How I Saved Tons Of Money During My Baby’s First Year
In honor of Littlewoods turning ONE YEAR OLD this month, I’m enshrining my ideas on how to be frugal with infants. ALL of my ideas. Seriously, I don’t think I left anything out. You’re welcome and/or I’m sorry.
With Littlewoods’ first birthday, I finally understand the feeling “bittersweet.” As my second, and final, baby transitions out of baby-ness, I’m nostalgic. I can’t say I’m sad because I don’t love the newborn phase. Neither does Mr. Frugalwoods. Those newborn months were our toughest experiences of parenting. To date, that is. I reserve the right to revise this statement when our kids turn 13. So no, I don’t miss when my infants screamed for milk every two hours around the clock and no, I don’t miss my painful recoveries from childbirth (c-section the first time, VBAC the second), and no, I don’t miss pumping at 3am every day.
But I am nostalgic for their tininess. Their downy heads and miniature bodies. Like real people’s bodies, but in such fine detail that I found it difficult to comprehend that their ears and eyes and noses functioned. Like miniature tea sets that brew and pour tea, I marveled that something so small was so functional. Of course I had ample time for such pondering as I watched Parks-n-Rec re-runs at 4am while holding fussy infant #1 and then, two years later, fussy infant #2.
I’ve simultaneously mourned and rejoiced as Littlewoods crosses each milestone. I felt a pang when she outgrew her swaddle. I misted over as I gave away her newborn clothes. But sadness isn’t the prevailing sentiment. Gratitude and contentment override. When my first daughter crossed those milestones, I was much more conflicted and confused. I knew I wanted another baby, but I couldn’t imagine putting in the work again. Now that our family is complete, I’m at ease giving away our bassinet, infant bathtub, and bumbo seat.
I will always harbor the cognitive dissonance inherent to being a parent. I will always want my children to be both with me and out in the world. I will always want them to curl in my lap for comfort while launching into their fully realized selves. I’m at peace with craving opposites. Though I don’t think I’ll ever crave a repeat of the first three months of either of my kids’ lives… some things I’m just grateful to have survived.
How To Be Frugal With Infants And Babies
Alright that’s enough nostalgic waxing. Let’s get down to why you’re here today: to learn about how to be frugal with infants!!! And babies! I have no idea when one technically converts from one title to the next, so we’ll just say this is a summary of how to cope with the first year of a baby’s life. My husband and I have survived two such years with our two daughters and I’m encapsulating my thoughts before I forget them in the rush our increasingly toddler-focused household.
There’s no one right way to parent. I am not a parenting expert. I am not advocating that my style of parenting is “better” or “more correct” than another. I am an OK expert on frugal living and ways to save money, so I will try to focus there.
However, as everyone who has ever read anything I’ve written knows, I tend to stray. I like encompassing broader themes because my life is informed by more than trying to save money or trying to be thrifty. I don’t even ascribe frugality as my overarching worldview. My overarching worldview is (I think): simplicity in all forms. I’m still working on this, but my family and I are guided by the principles of:
- Focusing on what matters most to us–particularly as it relates to how we use our time and our money.
- Eliminating stuff from our lives that doesn’t make us happy (be it actual stuff, or routines, habits, behaviors, mindsets, expenses, etc)
- Creating efficiencies in everything we do, which helps support goals #1 and #2
I say this to help you understand that this is not a guide on “how to be the cheapest parent ever.” Mr. FW and I are pretty darn cheap parents, but you’ll see that we do spend money in some areas–particularly those that we value most or that we feel will deliver the highest return on our investment.
You might find that you don’t want to buy any of the stuff I have. Or you might want to buy ten times the stuff I have. Either way is fine. What I hope is that this guide offers a novel framework for thinking about how to provide for a baby. I encourage having an open mind to the ways in which you can simplify in order to achieve a better balance in your life.
Since I’m not a parenting expert, I devour parenting books. I’ve read so many it’s embarrassing. When I’m unsure about something (like parenting), I research. So while I’m no expert myself, a lot of what my husband and I do is informed by my extensive reading of the “experts.” My book recommendations are listed at the end.
How I Had Two Frugal Pregnancies
If your journey to parenthood starts with you (or your partner) being pregnant, then get excited, because I’ve covered frugal pregnancy tactics in the following posts:
- How I Remain Frugal While Pregnant (!!!)
- Maternity Clothes Are Like Christmas Trees: The Clothes-Buying Ban Continues
- Pregnancy Hasn’t Foiled My Clothes-Buying Ban: Here’s How
- Why I’m Grateful For Morning Sickness
Check those out and let me know if you have any questions!
Preparing for Baby: Do Everything Ahead Of Time
As soon as you know a baby will be joining your family (or sooner, if you wish), start preparing. I know that nine months seems like a long time and it kind of is and kind of isn’t. When you’re expecting your first kid, know that you will never have as much time, energy, and kid-free advantages as you do now. At least until they’re 18.
Don’t do what I did and think, “oh I’ll be able to accomplish writing this book/organizing this house/moving to Vermont AFTER the baby is born.” No, no you won’t. Woe betides ye who goes into the delivery room with a to do list waiting at home. Unless you’re ok with not doing anything on that list for several years.
Being (marginally) wiser before having our second baby, as soon as I found out we were pregnant, I made a list of everything I wanted/needed to get done before her due date. I front-loaded the more physical tasks (such as organizing our entire basement) since I wasn’t sure how I’d feel as the pregnancy progressed. Then, when I was gigantically pregnant, I’d allotted myself a bunch of computer work to do, mostly around the publication of my first book.
This system worked well for me and I could settle into the task at hand with confidence that it would all get done before she was born. I experienced bursts of energy and nesting instincts with both pregnancies, so they turned out to be great times for me to get a lot done. If you feel sick or are bedridden your entire pregnancy? Don’t sweat it. That’s your road to take and you can–and should–delegate like a queen.
