New Parents Dish on 'the Best Money Decision I Ever Made'
Christine Ryan Jyoti
When baby makes three, all kinds of seeming "must-haves" can take a toll on your bottom line -- from hand-knit nursery blankets to souped-up strollers.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average middle-income family shells out about $13,000 in just the first year of a baby's life.
So how can moms and dads navigate the budget-busting new-baby minefield? By going to the source for nuggets of advice: parents who've been there, done that -- and spent that.
First-time parents like the moms and dads we're profiling have made decisions early on that are paying off now ... and for years to come.
'We Buy Cloth Diapers'
Christie Gettler, 27, GiftStarter.com co-founder, Rhode Island
"When we learned that we were pregnant, my husband, Matt, and I had student loans, wedding debt, and astronomical monthly rent payments to make.
Financially speaking, it was not an opportune time to be procreating.
I wanted to use cloth diapers for financial and environmental reasons, but Matt wasn't convinced. So our deal was that we'd try it, and if it became too much, we'd move on.
Now he's a bigger advocate than I am!
Our stash of 40 washable diapers, 70 cloth wipes, two pail liners, and three wet bags cost less than $450 -- and will last us until Max, 1, gets potty trained. (And in terms of effort, we do a dedicated load of laundry every three to four days.)
Compare that to the cost of disposables over two and a half years (roughly $2,500), plus wipes, and we'll save about $2,000. When you add in any future children, the cash really piles up.
Whenever we go past the diaper aisle at the grocery store, we have the satisfaction of saying, 'At least we don't have to spend money on that.' "
'We Joined an Online Forum for Discounted Baby Gear'
Ivonne Medina, 32, business development manager, Montreal
"Anything catering to new parents tends to sell at a premium. So in looking for ways to save, my husband, Ryan, and I joined a local online forum, the Plateau Play Group, when I was pregnant.
There are similar forums across the U.S. that connect parents looking to sell or give away gently used stuff. You can find them through online searches, pediatricians' offices, and local parenting publications.
We've been lucky enough to source all kinds of items at a hefty discount, including an exersaucer, a stroller bassinet, a car seat adapter, toys and feeding covers.
My favorite find was a barely used, still-in-the-box breast pump for $60, instead of the $400-plus we expected to pay. (I just had to get new tubing for it.) It feels good to buy something that's served someone, and will probably serve someone after us.
The group also helps free up our two-bedroom condo of things we don't need. We sell a lot of what we don't use anymore with Noah, who's now 7 months old. And we usually give away the clothing for free.
Joining this online forum is a gift that keeps on giving."
'We Opened a 529 Plan'
Alexa von Tobel, 31, LearnVest founder and CEO, New York City
"Bee was born during one of the craziest points of my professional career -- our company was acquired just days before her birth -- so we didn't have tons of time to do things like decorate her nursery or purchase adorable outfits.
But one of the first things we did do before Bee's arrival was set up a 529 Savings Plan. We also made sure that all of our family's gift contributions went straight into it.
It's a state-sponsored, tax-advantaged account that can be used in the future to pay for certain college costs, like tuition, fees, room and board, books and technology.
According to the College Board, the average price of a four-year private college in the U.S. now tops $40,000 per year -- and college costs rise at around 5 percent per year.
So setting aside savings in a 529 plan now will go a long way toward helping pay for her education."
'I Went Freelance to Save on Child Care'
Sarah Vogel, 32, part-time yoga instructor and freelancer, Washington, D.C.
"I was working as a writer and project manager at a PR firm when my husband, Abe, and I decided to start our family.
We had a lot to consider: our financial and emotional quality of life, our lack of family support in D.C., the availability of part-time and freelance positions in my field, and the value I felt in spending one-on-one time with my child.
My gut told me that staying home would work well for our family, and after six weeks of maternity leave, I resigned.
The high cost of child care in D.C. was a big factor in my decision: Approximately 50 percent of my paycheck would have gone to cover care for our son, Hardy.
To supplement our household income, I started teaching yoga at a studio in our area, and now lead three classes weekly. I'm also doing about 10 hours of freelance communications work per week. The extra earnings have helped us enjoy such luxuries as dinners out and vacations worry-free.
Hardy is now 16 months old, and I'm still forming my long-term career plan, based on the possibility of having other children and my desire for flexibility."
'We Road-Tested Baby Gear Before Buying'
Annie Callahan, 31, physician assistant, Pleasanton, California
"As first-time parents, my husband, Todd, and I found it hard to predict what gear would end up being worth the investment.
So to avoid committing to the wrong baby carrier -- which can easily top $150 -- we joined our local chapter of the nonprofit Babywearing International.
You can rent carriers from BWI ($10 each per month) to decide which one suits you best before making a purchase. I'd recommend one that works for many ages and stages. My personal top picks turned out to be the ErgoBaby Four Position 360 and the Boba Wrap.
It also took trial and error to find the right sleeping setup. We splurged on a beautiful heirloom bassinet for over $500 -- and our daughter, Josephine, hated it. She wouldn't sleep more than an hour or two.
Word of mouth and online reviews eventually tipped us off to the Fisher-Price Rock 'n Play Portable Bassinet for $70 -- but worth 10 times that, as Todd says.
Our daughter slept for a solid six hours. She's now 12 weeks old, and hasn't slept any less since! It works like a charm because of the incline, rocking motion and built-in white noise.
We even bought a new one and had it shipped to use on an extended trip -- and then donated it to a local kids' group before heading home. It's seriously that great."
'We Hired a Live-in Au Pair'
Rachel Moring, 34, regional sales director, New Orleans
"My husband, Parker, and I knew our crazy schedules would make child care a challenge.
My job calls for long hours and travel, while his work as a commercial real estate appraiser can be unpredictable.
As we weighed our options, a live-in au pair initially didn't seem realistic. It's not a common choice in our area, plus we didn't think it would work with our budget. But after doing some research, we were sold.
Through Go Au Pair, we learned that an au pair can provide child care up to 45 hours per week at $7.85 per hour. So while we would spend about the same if we opted for a more traditional form of child care, an au pair would save us money on after care.
An added perk of welcoming our au pair, Angelia, from Colombia into our home? She's helping our five-month-old son, Dev, pick up Spanish."
'We Built a Postbaby Budget That Cut Out Discretionary Spending'
Cary Shiwarski, 36, doctor, Pittsburgh
"My husband, Dan, and I had our daughter Piper, now 1, during my fellowship training -- not because it was a good financial time, but because we felt that we were running out of time.
Our biggest baby expense -- day care -- is equivalent to our mortgage payment at $1,400 per month. When the first bill arrived, we knew things had to change.
So we took a hard look at our spending, and calculated that we had to trim $450 each month from our budget.
How did we do it?
We canceled cable, decreased our cell phone data plan, cut back on dining out, put travel plans on hold, and quit impulse buys. I also said goodbye to pedicures and yoga classes, while Dan gave up his hockey league.
Now we watch TV online, use coupons, and make iced coffee at home. About once a month, we'll eat out with friends during happy hour.
We've also become more financially accountable to each other, and discuss purchases ahead of time.
Piper is the sunshine in our life, and we wouldn't change anything!"