Having a Baby on a Small Budget
There’s no way around it – having a baby costs money. But, the total amount you spend during that first year can vary drastically, depending on how you go about things. My husband and I were on a tight budget when our daughter was born. This post shares what I learned when it comes to raising a baby with little expendable income. Please incorporate what works for you and your family. If you have other ideas or strategies that worked for you, please share them in the comments section! Thank you for reading!
First, let’s consider the cost of having a baby.
Even if your pregnancy runs smoothly without any hiccups, unexpected procedures, or extra tests and scans, you still have to prepare for birthing expenses. There are many options when it comes to birthing. Home births, birthing centers, hospitals, doctors, midwives, doulas, etc. Consider your preferences, as well as your financial situation. Some services cost more than others, and some insurance providers do not cover certain services or birthing locations. If you have insurance, look for in-network providers and hospitals. Make sure to contact your insurance company and ask any questions you have regarding coverage of your birthing options.
Work with your insurance company and/or anticipated birthing facility and care provider to create an estimate of costs. This gives you a target to save for. Depending on the course of your pregnancy and delivery, estimated costs may change, but at least you will have a ballpark idea.
Many hospitals and other birthing facilities offer financial assistance for people who qualify. It’s worth a call or visit to see if that’s you!
During your hospital stay: The nurses may offer to keep your baby in the nursery for a couple hours to let you sleep. Sometimes this comes with extra fees, so be sure to ask. When you leave the hospital, make sure to take all the toiletries, extra diapers, wash bin, etc that are in your room. Not only have you paid for them, but the hospital can’t reuse most items that pass through your doorway.
Next, let’s talk about Maternity or Paternity leave.
If you’re employed, it’s a good idea to call HR and get the low-down on your maternity benefits. Have your significant other call their HR department, too, as some employers provide paternity leave options.
In the US, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that your employer provide you with 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid time off without lapse in your health insurance. In order to qualify for this, you must have worked at your job for at least a year, you must work at least 25 hours per week, and your employer must have at least 50 employees within 75 miles. FMLA also applies to fathers. Some states and cities have expanded on the FMLA law to provide additional benefits. For more information, visit the Dept of Labor FMLA site.
Although not always required, some employers choose to provide paid maternity/paternity leave to their employees. Ask your HR department to see if this applies to you.
If mom has short term disability insurance, she can use this to cover part of her maternity leave due to the medical healing time needed after giving birth. My STD insurance provided 6 weeks of partial-pay for a vaginal delivery and 8 weeks of partial-pay for a c-section.
Another option to supplement your unpaid leave time is to save up PTO (if you are eligible). I acquired the max number of PTO hours leading up to the delivery of my child. While it wasn’t enough to cover all 12 weeks of FMLA leave, it definitely helped lessen our financial burden. Many employers require their employees to use all accrued PTO during their leave.
See my post on Planning your Maternity Leave. It guides you through identifying all of your benefits. It also provides suggestions on how to communicate with Human Resources, including a list of questions to ask.
Other ways to save:
Arranging for meals after baby
Having ready-to-eat meals after you bring your baby home can be a life saver. Any little bit of energy you have during this time is best spent on your infant. You won’t have much reserve for cooking. Meals, however, are important, because you need the nutrition in order to be a great caregiver! Here are two options to save you from falling back on delivery or take-out (which can add up fast), or from eating chips and salsa for dinner.
Stock your freezer with leftovers or pre-made meals before your baby arrives. When you make dinner, double the recipe and freeze half of it. Or, have a meal-prep party and invite your friends or family to come help you cook. I was so fortunate to have my family help stock my freezer with breakfast burritos, hotdishes, and more. It was sooooo nice to be able to grab, reheat, and eat during those first few weeks.
You may also have friends and family offer to bring food over after you have your baby. Take them up on this! I can’t thank my friends enough for bringing my husband and I delicious hot meals after our daughter was born. Such a help! There are multiple websites that can help you and your friends organize when to bring the meals. While I didn’t use them myself, I’ve heard great things about them. Some charge a small fee, but others are free.
