As a new mom who’d survived the process of international adoption, I believed the time I spent waiting to become a mom had been well spent.
I’d read parenting books.
I sought the advice of smart mom friends.
I quizzed my own mom.
But, it turns out, managing motherhood—and the money that seems to flow out once you become a mom—also requires a lot of on-the-job training.
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In an effort to help other mothers out there, here is my cheat sheet on everything I’ve learned—financially speaking—so far. If you don’t make these seven mistakes, trust me, your wallet will thank you.
And, if you have other tips that I, with a now-2-year-old, might not have grown into yet, by all means, leave them in the comments.
I’m always on the hunt for money-saving wisdom, a habit I’ll likely keep up until Julia’s college fund is set. And, probably, beyond.
1. Gift Givers Buy Cute Clothes, Practical Items Come Out of Your Wallet
Women love shopping for cute little wee clothes. I received adorable outfits by the truckload for my then eight-month-old-daughter. And purchased plenty of them. But basics like bibs, washcloths, a standard comb and brush set? All no-shows, even when I listed them on two baby shower registries. When an older friend came over during my first day home with my daughter and asked, “Where do you keep the burp cloths?” I stared back at her in slack-jawed silence. Ronda gathered her coat and dashed out to the baby store, returning with all of the above, plus baby soap and shampoo.
The takeaway: Don’t forget the basics. They aren’t cute, but they’re necessary.
2. Speaking of Cute Clothes, They’ll Hardly See the Light of Day
While infant clothes are adorable, buying fancy new clothes for babies less than nine months of age is misspent money. Pick up one or two cute outfits to be worn during visits to the grandparents’, parties and other social events. In reality, between daily adventures with spit-up, diaper blowouts and food spills, your sweet bundle of joy will be sporting a basic onesie the majority of the time.
The takeaway: Only spend your hard earned cash on clothing your baby will use daily. As your kid gets older, it’s a good idea to try to instill this concept in the things she purchases for herself, as well.
3. Think Big
Small packages of diapers, wipes and formula come with big price tags. The first two months of motherhood, as a busy working mom, I hit neighborhood drug stores for my daughter’s needs. By the third month I noticed the hole these items had gnawed through my wallet. So I headed to Costco, bought a membership and now I buy in bulk. I find the Costco brand diapers comparable to Pampers in terms of quality, but they come with significant savings. While stockpiling can make for an unsightly home, at the rate the average kid goes through the products, the stockpile is quickly leveled.
The takeaway: Costco isn’t the only retailer vying for your baby business. Online drugstores will send automatic shipments so you don’t even have to remember what you’ve run out of. Here’s how the different programs compare. And Amazon’s Subscribe and Save is another perennial mom favorite.
4. Never Underestimate the Value of Used Goods
I wanted my daughter to have all new things, but that turned out to be a pricey affair. Online Mommy groups like First Time Upper West Side Moms (of which I am a member) has great things for kids from infants to 5-year-olds. I’ve picked up plenty of items for free, or for a nominal fee—car seats, clothes and even furniture. I scored a crib, matching changing table, glider rocker with a footrest, bags of gently used clothing and a three story doll house the height of an average adult—all for free.
The takeaway: Women love to recycle items their kids have outgrown, so keep your ears open. Ask friends and family. Join a local mom group, or hold a swap meet in your area.
5. Don’t Regift Baby Shower Gifts, Return Them
Regifting an item would save you time and money–however, unlike most department stores, some baby stores, like Buy-Buy Baby, happily take returns. (Even when you’ve managed to mangle the box … trust me, I know.) With the $100 dollar credit issued for the return of an infant carrier that sat unused in my home, I purchased the Speak and Learn Elmo my daughter really loves, and received a $70 dollar credit.
The takeaway: Store credit is free money … don’t let it go to waste.
6. Your Friends Are Your Best Money-Saving Resource
Asking friends to help out can add up to big savings and peace of mind. With Manhattan babysitters commanding $12-15 an hour, I can relax when I have a friend watching over my sleeping 2-year-old, instead of watching the clock … and my wallet. During the 2011 Christmas holiday season, my total after attending two parties in one evening: $90 bucks. The nauseous feeling came complimentary.
The takeaway: Don’t be shy about asking friends to babysit. Good friends probably will, especially when you promise to reciprocate.
7. Mom Might Not Always Know Best …
My mom insisted I wash my daughter’s clothes in expensive Dreft baby detergent. “It’s the standard,” she said. She even bought the first bottle, then returned to Michigan. Weeks later, out of Dreft, desperate and surrounded by piles of stinky kid clothes, I decided to use what I had in the house–All Free and Clear. My 8-month-old never batted an eye, and I saved some serious bucks.
The takeaway: Examine what’s right for you, your baby and your wallet. What worked for your mom, your best friend and your cousin might not turn out to be the best thing for you and your family.