How One Family Saved $3,642 on Diapers, Toys and Other Baby Items

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How much do you think parents spend during their baby’s first year of life? The average middle-income family shells out more than $12,000 during that first year, according to a recent USDA report — part of more than $245,000 parents will spend to raise the child to adulthood.

I know I spent a fortune after my son was born. I was a new mom, he was a fussy baby and I was drawn to any and all products that promised to calm, soothe and help him sleep through the night.

Now I have two kids, and I’ve learned how to tell the difference between essential baby gear and newborn-sized leather moccasins. (First tip: don’t buy them.)

If you want to reduce the cost of raising your kids, check out these strategies to buy, sell, use and reuse baby stuff that helped my family save more than $3,000.

1. Simplify Your List of Must-Haves

You really don’t need all the baby products flashing at your sleep-deprived eyeballs. In our house, we’ve never used a wipe warmer, bottle warmer, special diaper pail or dedicated changing table.

Hold off on purchasing a product until you know you’ll really use it. You’ll save money and have less baby clutter to trip over in the middle of the night.

2. Buy Quality, Gender-Neutral Gear

When you do decide to purchase, buy quality gear. Some parents will disagree with me on this (looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!), but in my experience, the good stuff lasts.

A Baby Bjorn bouncer I bought more than two years ago for $160 has paid for itself over and over as it is used daily by one of my kids. It’s been spit up on and washed a million times, and it still looks great.

For clothing, buy well-made, gender-neutral items, especially if you’re planning to have more than one kid. These pieces will hold up in the wash and can be worn again and again.

3. Buy Used Items

In addition to Craigslist, resale sites and Facebook garage sale groups, visit garage sales and consignment shops to get amazing deals on stuff like clothes, plastic toys, baby monitors, baby bathtubs and many other baby-related items.

If buying used items grosses you out, purchase items that can be easily cleaned. Many plastic baby toys can be washed in the dishwasher for easy sanitizing.

Note that buying used safety gear, like car seats or cribs, isn’t recommended. Consumer Reports has a great breakdown of what not to buy used. You can also check Parents magazine’s recall finder for any notices from manufacturers.

4. Save Money on Diapers

A one-year supply of brand-name, disposable diapers can cost more than $1,000 per year per child, in my experience. I changed an average of eight diapers each day, which at 40 cents per diaper costs $1,168 per year. It’s an eye-opening number, but there are a few ways to slash it.

The number one way to save money on diapers is to choose cloth diapers. Factoring in the initial cost of the diapers and the ongoing costs of water to wash them, you’ll still save hundreds of dollars during your child’s first year of life and even more in his second year.

If you go the disposable diaper route, first check out ways to get free baby diapers. Next, decide on your favorite brand and either join a subscription service or buy in bulk. In our house, we alternate the dirt-cheap Target brand diapers (20 cents per diaper) with The Honest Company’s monthly diaper bundle (40 cents per diaper, but they include four free packages of wipes).

5. Buy Baby Products in Bulk

Tiny humans are messy and sticky and require lots of products. Take home the free samples of baby shampoo and lotion from the hospital and your pediatrician’s office, and order more free samples online.

Once you find the products that work for your baby’s skin, buy them in bulk! I personally guarantee that you will use every ounce of diaper cream, baby shampoo and lotion that you bring home.

6. Use Coupons and Get Rebates

Before making a big purchase like a car seat, look for store coupons and promo codes online. Don’t set foot in a big-box baby store without a plan and a coupon, or you’ll end up with a cart full of giant plastic baby toys and stacks of stale teething biscuits.

Shopping online cuts down on impulse purchases, and you can use a cash-back site like Ebates to get about 5% of the purchase price back in your wallet.

7. Breastfeed

If you are willing and able, try nursing your infant. It’s not free (you’ll still need a breast pump, nursing bras, etc.) and it’s an investment of your time, but you can save at least $1,500 in one year compared to the cost of formula.

Many health insurance providers cover the cost of hospital-grade breast pumps, so check with your provider. To top it off, all nursing supplies are tax deductible as medical expenses according to the IRS, so save your receipts.

Choosing formula for your child? Here’s how to save money on brand-name baby formula.

8. Make Your Own Baby Food

Buying jars or packets of baby food might seem inexpensive, but the costs add up. Making your own organic apple puree costs about 20 cents per ounce. Organic apple puree in the store costs about 50 cents an ounce. If your baby eats three ounces a day, you can save $27 a month on baby food by making the food at home.

9. Borrow Books

If you don’t have a library card, get thee to a library!

Sure it’s fun to have your own personal collection of children’s books, but if you read to your kids every night, chances are good you’ll read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie 300 times in one year. Refresh your repertoire by checking out library books. It will be fun, new, and FREE.

10. Sell Your Stuff

Once your baby’s chubby thighs no longer fit in the special “floor seat,” pass it along to the next parent who can use it.

I sell stuff on Craigslist and on a regional Facebook resale page, and this mom made $600 selling items in her Facebook garage sale group! If the item is in good condition, you can typically make back about 40% of what you paid for it new.

Your Turn: What’s your favorite way to save money on gear and essentials for your baby?

Emily DiFrisco is mother to two small humans and a freelance writer living in Chicago, Illinois.