough, there’s no need to rush the event (and the baby-proofing of your house)!
  2. Floor Mat– Great to encourage tummy time to build your baby’s muscles. Laying on a blanket on the floor can get quite boring, or so I’d imagine! But a basic quilted blanket will really do just fine, honestly.
  3. Baby Gym– A baby gym is nice for when your baby is relegated to laying on her back most of the time (because she can’t sit up), but then she’ll quickly want to be sitting up constantly, playing with any colorful gadget and gizmo you put in arms’ reach. It’s a great toy you’ll only use for a small window of time.
  4. Johnny Jump-Up– Johnny-jump-ups are fun for babies (and fun to watch), but your kid will never know what she’s missing if she doesn’t have one.
  5. Exersaucer– The exersaucer helps your child practice balance, lets her sit up, and entertains her with seemingly endless toys within her arms’ reach. But they take up lots of space and are usually eyesores.

If that sounds like a lot of junk to clutter up your house and cost you money, well— it is! I suggest selecting one or two and ditching the rest. I’d recommend getting a gym for the early days and then an exersaucer for the rest of her pre-walking days. If you can only manage to buy one, the exersaucer will give you the biggest bang for your buck. Here’s a nice toy that combines the fun of the jump-up with toys of an exersaucer. But again- you can save a lot of money by looking for something at garage sales.

DIY Baby Linens

diy baby supplies

diy baby supplies

The ultimate DIY baby food is breast milk*, but once you start your kiddo on solids, you’ll quickly see the dollars add up if you are buying canned or pouched baby food from the store. Yes it’s super convenient to buy baby food at the store, but it’s also not difficult to set aside some food from the adult dinner you make to throw into a magic bullet blender for baby. It’s also a great idea to set aside time once a week to make a huge batch of purees to pop in the freezer. While you’re waiting on food you have to cook before pureeing (sweet potatoes, squash, carrots, peas, apples, barley), you can use that time to blend up or mill food that can be pureed raw (bananas, avocado, blueberries, melon). You’ll be amazed at how much food you can crank out in a couple of hours.

*If you aren’t able to nurse your little one, did you know there are breast milk banks where you can receive donations?

diy baby supplies

As I mentioned before, you can easily make your own baby wipes or burp rags with flannel fabric, or you can make disposable wipes if you don’t have access to laundry facilities. You can also get into slightly more complicated DIYs like making bibs or bed sheets, which are great options for the selective mom who wants stylish or vintage bedding (made from deadstock linens) for baby. Here’s a list of DIYs I found across the internet that are super helpful:

  1. Disposable baby wipes from White House Black Shutters
  2. Reusable baby wipes from Amy Green
  3. Dish towel bibs from Mommy Savers
  4. Crib sheets from Spearmint Baby

diy baby supplies

These are things I haven’t gotten into making myself but would like to try soon! Apparently making these items will save you money, so here are some DIY posts I’ve saved for my own personal reference.

  1. Cloth diaper detergent from Elisa Loves
  2. Disinfectant spray from Clean Mama
  3. Diaper Rash Cream (safe for cloth diapers) from Diaper Wrecker

I hope this post has helped put the cost of parenting babies into perspective for you! If you have any money-saving tips or advice on what products to buy (or not buy), I’d love to hear them!

11 Responses

  1. abby says:

    I loved this post! We also have a 2 year old and newborn girl :) and I was pleased to find we’re doing pretty much all of the tips- except we stopped cloth diapering my toddler cause I was having a terrible time with toddler poop diapers- major props to you for sticking with it!
    One small thing I’d add is- my mom and I split the cost of a toddler music class and she took her to it last year. It was great but too expensive to try again. After I went along to a couple classes I realized they weren’t all that different from the FREE toddler time we went to at the library every week! There are so many cool free things (petting zoos, puppet shows) we take Margot to at our library, and it’s also a great place to make friends.
    Also there are so many cool books on amazon I’d like to buy, but I’ve been steadily building our collection through the thrift store and library book sales. Most I buy are .10 a piece! Having a huge library feels like such a luxury and a great way to not read the same books over and over. I’m currently obsessed with getting my hands on every vintage Jane Ormerod book. (Does Lucy have 101 things to do with a baby? It’s a favorite in our house!)
    We were given SOOO MUCH clothing! Hand me down or brand new, if we have too many pieces for a particular age group, it goes straight to the consignment store where I receive store credit to tuck away for when we need more shoes :).
    I was also tempted by the mamaroo but the trusty ‘ol swing I used the first time is doing the job just fine.
    Loved this post, hope you are all enjoying your new baby!

  2. Emma says:

    yay you’re a babywearer! ???? this is a great guide, I wish I had had it before my now toddler joined us. we ended up with cloth diapers and babywearing too, our girl would not accept a pram before ten months old… for dealing with toddler poops I highly suggest looking into elimination communication! it works great with cloth diapers esp! for our girl’s first meals we tried purees and I managed to freeze a batch of ice cube trays, and then we started with baby led weaning instead, where baby eats solids and “real food” from start! it’s been GREAT for us!

    thank you for this post, so much fun to compare and realize we have so many similar experiences! however, we have had lots of use of our wooden baby gym from ikea, when she started to stand up on her own she could play with the dangling toys fr above too! we just recently put it away, and she’s one and a half now.

  3. Bridgette says:

    This post is perfect!! Thank you SO SO much for taking the time to write about what you found useful and what you ended up not needing, and all of the links to the products and DIY posts are much appreciated :)

  4. Kerry says:

    I love this! We’re expecting our first baby in January so I’m totally overwhelmed with all the stuff — So Much Stuff. It’s great to hear what things we can probably do without. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Thanks so much for this post! Great tips. I’m expecting my first (a girl!) this fall and am slowly gathering all of the gear. I know you mentioned you bought your swing secondhand but by any chance do you know the brand so I can see if it’s available online anywhere? I love the look of it from the pic you posted here (the one with the yellow & white fabric seat). Many thanks!

    • Mandi says:

      Sure! It’s a Fisher Price Swing & Glider, but it’s actually orange and cream colored. I think the light from the window washed it out a bit in the photos.

  6. Bridget says:

    HI mandi! I have a question about an abm you did with bleach dying gabric. Can I inquire here? The comments on abm are closed.

      • Bridget says:

        I tried the tutorial with a carmel twill fabric. But the bleach spots didn’t turn out as vibrant as yours. Actually, they hardly appear. Could it have been the type of fabric, the bleach or maybe even the color? Not sure what step to try next – ideally I’d like to make throw pillows will the finished fabric. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks!

        • Mandi says:

          It might not be a vivid enough color? I used twill, so I doubt it’s the quality of the fabric. But also, are you using diluted bleach? I didn’t use diluted bleach. You will for sure see more of a contrast between the spots and the background if you use a more vivid colored fabric. But even using caramel, you should have almost white spots after the bleach. Maybe try using diluted bleach and letting it sit on the fabric for a few hours. Try that on a test piece and see how it goes! :)

  7. Megan says:

    Borrow as much as you can from other parents you know, like infant car seats, baby swings, etc – the stuff you need all the time for a few months and then don’t need at all! Get absolutely everything you can/feel comfortable with second hand. In my experience, parents who are done with certain items are more than happy to pass it on for free or for a small amount of cash to someone else who can use it. And remember, the baby doesn’t care what anything looks like!!!