Go off-brand & black-ops: How to have a baby on the cheap

Guest post by Hannah Wernet
“World’s most expensive alarm clock” baby onsie from CutieBugCreationsUS

Three days before I found out I was pregnant with my first baby, in an example of worst-timing-ever, I quit my job. I had intended to slide straight into another position. But now nine months of being pregnant, broke, and bored loomed ahead. After the first (but not last) major panic attack was over, we realized we would have to become money-saving ninjas, embracing the second hand, the cheap and the wonky, and we would cope.

My husband kept some vague figures, and estimates that we spent about £300 buying everything we needed to get ready for our newborn. Our second is on the way, and we will probably spend a lot less than that, as we already have most of the stuff we need, and a good idea of what we don’t need.

For us, it’s about more than saving money. It was important for us to bring our child into a home where we are content with what we have. In addition, buying a lot less stuff meant we were still happy in our small, pre-baby flat. So now I’m in my second pregnancy, I’d like to share how we managed to keep down the costs of preparing for a newborn…

1. Procrastinate

Everyone has a story in their family of that one baby who was born so big that dad had to go back to the shop and swap all the baby clothes for stuff one size up. Which proves that it isn’t necessary to stock up on anything before the birth. Otherwise it’s like trying to buy gifts for someone you’ve never met and don’t know anything about. You could take the route of simply buying everything, which the ladies who work at your local baby emporium will be very happy to help you with, or you could wait and see what you really need.

The baby books tell you not to leave things so late, because you will have to drag your very pregnant self through sweaty shops with no convenient loos, but that, fellow Savings Ninjas, is what the internet is for.

2. Don’t be the first in your group of friends

This one might be difficult to control, but if you do have friends that have a baby, say, a year older than yours, you will be able to cadge a fortune’s worth of hand-me-downs. Push chairs, prams, cots, changing tables; what was a necessity in the first months or years of baby’s life can become an expensive waste of space overnight.

If your friends have not been so obliging, try charity shops and answering local small ads, as Freecycle, Craigslist, newsagent’s windows and your local Buy/Sell are full of offers for practically new baby stuff at knock-down prices to anyone willing to take them away. We made a policy of checking such sites every time before we bought anything new, and saved a fortune that way.

3. Be open to everything

I let it be known that I was willing to accept anything baby-related — no matter how weird it may have seemed to the giver. People were a little embarrassed at first, giving me opened packs of nappies, slightly broken toys and push chair umbrellas with no push chair attached… But when I reacted positively, the gifts of second-hand-but-still-really-useful stuff began to flow. And soon I had nearly everything we needed without spending a penny!

The HAPPY PILL Pens by RetroandMe

4. Go off-brand

From pregnancy vitamins to nappies and sippy cups, your baby’s first months are dominated by big brands. Sadly, it probably won’t get any better as your baby becomes a child, but it will never again be as easy to reject marketing in favour of common sense. My gynaecologist prescribed me pregnancy vitamins which cost one pound a day. Funnily enough, it was the same brand which sponsored her notepad, her calculator, and her pen. I took a look at the active ingredients, and bought a no-name generic brand. I checked with her, and she had to admit that they were just as good. The same goes for when your baby is born. I was lucky enough to give birth to a baby with the skin sensitivity of a rhinoceros, but the one cream that really upset her was the incredibly expensive famous name brand.

5. Have a black-ops birth

The money we could have wasted publicising Rose’s birth probably totaled what it would have cost to hire a PR firm for the event. I couldn’t believe that the photographers were at my bedside with their special deals before any of my friends and family made it to the hospital. The local newspaper were in on the act too; slipping their request for our credit card details in with the birth certificate. In the end we made our own cards to send to friends and relatives, which sounds like a craft extravaganza, but was actually just a plain red piece of card folded over with a picture of the little one inside. Simple.

6. Look to the future

One area where I regret trying to save money is rejecting cloth nappies in favour of disposables. The up-front investment just seemed too huge, but of course, it would have saved me a fortune in the long run, as well as being kinder to the planet. Likewise, pint-sized pink wardrobes might be a steal at your local furniture behemoth, but they are going to be a total embarrassment to your gothic teenage daughter.

That was what we did the first time round, but I’ve still so much to learn for baby number two. I’d love to hear what other Offbeat Homies have to say!

Comments on Go off-brand & black-ops: How to have a baby on the cheap

  1. If you are the first of your friends to have a baby, work your network. I was able to get stuff from coworkers. Now that we’re done I’m giving stuff away to friends/coworkers.

