So, Yahoo Parenting has a great article full of ridiculous figures for how much you need to spend on baby stuff, and fantastic (by which I mean laughable) ways that you can save money…by not wasting it on completely stupid things. Following their advice I suspect you could reduce the costs of having a newborn from truly horrific all the way down to merely obscene.
Now, I’m not going to pretend that having a baby is not expensive at all. The biggest costs are obviously childcare and loss of wages, and unless you happen to be lucky enough to work from home or to have family that are willing to help out there’s not much that can be done about that.
Baby stuff, on the other hand, really doesn’t need to cost anywhere near what most parents spend. First time parents are a marketer’s dream: a vulnerable and anxious consumer base who really want to get things right and who can easily be persuaded into dropping huge wads of cash on unnecessary crap. If you have money and you’re really enjoying dropping a small fortune on your bundle of joy go to it, have fun, make sure that when your kid is done with the stuff you donate it to the local crisis pregnancy centre. But if you’re looking at the price tag on that new crib and your head is reeling at the thought of how much credit card debt you are about to rack up, here are some things that, having had 7 babies, I’ve learned you don’t actually need:
A change table. Get yourself a couple of cheap pee-pads. When the baby needs to be changed, lay the pee-pad out on your bed, your couch, laundry machine, wherever, and change them. If they soil the pad, wash it. Bonus: Unlike a change table, pads are completely portable, and you’re going to need them later when you have a toddler who is learning how not to wet the bed.
A baby bathtub. Just get an old, cheap towel. Wash it well. Fold the top to make a little pillow for baby’s head to lie on and use the rest of the towel to wrap around the little belly. Run shallow water in the bath or use any plastic storage bin large enough for baby to lie down in. Use a small plastic cup to regularly pour warm water over the towel to keep baby nice and warm. Bonus: You don’t have to find space to store a large, otherwise useless plastic thing in your bathroom.
Baby carriers. There are dozens of different models out there, most of them are ridiculously over-engineered and commensurately expensive. I tried about 6 of them. Then my sister came home from Africa with a “traditional Ugandan baby carrier.” It’s a towel. Not a good towel, but a thin, polyester beach towel (this is important – good towels are too thick to tie on easily.) You tie the towel around your waist, snuggle baby to your chest, fold the towel behind baby’s back to support her neck and tie it between your shoulder blades. Make sure baby is breathing comfortably and that her head is supported. This is actually more comfortable than most commercial models. When baby is bigger you can graduate to a large piece of cloth. Bonus: When baby’s grown, you’ve got a beach towel. Also, the carrier could conceivably double as a baby bath or a change table.
Baby food. Paying a dollar for a jar of mushed up rice and a couple of pureed peas is insanity. Get a blender and an ice-cube tray. Once every week or two, make watery rice, oatmeal, overcooked carrots, applesauce, barley, whatever. Put it in the blender and make mush. Spoon mush into ice-cube trays and freeze. If you’re worried about freezer burn, transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer bag after about 8 hours. The cubes are about the right size for a portion of baby food – just heat and serve. Bonus: No weird additives. You know what’s in your baby’s food and you can easily (and cheaply) go organic, or gluten free, or whatever if you want to.
Formula. Unless you’re one of those rare cases where breastfeeding is a problem for some reason, it’s worth it. It can be difficult and daunting at first, but it’s better for baby and it will save you thousands of dollars.
Almost all baby body products. Anything with the word “baby” on it includes artificial mark-up because you are willing to spend extra money to keep your little one “safe.” What you actually need: a bar of mild unscented soap, some olive oil, corn starch, zinc diaper cream. Olive oil works better than most baby lotions, and it’s great for removing cradle cap. Most commercial baby powders are actually just corn-starch that’s lightly scented. If you must splurge on a baby bath product, lavender scented baby bath would be my choice. It probably doesn’t actually cause babies to relax and sleep, but the scent of lavender does have a soothing effect on the nerves of frazzled, overtired mothers. Bonus: If you have leftover oil and starch when baby is grown, you can use it in the kitchen.
Brand name. I was in the grocery store once buying store brand diapers, and a young mother came up to me with a wary-but-hopeful look and asked, “Do those work? They don’t cause diaper rash?” Yes, no-name brands work. The only exception is if you get disposable diapers with a plastic, as opposed to cloth-like, outer covering. Those things are awful.
Educational products for the under 6 month set. You don’t need to pay extra for Baby Mozart. Plain old Mozart works just fine. Motörhead works almost as well. The majority of products that are supposedly going to turn your child into a genius and a prodigy do nothing. They’re just preying on your hopes for your baby’s future. Talk to your baby, play music from your playlist and figure out what your baby likes, give them random safe objects to manipulate and if you’re tired show them YouTube videos of cute animals. That’s about it. Most of your baby’s learning will be the result of time that they spend with you and other human beings, not with overpriced pseudoscientific junk.
Diaper bag. Apparently these cost $40 and up. (?!?) The important thing about a diaper bag is that there are diapers in the bag, not that it has the word diaper on the bag. An old oversized purse works great. Backpacks are also very suitable. In a pinch, a cloth grocery bag will work. I’m using a retired laptop case.
Nursing clothes. The irritation of trying to get your breast out from behind the arcane labyrinth of flaps and slits in most nursing garments is reason enough to avoid them. On top of that, they’re expensive because they’re a “specialty” clothing item. Large t-shirts and baggy sweatshirts are great for nursing – just hike them up and use baby’s blanket to cover your midriff. Or wear button-up blouses like my mom used to.
Brand new. Baby stuff gets used, on average, for about 3-6 months. At that point it is still perfectly good, but it sells for half to a tenth of the original price. Garage sales, thrift stores, baby consignment stores and friends or relatives who have a slightly older baby are all great places to get quality baby goods. Make sure it’s not broken, and in the case of car seats that they’re not past their legal safety date, clean it up if necessary and you’re good to go. If it’s still usable when you’re done with it, pass it on.
Tomorrow: My recommendations for baby gadgets that are actually worth getting.
Image courtesy of Pixabay.