Babies are a gift. They’ll open your heart in ways you can’t imagine, and challenge you in ways you never expected. But though they’re a gift, they can be an expensive one.
How much do babies cost? Well, according to the USDA in their study Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015, in 2015 a family could expect to spend approximately $12,980 USD annually per child in a middle-income ($59,200-$107,400 USD), two-child, married-couple family.
This means middle-income, married-couple parents of a child born in 2015 could expect to spend $233,610 USD ($284,570 USD if projected inflation costs are factored in*) for food, shelter, and other necessities to raise a child through age 17. This does not include the cost of a college education. (Source)
This amount will of course not be spot on for everyone. Not only is the data from 2015, but the USDA found that not surprising, the higher a family’s income the more was spent on a child, particularly for child care/education and miscellaneous expenses. Costs also varied by region, and with each additional child, expenses on each decline (the “cheaper by the dozen” effect).
But no matter how you adjust it, it’s clear that kids will cost you a good amount of money.
Where Does That Money Go?
Again the 2015 USDA report states that for a middle-income family, housing accounts for the largest share at 29% of total child-rearing costs. Food is second at 18%, and child care/education (for those with the expense) is third at 16%.
Now, you don’t have to pay everything up-front, and expenses vary depending on the age of the child. Teenagers, for example, have higher food costs as well as higher transportation costs.
Unsurprisingly, there are also many costs unique to the first few years of life. These are the items necessary during infancy and toddlerhood, which are never neeeded again, like cribs, diapers, and sippy cups for example.
How Much Do Babies Cost in the First Few Years?
Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of costs that are front-loaded in the first few years. Here’s a rundown of what costs to expect:
1. Medical Costs
This item is of course much more of a concern for those living in the United States, but since about 70% of our audience lives in the US, it’s very likely that if you’re reading this it applies to you.
According to Castlight Health’s Costliest Babies Analysis in 2016, the cost of a routine vaginal delivery averaged $8,775 USD nationally in America, but that cost varied widely according to where you lived. In fact, the price differential is so great, Castlight reported that a cesarean delivery in Cleveland ($8,772 USD) is less expensive than a routine vaginal delivery in 17 of the 30 costliest cities to have a baby.
Even the least expensive (average price) routine vaginal delivery from the study, which happened to be in Kansas City, MO, was $6,075 USD. This is a big chunk of change for many new parents.
After baby is born, that’s not the end of medical costs of course. Parents can plan visits for evaluations, immunizations, etc. as well as a few additional visits for illnesses. These usually average about 3-4 per year in the first few years.
2. Child Care
If both parents and/or primary caregivers are planning on returning to work after the baby arrives, child care will be another cost to consider.
Child care costs vary by where you live, the age of your child, how much care you require, and what type of care you use (home daycare vs. Montessori for example), but no matter where you live it will likely be one of your biggest budget line items.
In the US, the national average cost of childcare is between $9,000 USD and $9,600 USD per year (source).
In Canada, according to Statistics Canada, full-time child care ranges from $152 CDN per month in Quebec ($1,824 CDN per year) to $677 CDN per month ($8,124 CDN per year) in Ontario.
Child Care Often Still an Expense Outside of Daycare
As a stay at home mom (SAHM) myself, I know that whether or not you require outside child care, there will be a child care cost for those first few years before school at least.
The most obvious cost when one parent stays home is reduced family income. While the loss of income can sometimes be less than the high cost of daycare, it’s important to consider that the loss is compounded by diminished earning potential if that parent decides to resume his or her career after kiddo goes off to school.
All of that loss is very hard to calculate as it completely depends on the parent’s earning potential, but it’s worth thinking about.
3. Baby Items
Without a doubt, babies and toddlers use a lot of stuff. Anyone who has traveled with a baby for even a weekend can tell you, it’s overwhelming!
Many of the items you’ll find at your local baby store aren’t necessities. With that said, a lot of it is, and some items that aren’t strict necessities are extremely helpful.
I’ve put together a short list of some of the more common items that are either true necessities or items that most parents find close to necessity at various ages.
Clothing and Accessories:
- Undershirts or onesies (infant)
- Shirts and pants/shorts/skirts (baby/toddler)
- Sleepers / pajamas
- Special occasion outfits
- Hat (sun and/or snow)
- Sweaters/coat (s)
- Socks and shoes / boots
- Baby mattress
- Toddler bed (if needed and crib doesn’t convert)
- Fitted sheets
- Nursing bras
- Breast pump
- Loose shirts
- Pillow to support your baby
- Highchair or booster
- Unbreakable bowls, plates and spoons
- Cups or Sippy Cups
- Infant bathtub
- Hooded or small towels
- Baby wash/shampoo
- Bath toys
- Bath mat
- Car seat
- Portable playpen
- Diaper bag/backpack
- Travel wet bags (if cloth diapering)
- Baby wipes
- Diaper rash cream
- Changing mat
- Changing table
- Dirty-diaper container
- Bouncy chair
- Tummy-time mat
- Baby monitor
- Glider or rocking chair
- Exersaucer or jolly jumper
- Board Books
My 5 Top Tips to Save Money on Baby Items
While you can’t usually do much about medical and child care costs, one area where you can find a ton of savings is on that big list of baby items above. Here are my top five ways to cut costs in those first few years:
1. Cloth Diapers and Wipes
So, just how much will cloth diapers save?
