One of the more daunting tasks facing new parents is assessing the impact of a new baby on their budget.
How much is enough and, once the money is set aside, what should it be spent on?
In this article we will discuss the top 5 areas where you need to pay the most attention when budgeting for a baby.
- Child Care
Especially for first time parents, budgeting can seem like a process of assigning dollar amounts that are little more than guesses to a bewildering variety of seeming requirements that may or may not have a real bearing on reality. Every relative, friend, television host, or blogger has a different idea or object they think is absolutely essential to the well-being of your new family member, and it’s extremely difficult to figure out which are real necessities and which are expensive distractions that will get used once and donated or sold several years down the road almost untouched.
The USDA recently published an informative article on the cost to a typical American family of having a child, and a handy calculator to estimate the rough impact of the birth of a child on a family’s budget based on situation and location. These resources are worth considering, but the numbers they produce are averages in a wide range. This article will examine some of ways new parents can spend and also save money, but the first consideration should be a real assessment of what a new baby needs. In every situation, that comes down to a stable and safe environment, food, water, and attention to basic needs like cleanliness. Without doubt it costs money to meet those needs, but often not as much as it seems before the baby is born.
In fact, that leads us to the best budget tip of all: if you have any doubt whether you need something before a baby is born and it doesn’t meet a basic need, don’t buy it. Start a folder in your browser for bookmarks to the web pages of all the things you’re thinking about buying before your baby is born, and look at it a month after the birth. Some of the things in there will still seem like good ideas, and may still be things you want to purchase. The rest might have seemed like a good idea before the baby, but don’t fit into your post-birth reality and it’s definitely for the best they’re not taking up space in your closet.
One of the easiest ways to overspend and acquire a lot of things that ultimately won’t get used is new baby clothes. To be sure, you will need a good amount of baby clothes, particularly everyday wear items like onesies. However, it’s probably not necessary to get a lot of “nice” infant clothes unless they’re clothes you don’t mind getting food and / or bodily fluids on regularly. Even if you are committed to keeping your baby photo-shoot ready 24/7, it’s relatively easy to put together an extensive wardrobe of high quality, name-brand baby clothes if you’re willing to shop around and maybe accept clothes that have been worn a few times. This is possible because lots of people buy new baby clothes that they don’t end up using much, and those clothes end up in secondhand stores and on eBay, Craigslist, and Mercari (lesser known than the huge sites, but a great source of baby and kids’ clothes), among many others.
Although you should at least try to resist the urge to fill an adult closet with the latest in infant street-wear, you also don’t want to go too cheap. Baby clothes get stretched, bitten, vomited on, and washed a lot, so it’s important that they hold up. A smaller number of high quality onesies and body suits will probably serve you better than a larger number that do not hold up to wear and tear. Also, good quality materials are more comfortable for the baby (I assume; newborns are notoriously poor customer survey subjects but if someone forced me into clothes that felt like stretchy sandpaper every day, I wouldn’t like it), and you don’t want to worry about cheap fasteners coming off and turning into choking hazards.
(2) Cloth Diapers
The number and quality of cloth or at least reusable diapers has greatly increased in just the past few years. Like making your own baby food as described below, reusable diapers can save a lot of money over the long run with a relatively modest time investment. Remember, if you keep a box of disposables in the closet for emergencies, it doesn’t mean you failed as a cloth diaper person.
Like clothes, if you’re willing to spend some time in the local paper or on Craigslist and possibly borrow a truck or rent a U-Haul, it’s not hard to find slightly used cribs, bassinets, changing tables, etc. on the secondhand market. Of note, make sure to check local laws regarding child safety seats. Some states have different certification requirements than others, and in many places it’s illegal to use or sell some seats past a certain age due to the plastics used in them becoming brittle over time.
Like many everyday products, the variety and cost range of baby food has greatly expanded in recent years. You can save or spend a lot on food depending on your inclinations regarding organics, etc. However, along with variety in the store, there are also a host of high quality information resources readily available for parents who want to try making homemade baby food. In many cases, it’s a lot like making normal food, but the last step always involves a blender. There are even specialized baby food processing and storage tools available to make the task less time consuming. Making your own food can save a lot of money over the long term and give you the peace of mind of knowing exactly what your baby’s eating.
(5) Child Care:
Child care is the single biggest and most variable expense beyond meeting the basic survival needs of a new baby. Nearby family members and friends willing to pitch in with child care can significantly defray cost, as can workplace child care arrangements or a Google search for sometimes little-publicized state and local government programs to help career-oriented new parents. If you do end up paying for child care, make sure to save all the associated documents for tax time; the savings can be significant.
Determining what to buy and what not to before the birth of a baby can be an emotional experience in itself at a time in your life when you don’t need any more. The best advice anyone can give or receive is do the important stuff great, and the rest will figure itself out whether your bassinet was bought new from Pottery Barn or hails from the back of the basement and was most recently used for apple bobbing.