How to Save Money on Your Baby’s Expensive First Year

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Babies are expensive, and costs during the first year alone can be overwhelming for many parents. Parents face expensive delivery costs, some of which insurance doesn’t cover. Then comes the adjustment of learning how to feed, clothe, and keep a baby safe. These tasks are delightful but also daunting, even for parents who already have other kids.

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After parents overcome the initial shock of the hospital bill and the constant requirements of a newborn, the price of actually taking care of a child can be another blow. According to a 2010 U.S. Department of Agriculture report, cited by Parenting.com, the average middle-income family spends around $12,000 just on child-related expenses during the first year alone! Although parenthood is expensive for most people and the first year can be extremely costly, there are many ways you can save money. Here are just five tips.

1. Make smart decisions at the hospital

Unless you have the perfect insurance plan (one that will cover everything), decisions that you make at the hospital will greatly affect the cost of your baby’s first year. An epidural is very expensive: Although going natural is painful, so is the bill for that small injection, so you have to decide whether comfort or cost is more important to you. If you are comfortable sharing a room with someone during your recovery, there may be a huge cost advantage in doing so. Also, while you’re at the hospital, stock up on all the extras that are in your room (toiletries, diapers, etc.). Many hospitals charge you for whatever you have, even if you don’t take it with you.

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Your best bet is to ask about sharing a room, the specific cost of an epidural at your hospital (it often runs about $2,000, counting the hospital’s costs and the anesthesiologist fee), and about the items that are included in your hospital charge. Also, ask for freebies or coupons — diaper and baby food companies often supply many coupons to hospitals. You also should ask if they have a reduced car seat program.

2. Do it yourself

Having a newborn is a really exhausting experience, so if you can afford to buy the best formula, purchase high-quality baby food (when your child is old enough to eat it), and buy just disposable diapers, then go ahead. Still, many parents spend close to $50 per week (almost $2,500 per year) on just diapers, formula, and baby food. If you can make your own baby food using food you purchase for the rest of your family, you will save money.

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Also, although not everyone can breastfeed a baby, doing so will save you a lot of money, and breastfeeding also protects your baby and fights disease. People debate about whether using cloth diapers really saves money (because of the cost of cloth diapers and also the added laundry), but you may find it helps you. There are many other items you can make at home to save money, as well.

3. Be smart about buying baby clothes

There are so many adorable little outfits for your baby’s first year. It’s tempting to purchase every cute outfit you see, but remember, babies grow out of clothes very quickly! Many babies that are born full-term are too big to even fit in the newborn size at all. If you are lucky enough to have someone throw you a baby shower, then hopefully you will get a good start on clothes. One tip is to ask people to purchase clothes for all the different sizes you will need for the first year (0-3 months, 6-9 months, 9-12 months). If you don’t do this, many people will purchase newborn clothes, and you will be stuck with a lot of clothes that you can only use for a few weeks — and maybe not at all.

If you are purchasing everything yourself, you should mostly buy onesies. Onesies can go under other clothes, they can be used for sleeping (depending on the time of year), and they are easy to take off and wash. You will need other clothes, too, but don’t go overboard. You can also buy your clothes used. Lastly, your baby really won’t need shoes until he or she learns to walk, so skip them

4. Only purchase big-ticket items that you actually need

Like baby clothes, there are many cute baby extras that you can buy. Bumper pads are adorable, but they are unnecessary and even dangerous (they have been linked to SIDS). Your baby also doesn’t need cute blankets or a pillow, as those are also unsafe.

Babies are too young to be left alone, so wherever you decide to wash your baby, you will need to stay by them and keep a hand on them at all times, making baby bathtubs really useless, unless you just like them. You also probably don’t need convenience items like a baby bag (you can use any bag) or a bottle warmer (you can use warm tap water — just make sure you test the temperature). You can also save money by buying a clip-on high chair or just waiting until yard sale season to buy one used (make sure it meets current safety standards).

Your newborn also doesn’t need many baby toys, although you might want to have some for later in the first year. Some toys that claim to help baby reach milestones actually do that, but many more don’t. Your baby will learn a lot just from watching and interacting with you.

5. Trade and borrow

Enthusiastic parenting is contagious. When parents see other people (especially friends) having kids, they want to help. Let your friends help you. If they have clothes they are not using anymore, take them willingly and gratefully. If another parent or couple you trust offers to swap babysitting, do it! Babysitting alone will cost you a lot, and babysitting swaps are a wonderful way to save money.

Also, don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. You may have friends or family members who want to help but can’t afford to purchase a stroller or expensive clothes for you — they can still offer free babysitting or come by and watch your baby while you make homemade wipes or baby food. Also, join a parents’ group if you can, especially if you don’t have a big network of friends or family nearby. Knowing other parents might help you save money, but it will also just be nice to share your experiences (and have them share theirs).

There are many other ways you can save money during your baby’s first year. The most important thing is to make your choices wisely: Convenience can be really important during the first year when you are tired and your baby needs so many things. So while you should definitely save money, don’t make yourself crazy. Choose to buy used items when possible, and make your own items when you can.

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