1) Make Food (for yourself!)
By “do everything ahead of time” I really do mean everything. Clean your house. Organize your sock drawer. Zero out your email inbox. And…. make food!!!! Someone gave us the indispensable tip, before our first daughter was born, to cook a ton of meals and put them in the deep freeze for after baby arrived. This is the one piece of baby advice I feel confident in saying everyone should do. We took this advice so seriously, in fact, that we went out and bought a deep freeze.
After the baby is born, having the time and energy to cook just wasn’t there for us. It was such a relief to have healthy meals already cooked and ready to defrost. Kind friends and neighbors also brought us meals after each child was born, but we used our deep freeze meals for at least the first two months. Mr. FW (who does all our cooking) liked this system so much that it’s now what he does every week! You can read all about how he cooks and freezes ahead of time here: The Dirty Secret Behind How We Cook At Home.
2) Get It All Used
Start early and start often with assembling your baby gear. My top line advice as it relates to the stuff of babies: get everything second-hand. There’s so much STUFF that kids use for such brief periods of time that it makes no economical sense to buy it new–even if you plan on using it for 10 subsequent children. We were fortunate to source almost every single infant/baby item used and then use them for both kids. I’ve since given away an entire children’s store worth of clothing and gear.
Littlewoods cycled through all of the following well before her first birthday:
- Infant bathtub
- Baby swing
- Baby bouncy seat
- Baby rocking seat
- Baby bumbo seat
- The following sizes of baby clothing: Newborn, 0-3 months, and 3-6 months (she’s a peanut so she’s still wearing 9 month and 12 month sizes).
- PLUS all of my maternity clothing (except for the pair of maternity yoga pants that I’m wearing right now and that you’ll have to pry from my cold body. Also the maternity jeans that I wore yesterday. I can’t help it. Once you go stretchy waistband, you don’t want to go back… ).
- Infant wrap carriers (I had the Moby, which I found useful mostly for the early infant stages)
- Play/activity mat
I’ve given away every single thing on this list and I received every single thing on this list used as a hand-me-down! Prior to Kidwoods’ birth, I spent $10 at a garage sale for the infant swing (pictured above) and another $10 at a garage sale for several trash bags full of infant clothing. Other than that? Everything was free to me and I passed it along free to other people. Yep, even the pacifiers and bottles. Just pop those puppies into the dishwasher (in a dishwasher basket or bag) and they’re good to go.
Just how did I find so much free, used baby stuff? I’m glad you asked. Here’s my entire rundown on how to outfit your entire life with used stuff: How To Find Anything and Everything Used: A Compendium Of Frugal Treasure Hunting.
A reader (Leigh) just reminded me of great advice: “1) When you find a used piece of baby equipment Google it (brand and model) to check for any recalls or safety concerns. You may want to pass if you find a recall, or there may be an easy fix so you can still use it safely.”
YES!!! We’ve done this with all of our hand-me-downs and, so far, the only thing that had a recall was our highchair. We contacted the manufacturer (Graco) and they mailed us the parts to fix it for free. Hooray!
The brief version is thus:
Start looking for used baby things EARLY in the process (I started before I was even pregnant) because it takes time to assemble a fully used nursery. It’s not going to happen in a week, or probably even a month.
Let friends/family/colleagues/neighbors know that you’re in the market for any baby stuff they’d like to offload. They will ask you to please back a truck up to their house and cart off their used baby stuff. Having been on both sides of this equation, I cannot tell you how THRILLED I was to get rid of all the things on that list. I like a minimal, simplified home and so getting this
baby crap precious stuff out of our house was divine.
Hat tip to the Frugalwoods reader who emailed me a few months back after I jokingly said that I needed someone to come take away all of my (used) maternity clothes. This fabulously frugal fellow Vermonter came to my house and she carted it away! Along with a bunch of baby paraphernalia. She and her husband were happy, I was happy, and the frugal cycle of reusing continued on.
In addition to the remarkable cost savings of second-hand items, they’re profoundly better for the environment. By not buying new, you’re avoiding the embodied costs of new (packaging, shipping, production, etc), you’re keeping something out of a landfill, and then if you pass it along to someone else, you’re skirting the landfill once again!
Don’t start telling me that you think it’s gross to use used baby things. I’ll tell you what’s gross: babies. I’d never experienced such a deluge of, uh, fluids prior to my first kid’s birth. The sheer amount of things that got dirty in our house was (and remains) astonishing. For this reason, all baby stuff is washable. The covers are removable and machine washable, and the plastic can be wiped down with the disinfectant of your choice (I use white vinegar mixed with water as it’s cheap and non-toxic). Folks, I’ve machine-washed everything from carseat covers to changing table pads.
If you still think it’s gross (or if you’re just in the mood for a laugh), read this: The Myth Of The Gross Used Things
Bottom line: Start scoping out thrift stores, Craigslist, garage sales, the side of the road, and–the Holy Grails–your local Buy Nothing group as well as your local parent listserves/Facebook groups. I found AMPLE free baby things when we lived in ultra-urban Cambridge, MA and I’ve found AMPLE free baby things while living in ultra-rural Vermont. I guarantee there’s free baby stuff lurking in a zip code near you.
More tips here: Fighting Back Against The Baby Industrial Complex.
3) What You’ll Need To Buy New
I know that many of you, oh readers of the Frugalwoods internet, fully embrace (and have executed on) sourcing all your baby goods used. But–many of you have asked me–my parents/siblings/in-laws/co-workers would like to buy us something for the baby. What should we tell them we need?
Mr. FW and I decided not to have a baby shower for either of our kids because we didn’t want to ask friends and family to buy things new when we felt we could find just about everything we needed used.
