How to Survive Baby’s First Year Without Going Broke

Flossie McCowald was a teacher before becoming mama to Kimmie and Essie. A country girl who married a city boy, she and her family now live in Suburbia, U.S.A. When not schlepping her girls to Scouts, Code Club, swim lessons, or church choir, she enjoys bicycling, cooking, crocheting, and volunteering. She shares all her parenting mistakes, screw-ups, and things she learned the hard way her parenting tips, tricks, and hacks to save busy parents time, money, and sanity at 

Tip: Don’t let the budget stress you out during baby’s first year. Grab this FREE Family Budget Template.

How to Survive Baby’s First Year Without Going Broke

I’m honored to be sharing this guest post with you today! I blog about all the parenting tips, tricks, and hacks I’ve learned the hard way – things that help parents save time, money, and/or their sanity. With my dear husband, I’m blessed to parent two wonderful girls, Kimmie (now 8) and Essie (now 6).

I’m so excited to share with you some of the ways Dear Husband and I saved money when our girls were just born – and some of the hacks we learned about later that we wished we’d known when they were newborns!

There’s no way around the fact that having a baby is downright expensive, and I’m not talking about the medical bills. Babies need so much STUFF to make it in this modern world. Gone are the days when my mother (and probably Sarah’s, and maybe many of yours) brought us home from the hospital in their arms, in the front seat of the family car! Fancy car seats are just the beginning, though, of course.

If you’re lucky, you have nearby friends and family who’ve been through the process recently and can help you out with hand-me-downs and things on loan. That was not the case for us; all our family lives far away, and our eldest was the first grandchild on both sides. Yes, we were blessed with plenty of shower gifts and cute newborn outfits from relatives and co-workers near and far. But that can only get you so far.

Until six weeks before Kimmie arrived, I was teaching part-time. We knew that my paychecks would stop once she was born and my short-term contract expired, so we had to get used to one salary quickly. These are some of the ways we saved money during our girls’ first years, plus some things we would have done if we’d known about them sooner.

1. Think Long And Hard About the Big-Ticket Items

As any parent living in a tiny apartment will tell you, you really CAN survive just fine without a number of larger (and pricier) items that will eat up a big chunk of your Baby nest egg. Until weeks before Kimmie was born, we thought we’d be bringing her home to my husband’s tiny city home, which was barely big enough for the two of us. Although we finally found the suburban home we’d been searching for, I did a lot of thinking on how to get by in that tiny space – so much so, that I wrote a post about it here.

So before you run out and buy that 3-in-1 convertible crib with a changing table to match, and an adorable bassinet as well, ask yourself: Do we really need all of this?

The Changing Table

I’m all about repurposing. The last thing I wanted was to go buy a changing table, a.k.a. a huge, expensive piece of furniture that would be of zero use to me once we no longer had kids in diapers. (Yes, we had an official changing table in the end, but only because my mama’s neighbors gave it to us FOR FREE to get it out of their house – they had teenagers, mind you!)

What served us just as well as a changing table was a $25 changing pad that we put on top of a low dresser in our bedroom for many months.

The 3-in-1 Convertible Crib

Ditto the crib and toddler bed. If you’re truly strapped for cash, just have your kiddo sleep in a play yard until they can climb out of it, then switch them to their “big-kid bed” (even if it’s just mattresses on the floor to start).

And if you really want a crib and plan to have more than one child, you can probably also save money by getting a crib that does NOT convert into a toddler and then big-kid bed. Kimmie currently sleeps in a twin bed on a frame from my in-laws’ house, using my husband’s old dresser and the mattress I bought for myself as a single gal, just before I met my husband. Essie’s bed and dresser came from a yard sale; I paid under $100 for the pair. When it was time to move the crib to Essie’s room, Kimmie went straight into her big-girl bed, with a bed rail.

The Highchair

We are so glad we did not buy one of those fancy, padded, reclining high chairs for Kimmie! We didn’t need to, at first; one of our husband’s colleagues gave us theirs, as a hand-me-down. We felt truly blessed.

