A reader expecting her first child recently e-mailed me to ask for advice about raising a baby on a budget. In response, I thought this might be a good time to direct new readers to some of my posts on this topic.
For example, I’ve been making homemade baby wipes since my oldest daughter was a baby, and my how-to post is consistently one of the most popular on this blog. I estimate that one container of homemade wipes now costs approximately 75 cents, and I recently discovered that I don’t need to purchase expensive coconut oil to make them. One of my children has a mineral oil allergy, as do I, so we can’t use baby oil, but a doctor told me that plain vegetable oil is one of the best skin lubricants, and something that nearly everyone has in their home. We’ve been using it for DJ with great results.
I’ll be updating the following posts over the course of the next few months, but for those of you who are interested in reading them now, here are the links:
How to Use Cloth Diapers – Cloth diapering is actually much easier than most people think, and I estimate that by the time DJ is out of diapers, cloth diapers will have saved us a minimum of $1600. Visit Diaper Swappers for support, tips, and gently used diapers for sale (or free!)
In Support of Breastfeeding – My girls were exclusively breastfed (meaning that they were never given formula), as is DJ, and I estimate that in the first year, breastfeeding saves us approximately $1800 per child. Some women are genuinely unable to breastfeed, usually for health reasons, but many women who give up on breastfeeding do so because of a lack of confidence and support. In the future, I’m hoping to train as a La Leche League peer counselor, in an effort to be of service to women who want to breastfeed and need help. I promise that I will be gentle, I will listen, and I will not grab anyone’s boob unless they give me permission. I know from experience that this is not appreciated.
How to Make Your Own Baby Food - Babies are not ready for solid food until around 6 months of age. Until this point, formula or breast milk is more than sufficient for their nutritional needs, and earlier introduction of solids may contribute to the development of food allergies. When your baby is ready, you can easily and simply make your own baby food. Store-bought baby food is expensive and completely unnecessary. In fact, I don’t even buy baby cereals. Instead, I cook large batches of Cream of Rice cereal (similar to Cream of Wheat), and oatmeal grains that I’ve ground fine, and freeze the cereals in ice cube form. I also don’t buy baby “snacks,” such as those marketed by Gerber. At approximately 12 months, my children enjoyed Cheerios, puffed rice cereal, graham crackers, raisins, and vanilla wafers – at a fraction of the price.
My reader asked me to help her navigate all of the baby products on the market – which ones are actually necessary? Please remember that this is my personal opinion, based on my experience with my own children. Your needs, and your children, may be completely different. As always, take what you can use, and discard the rest.
These are the items that I’ve found necessary and useful:
Crib – I’m a firm believer in sleep training, and while our babies have all temporarily slept in our bed with us, especially during the first few months, I begin training them to sleep alone, in their own beds, at around 4-5 months of age. Our crib is a hand-me-down, but it came with the original owner’s manual. We examined it carefully to make sure that it met current safety guidelines, and looked up the model number at CPSC.gov, to see if it had been recalled for any reason. This is very important!
Changing table - You can also just use a bed, or the floor, but we purchased a changing table and pad at a garage sale (for $7), mainly because it provides convenient storage for diapers, wipes, plastic pants, burp rags, and other baby supplies.
Swing – This is the only piece of baby equipment that all of my children loved. They could take or leave baby carriers, bouncy seats, exersaucers, and most other novelty baby items, but the swing almost always calmed them.
Car seat - This goes without saying. This is one item that we purchased new, because there is no way to know if a used car seat has been in an accident.
Diaper bag - I actually just use a large, black tote bag that I already had, because I don’t feel very grown up when carrying around a bag with Winnie-the-Pooh prominently displayed on the pocket.
Stroller – We purchased a Graco Snug-Ride travel system, because the infant car seat can just snap right onto the stroller, eliminating the need to unstrap and transfer the baby every time you get out of the car. It’s lightweight and portable, and we’ve used it for all three children.
Baby food mill - This $10 item makes baby food-making a cinch, but you can also just use a coffee grinder.
High chair – This isn’t necessary until baby is sitting up independently and feeding himself. Until that time, we always just parked our kids in the car seat, or in the swing (turned off, of course) to feed them. You can often borrow or purchase this item used. We got ours for $2 (seriously) at a garage sale.
Breast pump, nursing pads, nursing bras - Essentials for a successful breastfeeding experience.
When Cakes was a toddler, we got rid of all the baby stuff except for our cloth diapering supplies, and the above items. So far we’ve not missed any of it. In my experience, babies only need the most basic of creature comforts – nourishment, warmth, love, and attention – and they really aren’t very particular about anything else. For example, they don’t need hooded towels, or baby washcloths. They’re nice to have, but regular ones work just fine. I found that our baby bathtub was a pain to clean and store, and it was always in the way when I went to put my older child in the tub. Babies can be bathed in a clean sink until they’re old enough to sit up on their own, and then they can move to the big tub. Careful supervision is key. They also don’t need fancy burp cloths (we just use clean cloth diapers), special baby detergents (we use Purex Free and Clear or homemade detergent), educational videos (according to the “experts” they shouldn’t be watching TV before the age of two anyway), and acres of toys. Honestly, as babies my children ignored most of their toys in favor of common household objects like measuring spoons and coasters.
Like most first-time, expectant mothers, I registered for all of the novelty baby stuff that struck my fancy at Target. I eventually discovered that much of it was impractical or unnecessary. The best advice I can give to a new mother is to register for the necessities (diapers!), and be very selective about everything else. Remember, the more stuff you accumulate for baby, the more you have to store, clean, maintain, organize, and eventually dispose of. As in all areas of life, thrift and simplicity are beautiful things. Also, put out the word! Before buying anything, ask around. Lots and lots of people have gently used baby stuff in their attics and basements, and they would love to find a good home for it, especially now that Goodwill and most consignment stores will not accept cribs, and other baby equipment, because they don’t know if the items meet current safety guidelines. For example, after I mentioned that I had no clothes for my chunky boy, I received several offerings from kind and generous readers.
You’ll never know if you don’t ask.