However, our kind parents offered to buy some things for the babies, so my husband and I came up with the following list of things that we weren’t able to find used:
- NoseFrida infant snot sucker (this is an affiliate link, as are a number of other links in this post). I told you babies are gross. Get used to it now. This clever device lets you insert a small tube into your congested infant’s nose and then–yep–suck the snot out using your mouth. There’s a filter to prevent their snot from entering your mouth, but don’t worry, you’ll get that experience when they sneeze in your face. This is why you should call your mom every once in awhile.
Infant nail clippers. I’ve been using this pair on both of our kids since day one and I love them. They still work great on Kidwoods’ three-year-old nails and they’re perfect for tiny babies. I am of the opinion that children shouldn’t be born with nails. Nails should grow in like teeth–over time and when they’re needed. Alas, my opinion has not been regarded. So we are stuck with tiny, thrashing tiger cub claws that scratch up their own faces as well as any exposed skin you dare have. Infant claw marks on my chest rank in my top three most painful experiences (to date).
- Thermometer. We initially had a rectal thermometer and recently bought this ear thermometer, which I find preferable to the rectal method for reasons I hope are obvious to you. Another advantage of the ear thermometer is that I can use it on both kids without contamination concerns.
- Infant medications: acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and vitamin D drops. Breastfed infants require vitamin D drops and I like to have the acetaminophen and ibuprofen on hand just in case. Check with your pediatrician about dosages.
- Consumables: diapers, wipes, baby wash, baby lotion, diaper rash cream. See my recommendations in the section below.
- Handprint and footprint keepsake frame: this was my one non-necessity that I reallllllly wanted. I wanted little footprints and handprints framed in a cute frame with a photo of each of my children and now I have them and yes, I love them. With our first, we couldn’t figure out how to get her infant hand to flatten out to make a handprint. So…. she has two footprints in her frame. By the time our second was born, we’d mastered the art of stretching out a newborn hand in order to make a handprint. A life skill.
The Frugal Route For All Things Consumable!
For diapers, you have two main options: cloth or disposable. I wrote about our decision to use disposables several years ago in: Every Once In Awhile, We’re Less Frugal. Hence, my wisdom (hah!) today stems from our experience with disposables. If you’re interested in cloth diapering, I have a fabulous guest post on the topic: The Ultimate Guide To Frugal Diapering.
The cheapest diapers I’ve found are (in order of cheap-ness):
- Walmart generic (the brand is Parent’s Choice): $0.11 per diaper
- BJ’s generic (the brand is Berkley Jensen): $0.14 per diaper
- Costco generic (the brand is Kirkland): $0.17 per diaper
Let me dispel the myth right now that the Amazon brand Subscribe & Save diapers are the cheapest. They are not. I cannot tell you how many conversations I’ve had with people about this. It’s a dirty myth, folks. Also, I clearly have amazing conversations. Allow me to illustrate:
- Walmart’s generic Parent’s Choice size 2 diapers are $17.57 for a package of 160. This works out to $0.11 per diaper. Winner!
- Amazon’s generic Mama Bear size 2 diapers are $34.75 (WITH the Subscribe & Save discount) for a package of 184. This equals $0.19 per diaper.
This price difference (of $0.08) probably doesn’t sound like very much money. However, remember that it’s $0.08 per diaper. It’s kind of like throwing away a dime every time you change your baby’s diaper. Per package of diapers, that’s $12.83 (assuming a pack of 160 diapers)! Assuming you buy about a package of diapers a month, that’s $153.96 per year. Assuming your kid is in diapers for 2.5 years (that’s when my oldest was potty trained), that’s $384.90. So, while $0.08 might not seem significant, it’s one of those sneaky expenses that’ll add up over the years. Compound that by any and all subsequent children. Plus, you can now order from Walmart online and usually qualify for free shipping. We currently use the Walmart brand for Littlewoods because there’s a Walmart near our grocery store and it’s convenient for Mr. FW to pop over there.
When we lived near a Costco, we used the Costco generic diapers, which at the time, were the same price as the Walmart brand diapers. I just checked the Costco website and their size 2 Kirkland diapers are listed at $29.99 for a package of 174, which equals $0.17 per diaper, making them quite a bit more expensive than the Walmart diapers. I’m not sure if that’s the in-store price or just the online price, so if you have a Costco membership, check it out in store and let me know if they’re actually cheaper–I’ll update the post with your reports!
I tried the BJ’s brand diapers (since we have a BJ’s membership) and I didn’t like them. However, my friend who has a boy loves them, so it’s possible it’s a boy/girl mismatch. Per their website, a 112 pack of size 2 Berkley Jensen generic diapers is $15.99, which works out to a cool $0.14 per diaper.
For the sake of science (and if I’m honest, for the sake of you all), I did the dirty work of testing several name brand diapers to see if there’s a performance difference. So far, I’ve tried Luvs, Pampers, and Huggies and I am here to tell you that they are NO DIFFERENT than the Walmart and Costco generic brands. They’re not better, they’re not less leak-prone, they’re not softer, they’re not cuter. Save yourself the dough and avail yourself of my diaper research. You’re welcome.
How to price compare diapers:
Don’t laugh you guys, Mr. FW and I learned this the hard way. When I was pregnant with our first, I didn’t realize that diapers increase in price as they increase in size. Diapers start at size newborn and go up from there. For example, Walmart’s Parent’s Choice size 1 diapers are $0.09 per diaper while the Walmart Parent’s Choice size 7 diapers are $0.23 per diaper. Makes sense since size 7 diapers are bigger than size 1 diapers.
If you perform diaper comparison research: first of all, share your results with me and I’ll update this post if you uncover new information. Second of all, make sure you’re comparing size 1 to size 1. Also, ensure you’re calculating the price per diaper since, as we’ve seen from this exercise, not all diaper packs contain the same number of diapers.