Aside from being better for the environment and gentler on baby’s sensitive skin, using cloth diapers can save you a TON of money. How much money? These statistics vary depending on what style of cloth diapers you choose, whether or not you use cloth wipes, whether you buy new or used cloth diapers, and other factors.
Navigating the world of cloth diapers can be SO confusing. There are so many different styles, tips, and techniques out there. I plan to post about this in the future (keep an eye out!). I will tell you, however, that if you are looking to save money, prefolds and covers are one of the cheapest options. This is what we used (100% organic cotton prefolds with a one-size cover), and it has worked well! We have spent <$500 total on diapers and diapering supplies. Yes, poop scooping and spraying might make you a little squeamish. For me, it was totally worth it.
Baby Clothing can add up FAST! Here are some things to consider.
- You don’t need much for those first 3 months. My daughter lived in her diaper and a swaddle or muslin blanket for most of the time in those early days. Frequent diaper changes and a colicky baby made it quite the effort to repeatedly dress and undress. We were both much happier if we kept it super simple. I would, of course, dress her if we left the house for any reason, but we really didn’t escape much in the beginning. In fact, the doctors recommended staying mostly housebound for the first couple months.
- Take your friends and family up on any hand-me-down offers. Generous friends and family can save you a ton. If the items are provided on loan, make sure you keep track of who gave you what. It can be hard to remember a year later!
- If you have a shower, you are likely to get baby clothes. People can’t resist purchasing those ridiculously cute little outfits when they pass them at the store. And yes, they do look just as cute when you put them on! If you have a shower, you might consider making a blanket statement that you prefer older size clothing (3 or 6+ months). Your baby will grow fast in the beginning, and it’s nice to have some clothing for him to grow into when those growth spurts hit. Also, if you have a big baby at birth, she might not even fit into her newborn-size clothing (my baby was 8 1/2 lbs and only wore 1 of her newborn outfits).
- Take advantage of second hand stores. Keep your eye out for any used baby clothing stores. I happen to live near a Once Upon A Child – one of my favorite places! They buy back gently used clothing from people and then resell it. The clothing is still in great condition and is WAY more affordable than buying it new. Seems like a great deal when you know your baby is just going to grow out of it soon.
- Don’t buy clothing too far in advance. You might want to hold off on buying that cute baby swim suit on clearance in the middle of December. It’s hard to predict what size your baby will be in another season or two.
- Breastfeeding support. Breastfeeding is not only great for the health of you and your baby, but it also saves money! It’s definitely not easy, though – especially in the beginning. Look for support. Some places will charge you to visit with a lactation consultant. However, you may be able to find free resources. Before your baby is born, look into different options in your community. Whether it’s lactation consultant visits at the hospital, lactation meet-up groups, nursing hotlines, or other mom-support groups, you might be able to find a lot of good support without digging into your pocket book. The internet is also a great resource – from forums to you-tube videos. I learned a ton by watching helpful you-tube videos demonstrating different latch-techniques. Unfortunately, sometimes life throws you cards that make breastfeeding impossible. Just know, mama, that you are doing all that you can to raise a healthy baby, which involves so much more than feeding style.
- Re-usable nursing pads. Nursing pads come in different absorbencies. Have a couple pads on hand at birth, but don’t buy too many until you figure out what absorbency of pad you need (if you need any at all). Milk leakage varies from woman to woman. I, for instance, had a small amount of leakage when my milk was coming in. Before long, however, the leakage stopped completely. I haven’t worn a nursing pad since that first month postpartum. You will have a better idea of your nursing pad needs a week or two after your baby arrives. Once you know what your dealing with, I recommend purchasing some re-usable, washable pads that fit your absorbency needs. There are different brands out there. I used bamboobies® for a while, and they were very comfortable. In fact, I often wore these pads when I wasn’t leaking, only because they were more comfortable than my bra for my scabbed-over nipples (we had some early feeding issues).