Until it was time to use it. The line-dry-only padded cover could easily have been washed 3x/day, that’s how messy it got. And the darn thing took up a huge amount of space, no matter where we put it.

We sold it on the community bulletin board at his work when I was pregnant with Essie, and bought an inexpensive, portable, strap-on-chair booster seat for Kimmie instead. When Essie was ready to eat solids, we just bought a second booster seat for her. They survived just fine. (For more on why you really DON’T need that big fancy high chair, and what we prefer, see this post.)

2. Consider How To Trim/Eliminate The Biggest Expenses

There are four expense categories that many parents of newborns spend huge sums of money on:

  • Diapers
  • Formula
  • Baby Food
  • Child Care

We managed to trim or eliminate all four of these expenses from our budget, with some careful planning. If you’re serious about saving money while raising Baby, I encourage you to look into whether you can trim some or all of them out of YOUR budget, too.


Did you know that according to some estimates, a child who’s toilet-trained before age 3 will go through approximately 4,000 diapers – about 2,500 in the first year alone?!? That is a LOT of diapers!!! And in case you haven’t noticed, disposable diapers aren’t cheap. (And the ones that ARE cheap don’t always do their job well.)

How did we manage this? We used cloth diapers almost exclusively on the girls until they were nearly 3 when we switched to disposable pull-ups in an effort to help them quit the diaper habit already. Cloth-diapering was really quite easy; a Google search before Kimmie arrived revealed that we lived in an area with several diaper services. The service dropped off clean cloth diapers once per week to our house and took away the soiled ones. When the girls were newborns, we paid maybe $30 a week for this service; by the time they were down to 5-6 diapers per day, and only one poopy diaper per day, we paid only $10/week.

And even this amount was a lot in the world of cloth diapering. For several hundred dollars, you can get yourself set up with all the cloth diapers, covers, etc. you’ll need from infancy through toilet-training. Figure out how much you’re going to spend per disposable diaper, and you’ll see that the initial investment in cloth diapers will save you a ton in the long run.


Beyond all the heated debate on both sides of the breastfeeding issue, there is the simple fact of dollars and cents: formula is expensive.

I desperately wanted to breastfeed both my girls, but that almost didn’t happen with Kimmie. She had a lot of feeding troubles for her first 2-3 months after birth, such that we had to supplement with formula. A lot. When I started checking on formula prices at local stores, I quickly realized that formula-feeding a child was NOT cheap.

Plans can and do change after Baby comes, so even if you plan to breastfeed (as we did), it’s still a good idea to have a few bottles and some formula on hand when you get home from the hospital (as we did, compliments of freebie bottles that came with store registries plus sample giveaways for expectant parents).

But if you find yourself feeding partially or exclusively with formula, it pays to register and/or ask for all the free samples you can get. Ask your pediatrician. Check on the major manufacturers’ websites. Go to shows/events geared toward prospective parents, and scoop up free samples there.

And also remember that most women in the U.S. can now get a breast pump for free through their insurance. Check into this with your insurance company before Baby arrives. Even if you end up mostly or exclusively bottle-feeding, every bottle of breastmilk you can pump will save you the cost of formula.

Baby Food

How much processed food do you usually eat in your day-to-day life? How many times a week do you dine out for three meals a day?

We try to cook from scratch as much as we can because it’s healthier AND cheaper than relying on processed foods. And we almost never eat out, because it’s just not in our budget. So when thinking about how we were going to feed our children, it seemed silly to feed our infant processed foods from a store when we cooked from scratch for ourselves.

Moreover, given how expensive premade baby food is, this was yet another way we could save a bundle. Cooking for babies really isn’t that hard. If you already meal-plan for yourself and batch-cook on the weekends, then you can add in making some baby food at the same time. I just steamed lots of things in the microwave and then mashed them up with a fork (or ran them through the blender if needed).