What about overnight diapers? Do I need those?
In my experience, you do not. See below for additional and differing thoughts from Frugalwoods readers. Overnight diapers are thicker and thus, more expensive. For this reason, what I do is size the nighttime diaper up one size when and ONLY when baby leaks through the diaper during the night.
For example, Littlewoods currently wears size 2 diapers and, last week, she woke up with a damp crib sheet and had leaked through her size 2 overnight. Thus, I now have her in size 3 diapers for nighttime. But only for nighttime. Why? As you’ll recall, diapers increase in price as they increase in size. Thus, there’s no reason to prematurely size up. So, I’ll keep Littlewoods in size 2’s during the day and size 3’s at night until she outgrows size 2’s. Then, I’ll have her in size 3’s for day and night until she soaks through a size 3 at night. Then, she’ll be in size 3 for daytime and size 4 at night.
What’s with the newborn diaper size? Do I need those?
Possibly. Both of my children were epic peanuts (Littlewoods is still in the mere fifth percentile for weight!) and so they wore newborn size diapers for a number of weeks. Some babies never wear newborns and are able to pop right into size 1’s. This is a fact you won’t know until your babe is born.
The issue with newborn diapers is that they are ridiculously expensive. Why is this? I have no idea because they are the TINIEST diapers you’ve ever seen. They look like they belong on a miniature hamster. For whatever reason, none of the top three cheapest brands (Walmart, Costco, or BJ’s) offer newborn diapers. And so, we were stuck paying more for these tiniest of tiny diapers. I saved an (unused) newborn diaper just because it’s so small–it’s currently doing a great job as a doll diaper. At any rate, Amazon’s Mama Bear brand has newborns for $0.25 a diaper. Gag!!!!
Prior to my babies’ births, I bought one small pack of newborn diapers and a large pack of size 1 Walmart diapers. Then, I moved the babies into size 1 as soon as was reasonable since they were so much cheaper. As long as the size 1 isn’t gaping on them, it’ll work. Then, for the rest of their diapering lives, the sizing advice is the opposite: keep them in the smallest size possible for as long as possible. There’s no need to constantly size up diapers. As long as you’re not experiencing leaks or blow-outs alllllll the time, then the diaper fits just fine.
Advice from Readers about Diapers:
Ros shared, “SLIGHT disagreement about overnight diapers: they’re not useful for baby GIRLS. They’re very useful for baby BOYS. Baby girls, given the placement of the urethra, pee in the middle of the diaper, right between their legs. The diaper, overnight, fills up (front and back), and eventually MAY overflow, and at that point a larger size of diaper provides more absorbency. A baby boy, given the placement of the urethra, pees in the front of the diaper. The liquid fills the front (down to about where a baby girl would start peeing) and then (especially if your baby/toddler is a stomach sleeper) leaks at the belly, and you wind up with a toddler who is wet from armpits to knees. Every night. Even with a 1-size-up diaper. Which is when you fork out the $ to get 5-6 nights a week with no leaks via overnight diapers. So: not useful for most, but VERY useful for stomach-sleeping boys.”
A. wrote, “Aldi has very affordable diapers if you have one near you, comparable to the Walmart prices quoted off the top of my head.”
Kiryn shared, “A friend with two kids told us to get Target’s Up & Up brand diapers, and they were totally right. Depending on the size, they can be as low as $0.12 cents per diaper, AND THEN Target regularly has “buy $100 worth of baby supplies, get a $25 gift card” sales, so we’d stock up on four or five bulk boxes of diapers (some in a variety of bigger sizes we weren’t using yet to avoid risking she’d outgrow them with a sudden growth spurt), and save the gift card for the next time we needed to restock.”
Amber said, “I found the Walmart diapers didn’t work for us so Kirkland diapers all the way.”
Emma wrote, “About diapers— not quite as cheap as Walmart but if one does not have a convenient Walmart nearby then Luvs on Amazon are close. I did a size 2 price check for comparison sake since that’s what you priced out in the post and it’s $28.49 for a box of 228, so a cool $0.12/diaper with subscribe and save, or $29.99 ($0.13/diaper) without. Love the Luvs!”
Jlvra said, “Regarding overnight diapers, my boys have all soaked through disposable overnight diapers as well. I used cloth diaper inserts to absorb the extra pee. They are cheaper than buying the disposable inserts and not as much work as full on cloth diapering!”
Kate shared, “I wanted to add on the overnight diaper bit that popping a cloth diaper cover over a normal disposable prevents leaks really well.”
Jamie wrote, “For us, the Amazon brand diapers work out overall best. The cheaper diapers were less expensive per diaper, but for our kid ended up being less absorbent or did not fit right. Our kid also hated being in soiled diapers, so we ended up plowing through the cheaper diapers faster than the Amazon brand. We also found the overnight diapers were worth the extra cost. Although I do not always find deals this way, I always check Amazon’s “Open Box” options for diapers when needing to order. From time to time I can find a giant box of diapers in brands that fit my kid best for $0.10 or less per diaper.”
You will be thrilled to hear that I don’t have anywhere near as much to say about wipes. There are, again, two main options: reusable and disposable. For reusable, you can create (or buy) cloth wipes and put them into a wipes dispenser along with a wipe liquid to keep them moist. For disposable, the cheapest options track with the cheapest diaper options (Walmart, Costco, or BJ’s).
3) Baby Lotion, Wash, Laundry Detergent, and Diaper Rash Cream
Go generic all the way, baby! This, again, tracks with the diaper advice. My favorite are the Walmart generic versions. We currently use:
- Walmart’s Equate brand baby wash (knock off of Johnson & Johnson)
- Walmart’s Equate brand lotion (knock off of Cetaphil’s gentle lotion–it’s unscented and for sensitive skin. I prefer it over actual baby lotion.)
