Nourishing Stewardship

The Nearly Free Baby (Year One)

When I was pregnant with Paisley, nearly everyone I talked to, every book I read, and website that I visited reminded me how expensive having a baby is. There are financial estimates regarding the raising of a single child from ages 0-18 that rest squarely in the ballpark of the hundred of thousands of dollars and are aimed at scaring sane people with skinny wallets away from procreating. They are scary, scary numbers. Especially when you’re mondo-pregnant and hormonal and trying not to pee yourself with every shuddering “WHAT HAVE I DONE?!?!?!” sob.

Then Paisley came and my brain went relatively back to normal (side note: there’s no “normal” in a mom’s brain, but non-pregnancy is slightly more conducive to rational thought).

I learned a little secret.

A cool one.


It doesn’t actually have to be *that* expensive to raise a child.

Or at least the first year doesn’t have to be expensive. I shouldn’t address the things I haven’t experienced yet, because let’s face it, I don’t know what it means to have to budget for braces or band camp or an Ivy League school. I also don’t know if my kids are going to be expensive nerds that need those things, so I should probably leave that speculation alone.

Back to babies.

As I was saying, it really does not have to be that expensive to raise a baby for his or her first year. There are a few simple cost-saving measures that can save a small – or large – family a LOT of money during that first year – money that will probably really come in handy for paying those ridiculous hospital bills from baby’s birth. Hey! I didn’t say it’d be totally free 😉

Crunchy Moms Shall Inherit the Earth

I jest.

Sort of.

I never set out to be a crunchy mom but now I’m sitting here typing in a hand-knit woolen shawl and a breastfeeding advocacy T-shirt and I realize that my transformation is complete. It just happened.

The funny thing is, I’m not a tree hugger. I’m not a vegan. I’m not into earth religions or leftist politics. I care a decent amount about the environment, but there are plenty of other things I care a whole lot more about. However, crunchy style parenting saves a RIDICULOUS amount of money. Hence how I stumbled into this whole thing.

Let me explain.

It Started with Cloth Diapers

Cloth diapering: the expectation
Cloth diapering: the expectation
Cloth diapering: the reality
Cloth diapering: the reality

Almost the second that I found out I was pregnant with Paisley, I decided that we would cloth diaper her. Looking back, I don’t really even know how cloth diapers came onto my radar. Let’s blame Pinterest’s baby boards for that one.

I spent much time while I was pregnant researching the benefits of cloth diapering and shopping around for different types of materials and diaper styles for different situations (daytime, nighttime, newborn, etc.) I made decisions, tallied up costs, and slowly invested in a decent stash for our coming baby. Conveniently, around the time I was starting my stash, I landed my first freelance writing gig and the some of the money I earned went to investing in the diapers we needed.

We started with a simple stash of one-size pocket and prefold diapers plus some covers and wool boosters for using overnight. This cost somewhere around $200. We were gifted eight diapers, which helped tremendously. Once Paisley came, I realized that we would need some newborn sized diapers, so we invested in a separate stash to cover her tiny booty. That was an additional $200, though I could have easily spent half of that if I’d been thoughtful about it. Thankfully, Paisley is super small, so we really got our money’s worth out of a newborn stash – in fact, we’re nearly nine months in and I can still get away with using some of the newborn covers on her.

With the addition of some splurge diapers and some easier Velco options for Josh and our parents to use, I spent another $100, bringing our total diaper expenditure to roughly $500. That’s it. For as many months/years of diapering as Paisley requires. AND, we’ll be able to pass many of these along to future babies, saving us even more money.

There are some additional cloth costs to consider, including increased water consumption and laundry associated with washing diapers. We wash every other day and use powdered Tide so these costs add up very slowly for our family, though that may not necessarily be the case for everyone. However, from talking online with other cloth moms, for the vast majority of families the cost of extra laundry is negligible when compared with dropping upwards of 30 bucks on a box of disposable diapers every couple of weeks or so.

Additionally, there are some accessories that you need to cloth diapering successfully, including wet bags for holding dirty diapers until wash day. Some parents also prefer to use a diaper sprayer, which hooks into the toilet’s water supply, to clean poop diapers once babies have started eating solids (breastfed poop is water soluble and requires zero extra attention). There are also cloth friendly baby pants and diaper bags that accommodate the larger amount of space that cloth takes up. I splurged on a diaper bag for toting my stash but haven’t experienced any problems with clothes fitting over Paisley’s fluffy bum.

Obviously cloth diapers aren’t for everyone. For many, the idea of tossing poop into a toilet and putting soiled items with residual fecal matter into the washing machine is revolting. That’s fine. But, let’s face it, every parent of a baby or small child has to deal with poop, both on their hands and in the washing machine. It comes with the territory. And cloth diapers contribute to significantly less blow outs than disposable diapers do, so think about that for just a moment.

You could stop right here, and save about $2000 on diapers from birth to potty training or you could…

Breastfeed, Baby Wear, and Beyond

I’ll be brief with the section about breastfeeding because anyone with basic math skills can easily calculate the cost of breastfeeding an infant versus the cost of purchasing formula and not breastfeeding. When considering the insane health benefits for both my baby and myself and the attractive price tag of FREE (let’s face it, infanthood is the ONLY time that any kid is ever going to eat for free), I was gung-ho about breastfeeding right out of the gate.

