How to Spend Virtually Nothing When You Have a Baby

I would like to share my story regarding expenses for infants. In our culture, we are led to believe that babies require a lot of things. There is no reason to “buy in” (pun intended) to this mentality.

Disclaimer: I have made the choices that were right for my family at that point in time. I hope my experience will help others.

1. Breastfeeding. Why pay for formula, an inferior product, when the best is available for free? I fed formula for a time to my oldest child because my breastfeeding was undermined by my doctor and the advice of others, as well as by my own ignorance and inexperience. Except for that period I rarely used bottles and no pacifiers nor pumps. With my older children I hand-expressed milk a few times so I could leave the baby, but with the youngest three I either stayed home or brought them with me. Even if you work out of the home and need to buy a pump or supplement with formula, breastfeeding is still a significant savings. People do have personal reasons for not wanting to breastfeed, and I respect that. Unfortunately, women are often erroneously told they can’t breastfeed because of the shape of their nipples, their babies’ weight, medication, or illnesses. Many women have even successfully breastfed after breast-reduction surgery. Not all women can breastfeed but a determined mother can often overcome problems with correct information and support. Women who want to breastfeed, and their husbands, can become educated about breastfeeding in advance, and plan to give birth in a place where good breastfeeding support is available. They can also find out where to get support after the baby comes home. And before someone suggests that breastfeeding mothers need to eat more, breastfeeding mothers do eat more (and use up more calories) but an extra bowl of oatmeal a day is a lot cheaper than a box of formula.

2. Diapers. Cloth diapers require an initial investment, but they can be either made or bought used. If you don’t have your own washing machine it may not pay. It’s important to use a minimal amount of detergent, and there is a bit of a learning curve when it comes to caring for them. Yet had I known how easy it would be, I would have done it with my older children. And they can be passed on to the next child. Disposable diapers are smellier, and the packages have to be shlepped home and the used ones out to the garbage again. Studies also show that cloth-diapered babies learn to use the toilet at a younger age. If you want to be really radical you can learn about raising children without diapers, or elimination communication. I know people who have successfully used this method.

With the price of utilities going up, washing and drying diapers is more expensive. Presumably the costs of disposable diapers will go up accordingly. I have facilities for hanging laundry, but I have heard of really frugal people hanging diapers in their apartments. Air is free and you won’t need a humidifier. As for baby wipes, they can be made from paper towels (recipes available on the net). I usually used a washcloth or just rinsed off the baby under the faucet. And even more so than with breastfeeding, cloth diapers and wipes don’t have to be all or nothing; by all means use disposables for travelling or babysitters or Yom Tov (holidays when laundry may not be done for two or three days)� if it’s more convenient.

I don’t recommend a diaper service (not that they have them in Israel). Besides being expensive, they use chemicals and excessive amounts of water to clean the diapers so they aren’t more environmentally friendly than disposables. You can get good enough results from your home washing machine on cloth without waiting for the delivery truck.

3. Baby equipment. As the mother of six living in an apartment, I have found that the more kids you have, the less stuff you need. I get by with a stroller, car seat, a high chair and a sling. As for toys, babies don’t need much; they play with the pots and pans and keys. Older children need a ball, blocks, books, and craft supplies (a riding toy is nice too). Some parents do without a highchair by using a booster at the table that can be used as the child grows. I also know someone who used a sling and no stroller; you get used to the weight as the baby grows and it’s much easier in stores. I don’t have a crib because it takes up too much room and makes it harder to care for the baby at night; instead I have a railing at the edge of my bed. And having the baby in bed with you is free birth control for a time, but not for the reason you think!! Nursing a baby at night pushes off the return of fertility. (You can read more about this in Breastfeeding and Natural Child Spacing. A discussion of the revised version can be found here. The author writes from a religious Catholic viewpoint but it didn’t bother me nor my haredi sister-in-law, who loved it. Here’s another link about birth control and breastfeeding. ) Babies who are tended to quickly at night return to sleep more easily so parents get more sleep too.

The best way to get clothes and baby equipment is to ask older parents, who look like they might be on their last baby, what they are planning to do with their things. Or trade back and forth with families of kids of different ages. Infant clothing is easiest to find because it is used for such a short time.

4. Baby food. Babies can go right to table food. If you wait until six months as per current recommendations, they can start with bananas mashed with a fork and move on to other slightly modified adult foods. By seven months, my youngest was eating chunks of soft food without my assistance, no grinding required.

5. Babysitting and playgroups. Some families have babysitting coops where they print out coupons and take turns. Other couples find ways to go “out” by having a romantic dinner at home after the children are asleep. I have had cooperative playgroups for my children at various times as well: The book Playful Learning has wonderful, inexpensive ideas for preschoolers either with or without a playgroup.

I wish every couple expecting this year an easy delivery of a healthy baby!!

Sephardi Lady on Orthonomics has some more ideas!

Update: Response to criticism here: Unsafe Suggestions?