- Walmart’s Equate brand diaper rash cream (knock off of Desitin)
- Walmart’s Equate brand vaseline (to put on top of the diaper rash cream in the event of a severe diaper rash. The vaseline serves as a moisture barrier).
- Walmart’s Equate brand of hair de-tangler (knock off of Johnson & Johnson. I use this on the toddler, but figured I’d mention it in case you have a baby with a lot of hair :)!)
I find these generic Walmart products identical to the brand name products and they’re much less expensive than the bulk offerings at Costco and BJ’s. The only item I don’t get at Walmart is laundry detergent: we get the generic free and clear (of dyes and perfumes) from BJ’s (Costco sells a similar generic product). Since kids don’t do well with scented, dyed laundry detergent, there are expensive, specialty “baby” detergents on the market, but they seem to be the same as the general free and clear detergents.
Breastfeeding or Formula: Food for Babies!
Specifically, for little bitty babies. I already have a post dedicated to how I made my own baby food purees for dirt cheap, which you can read here: How I Make My Own Baby Food and Other Frugal Parenting Tales.
Today let’s talk about what newborns eat: either breastmilk or formula. I breastfed both of my babies so I don’t have any insight to offer about formula. However, you’re in luck because fabulous Frugalwoods readers have shared their formula advice in a section below that I’ll continue to update as the tips roll in. Thank you so much, readers!!
I’ll write about breastfeeding since that’s been my experience. Please note that this is in no way a promotion of breastfeeding above formula feeding, this just happens to be what I do, so it’s the only thing I can speak to.
Enlist Your Partner’s Help
While the mama does the hard work of nursing, the non-nursing partner can do a lot to support the nursing mama. This is where Mr. Frugalwoods came in. He listened to the lactation consultant’s advice and helped Kidwoods establish a good latch. He did massage and compressions to encourage milk flow in the early days.
He arranged and re-arranged pillows. He brought me endless glasses of water and juice and snacks. Since Kidwoods was born via c-section, I was immensely uncomfortable with anything resting on my incision, so he found ways to prop the baby up on my chest so that her weight wasn’t on my abdomen.
Meet With A Lactation Consultant
My children were born at two different hospitals (Kidwoods at Mt. Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, MA and Littlewoods at Dartmouth-Hitchcock in Lebanon, NH) and both offered free visits with lactation consultants. Since Kidwoods was in the NICU for a week, I was able to visit with lactation consultants often during that first week, which helped me establish good nursing habits. With Littlewoods, I met with the lactation consultant immediately after her birth and then went back about a month later for an appointment.
Even though I’d breastfed my first child for 16 months, I still needed a refresher and guidance with my second. Every child nurses slightly differently and setting up a good latch at the beginning is crucial. So don’t be afraid to seek out assistance! I didn’t find breastfeeding to be “second nature” or “easy” at the beginning. Sure, it is now, but that’s after a combined 28 months of nursing my two children!! Don’t worry if it doesn’t come easily to you–it doesn’t mean you can’t breastfeed! And if time goes on and you meet with lactation consultants and it’s still not working and you are miserable? Allow yourself the grace to go buy some formula. The most important thing is that you are a happy, relaxed parent and that your child is fed. Making yourself miserable is not the goal here!
Set Yourself Up For Comfort
Especially when I was first breastfeeding my first child, I needed to be super comfortable while nursing her. Fast forward to the present and I can nurse Littlewoods while sitting on the floor while reading a book to Kidwoods. But that is not how I started out. I needed multiple pillows, assistance, and encouragement. I found the My Brest Friend pillow enormously useful and it’s one of my very favorite baby items. My sister handed hers down to me and I will soon be passing it along to someone else.
For my first, I didn’t have a comfortable nursing chair, which I regretted. So, I bought a glider with ottoman (used for $50) before Littlewoods was born and I love that thing. Initially, I had it in the living room so that I could nurse in comfort there. Now, it’s in Littlewoods’ bedroom as that’s where I nurse her. Since the glider has ample cushioning, I don’t use the My Brest Friend with it–I just stuff a throw pillow under the baby.
My first baby liked to fall asleep after nursing, so I’d prop her on the My Brest Friend and wedge it in between me and the kitchen table. Then, while she snoozed, I could work on my computer. Perfect!
All this to say: experiment with different pillows and configurations until you find a system that’s comfortable for you.
I also got to the point where I could nurse a baby while she rode in the front carrier (I have an Ergo), which is super useful. Using this system, I’ve nursed while hiking, while walking through Home Depot, while chasing a toddler around the house… you get the idea. A note on nursing clothes: I prefer nursing tank tops (to nursing bras) because they allow me to expose only a very small amount of skin in order to nurse. In our cold climate, I find this much more comfortable!
Advice from Readers about Formula:
Katie wrote, “If you know someone who works at a pediatrician’s office, ask them about the formula samples. We have a friend who graciously gives us cases of the sample tins. Moms of multiples: I am a triplet, and the social worker at the hospital hooked my parents up with free formula for a full year for all 3 of us.”
Kat shared, “After 4 babies… I can say with great confidence that Costco’s generic formula (Kirkland) is excellent. Now, I didn’t have any special dietary needs with any of mine, so the the regular, iron-supplemented with dHA was fine for us.”
Kiryn reported, “I’m seconding Costco formula. I wasn’t able (or willing, due to a variety of personal reasons) to breastfeed, and we discovered that Costco-brand formula is the same exact stuff as Similac (we’re 90% sure they’re made in the same factory; they even use the same container) except half the price. We saved so much money just on formula that first year that it more than paid for our membership.”
Amber recommends, “Costco formula! It’s wonderful and saved us so much money.”
