Parenthood is expensive. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported last year that a middle-income, two-parent family should expect to spend more than $241,000 to raise a child born in 2012 from birth to 18 years of age.
But this annual report doesn't dictate what parents must spend on their kids. It just reports what parents at various income levels do spend. There's a big difference, because when it comes to your kids, you can either spend money on the things everyone else buys, or you can take a different route that saves you money.
If you're looking for ways to make your baby's first year more affordable, try these seven tricks:
1. Don't upgrade your space. The USDA notes that housing comprises about 30 percent of the overall costs of raising a child. This makes sense, since many first-time parents excitedly upgrade from a one- or two-bedroom apartment to a larger rental or home before a baby arrives.
But your tiny bundle of joy is just that -- tiny. Babies take up next to no space, so a whole extra room is simply not required. Sure, decorating the nursery is fun. But just think about how much money you'll save if you spend your baby's first year or two in a smaller home or apartment.
2. Buy less stuff. The sheer number of baby-related products on the market today is overwhelming. While some of these newfangled gadgets can be helpful, most are simply extra.
The best way to spend less on your baby's first year is to buy less stuff. When you're looking at a toy or gadget that wasn't around when your parents were babies, think twice about dropping cash on it -- because it's probably not necessary.
3. Look for double-duty items. Do you really need a crib and a Pack 'n Play? Or a swing and a bouncy seat? Probably not.
Instead, look for items that will serve multiple purposes -- especially when it comes to bigger ticket items. For instance, skip the crib in favor of just a Pack 'n Play, which works as a bed at home and while traveling.
4. Shop secondhand -- safely. Shopping secondhand for baby clothes is a no-brainer. You can pick up onesies for pennies at garage sales, and even find cute, practically-new clothes at local consignment shops.
Even larger items -- such as swings, bouncers and high chairs -- can be found for next to nothing on eBay and Craigslist. Just make sure you're smart about shopping secondhand, and always check for potential safety hazards and product recalls on used items before you buy.
5. Pick things up as you need them. Sometimes it's hard to tell what you'll need for your baby until you get to know him or her.
Take swaddlers, for instance. Some babies love being swaddled, while others hate it. So start with just one or two options (like a cotton swaddling blanket and a Velcro swaddle sleeper). If your baby loves being swaddled, you can always buy more later. If she hates it, you won't have wasted money on swaddlers that you'll never use.
6. Consider cloth diapering. It sounds gross and old fashioned, but it's actually not. (As a parent, you'll deal with yucky situations all the time. You may as well get used to it!)
With the cost of disposable diapers, cloth diapering could save you hundreds of dollars over your baby's first year. Just expect to do some extra laundry. Full-time cloth diapering might require two to four extra loads a week.
7. Make your own baby food. Canned baby food -- especially the healthier no-additive, organic sort -- is expensive. But making your own is ridiculously easy. In fact, you can prepare several meals' worth of baby food in about 10 minutes. Try this:
1. Steam a vegetable of your choice until it's nice and soft.
2. Puree until smooth -- adding water, formula or expressed milk as needed.
3. Spread dollops of the puree on a wax paper-lined cookie sheet.
4. Freeze the puree until solid.
5. Toss frozen dollops into a freezer bag.
6. Thaw in the fridge or using the microwave as needed.
Bonus: You don't even need a special baby food-making system for this. A regular steamer, or a colander full of chopped veggies set over a pot of boiling water, and your everyday blender will do.
Abby Hayes is a freelance blogger and journalist who writes for personal finance blog The Dough Roller and contributes to Dough Roller's weekly newsletter.
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