As I’ve written about on Cloth Diapers for Beginners here, assuming you have an average child that will potty train at age three, and uses about 10 diapers per day from 0-6 mos (1,825 diapers), about 8 diapers per day from 6-18 months ( 2,920 diapers) and about 6 diapers a day from 18 months to three-years (3,285 diapers), that’s about 8,030 diapers. (You can read more about how many diapers a baby will need/use here).
Although the average cost per diaper will vary depending on location, according to Wikipedia the average cost of a disposable diaper in the US is between .20 and .30 cents each. So going with an average of $0.25 ea means that disposables will cost a parent about $2,007.50 per child.
I repeat, disposable diapers will cost a parent about $2,007.50 USD per child!
Reusable diapers on the other hand, cost between $6 for cheap ones, to about $30 for the more expensive night-time ones if bought new. Again going with an average to make things easy, let’s assume each cloth diaper is $18.
It’s recommended to start off with about 24 diapers at least, so that’s $432.
This means reusable diapers will save you about $1,575.50 per child and most often they can be reused on the next child saving you the full cost of diapering that second child.
Reusable diapers will save you about $1,575.50 USD per child and most often they can be reused on the next child saving you the full cost of diapering that second child.
And that’s using pretty top-of-the-line diapers. You can get less expensive diapers, or DIY some diapers up for MUCH less (here’s a post on the 5 Cheapest Ways to Cloth Diaper here if you want more info on that).
Oh, and that’s just the savings on diapers, you can save a ton more by ditching the expensive disposable wipes and cutting up some old receiving blankets or buying some cheap washcloths at the dollar store to use as wipes.
Oh, and you can sell your used diapers later to reduce that cost even more.
2. Shop Second-Hand
I swear that every time a parent blinks their baby jumps to the next clothing size. This means there is A LOT of barely used baby clothing out there, just waiting to be nabbed by budget-conscious parents who are savvy enough to grab it. Baby gizmos like exersaucers and swings are also used only for about a minute and are great used items.
Your local consignment or thrift store, Facebook marketplace, and even your local Facebook Buy Nothing Group are great places to find used items for cheap or even free.
Many consignment stores will also buy back your stuff after your child has outgrown them for cash or store credit.
Used cloth diapers are also an option if you’d like to save even more money on diapering.
3. Borrow Some Gear!
I can almost guarantee that if you know some parents with young kids but no baby right now, you know someone with baby gear taking up space in their garage or storage closet.
Getting rid of baby items is an emotional thing, and some parents don’t want to fully say goodbye to things, especially if they do plan on having more children down the line.
Ask your friends with young children if you could borrow items, particularly big-ticket items they’re not using, like a crib, high chair, or rocking chair.
Borrowing can be mutually beneficial because not only do you get to use the item, but you might be helping them out by providing them with some storage space until they need the thing again.
4. Baby Showers and Sprinkles
I get it, not everyone likes attention and strangers wrapping strings around their bellies or other such nonsense. But when it comes to saving money, asking your friends and family to help with gifts at a shower really moves the needle!
Register so that party-goers can buy what you really need and avoid ending up with a ton of baby rattles and photo albums.
5. Register Anyway
Even if you don’t do a full-blown party, just the act of creating a free registry for the baby items you want can get you discounts and freebies.
For example, if you sign up for Amazon’s baby registry you get a free welcome box of products parents and baby valued up to $35, a 10% completion discount on items left on your registry (15% for Prime members), free 365 day returns (you have a full 365 days to return most items purchased from your registry), and group gifting among other perks (these perks are current as of January 6, 2020, but they are always changing, so click here for current details).
A registry is of course great when having a shower, but even if you opt-out of the party, it’s a great way to organize and keep track of your shopping list AND get those perks!
Bottom Line: You Can Make The Numbers Work
At the end of the day, while it may be expensive, babies are a gift. They will open your heart in ways you can’t imagine, and challenge you in ways you never expected.
Because of this, parents and caregivers with the help of some clever thinking and some creative cost-saving tricks like those I mentioned above, have been making the numbers work long before you and I ever saw that pink line on the pregnancy test. It just takes some planning, and research, like the kind you’re doing right now!