Kim wrote, “We used Up and Up formula and took advantage of that Target deal where you spend $100 and get a $20. We easily spent $100 a month on formula and saved those $20 gift cards to buy a convertible car seat! With that said, a co-worker gave me an excellent idea that I’ll take advantage of for next baby. I never had a full supply and had to supplement with formula. She said she would pump and use the milk at home and then baby would use the free formula provided by daycare. She never had a full supply but never had to pay for formula.”
The Baby Gear I Found Indispensable
I wrote up this post (The Gear You Actually Need For Your Baby (Or The Next Baby Shower You Attend)) about baby gear when Kidwoods was still Babywoods and, in reviewing it after having a second kid, I’d say it holds up pretty well. The major addenda I have relate to getting out and about with baby (because we moved from urban to rural and had a second) as well as a few new thoughts on sleeping.
I was recently interviewed about frugal parenting on the Frugal Friends podcast–because one of the hosts is pregnant with her first!–and the other host asked me an interesting question. She wanted to know if I thought it would be possible to only buy a carseat and a few outfits before a baby arrived. I suppose it would be, but it’s not an approach I recommend because you’re likely to find yourself in need of any number of things and resorting to late night manic clicking on Amazon (or maybe that’s just me… ).
In my opinion, it’s a lot easier to source a bunch of gear used ahead of time and then figure out what you need as time goes on. Since I knew I would give it all away when done with it, I never worried about having a bunch-o-baby stuff in our house. Much easier to have and not need!
It takes time to assemble a fully second-hand stash and I wouldn’t want to attempt it after baby is born. Plus, I found that despite all my research and pre-conceived notions about babies, I didn’t know what I would use the most until after my first was born. There were hand-me-downs that (pre-baby), I figured we’d use EVERY DAY and other things that I couldn’t imagine using. As you might’ve guessed, I was super wrong in my predictions in several instances.
1) Getting Out and About: carrier/wrap, carseat and base, stroller, travel highchair, diaper bag:
This is one of the most used item in our baby retinue. Babies love to be attached to other humans (particularly parent humans) and both of my kids spent a lot of time nestled against me in the carrier. I have a hand-me-down Ergo Baby carrier (which is probably 10 years old… at least?) and I love it because I can wear baby on the front or the back.
Plus, it has an infant insert, so I started wearing my babies on the front in their first week of life. I was also able to nurse while they were riding in the carrier, which is ideal. From airports to grocery stores to around the house to out on hikes, I use my carrier constantly. I never leave home without it.
Different people prefer different carriers and so, if you can, find your local babywearing group–they’ll often have a plethora of carriers you can try out to see which is most comfortable for you. I had several different hand-me-down carriers (a Moby wrap, a Baby Bjorn, and the Ergo) and so I was able to try them out and settled on using the Ergo exclusively.
Carseat and Base
Mandatory if you drive a car. Also, many hospitals will not let you leave unless you have an unexpired carseat to take baby home in. If you have more than one car, as we do, I highly recommend buying enough carseat bases to go in each car. You do not want to be shuffling bases around every time you change cars. Trust me.
Should I Find A Used Carseat?
It depends. The danger with a used carseat is that it might’ve been in a crash and the damage to the seat isn’t visible. For this reason, I took a hand-me-down carseat from a friend who I trusted when she said the seat hadn’t been in a crash. This carseat was unexpired when Kidwoods was born and it saw her through her infancy. It didn’t cross my mind to check the expiration date for Littlewoods and so, when we were all set to be discharged from the hospital after her birth, the nurse came to perform the carseat inspection and told us it was expired and that we weren’t allowed to leave the hospital until we had an unexpired carseat to take the baby home in. Whoops.
Mr. Frugalwoods drove over to Walmart and, thankfully, they had an infant carseat (plus base) in stock and–wouldn’t you know it–on clearance. He bought it, drove back to the hospital, we passed the carseat inspection, and were on our way. Learn from my mistake and check the expiration date so that you don’t have to buy a last minute new carseat!
Whether and what kind of stroller you get depends on where you live, how you commute, and what your routines are like. If you’re in a city and often boarding buses or subway trains, your needs will be very different from someone living in the suburbs. When we lived in the city, the best thing I owned was my snap-n-go stroller. This was a simple stroller frame that the infant bucket seat clicked into. It allowed me to easily get Kidwoods around town without needing to take her out of her carseat. After we moved to the country, I rarely used it since the wheels weren’t sufficient for rolling over rough terrain.
Now, I use two strollers for two different environments:
Jogging stroller for hiking in our woods. I got a single jogging stroller for $5 at a thrift store when I had a single child. Then, as soon as I found out I was pregnant with #2, I began hunting for a used double jogger. I found one for $60 through my local parents’ buy/sell/trade group on Facebook. Our jogging strollers have GIANT wheels, which work fabulously well for traversing our woods trails. However, they’re so enormous that they’re not suitable for strolling around the city/an airport/the county fair. And so we also have a…
- Small umbrella stroller for errands. This stroller, purchased for $3 at a garage sale, lives in the trunk of our Prius and is ideal for errands, anywhere with a sidewalk, and airports. We also have a double umbrella stroller–sourced for free from the buy/sell/trade group on Facebook–which I envision using the next time we fly with both kids. We haven’t used the double yet since Kidwoods is happy to walk while Littlewoods rides.
We use my college backpack and it works great! I like the two straps as they slip over the umbrella stroller handles. Plus, if I have a baby in the front carrier, it’s easy to have the backpack on my back at the same time. Cheap, functional, and comfortable are the keys here.
This one depends a lot on your lifestyle and what you envision doing with bebe. Since we often go to friends’ houses, the town center, and our church for potlucks, its been super handy to have a little travel highchair.
