Having a baby on a budget – is it even possible? Here are 24 baby expenses to keep in mind, plus ways that you can spend less and save money.
Babies are expensive – very expensive, if the results of a quick Google search are to be believed. Just search how much does a baby cost and prepare to feel a bit of sticker shock.
This article from New York Life says that “according to a US Department of Agriculture report, the average middle-income family spends between $12,000 and $14,000 on child-related expenses each year” and other articles and studies suggest that expenses can range between $20,000 to $40,000 for a child’s first year of life. Yikes!
But before you faint away in shock or go cry into your pillow, I’m here to tell you new parents that having a baby on a budget is possible. I should know – I’m due in a few months with my fifth child and I can tell you that we 100% did not spend the amount on each child that you’re probably seeing on Google search or a spiffy little baby cost calculator.
That’s not to say that there aren’t expenses that come with having a baby. Of course there are. But I believe that by planning ahead and having a frugal mindset you can have a baby on a budget and spend significantly less than what the experts might tell you.
So if you don’t have a huge baby budget set aside in your savings account, don’t worry.
Let’s talk through the various baby related expenses that you’ll need to keep in mind, plus the best ways that you can save.
There are a number of expenses that you’ll need to plan for before baby arrives. Here are the biggest costs that come to mind:
1. Upfront medical costs
Depending on your insurance company, you may be responsible for certain upfront medical expenses like labs (you’ll usually have at least two blood-draws as part of your maternity care) and ultrasounds.
You may also need to make an initial down payment to your hospital or midwife, again just depending on what kind of healthcare coverage you have.
Most providers usually have some sort of global maternity package that includes most of your prenatal care and delivery expenses but you’ll want to inquire to make sure you know about any possible out of pocket costs, as well as what your insurance deductible is for maternity costs.
2. Vitamins and supplements
Along with the medical costs mentioned above, you’ll also want to keep in mind the prenatal vitamins and other possible supplements (iron pills, magnesium, etc.) that you’ll need to purchase. I pay out of pocket for mine but I know that many insurance companies will reimburse pregnant women for this kind of thing.
3. Maternity clothes
Maternity clothes are another expense to consider, but at least they’re more exciting to spend on than medical costs right? While it might seem daunting (and expensive!) to purchase a whole new wardrobe, you probably don’t need as much as you think you need.
Focus on getting some good maternity basics and don’t be afraid to look for them at consignment stores, Facebook Marketplace, Poshmark, thrift stores, etc.
Once baby has arrived there are a few key expenses to plan for. Let’s talk about these more “boring” baby expenses and then we can move on to all the fun stuff like baby gear and clothing!
4. Health insurance
Once baby has arrived you’ll want to be sure to add him or her to your health insurance plan. I’m not an insurance expert but typically you’re just going to see a jump in your premium when you add your new little family member (if it’s your first child.) In my experience the cost remains the same after that for subsequent children.
My family currently uses a health-share organization called Christian Healthcare Ministries which is structured differently than regular insurance, but still works in a similar way. We have found sharing programs like CHM and Samaritan Ministries to be significantly more affordable than regular health insurance and have always been very pleased with their maternity coverage.
However, as with anything I always advise that you read all of the small print and make sure that you know what you’re signing up for. For instance, some times we’ve needed to put some medical expenses on our credit card while waiting to be reimbursed by CHM.
5. Baby doctor appointments
Your baby’s doctor appointments may not be a big expense for you, depending on your insurance coverage and co-pays. Because of the particular health-sharing program that we’ve opted to use we do have to make sure to save for appointments like this because we pay for them out of pocket.
6. Life insurance
This may seem like an odd expense to include in an article about having a baby on a budget, but life insurance is an important thing to think about especially once you have kids. It’s a way that you can ensure that they are provided for in case something should happen to you.
Life insurance policies are cheaper the younger you are so it’s a good idea to jump on it right away and lock in a good cheap rate!
7. Parental leave
If you’re on maternity leave or your husband is taking time off for paternity leave is it paid or unpaid? Make sure to factor in any unpaid time off so that you know what your true expenses are.
8. Child care
I feel very blessed to get to stay home with my kids, but child care is obviously a big expense for many people and the average cost will vary a lot depending on where you live. Be sure to make plans before baby arrives for any necessary childcare, considering options like regular day care (the least expensive), smaller in-home day cares, and nannies (the most pricey.)
If you plan to stay home with your babies like me then obviously you don’t need to pay much attention to this expense category except to consider any possible babysitter expenses.
Okay, let’s move on to the more fun stuff now and talk about all the baby gear you’re going to want to get!
Some baby items are nonnegotiable – for instance, a car seat. However, there’s a whole lot of stuff out there that, while nice, isn’t absolutely necessary. Let’s talk through some of the basic baby gear items and how you can still save money and have a baby on a budget.
Oh and now would be a good time to mention that if you’re having a baby shower, sometimes some of these big ticket items are gifts that people like to go in on together to purchase, which is always helpful!
9. Car seat
As we go some of the various baby gear you’ll see me mention that some are totally optional. This one though is not. Gotta have a car seat!
However, there’s no need to spend out the wazoo for an extremely expensive car seat. All car seats go through safety tests before they’re allowed to be sold, so it’s okay to buy a less-expensive brand and save yourself some money. Baby won’t care.
10. Baby bed
Unless you plan to co-sleep indefinitely you’re going to need a safe place for baby to sleep. Whether that’s a bassinet, pack and play, Moses basket, or a traditional crib that can eventually covert to a toddler bed is completely up to you.