  1. SephardiLady says

    Good post. I nursed, which was great because I’m not too great about getting out of the house with a bunch of stuff in tow.

    We use disposable diapers. And, while I am looking forward to someday cutting that out of our budget, I have found that some generic brands are very good, and with some smart coupon cutting and watching for sales, the cost can be managed.

    Shopping for a first baby can be OVERWHELMING. When you go in the super stores, even a frugal person can think everything is a necessity. The marketing for baby things is unbelievably convincing. Fortunately, I was given some good advice and passed on some things, borrowed others, or got them as hand-me-down’s or gifts.

    When it comes to co-ops, this is the one area where we have just had to do without. I would LOVE to be able to do more with other parents, or to just run to the grocery store by myself when it is pouring rain or snowing. But, unfortunately, there are so few mothers who are home enough to be able to work out a co-op, that it is near impossible to work something out.

    Fortunately, what I have found is tons of “FREE” activities (paid for by my tax dollars or put on by a business to attract my business)that we don’t have to pay for much, and get many great experiences.

    Most public libraries have great storytime and music programs. If you live in a metropolitian area, as we do, you could hit a program everyday if you wanted. Bookstores often put on programs for kids with stories, music, or crafts. For older kids, there are sometimes free sport’s clinics or museums and more.

    I agree, kids don’t have to cost as much as we spend on them.

  2. mother in israel says

    Thank you SL. In Israel there aren’t generic brands, and they say the cheaper brands are pretty bad. And the sales are generally not as good as in the US.
    In Israel there aren’t many places to go with toddlers or preschoolers, especially in the mornings when everyone is in preschool and at work. There is only the local park. The library is open one morning a week. I don’t really enjoy reading my daughter Hebrew books so I don’t generally go. There are now more homeschooling groups for preschoolers, but they also struggle to find a location. Everyone wants to charge an arm or a leg. Are there any young mothers at all in your building, who are home some of the time? It must be very lonely for you. With my older kids we had a successful English-speaking mother-baby group, once a week. For me this isn’t really necessary but it was a lifesaver in those days.
    As for marketing to babies, don’t get me started!!!

  3. SephardiLady says

    Fortunately, while I wish there were more people around during the day that were available, we are plenty busy between appointments, my projects, and just keeping up the house (yuck, you should see my kitchen floor right now. . . I’m procrastinating). Fortunately, I just made a friend who is also home and we will be getting together. 🙂

    Speaking of Hebrew books, my toddler wishes that I would read him more in Hebrew. I wish I was fluent, because I’m the one who gets distracted. But, we love the library. Here the children’s section has toys and games and the mothers often chat or read books on their own, while the kids play, which is nice. A while back, I met a pregnant homeschooling Christian mother of 5 at the library. It was quite interesting to talk to her and learn more about how she organizes her day and what resources she uses.

    I’ll be linking to you, but I have to start preparing Shabbat dinner (and cleaning that darn kitchen floor right now). Great post. Sad to here that Isrel doesn’t have better generic diapers. I had to be convinced to try them again, but I’m glad that I did.

  4. I believe the Gemara caps the age of nursing at a certain point, but I don’t remember which. So long as one is within halachic bounds, each mother and child have to determine what works for them. It also seems to operate on the assumption that a nursing woman will not get pregnant — but one should not bank on that, especially once the baby starts on food.

  5. mother in israel says

    Hi Ariella,
    I was sure your comment must be on my most recent post, which mentioned nursing until age 4.

    The Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 81:7, based on the gemara, permits nursing until age 4 (or 5 for a sick child), as long as the child has not weaned himself for more than 72 hours. If he is in danger a weaned child may resume nursing even over age 2. Until age 2 there is no restriction. I think that is why a woman is considered a maineket or nursing mother for purposes of fasting until her child is two, even if she is not nursing, because in theory a weaned child could revert to nursing. That is my theory anyway.

    “It seems to operate on the assumption that a woman will not get pregnant.” What do you mean by this? There is no prohibition of nursing while pregnant, but there are halachot that discourage pregnancy while nursing because of the risk to the toddler (not to the fetus). Two or more years of breastfeeding-induced infertility is still the norm in many parts of the world.
    A mother who wants to avoid artificial birth control while she is experiencing breastfeeding infertility can learn to identify sign of impending fertility. Also, there are ways to give solid foods that minimize the chances of the return of fertility without compromising the baby’s nutritional needs.

  6. Agree completely! My Festival of Frugality post here
    has a similiar theme!

  7. I love your post about how a baby doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. I have several friends who have spent tons of money on their babies, buying (new) all of the stuff that magazines tell us we need. And whenever they go anywhere, they fill the entire car with stuff for the baby. We are planning to have a baby within the next few years, and we’re determined to use everything we know about frugality (buy used, less is more) and about babies (breastfeed, use cloth diapers, etc.) to make sure that having a baby doesn’t break the bank.