    Also, some of the stuff people will tell you your baby absolutely NEEDS you baby may hate or just not notice. Even if they don’t know how their arms work yet, babies have opinions. For example, some kids will cry if you dare to put a cold wet wipe to their butts, other kids don’t care. This is how wipes warmers became a thing (protip: just hold the wipe in your hands for a minute, your own body heat will be enough to warm it up).

    I don’t think we sent out birth announcements at all, Facebook and grandparents+phones did the job. We did shell out for the photographer that came to the hospital room, but that was our choice, we could have just waved her off.

    • I was the first of my friends with a baby as well (maybe the only) but I was able to get a bunch of second hand goods from my oldest sister and her friends. Asking around for family can be good. My Mother in Law saved a bunch of baby stuff and we used some. Some are favs (note check for recalls, we mostly took clothes, basic toys, and books)

    • I got loads of stuff via grandparents. When parents are through with the stroller and the cot, I found that about 90% of the time, they seem to end up in grandparent’s garages and lofts, as the empty-nesters are the ones with the storage space. My mother-in-law’s network reaped the most rewards.

  2. Hands down cloth diapers are the best! My husband moaned and groaned at the suggestion but I convinced him that cloth or disposable diapers were both disgusting. XD Turns out there were less poop leaks with the cloth diapers anyways!

    As mentioned they can be pricey- BUT you can find ways to save. I bought the cheaper Chinese brand of diapers, and got 12. The first few months we had to do a mix of cloth and disposable and truthfully I was so frazzled sometimes going disposable was necessary. But now my baby is old enough 12 is enough for a day and a half- with disposable at night and with baby sitters. Try and find small eco friendly baby shops that sell second hand items. There is one that I found post baby that sells new and used cloth diapers. Some as cheap as $3 a piece! But then again a pop up consignment shop was trying to sell second hand cloth diapers at retail prices. I guess they were never used but it makes no sense to me for such a high asking price.

    Also- there is an American second hand store in the US called Once Upon a Child. It was a lifesaved for the Newborn stuff. Went and got a bunch of cheap footed jammies on sale. No one- I mean NO ONE got us any new born or winter clothes for our baby shower. I was due in December so I am still puzzled by the whole thing XD

    • When giving baby clothes, I usually buy 3 or 6 months. Since it’s not clear what season they’ll be in, mostly adorable onesies. Every friends baby seems to start at a different size and go through sizes at different times so it seems safest! This is from someone with zero kids though, so maybe parents would be better at knowing what to buy based on due date.

  3. If cloth diapers are a feasible choice for you, absolutely do it! I did it with my first and I really liked doing it. And yes, it will TOTALLY save you a fortune. Even though that initial upfront cost is deeply painful.

    To put it in perspective: I spent about $200 or $300 on cloth diapers for my first and they lasted until he toilet trained, so about 3 years. With my second cloth diapering wasn’t feasible (coin-operated laundry for four is a bitch without adding in daily loads of diapers). So we are going the disposable route this time. For diapers and wipes together we spend between $80 and $100 per month, sometimes more. So yeah, cloth diapers are a big investment but they pay for themselves really quickly.

  4. Great tips! When your baby gets to eating solids age, make your own baby foods. Baby purees are over priced and filled with nasty texturing agents…

    • Baby purees/baby foods are over priced! But, I would disagree that they are filled with nasty ingredients. I have a kid with allergies and we were just careful to buy the ones that had simple ingredients (ex: pears, water, lemon juice). Even the big brands have baby foods with simple ingredients. And a lot of the brands have organic options, too. Our kid was also picky and would not eat a lot of the homemade baby foods. To save money, we would buy the kinds that he could have on sale or in bulk. You can also ask a friend who is a member of a bulk store (like Costco or Sam’s Club) to look for sales for you, too. We would buy the non-baby versions of foods for less and just put it in little jars. (ex: buy regular apple sauce instead of baby food pureed apples, buy frozen pureed squash from the freezer section instead of baby food squash, buy regular canned peas and corn, buy cheerio’s cereals instead of baby puffs, etc.)

      • I am quite certain you are right! Admittedly, my experience with store-bought is extremely limited. I tried one grocery store brand, had my kid absolutely refuse it, tried it myself and nearly threw up it was so slimy gross. I was clueless and unlucky I guess to buy a bad kind. Thank you for setting me right!

      • Yeah. I think most puree baby foods are pretty simple because of all the crazy allergy stuff. I decided to do Baby Led Weaning (aka you just feed your little baby regular food when you introduce solids) and it saves a lot. Mostly because we get produce from our CSA, then we feed him pretty much whatever we eat. Make some dhal? He gets some. Have some rice? He gets some. He has been down with everything so far. I do occasionally coupon the heck for purees as I find them to be helpful when traveling since 95% of the puree will get into his mouth and swallowed.