- Don’t buy too many of one bottle type before your baby is born. Whatever bottle you buy in advance, there is a chance your baby will refuse it or not latch well. Wait to purchase more bottles until you find out what bottle works well. (see How to Feed a Breastfed Baby for more info on bottles)
- Breast pumps are expensive! Fortunately, many insurance plans cover the cost of a pump for working expecting mothers. Call your insurance provider and ask if your plan covers a pump, what pump is covered, and how to go about ordering it. You will likely need a prescription from your doctor.
- Make your own hands-free pumping bra. Instead of buying a pumping bra, I made my own for free! There are a couple techniques you can try. My favorite style is the sports-bra alteration. Simply cut two small holes where your nipples are – done. The flange of your pump goes through this hole, and the sports bra then holds the pump pieces in place. Wear a second sports bra over the top for a little added support during your daily activities. The second hands-free technique involves a hair tie/rubber band and a nursing bra. I plan to post pictures of both of these methods in another post (coming soon!).
- Don’t buy a big breastfeeding wardrobe. You probably already own plenty of clothes that will work for breastfeeding. Look through your current wardrobe. Many dresses and tank tops can easily be pulled to the side or pulled down, and many shirts can be lifted up. While nursing bras work great (definitely recommend at least one of them), also consider your current bra selection. I frequently wear a sports bra and just pull it up while feeding. The only nursing specific clothing I own are 2 nursing bras and 2 nursing tank-tops. These 4 articles have gotten me through the past 9 months of breastfeeding.
- You may find yourself with free formula samples or a bundle of formula coupons. Hold onto these, even if you plan to nurse or are nursing. Sometimes, supplementation becomes necessary, or we end up weaning before we anticipated.
- A crib. A crib is one of those big-ticket essential items. Shop around. Cribs can cost anywhere from $100-$1000. Both the expensive and the cheaper cribs are required to meet the same federal safety regulations, so you aren’t gaining anything from a safety standpoint by spending extra. You will likely find cheaper cribs at discount or department stores like target, IKEA, or Walmart. Consider putting a crib on your registry, even if you don’t expect anyone to get this for you – or even if you aren’t having a shower. Many stores will offer a percentage discount on registry items after your shower date. Another consideration – some families use a pack ‘n play as a sleep space for their baby. Buying a used crib is a tempting way to save money, but be weary of missing parts/pieces, cribs that have been recalled, or cribs/mattresses that have been around second-hand smoke.
- A Rocking Chair or Glider. Not essential – but nice to have. They can be pricy when buying them new. Check out consignment stores and thrift shops. I’ve also found some good deals at antique stores. Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace can be great options as well, although quality deals often go fast.
- Shelving. Get creative with what you have first. Consider different options for organizing your baby’s belongings. Bookshelves, dressers, closet space, bins/cubes, portable clothes racks, etc. If you end up needing to purchase new shelving or storage items, try to pick something functional that you can continue to use as your child grows. The above rocking chair shopping recommendations apply here, too. In addition, keep an eye on clearance items at discount or department stores.
- Don’t feel pressured to buy a changing table. A blanket thrown on the floor or bed works fine as a changing station. I converted our kitchen table into a “changing station” (yup, now we eat all of our meals on the coffee table). The kitchen table works great because it has space to hold the changing pad and our baskets of diapers, wipes, onesies, swaddles, diaper creams, etc. It’s also not necessary to buy a ton of changing pad covers. I have one cover, and when that’s dirty, I use a towel or receiving blanket.
- Diaper Genie. This is another non-essential item. For half the price, you can buy a small garbage can with a lid. A small garbage will ensure that you are emptying the trash frequently enough to prevent a strong odor. For cloth diapers, find an affordable wet bag that you can wash and reuse with each laundry cycle.