Yes, it’s hard. Yes, there are occasionally hiccups that interfere with breastfeeding success. But I’m here to talk about saving money, not start a mommy war. And all signs indicate that breast is best – both for baby’s health and mommy’ and daddy’s wallet.

Moby wrap
Moby wrap
Seven Slings
Seven Slings
Peruvian manta
Peruvian manta
ErgoBaby Original
ErgoBaby Original

Baby wearing is another area that allowed us greater cost savings than we’d initially expected. Again, I’m not really sure where the idea came from, but I knew early on that I’d want to wear Paisley as much as possible. I was gifted some wraps perfect for the newborn phase, bought a Peruvian manta for like ten sols (roughly 3 US dollars), and then I purchased an Ergo shortly after Paisley was born. Total cost? ~ $100

From first glance, that looks like a deficit, rather than a family financial gain, but in reality, the ability to wear Paisley almost exclusively in public has saved us more money than I thought it would. For starters, we didn’t need an infant car seat for very long. Thankfully, we were gifted one and didn’t have to purchase it ourselves. However, by the time Paisley was two months old, I completely lost my patience with that awful heavy bucket and the ridiculous amount of space it took up in my living room, shopping cart, etc. and we switched to using a convertible car seat.

Though we did have to make this purchase earlier than many parents do, I don’t regret it for one second. I found a great deal on a car seat from last season and after a few weeks of use, I had resolved to start all future babies in a convertible seat from day one. With the consideration of many children in the future, the cost savings on purchasing a single car seat per child to last from infancy to toddlerhood is significant. I estimate that we will save close to $1,000 dollars total by ditching the baby buckets. As far as “convenience” is concerned, I actually found the infant seat a huge hassle to carry around and would just pop Paisley into the Moby or Ergo the second I pulled her out of the car, so in our case, baby wearing made more sense and will save us some serious cents.

Josh "testing out" the convertible seat before installation
Josh “testing out” the convertible seat before installation
Long car rides are nothing for this tiny adventurer!
Long car rides are nothing for this tiny adventurer!

There are other purchases that we simply didn’t need to make, thanks to baby wearing.

A stroller is one, and a big ticket item at that. We do have a simple Jeep stroller that I received for my baby shower, but have only used it once for a trip to Hershey Park. We didn’t need an expensive stroller or a clunky one that is compatible to specific car seat systems. And because we rarely pull the stroller out of the closet, ours will probably last us for a very, very long time. Over time, I estimate that this should save us a bit of money, although there’s certainly no way to tell for sure.

We don’t have a cart cover (the idea of which is probably causing some people to snicker) and we were able to skip purchasing car seat covers, toys, mirrors, etc. All arguably optional expenses, but ones we might have made nonetheless. In total, these small savings add up to around $100. Nothing to sneeze at!

Sometimes Less is More

Last, I want to address the stuff trap that many new parents fall into. Just a quick news flash: your baby does not actually need that many things. Clothes, food, something to poop in, a place to sleep, and something safe to travel in are pretty much the barest necessities for parents in a serious financial or space pinch.

In our case, apartment living and a general appreciation for not spending superfluous money caused us to seriously evaluate every baby purchase we made. We didn’t purchase a swing, Exersaucer, vibrating baby chair, baby bath, large toys, or anything of the sort. We don’t even have a changing table, which is a mercy, considering how crazy Paisley has gotten during diaper changes. And we are doing just fine. In addition to a crib and bedroom furniture, we purchased a glider from a friend, were gifted a little baby seat, and purchased a $25 Jumping Johnny when we realized just how active a baby we have.

Paisley has more than enough toys and books that we were either gifted or that I brought home from work (hello, awesome job in publishing). There are, of course, so many things I’d love to purchase for my daughter, like billions of toys, clothes, and diapers. But I can’t. And she is happy, healthy, and loved, so there’s nothing to complain about.

Obviously every baby is different and some parents view different baby products as absolute necessities. Some moms swear by their baby swing and others insist on a wipe warmer. To each their own! I’m just sharing what works for us.


As you can see, it’s totally possible to have a baby on a shoestring budget. It takes some work and forethought. It also requires agreement between spouses – for example, the decision to cloth diaper should NOT be made in a vacuum – and being willing to change things depending on your own baby and his or her needs.

I estimate that our Year One financial decisions will have saved us about $10,000 dollars by the time Paisley reaches weaning and potty training. Ten. Thousand. Dollars.

That’s a whole lot of extra money that I can use to put toward food for fueling her voracious appetite – now that she’s eating a significant amount of solids and seems to have inherited her father’s crazy efficient metabolism – or any other unforeseen expenses that will certainly crop up along the way.

Save $10,000

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Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt
Gabrielle Rystedt is a writer by day and a writer by night (because writers never sleep), who spends time balancing client orders, a couple of books and her blog at Raising Rystedts. She’s a business school grad who’s dabbled in management, both at the project and company level. She loves coffee and crafting, and enjoys settling down with a good book. Though as mom to three kiddos in three years, she realistically spends most of her time reheating her coffee and typing away like a crazy person on a laptop keyboard while surrounded by (clean) cloth diapers and cheddar bunnies.

What are your thoughts?