        • Baby foods are waaay more convenient for trips, but otherwise it’s really easy to make your own. Plus, babies don’t complain if you serve them the same thing three days in a row, or in fact, every meal for a week, so they are much simpler to cook for than fussy grown-ups.

    • Or just skip the ‘baby food’ and give them whatever your eating. It can get Very messy but no extra cost! (you can look up baby-led weaning for pro-tips)

  5. These are absolutely great tips! Having a friend with a kid 1 year older than my oldest was the biggest helper to me, by far. My son was born early very unexpectedly, but was totally healthy and not in need of a NICU stay. While we were grateful for this, we also had NOTHING ready for him! Enter friend who had a slightly older kid! She still had all her baby stuff, but didn’t need any of the newborn stuff anymore. Also, this is a reason I might advise against the procrastination step. True, you don’t need everything in the first trimester, but babies do have a time schedule of their own. We were in the hospital for four days with my son (two days of labor, two days after birth since he was a preemie), and we were getting things like a crib on Craigslist while we were there! Some procrastination is okay, but I would advise having the basics down by month 7 or so. Now that our oldest is a toddler, my biggest piece of advice is keep toys minimal. Repeat after me, mamas. KEEP. TOYS. MINIMAL. Toddlers do not need a million toys to be happy. Toddlers find, like, an oven mitt and they’re happy.

  6. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of hand-me-down gear we got from even friends of friends. Definitely network, or just look preggers and chat with other parents. Now that my munchkin is finishing his first year I’m actively looking for anyone pregnant that I can pass things to.
    Clothing – my kid’s wardrobe is 85% Goodwill, 10% gifts from friends and family, 5% the things I thought were too cute to pass up new. Especially newborn clothing, they grow out of it so quickly that used is in great shape. I kept getting secondhand stuff for me as pregnancy changed my body shape, so I just checked the baby section while I was there already. Things that didn’t work out? Oh well, it was $1.99.
    Toys – also mostly gifts. And things like Tupperware or the clean bits I’ve let him extract from the recycling bin. You know what’s a cheap toy? An empty water bottle with 10 lentils inside and the lid tightly screwed shut.
    Food – +1 on buying adult puree type food. My kid ate a lot of hummus. I put frozen fruit in the blender and mixed with plain yogurt or cottage cheese after 6 months. We’re just getting to the point where he doesn’t want purees at all, so scrambled eggs are a big thing and I just discovered that he will eat olives (cut in quarters long-ways!). Commercial baby food seems overpackaged and overpriced to me.

  7. My main tips are buy second-hand, and don’t buy stuff you don’t need. There are so many “must-haves” according to manufacturers, but babies really don’t need much stuff.

    Cloth-diapering can help keep costs down if it’s an option, but you’ll want to crunch the numbers if you’re living in a rental and paying per use for laundry. We did a combination of cloth and disposables during our laundromat days, then switched to cloth-only once we were in a place with our own washer/dryer and utilities included in rent.

    We received many gifts, both new and as hand-me-downs. Consider setting up a consignment account for things that are wrong size/wrong season, or that you don’t end up using/wanting. We were able to then use the cash from the consignment store on things that we did want/need (and then managed to get top brands at an already discounted price).

  8. mom’s groups (my local one is GGMG, there are others on yahoo and facebook) are also really helpful for getting cheap/free things. I know I personally gave away almost everything as soon as my son was done with it as we have no storage!

  9. Cloth diapers can be great, but think about the logistics first. Do you have a good washer? How often will you need to wash? We tried cloth but have a funky water system and only a mini washer and I was having to scrub them by hand and boil water on the stove and they still wouldn’t come clean, so for me switching to disposables was necessary to my sanity. My stress levels dropped instantly and suddenly I could enjoy my baby.

    Consider a midwife instead of an OB. This will of course depend on your personal comfort levels, medical details, and the laws and customs of your area. For us, a home birth with a midwife was fantastic. We could not have been happier with the quality of care, and the whole thing cost us only $2000, which could easily have been 10-20x higher in a hospital for a similarly low risk birth. If you’re not comfortable with a home birth, many midwives deliver in birth centers and hospitals too, still much cheaper than typical OB rates.

    We skipped the crib, changing table, and stroller and didn’t miss them. We knew we planned to cosleep from the beginning, but even if you don’t want to, a simple, cheap bassinet or pack and play can work just as well as a $400 crib. The stroller will depend on your area and lifestyle, but for us, we did baby wearing for walks until she could walk, and just put her in the shopping cart for most stores. I’m convinced that home changing tables are a scam; it’s a lot safer and easier to just put a changing pad (or old towel, etc.) on the floor when you need to.