Making your own baby food is a cheaper alternative than buying it at the store. Really, it’s quite easy – just a few simple steps:
- Steam or boil vegetables and fruits until soft (can skip this step for softer/mashable foods). Or, thoroughly cook some meat.
- Add a little water or breastmilk/formula. (change the amount of liquid to reach your desired consistency)
- Blend it up into a delicious puree with a blender or food processor. (depending on the food and your baby’s ability to handle different textures, you may be able to just mash with a fork).
Just take a little slice of whatever you happen to be chopping for your meal, and prepare it for your baby. Store it in the refrigerator for a couple days. Or, better yet, make extra and freeze it! Pour the puree into ice cube trays, freeze, and then move them into little freezer baggies. It’s nice to be able to pull a cube of carrots, sweet potato, or pears out for meals (also a great option when going out for a hike or when baby is spending an afternoon with the babysitter).
Toys – Keep it simple
Toys can be an important part of your baby’s development, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend a fortune on them. Pick a few good toys from the store and/or look around your house for “toys” you may already own.
Based on my experience, these are some great options for baby’s first year:
- A bouncer with a mobile, or play gym. These do wonders for your baby’s developing vision, coordination, and motor control. The dangling objects from our play gym were removable, which was great! We took them with us everywhere for entertainment, and they worked well clipped to the stroller cover, the car seat, the high chair, etc. If you pick the right play gym, your baby will enjoy playing with it as they grow (laying under it, sitting with it, crawling through it, etc). If possible, borrow these types of items from a friend, or check out a local consignment shop (if it’s baby specific, they likely have many options).
- Crinkly paper/toys. Some sell it as “baby paper”. My baby loved this stuff from 2 months on. You can make your own if you have a sewing machine, some fabric, and a piece of plastic (packing from your latest delivery, plastic bag, or even packaging tape). Bonus if you add some tags or fringes out of the edges. I’ll work on making a how-to post for this, too!
- Look for different fabrics/textures. Fleece, silk, corduroy, cotton, the little ties on a quilt, or knitted/crocheted yarn are a few examples of things you may have lying around the house that your baby will love to run their hands over (or put in her mouth). If your crafty, consider recycling some of your old textiles into a baby toy! Along the same lines, touch and feel books are a big hit in our family.
- Kitchen supplies. Measuring cups, wooden spoons, Tupperware, etc. Babies are often quite entertained by simple kitchen supplies. Obviously, leave the knives or any sharp objects in the drawer.
- Rattles. A couple of our stuffed animals came with built-in rattles. Our daughter loves them.
- An unbreakable mirror. Most baby’s enjoy looking at themselves. It’s so fun to watch! If you don’t want to purchase a mirror, hold them in front of the bathroom mirror – just as fun!
Use your Public Library
Look into services at your local public library. They often provide free entertainment and socializing opportunities for you and your baby. Research has proven that reading to children from the very beginning is helpful for their developing brains. Instead of buying books, bring your little one to the library for an enormous amount of free reading material! If you live in an area that qualifies to participate in Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, I highly suggest signing up. They send your child a free book once a month until he or she turns 5!
Cut Unnecessary Expenses
Take a look at your budget. Are there any payments you are making that could be cut out? For example, many people save by cutting cable, losing the landline, or finding a more affordable cellular plan.
Compare the cost of local internet providers. Is there a better deal out there? Many providers will give you a deal if you call and ask for one. It’s not unreasonable to ask for a promotion price that you found either through your internet provider or through a different company.
Compare insurance costs. Car insurance, home insurance, renters insurance, etc. It can all add up! Get quotes from a few companies, and consider switching insurers if you find a better deal.
Consider your transportation needs. How many vehicles do you have? Do you need all of them? My husband and I share a vehicle. Luckily, we both live close enough to our employer that we can bike to work. This way, our vehicle is always accessible for whomever is home with the baby (we alternate work days). Biking is not only good for our health and good for the environment, but it is also good for our pocketbook. We save by paying less for gas, and paying insurance and registration fees for only one car.