When Todd and I got married, we knew we wanted a little one, and sooner rather than later. We also knew we didn’t want to struggle our way through baby’s first years. So, we immediately started saving. Babies are expensive. We didn’t want to be blindsided and miss out on the joy of our newborn with financial woes, if we could help it.
How We Got Started
Because I’m a Virgo. I made a line item budget of all the essential (and “nice to have”) items we would need to welcome baby into the world, from car seats to pacifiers. I tried to account for as many as expenses as I could imagine, so we didn’t have any surprises.
We started saving by first paying off any debt. We were fortunate not to have much, but we’d been seduced by a couple of “24 month, no interest or payments” type offers as we built our new life together and wanted to get those remaining balances paid off in full. Those no-longer-existing monthly payments became the core of our ability to save.
Our other goal was to buy a house that we could grow into. We found the right place and focused our dual incomes and wedding gift money into our house and savings. We also made sure that our new mortgage would fit into my husband’s salary, when we sacrificed mine.
About Our Budget
We assumed nothing. I hear so many first time parents talking about their future baby showers, as if they’re going to receive everything on their registries. And some people do, don’t get me wrong, but they’re generally the exception, not the rule. We hoped that we’d be blessed with generous gifts, but we didn’t want to risk our financial future on it. So, we budgeted as if we’d receive nothing and have to buy everything on our own.
Our grand total for “baby stuff” was about $3900, with a breakdown like this:
Furniture/Nursery: $1200 (Crib, bedding, bassinet, rocker, changing table, humidifier, video monitor)
*Note: We did not budget for a dresser or bookshelf, because that’s already existing in the room.
Feeding: $690 (Pump, nursing cover, Boppy, bottles, sanitizer, warmer, high chair)
Travel: $970 (Pack ‘N Plays for our parents’ houses and ours, travel system, extra bases, diaper bags, and carrier)
Hygiene: $540 (Tub, kneeler, towels, water alarm, cloth diapers, and baby hygiene kits)
Miscellaneous: $475 (swing, walker, Bumbo, tummy mat, and clothing)
We also budgeted for hospital bills and prenatal care, after talking to our insurance company and my OB’s office. This was an important step, because each insurance company and doctor’s office will have different costs. We learned this first hand during my second pregnancy – it was significantly more expensive than my first, thanks to a change in insurance.
About Our Savings
It was NOT EASY to set aside all of this money. It sucked, to be honest, even though we realize that we were completely privileged to be able to become homeowners and save at the same time. I was a parochial school teacher, so my salary was small. That money funneled into our savings, as we prepared to become a single income family. During this time, we didn’t vacation, buy new electronics, or splurge on much of anything. We tried to eat at home and take our family up on any offers for dinners out!
For us, the easiest way to not touch “baby money” was to set up a separate savings account. We committed to ourselves that money would be put in, but not come out until baby was on its way. For us, we settled on an online bank savings account, because we liked that we couldn’t make an impulse withdrawal or instant transfer.
Find a savings account that fits your banking style and needs. Talk to your current bank and see which kind of savings account will yield you the best interest and won’t penalize you when you begin to draw from it. Set up the account and then leave it alone. If your employer offers direct deposit, consider setting up a monthly deposit directly into your baby savings, whether it’s $10 or $100. My father-in-law always tells us that it doesn’t matter how much you’re saving, just that you’re saving. I like that, because it makes me feel less guilty during periods where we can’t save much. We can almost always spare $5-10 over the course of a month.
Time to Start Spending
When we got the news that Ruby was on the way, my spreadsheet took on a new life. I sorted it by price to identify the big ticket items that we needed to prioritize.
We decided to buy the big items early, so we had time to shop for deals and knew what we had “left over” for the smaller things. It felt weird to start shopping early in my pregnancy, because it had been a long road and I was having complications. I didn’t want to jinx anything. It helped me to shift my thinking and look at it this way: You will have a baby. If not this baby, you will have another baby, either your own or through adoption. Whenever that precious gift arrives, you will still need a stroller or a bathtub or a crib.
We started frequenting places like Toys ‘R Us and making a habit of stopping by the baby section when we were making Target or Walmart runs. I would look for the awkwardly placed and hidden clearance shelves for steals. You know the ones I’m talking about – wedged in the back of the store or middle of an aisle. I also occasionally checked into our local baby boutiques for sales and clearance racks.
We also took advantage of holiday sales. Our anatomy scan was right before Black Friday sales, so I got to go a little wild. We bought off season clothing as it went on clearance, using our best guesses on when she’d need certain clothes in which sizes. We shied away from things like winter coats, but bought pants and swimsuits that we knew she’d use in a larger window of time.
I routinely checked our local kids’ consignment shops for new and gently used items and added myself to wait lists for specific things. I also would occasionally check out garage sales. They were mostly misses, but I found a few treasures too.
We also didn’t get boxed into buying things specifically for “baby”. We had been looking at baby monitors and couldn’t find one with the quality and features we wanted at a price we were willing to pay. That’s when my sweet, smart, nerdy husband suggested that we look at security cameras instead. For about a third of the price of most video monitors, we had a high-quality camera with tons of functionality and the ability to monitor from all of our devices. We also decided to get a La-Z-Boy recliner, instead of the glider we were considering for the same price. I loved that the back would recline without putting the legend up, so I could lean back while still rocking. The recliner is so much more comfortable and will live a second life after it’s done in the nursery!
Using Our Village
We also listened to advice. I’m not saying we took all of it, but we listened! We didn’t stock up on bottles or pacifiers ahead of time. Friends had advised us that babies are picky and they were right. We went through a few different bottles and pacifiers before finding the right ones. They’d also told us not to overstock on certain diaper sizes or brands, until we knew what would work for us.
We are lucky to have some incredible friends and family who not only offered us advice, but also their services. My cousin is a very talented seamstress and made us some beautiful things. I also had a coworker who makes adorable baby items that are sold in lots of fancy baby boutiques around town, but buying directly from her saved us a lot. We had several family members knit us beautiful blankets and caps too.
Those same incredible friends and family also gave us a ton of hand-me-downs, far exceeding our expectations. When we started telling people that we were expecting, I was surprised by how many friends offered us things. I always said yes, if it was something we needed. And when we revisited our budget, we were shocked by how those items added up. Saying yes to hand-me-downs added up to thousands in savings and having most of the things we needed only halfway through my pregnancy.
What We Saved
We started with a mile long list of budgeted items totaling at $3900, but we only spent about $1000 between good deals and hand-me-downs. Yes, $1000 for our crib, changing table, pack & play, recliner, video monitor, travel system, swing, bouncy seat, breast pump, high chairs, bassinet, bedding, bathtubs, bottles… all of it. We had a baby shower and did get some things there too, but they were mostly the lagniappe that’s fun to shop for like clothes, bibs, blankets, toys, and a play mat.
Now, we could have just gone out and spent that $3900 off the top, but I felt like just because we had the pennies pinched didn’t mean we had to spend them. On top of saving, we like to consider ourselves environmentally conscious, so we also felt good about our choice to reuse items where we could. And honestly, most of the hand-me-downs we received were nicer than what we’d budgeted for in the first place.
With the money we saved on baby items (and leftover from medical bill budgeting), we replaced our flooring in the main living area, making it more baby and sanitizing friendly. The remainder rolled over into upgrading to an SUV shortly after Ruby was born.