    You don’t need puréed baby food. When babies are developmentally ready for solids, they can have bite sized chunks of soft, normal foods, like bananas and soft cooked vegetables. You can still of course spoon feed puréed if you want to, but recognize they are optional. We saved massive money and time by going straight to finger foods. We just fed her what we were already eating for the most part, and it helped motivate us to eat healthier too.

  10. These are all great tips. People love to give away newborn stuff, since it’s so cute and everyone loves to give it as gifts but it only fits the baby a couple of months, tops. You can find brand new and worn once newborn clothes for a song. (Boys used clothes ages 3 and up cannot be found, though. Can’t count how many pairs of pants my son has worn a hole through within what seems like half an hour of putting them on.) Look for consignment sales especially – in the US http://consignmentmommies.com/ has listings of many twice-yearly sales. I’ve gotten baby clothes in great shape for $0.25 each.

    Look up car seat reviews online. By and large the cheap ones are just as safe as the expensive ones, the price difference is in how easy or hard they are to buckle.

    And you really don’t need to buy anything in advance. Even if your baby is early. Next-day delivery from the internet is an amazing, amazing thing.

  11. I joined the local Buy Nothing Group on Facebook, I was able to get so many items, toys, clothes, a jogging stroller and other items for my niece and nephew. Their favorite toy so far I received from Buy Nothing. Plus it is a pretty great community of people.

  12. Okay, I love getting hand me downs—my second is mainly in all hand me downs from my 8 nieces, but sometimes I just like to know there is something new and fresh coming up. I know, not everyone has the time or the money to do this, but I started buying clothes for my kids early on. Like before I told anyone I was pregnant, and I’d buy up to 3T. I’d get to sites like Gymboree, Crazy 8 or Macy’s and look at the clearance, we only have 1 size left options. I’d go on a day when it was free shipping plus I had a 25% off coupon so I’d get things for like $3. Again, it’s not something one can do often, but knowing that I have an awesomely cute dress my daughter can wear this winter that no one else has ever worn, and no one in the family has seen yet, is a nice feeling. I go on every few months to buy things, and store them in a big plastic box under my bed. It also helps to have size up options when you’re baby is born big. My son was 8.13, so he was in 0-3 months for a millisecond so I was happy I had a few 3-6 on hand to keep me going. Like I said, this isn’t the cheapest way of doing things, as you kind of have to have a little extra cash going in, but for those of us who like to be prepared and like a little something new every once in a while, it’s a good option.

  13. [I second the note about not leaving some buying very late as some babies have a habit of turning up early! Just make sure you have the bare-minimum (i.e. car seat to leave hospital if hospital birth, a few baby vests/sleepsuits). I live in Ireland and next-day delivery is only available from Irish companies which greatly narrows the selection and often aren’t as cheap as US/UK companies].

    Spread the cost. Same advice for planning a wedding! Get a little bit here and a little bit there. We have been very fortunate that my Brother’s baby is exactly one year older so we got heaps of (brand new) stuff from them. Today, we are collecting a second hand electric breast pump (retail €160) for €45 with a microwave steriliser thrown in free! That’s off a local buy and sell website. Also, see what you like in the retail shops and then go online and see if you can find it cheaper (it’s really surprising how big the difference is with some stores). We’ve saved around €300 by buying a travel-system online. If you haven’t bought a bassinet, Moses basket or crib yet, you can skip these altogether (we have been gifted both). They grow out of Moses/bassinet in a heartbeat and same with the crib. Unless you are co-sleeping or using a co-sleeper crib, a newborn can go straight into a cot no matter how big it is as they should be placed feet at the bottom of the crib (*I believe this is still the latest recommendation). We are also going to try reusable nappies and see how we get on. Primary reason is environmental but also, our refuse costs are astronomical in our area but we don’t get charged for water…

  14. Save money on furniture by buying a play yard instead of a crib and/or co- sleep. Skip the bassinette. You don’t need a changing table. You can change a baby butt anywhere. Breastfeed if you are able and want to. Save money on a stroller and buy a decent baby carrier instead. Skip the carseat that is only good thru 20 lbs and get one made for newborn until you need a booster seat. They often cost even less than that tiny one does and last longer. For all the people talking about how cloth diapers don’t work for certain washers, get flats and covers. They cost way less, are far more forgiving of what soap you choose and how much, and come out clean in a single wash and dry cycle, even at the laundromat, and even in high efficiency washers. They also fit the best vs all the other one size options thanks to using different folds and a snappi or boingo to close them. No pins required.

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