We purchased this Graco Travel Lite Crib (a smaller version of a pack and play) for our first baby and have used it for each one since. I like that it’s nice and small but still fits baby for their first year until we’re ready to move them into a traditional crib.
11. Baby swing
I don’t think you NEED a baby swing. In fact, if you live in a smaller space you may not even have room and that’s okay. But, it’s good to have some kind of safe place to set baby besides their bed. Whether that’s a great big swing or a little foldable glider is completely up to you.
We didn’t really have room for a swing until our fourth when we found a great deal for one on Facebook Marketplace. (Side note: shopping on Facebook Marketplace is a great way to save money on baby items, especially when you’re on a tight budget!)
Before that we purchased our baby swing we used a small glider like this – it folds for easy storage and costs much less than a big baby swing.
While you can technically get by without a stroller, most people are going to want to purchase one. The great thing is that there are strollers out there for every price range (and sometimes you’ll find people willing to just pass them on in good condition for free!)
The good news about bigger purchases like a stroller is that you can continue to use them for your second child and beyond. Yay for one time purchases!
This is our current stroller – a side-by-side double stroller that fits through doorways and is super easy to push! I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that I found it second hand for a great deal on Facebook Marketplace.
13. High chair
You can spend a lot on a fancy high chair, or you can opt for a simple little seat that fits on top of one of your kitchen/dining room chairs. We’ve used this small portable high chair for all our kids and love that it cost us less and doesn’t take up extra space. Also, you can remove the tray with one hand which you will find to be a super important feature, trust me.
I’m including a nursery as a category here, but please know that having a special nursery for your baby is not a necessity. We had our first baby when we lived in a one room apartment. Baby had a little corner of our bedroom and it was perfect.
However, for those who do plan to decorate a nursery you’ll want to keep in mind the various expenses involved like a rocking chair, chest of drawers, rug, decor, changing table, etc.
15. Nursing pillow
Do you need a nursing pillow? I think it just comes down to individual preference. I personally never use my nursing pillow for nursing, but do love it just for propping baby up in the first few months or using it behind baby when they’re learning to sit. This is a great item to add to a baby registry if you’ve chosen to make one.
16. Baby carrier
Again, like a nursing pillow, a baby carrier is something that may or may not be an essential for you. I don’t use my Ergo baby carrier often but I am glad to have it and feel that it was a good purchase since I’ve been able to use it for all my kids. You might consider purchasing one used, especially if you’re not sure how much you’ll use it.
17. Diaper bag
Diaper bags come in a such a variety of styles and price points. I really like my backpack style diaper bag (I see this style everywhere these days) but again there are all sorts of styles out there and you don’t have to spend much unless you want to.
18. Breast pump
Many moms find a breast pump either necessary or at least very helpful to have on hand. Check with your insurance because they will often cover breast pumps.
I just have a little handheld pump on hand for the rare occasions I might need it and have been quite happy with it.
Other Baby Essentials
19. Baby clothes
Baby clothing is so fun to buy. Even when I don’t have a little baby I’m always tempted to browse when I walk by a baby section.
Saving money on baby clothes isn’t hard if you plan ahead. Shop at stores or online at the end of seasons and buy ahead for next year. Check clearance often and follow money saving accounts like Money Saving Mom for deals.
And of course, don’t be afraid to buy second hand. A friend of mine gets amazing deals all the time by shopping at yard sales. Facebook Marketplace, consignment sales, and thrift stores are other great options.
Diapers are another one of those unavoidable baby expenses. Baby’s first year involves A LOT of diaper changes!
Some families save a lot by going the cloth diaper route so that’s always something to consider. While cloth diapering is an initial investment, it can definitely save you money in the long run. It’s not personally for me but I do know people who love it, and yay for saving money and keeping diapers out of land fills!
This article does a good job comparing the cost difference between cloth diapers and disposable diapers.
If you choose to use disposable like I do, you’ll probably want to experiment with which diapers work well for your baby while not costing you a fortune. I’ve found that my babies tend to leak out of a lot of store brand diapers, but Luvs diapers have always worked well for us and cost significantly less than other name brands.
For diaper wipes I just get the unscented Walmart brand ones and they work great!
21. Blankets/burp cloths
I added blankets and burp cloths to this list, but you’ll likely be gifted at least some of what you need. People love buying baby blankets!
We got some muslin blankets from aden + anais back when my first child was born and they still looked practically new for my fourth. I love that they’re sized much bigger than regular receiving blankets (perfect for swaddling), they’re super light weight, and they get softer with each wash.
22. Baby bath and toiletry items
There’s not a ton that you actually need in this category – adult towels work just as well as cutsie monogrammed baby towels and you don’t absolutely need a baby bath. If you do want a baby bath though I’ve loved this simple one for my babies and it’s relatively inexpensive at Target.
23. Breastfeeding vs. Formula
Obviously breast milk is the most economical way to feed your baby, along with being super convenient. However, I know that it doesn’t work out for everyone to breastfeed and that’s okay!
If your baby is bottle fed there are many ways to get coupons and save money on baby formula. I’m not an expert in this area but this article has lots of great suggestions and details for saving money on formula.
24. Baby Food
Once your baby is around six months old you’ll probably start introducing solids. I’ve shared a lot about how to save money on baby food here (and it doesn’t include buying any fancy baby food makers!)
If you are in a tight spot financially or are a single parent you may also want to avail yourself of some of the government programs that are available here in the United States to help you feed your baby like WIC.
Well, I think those are all the typical baby expenses that I can think of! Did I miss anything? What’s your favorite way to save on all things baby related? Let me know in the comments!
PS – have you made a baby registry yet? You can often get some fun freebies when you make baby registries and who doesn’t like making a baby wish list!