Some foods are all but designed for Baby to eat right out of their skins, like bananas and avocados. And other minimally processed grownup foods, like plain yogurt, plain rice cakes, and even old-fashioned peanut butter, are also Baby-friendly. The only baby food per se that we regularly bought for our girls were containers of Gerber baby cereals.

And no, you don’t need to buy a bunch of separate, fancy equipment to do this! We froze our baby food in ice cube trays, after using cooking tools we already had. While we did have a copy of Annabel Karmel’s awesome baby cookbook on loan, you can find plenty of free recipes for baby purees online.

Child Care

If both parents work outside the home, who’s going to take care of Baby while both of you are at work? And what do you do if you’re a single parent?

Child care is ridiculously expensive in the U.S., where few parents have access to any kind of paid maternity leave for months at a time. This means that child care is probably going to be your biggest expense unless you can figure out how to avoid it.

Relatives are a good place to start if they are nearby and if they are willing. But that’s not the only option for couples where both parents must continue to work. See if you can juggle you and/or your spouse’s hours so one of you is always home. See if one or both of you can telecommute at least one day a week. See if you can set up a child-care swap with another family near you who’s in the same boat. I know families who’ve made each of these options work for them.

As I noted above, I was on a short-term contract that ended shortly before Kimmie was born. As someone teaching only part-time on a temporary basis, I was only making around minimum wage when you add in all the hours spent at home on lesson prep and grading. Thus my continuing to teach (given the job shortage near us during this period, early in the Great Recession) was never an option we considered. I briefly looked into a half-time administrative position in education, but then did the math.

There was no way these jobs (which were all term positions as well) would pay more, after taxes, than childcare would cost.

And we knew we wanted to have another child ASAP.

Once we did the math, it was clear that I would be staying home, because it was far more cost-effective than both of us still trying to work.

What Can You Get Secondhand?

Just because your baby is a precious brand-new ball of wonder doesn’t mean that everything he/she uses has to be equally brand-new. There are tons of things that work just as well secondhand as they do brand-new.

I recently wrote a post on my own blog about ways to save money on baby gear. In it, I gave a rundown of the different ways you can pay less-than-retail for baby essentials, as well as the pros and cons of each. My own personal favorite, which I only discovered when my youngest was a toddler, was children’s resale events.

There are a few things to consider when buying (or borrowing/being “gifted”) secondhand baby equipment. You want to make sure that you’re buying from a trusted source, and that the items haven’t been recalled; see to check whether a brand/model you’re considering has been recalled.

But in general, there are plenty of baby things where you can do just as well with a used item as a new one, providing it’s recent/not recalled/in decent shape. These include:

  • Clothing
  • Books
  • Toys, including play mats, play gyms, exersaucers, musical tables, walking toys, etc.
  • Shoes/outerwear, at least until Baby is walking (after that, avoid shoes that are beyond “gently used”)
  • Swaddling blankets and sleep sacks
  • Long-term bedroom furniture (dresser, twin bed, lamps, etc.)
  • Play yard
  • Stroller, especially specialized types (double stroller, jogging stroller, etc)
  • Highchair, if I haven’t already talked you out of getting one
  • Diaper bags (and think outside the box on this one – my favorite diaper bag was a used name-brand messenger bag that I got at a tag sale for $1!)
  • Baby gates and babyproofing equipment
  • Baby-wearing carriers (wraps, backpacks, etc)

There are still other things you can skip altogether, as noted above – specialized baby-food-making equipment, a changing table, etc. And just plain avoid anything that’s been recalled or is otherwise potentially dangerous. For example, crib bumpers (which have now been banned in several parts of the U.S.), blankets and stuffed animals in a newborn’s crib, baby sleep positioners, etc.

So there you have it! With these tips, I hope you can save lots of money on your upcoming little bundle of joy, so you won’t have to go into debt at the very start of your parenting journey!

What about you? Have you used any of these money-saving hacks? What’s your favorite way to keep newborn expenses under control? Let us know in the comments!

Tip: Don’t let the budget stress you out during baby’s first year. Grab this FREE Family Budget Template.