Ours is a plastic, fold-up seat that buckles onto a regular chair. It has a removable tray and I can fit the whole thing into a cloth tote bag.
This is one of those hand-me-downs that I couldn’t imagine using pre-baby… and now we’ve used it a hundred times.
2) Sleep: swaddles, sleepsuits, sleepsacks, noise machines, and blackout curtains.
Swaddles: As I noted in my first post on the topic, I am a true believer in the Miracle Swaddle and it’s one of the very few things we bought new (gasp!). I think my parents were the ones to buy them for us and we are forever grateful. You can swaddle a baby in a regular blanket, but both of our kids were houdinis and would wiggle an arm out, smack themselves in the face, and wake up screaming. Not ideal. The Miracle Swaddle solved this issue and delivered superb sleep.
Merlin Sleepsuit: At around 3-4 months old, my babies outgrew their swaddles and we moved them into Merlin Sleepsuits. These things make your baby look like the Michelin Man, so there’s the advantage of hilarity. But they also keep baby warm and prevent them from thwacking themselves in the face while they sleep. I found them to be the PERFECT middle ground between swaddles and sleepsacks. I got mine for about $5 each from my parent listserve and they were sooooo worth it.
Sleepsack: Then, circa 11 months, my bebes were ready to transition into sleepsacks, which are essentially blankets with arm holes that zip up the front. It’s still not safe to give babies this age a loose blanket (strangulation hazard), so sleepsacks are ideal for keeping them warm and snug. I have this brand of sacks, which I received as hand-me-downs. Kidwoods slept in a sleep sack until I’m thinking close to age two when it was finally safe to snuggle her in bed with a blanket.
Noise machine: We’re a noise machine family and we’ve found it helps everyone sleep through the night when other family members (ahem, Littlewoods) see fit to wake up. I’m such a fan of this noise machine that we own three: one in Kidwoods’ room, one in Littlewoods’ room, and one in the master bedroom. We bought these babies new and have never regretted them. For infants, a noise machine mimics the whooshing noise they were accustomed to in the womb and so it provides a reassuring sound.
Blackout curtains: you may recall how smart I thought I was with my paper bags-over-the-windows-as-blackout-curtains hack? Well, let me tell you, I was not smart. Not smart at all. As I shared awhile back, I discovered that with the wooden window frames we have in our Vermont house, the paper bags over the windows equaled mold! GAH!!!! To fix this situation, we bought these blackout curtains, which work just fine.
Baby monitors: we never used our baby monitors all that much. Maybe our kids are really loud, but we found we could always hear them loud and clear. Through multiple closed doors. From any floor of the house…
How To Maintain Sanity With A Newborn
I found this the most elusive goal of all. Mr. FW and I are people who thrive on a routine, an orderly household, quiet time alone, and…. at least eight hours of sleep a night. We quickly learned that none of these things are possible with a newborn. As time goes on, and as our kids sleep longer, we’ve achieved a better balance. But those first few weeks and months with our first child are sort of like a black hole when I think back on them. Exhaustion, stress, anxiety, and what I later learned was undiagnosed postpartum depression combined to make that a rough transition into parenthood.
With our second baby, Mr. FW and I were determined to try and make the early months less, well, horrible. The biggest challenge for us with our first was the sleeplessness. We had the baby in a bassinet in our bedroom with us and we’d both get up every time baby woke up–which was every 45 minutes to 2 hours–and so neither of us got a true night of sleep for… months. Not good. We devised a totally different scheme for Littlewoods and it worked MUCH better: we split the night between us.
We set up baby central–bassinet, changing station, bouncy seat, etc–in our living room. Then, I would go to bed alone, upstairs in our bedroom, at 8pm. Mr. FW would stay awake on baby duty until 3am at which point he’d come wake me up. I’d take over as baby minder and he’d sleep until about 10am. This meant we each got solid, contiguous batches of sleep, which meant we actually felt sane and lucid, which was a priority since we also had a toddler to chase around.
By having the “baby minder” downstairs in the living room, they had access to the TV, the kitchen, and a bathroom. Most importantly, they didn’t have to worry about a crying baby waking up the sleeping parent or Kidwoods (who was asleep upstairs in her room). This system saved our lives. Since Littlewoods was nursing, I would pump right before I went to bed at 8pm and as soon as I woke up at 3am. This produced enough milk for Mr. FW to give her bottles while I slept. We did this system until Littlewoods started sleeping for longer stretches at night and was ready to be moved into her own room. Then, we sleep trained her (using this book as our guide) at 12 weeks old. If you have a partner or family member who can split the night with you–even for only the first few days or weeks–do it! You need as much contiguous sleep as you can possibly squeeze in.
Speaking of family members: I must give a huge shout out to my incredible mother-in-law who spent an entire month at our house helping us after Littlewoods was born. A former nurse who used to work night shifts, she also split the night with us and, on several occasions, pulled a double shift so that Mr. FW and I could both sleep ALLL NIGHT LONG. That was transformational and we are forever in her debt.
If you are fortunate enough to have family members or friends who offer to come help you out around the birth (and you think they’re genuine in their offer): TAKE THEM UP ON IT. I’ve never been so grateful to have other people doing things for me. Ever. If you can, stagger your helpers to take full advantage of their amazing time. Even if your helpers are not baby people–that’s fine!–there’s so much other stuff to do: cook, clean, LAUNDRY, run errands… also known as everything you and your partner normally do to keep your house from being condemned. And if friends or neighbors offer to bring you meals, TAKE THEM UP ON IT. You will not regret it.
Keep an eye on signs and symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety, which can affect any type of parent: adoptive parents, fathers, etc! I wish I’d understood that I was suffering from PPD earlier than I did. However, I’m grateful beyond belief that my PPD was diagnosed and that I’m now taking Zoloft to treat it. My experience as a parent (and as a person) is transformed. I’m better in every way and I still can’t believe I suffered for so long without getting help.