  8. Thanks for the quote from the shulchan aruch about age of nursing and the exact place it falls. I was speaking to a neighbor who said her husband read in a sefer that if you nurse a boy past two he’ll grow up to be a nar ( a stupid person). I do not know where the writer gets his proof but now I have the exact location of correct info.
    What about babysitter brand? some of my friends love it others hate it. I live in NY and am very happy with Target brand (Up & Up). Cheaper than luvs and looks like pampers.
    Who says you need to have special food for a baby? As a nursing mother I didn’t start giving food to my baby until 9mnts and everyday 10mths. (According to LLLI it’s ok to start b/w 6mths and 1yr). At 15mths she likes veggies, meat,fruit,and cheese and still nurses every 3- 4hrs. I just give her some of what my husband and I eat in smaller pieces so it’s easier for her to chew.
    I also recommend if you do buy clothing new get good brands that run true to size for ex: carters, carter’s baby of mine, and carter’s just one year and the children’s place. They hold up well and you can put them away for Imza”H future children.
    One last thing is buy bedding and anything else in colors suitable for a boy or a girl. This guarentees maximum usability.

    • Thanks Devori for the tips! I wonder what sefer that was, but it was probably a misquote. Enjoy your baby!
      LLL says not to worry if the baby refuses solids at first. But the Breastfeeding Answer Book mentions not giving solids as a possible reason for low weight gain in a baby over 9 months old. There’s a difference between a baby who refuses solids and a parent who delays offering.

  9. Breastfeeding does not necessarily lead to a delay in returning fertility. I breastfed my son exclusively, and got my first period after his birth before he was 3 months old, when I was still feeding him every two to three hours. Of course I know many women who didn’t get theirs for up to a year after giving birth, but not me!

    We got a lot of things lent to us when our son was born. Some of your suggestions wouldn’t have worked for us though. For example, my son was such a snuffly snorty sleeper, and I was so alert to him as a new mother, that after a couple of weeks I had to move him out of our room and put him in his own room because I woke up at every single sniffle or snort he made, and I was not sleeping at all. With him in another room, we used a monitor to hear him when he cried, but it wasn’t so sensitive as to pick up the snuffles and snorts, so at least I got some sleep, which as you know, for an exhausted new mother who is *anyway* up every 2 hours to feed, was invaluable.

  10. we live in a tiny apartment in israel and have no car, and i’ve reached many of the same conclusions as you list, with #1 on the way. gemach bassinet, bazaar strauss ten-shekel clothing, infant carseat, stroller with carseat attachment. co-sleeping will NOT happen (it’s dangerous and neither of us wants it. husband a very light sleeper), and i have a food mill and no plans to buy too many jars. i did think long and hard about cloth diapering. i’m planning on going back to work full-time, and my husband does the laundry on his own schedule. cloth diapers are much too high-maintenance and price wars have brought down the cost of disposables significantly, so the savings take a long time to see (plus, it could be longer than the life of the cloth diaper- the technology is too new for there to be documentation of a full lifecycle of use). regarding formula, we’ll see what ends up happening. but the more effort required to save on baby costs, the more it costs in time and salary, and, frankly, i’d rather keep my job.

    • Hi TG,
      Welcome and glad you are enjoying your baby. It sounds like you are thinking through your decisions carefully to find what works for your family.

      • ha. i just came across this post again and did a double take at this comment, then realized it was mine! well, the baby made his appearance twelve days after i posted it. it’s been 7.5 months, and, well, there’s been a LOT of co-sleeping. at first, i would fall asleep nursing in bed. then it got too cold to sit in his room to nurse. then i got lazy and realized i didn’t mind it at all, so now i just take him into bed when he wakes up in the middle of the night. except if he wants to play at 3am- then he goes back to his crib. we moved in the interim, and he sleeps in the other room.

        and re solids, yup, bought only one jar, which i ate most of. we just give him from our plates and chew it first if it might be a choking hazard. israel doesn’t seem to have a large selection of savory baby food, and he’s not so into sweet.

        i’ve been back at work since october, with him in maon three floors above my office. we’re both much happier this way- i get some quiet time to drink coffee with two hands, and he gets all the action, stimulation, and toys he wants. we both get bored at home (plus i’m a professional and make several times what i pay for gan). we commute by bus and baby carrier.

        re formula, i made sure to have it in the house from the get-go, and to make sure he knew how to take a bottle. we used it in a pinch or for minor gan supplementation until i stopped pumping at six months (couldn’t stand it), and now he gets a lot more of it. i do nurse him all day, including during work hours, but not for so long. so we go through a box every couple of weeks or so. it should be noted that a 120cc formula feed is actually LESS expensive than one breast milk storage bag.

        in summary, he’s proved not to be terribly expensive. we only buy things for him after a demonstrated need, just like we do for ourselves. next project is a baby gate…

        • Hi TG,
          Sounds like you are doing well. Yes, those bags are convenient for freezing large quantities, but it’s possible to store human milkin baby bottles or glass jelly jars or any other container suitable for food. Thanks so much for posting an update!