Expecting a Baby? Your Parenting Philosophies Can Have a Big Impact on Your Finances

May 12, 2015

As a new parent—my wife gave birth to our first child, a boy, on March, 20 2015—the happiness and emotion you feel as your due date approaches can be overwhelming at times. Another potentially overwhelming factor in any new parent’s mind is the financial component of planning for your bundle of joy. As always, new and prospective parents can look to a lot of consumer savings ideas (check out this past Dime post for some tips). However, one thing I’ve noticed as my wife and I start on this journey is how much our values and philosophies end up deciding many of these financial decisions for us.

Here are some places where your values as a parent can help inform financial decisions. I will say I am by no means an expert on parenting, and your own experiences might differ. If you have any suggestions or thoughts on this, please leave them in the comments! (Keep in mind; if I forgot anything, it’s probably because I’m beyond exhausted.)

Feeding

From your baby’s birth until about six months, he or she cannot process solid food. You will choose between breastfeeding and formula feeding your child, or a combination. Most doctors and other healthcare providers are encouraging new moms to breastfeed their babies. Many studies have shown benefits for babies who breastfeed for all or part of their infancy. Of course, it’s a personal decision parents should make based on their values and other factors, but there’s a financial aspect too.

First of all, formula is expensive. A standard 12-14 ounce can or package of formula can run you anywhere from $20-$30 depending on the brand you buy. That package will last you, at most, a week. Since your infant won’t eat anything but formula or breast milk for 12-24 weeks, and you can expect to feed them about every three hours or so, you might be spending up to $720 on formula. If you do choose to formula feed, depending on your health care provider, you might end up leaving the hospital with a few cans of formula. Ask your doctor or nurses about any free samples they might have.

Alternatively, breast milk is, of course, free. Not only that, with the new federal healthcare law now fully in effect, most insurance plans will pay for you to use a breast pump for the duration of your child’s infancy. Aside from the cost of some bottles and other accessories, you might not end up having to spend a dime on feeding your baby for up to 24 weeks.

As for my wife and I, we’ve tried to breastfeed as much as possible, but we have fed our son some formula. Going this route, I actually like the “ready to feed” products because nothing’s worse than an already sleep-deprived dad trying to mix powdered formula at 3:00 a.m.

Diapers

When it comes to diapers, the choice comes down to cloth or disposable. Until the early to mid-20th century, diapers were made of cloth material that was washed and reused. Disposable diapers came into widespread use during the 1960s, and spawned a debate that rages on to this day.

As a parent, you should ask yourself what you value most. Do you value ease of changing and cleaning, or do you want to be more environmentally responsible? Over the course of the first year of a baby’s life, parents can expect to change about 2,700 diapers. From a financial perspective, cloth diapers will always win out—if you clean them yourself. Many people choose to use a cloth diaper service, which can run you close to $80 a month (that’s still cheaper than the $150-$200 you can expect to spend on disposable diapers during the middle part of your infant’s first year). If you clean your own, you’ll need to do more laundry, but let’s face it, you’re already going to be doing more laundry than you ever thought possible.

Weighing all of these options, my wife and I decided to use disposable diapers, but not without a bit of guilt.

Having now spent three weeks changing diapers, all I can say is: diapers and wipes. Diapers and wipes. Diapers and wipes. You will go through a mind-bogglingly high number of these, so be ready.

Safety

Is there anything more important than the safety, health, and well-being of your child? Of course not. Unfortunately, some new parents fall into the trap of believing you have to buy the most expensive car seat, stroller, or other product in order to keep your baby safe. One of the most important lessons my wife and I have learned as we were getting ready to welcome our son into the world was the price tag of a product does not mean the product is safer than a cheaper alternative. Shop around, price compare, and use your own parental judgment. It’s easy as a new parent to think you’re investing in your child’s safety by spending more, but that’s simply not the case.

For most parents, the first big safety purchase will be your child’s car seat. Car seats are important for one simple reason: car accidents are the number one cause of death in children. The biggest things to look for in a car seat are the weight requirements, the expiration date (most car seats only last about 6 years. If you’re buying a new one then this shouldn’t be an issue), and whether or not it will fit in your vehicle. Not all car seats fit all cars, so try it out before you get too close to your baby’s due date.

Also note, most hospitals will not let you take your baby home without a properly installed car seat. If you’re concerned about whether you installed your seat properly (boy, was I ever) a lot of hospitals have programs that will check your seat, and many fire houses will check it for you. Check out safercar.gov, a site sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for a location near you.

Clothes

As a new parent, one of the things I struggled with was the idea of buying baby clothes. Even when they’ve been given to us as gifts, I feel guilty. Why am I spending money on something the kid’s going to wear for maybe a few months? Cheap dad status achieved. Fortunately, there are ways to save in this department.

  • Stay away from anything that’s sitting on a hanger on a rack. Even in a discount store, those matching outfits might be cute, but you’re about to spend $19.99 on something your baby might wear one time. If you are going to buy off the rack in a place like Target, make a bee line to the clearance shelf and don’t look back. If you do end up dropping twenty bucks on an outfit, don’t feel too guilty because, rest assured, it could be much, much worse.
  • Consignment stores are your friend. Not only can you find some nicer clothes for less, but when your kids outgrow those clothes your mother-in-law just bought them two weeks ago, you can turn them into some cash or store credit. Don’t expect to just drop in out of the blue and dump off all your baby’s old onesies, though; popular consignment shops like Back on the Rack in Denver are by appointment only. If you can’t get an appointment to sell your clothes by consignment, you can always hold a good old fashioned garage sale (though you should be cautious about buying clothes at a garage sale, and never, ever buy safety products used).
  • Buy in bulk. For the same price as one designer onesie, you can get a pack of five plain white ones. Same goes for socks, caps, and infant mittens. Your kid won’t know the difference. But, uh, get yellow or brown instead of white if you can find them. Trust me on this.
  • How about free? Friends and family who are done having kids might be more than willing to unload some of their old clothes to you for nothing. Of course, when your child has outgrown them, you might want to consider paying it forward by donating them to a thrift store like ARC.