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Raising Baby without Going Broke
Cost-saving techniques for the first year
Despite what the charming lady at the maternity store would have you believe, you don’t have to spend a million dollars in the first year of your new baby’s life. If you’re careful, the cost of Baby’s most important year can cost less than a nice vacation. And you might be surprised to learn that you don’t have to cut a single corner to wind up with a low price tag. In fact, in this case, Baby is better off with the bargain deal.
Ideally, you made sure you had good health insurance before you got pregnant. Even so, don’t go overboard. Talk to your doctor and find out what prenatal tests are really necessary. Consider your age – if you’re in your early 20s, do you need to have an amniocentesis? Together with your doctor, consider your individual situation before you sign up for every procedure available. Once Baby is born, doctor’s visits don’t have to break the bank. Many pediatricians offer a plan where you pay a set fee for unlimited visits during baby’s first year.
How you feed your baby can also have a major impact on your finances. Breastfeeding is theoretically free, but there are sometimes a few “start-up costs” involved. You might need a lactation consultant if you’re having problems, and that, together with the best breast pumps you can buy (if you plan to express milk), can cost as much as $200 to $300.
Formula feeding means you’ll need a full supply of bottles and nipples at $6 to $8 and $2 to $4 a pop, respectively. You’ll need a bottle scrubber and possibly a sterilizer. And, of course, the formula itself doesn’t come cheap. Soy formulas are typically more expensive than dairy versions, and ready-to-pour canned liquid costs much more than powders you have to prepare yourself. The bill for formula can run as high as $1,500 in a single year.
When you’re putting together Baby’s nursery, it can be difficult to resist splurging on a full layette. But it’s important to remember a few things: Babies don’t know about designer brands. And be honest – how much do you remember from before your third birthday? Instead of splurging on the color-coordinated wallpaper and curtain set, consider this: For less than $20 dollars you can stencil the nursery walls. If you’ve never stenciled before, don’t panic. Stencils are practically idiot proof. Head to your local craft shop, pick up a brochure and supplies and do a trial run on poster board. Stenciling is a great seven-month-stretch project to help you pass the time, and the results will amaze you.
Furniture and Car Seats
There are two items on which you should spare no expense: baby’s crib and car seat. Do not buy either of these items used – they may not be up to the latest safety standards. Even if you trust the brand name, a used car seat probably won’t have an instruction book, so you may position it improperly, risking Baby’s life. An older child may have climbed into a crib in its previous owner’s home and stressed the supports.
To ensure your child’s safety, educate yourself. Check out what Consumer Reports has to say about the various brands and models, talk to other parents and decide what you want. Then shop reputable stores for the best price on that particular item. Expect to spend around $300 on a crib (not including the mattress, which can cost another $100) and up to $100 on a car seat.
The rest of baby’s furniture can be purchased new or used, according to your preference. Just make sure that any used furniture isn’t painted with lead-based paints. You don’t need a separate changing table, just use a padded surface on top of Baby’s dresser, or even the floor. Safety straps shouldn’t be necessary on a changing table, because you’ll never walk away from the table while Baby is on it, right?
Diapers and Baths
Then, of course, there are diapers. Cloth diapers can be just as expensive as disposables if you use a service. If you launder them yourself, though, cloth diapers can save you money in the long run. Costs can vary widely from service to service and state to state, so it’s difficult to estimate costs. Talk to other mothers, and decide what feels best to you.
Bathing Baby is relatively inexpensive. You can spend about $20 on an infant tub or simply take Baby into the bath with you. Extras like thermometers to test water temperature aren’t really necessary – your elbow is more reliable. Baby soaps and shampoos cost about the same as grown-up versions and are gentle on Baby’s sensitive skin. In the first few months, you don’t need to bathe Baby every single night, so a bottle of liquid baby soap should last you several months.
You don’t have to buy Baby many clothes at first – you’ll most likely receive most of what he needs as gifts. Again, remember that Baby isn’t impressed by Gap, Ralph Lauren or Baby Dior. He’s perfectly happy in onesies from Wal-Mart.
Before baby is born, you should buy just one outfit for coming home from the hospital. After you see Baby’s size (and the size of the pile of presents waiting for you at home), you can buy whatever is still needed. One way to save money is to buy 3-to-6-month sizes; they’ll be a little big at first, but you’ll be amazed at how quickly Baby grows!
Toys and Strollers
Toys are also budget breakers. You may be tempted to run out and buy one of everything at the baby store, but try to restrain yourself. In the first few weeks of his life, your face is more exciting to Baby than even the most expensive playthings, and you’ll probably get lots of toys from friends and family. When Baby is 3 to 4 weeks old, you can evaluate what you’ve received and see if there is something else Baby really needs.
Here’s a surprising truth you probably won’t believe until you actually have a baby: Expensive strollers are often more of an inconvenience than they’re worth. Picture this: last-minute Christmas shopping. You finally find a parking space at the mall. Now you have to leave Baby in his car seat while you haul the stroller out of the trunk and open it up. Once you get the stroller ready, take the baby (who by now is fussing at having been left alone) and settle him in. Navigate the stroller through the parking lot – watch out for the snowdrifts – and into the mall. Guess what? You can’t take the stroller on the conveniently located elevators in the front of the department store. Start making your way to the back where the ancient elevators are. Estimated cost for the stroller: $150 to $300. Estimated aggravation: endless.
The solution? Consider buying a sling instead. Most cost about $60, and a well-designed sling can be used through toddlerhood – as long as you would naturally carry Baby in your arms. Baby loves to be close to you. A sling keeps him near the warmth of your body and the reassuring sound of your heartbeat. With Baby in a sling, your hands are free to hold your purchases, so head into the mall for some serious shopping.
Caring for Baby
If you’re planning to go back to work, you’ll need to find someone to look after Baby. Private, in-home care is obviously more expensive than daycare. But before you hire a nanny or scope out all the options available in your town, figure out if going back to work is really worth it in Baby’s first year. If taking a year off won’t ruin your chances of career advancement, consider staying home. It’s likely that most of your salary would pay for childcare, and you’d miss out on seeing many of Baby’s milestones. And those are priceless!
JI Brooks is currently a writer and editor for a health magazine in Singapore. She is an open-minded free spirit, always ready for new adventures. Faith, family and finances are the core of her value system. She is a dream chaser and with her husband and best friend by her side, she plans to take over the world.
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