Postpartum depression (and any form of depression) is not a weakness. It doesn’t mean you love your children any less. It doesn’t mean you’re not capable, and smart, and amazing, it just means you have a medical condition that needs to be treated. It’s nothing more and it’s nothing less. Check out my post on the topic: How A Diagnosis Of Postpartum Depression Changed My Life.
I genuinely hate the advice I hear showered on new parents to “accept help” and “take time for yourself,” because both feel as elusive as a unicorn during the early infant stages. So please don’t read this section as a parroting of those unhelpful platitudes. Rather, it’s an encouragement to seek out some sort of system (whether on your own or with others) that’ll help you cope with the grueling early months. The other platitude I hated when I had a newborn was “it gets easier.” And that one, I’m sorry to say, really is true. They get bigger, they start sleeping more, and the fog you’re living in starts to lift.
A few things that helped me get through the first few months (other than help from others and SLEEP):
- Packaged foods. Normally, Mr. FW and I stock our pantry with bulk, raw, healthy ingredients. That went out the window with newborns. I needed something to look forward to when he woke me up at 3am every morning. And that thing was cereal. Don’t laugh, but I’m a sugary cereal FIEND. For this reason, we don’t normally have it. But while 3am-ing it? CEREAL. Do and eat whatever you need in order to survive. You’ll get back to healthy food and exercise soon enough.
- Going outside by myself. This was often for just a few minutes, but getting outside–alone–where it was quiet and crisp helped me regain a modicum of sanity.
- Eventually, I began doing yoga and hiking again. But at the beginning I didn’t push myself or expect too much from myself. The goal, for me, was to survive. The thriving came later.
- Funny TV. I’m not normally much of a TV watcher, but with that newborn at 3am? TV. I had a number of shows I love (easy comedies work best) that again, motivated me to get out of bed and care for my precious infant. Parks-n-Rec was my jam with Littlewoods and I rewatched almost the entire series before she was sleep trained.
- A daily shower. No matter what, no matter who was in the bathroom with me (sometimes both kids), I showered every day. It made me feel like a real person and I needed it.
Parenting Books I’ve Read And Loved
When I’m in doubt, I research. Clearly I’ve been in a lot of doubt about my parenting because I’ve read a truly embarrassing number of parenting books. Here are the ones I recommend and that I hope might bring you some peace and assistance. The more you can read BEFORE baby arrives, the better. But fear not, I’ve read plenty of these post-birth too.
All in all, Mr. Frugalwoods and I find that employing a consistent, routine-oriented, firm but loving, structured but playful approach to parenting meshes well with our personalities and our two kids’ budding senses of self. That and having our home decorated in a theme best described as “preschool.”
My all-time favorites are the two Simplicity Parenting books. I finally bought both of these books because I go back and re-read them periodically. These form the basis of our parenting philosophy and helped me understand that frugality interwoven with parenting is awesome:
- Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids
- The Soul of Discipline: The Simplicity Parenting Approach to Warm, Firm, and Calm Guidance―From Toddlers to Teens. I cannot heap enough praise onto this book. I simply love it. Plus, the author discusses how a family’s discipline approach should shift as children age (he covers ages 0-19), which I found tremendously useful, even though my oldest is a wee three-year-old. Equal parts philosophical and practical.
Read before baby arrives (if you can!):
- Heading Home With Your Newborn: From Birth to Reality. This is a super helpful, straightforward guide on how to care for a newborn baby. We both loved it! I checked this out from the library and felt like reading it once was enough.
Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems. My all-time favorite sleep book. This is the method we followed with both of our girls and it worked soooooooo well for our family. This is my most dog-eared baby book. I bought it used and have, so far, refused to give it up.
- The Happiest Baby On The Block. Helpful in understanding what an infant needs to be soothed and content.
- Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect. Ok the odd title on this one turned me off initially, but it was a book that my sister passed along to me and so I gave it a shot and I was HOOKED. This is the RIE parenting philosophy and, coupled with the Simplicity Parenting ethos, this is my jam. Mr. FW and I are not “all in” on any one parenting philosophy or another, but RIE is pretty darn close.
Read during baby’s first year:
- What To Expect The First Year
- Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
- Mayo Clinic Guide to Your Baby’s First Year: From Doctors Who Are Parents, Too!
- The Womanly Art Of Breastfeeding
Read when baby is a bit older:
- Touchpoints Birth to Three
- No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame (another book in the RIE philosophy)
- The Happiest Toddler On The Block
- No Drama Discipline
Read when it’s time for bebe #2:
- Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too. I read this prior to Littlewoods’ birth and it has really helped inform my relationship with two children.
- Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life. I just finished reading this and I loved it. I am now constantly using phrases and techniques I learned in this book and I think I’ll be re-reading it for years to come… decades, perhaps.
What should I read next? I’ve burned through all of these, and I’m ready for more! Let me know what you love! ESPECIALLY things focused on siblings…
Having a child is more expensive than not having a child. But it doesn’t have to cost anywhere near the eye-watering estimates I see scrolling across click-bait articles intended to–I don’t know what–terrify/overwhelm/condescend to new parents. Baby-rearing can be done frugally, simply, and with thought. As with just about everything else in life, it’s possible to be measured, thrifty, and un-bonkers about buying for baby.
At the end of the day, what you’re choosing to do is allocate your resources wisely. Save your money for things that will, someday, really matter for your children. Save money now so that you can pay for piano lessons. Save money now so that you can help out with college costs. What type of stroller your child rides around in isn’t going to predict their future success. Save on the unimportant so you can spend on the important because that important day will come.
How do you stay frugal with your little ones?
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