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When frugal meets baby

Does your bundle of joy have to cost a bundle? Three frugal bloggers say 'no.'

By Donna_Freedman Feb 26, 2013 11:59AM
Logo: Family (Big Cheese Photo, PictureQuest)Nothing tests your commitment to frugality like the presence of a baby. The exhaustion, disruption and general chaos surrounding the birth or adoption of a child can wreak havoc on your budget.

"It's hard to resist temptation because you want your child to have the best of everything. Plus you're exhausted -- you want to throw money at a problem and have it go away," says Julia Scott of Bargain Babe, whose daughter was born in January 2012.

In a post called "My new baby is making me spend more. Help!," Scott details how the exhaustion and disruption associated with new parenthood temporarily affected the family finances.

"Before my daughter Lucy was born, I scowled at people who paid a premium for what I considered unnecessary luxuries,” she wrote. Post-baby, she found herself paying for things like curbside check-in at the airport and store gift wrapping: "I'm tired, pressed for time and I've been bleeding money where I never would have before."

Scott is now back to her frugal ways. She and two other personal finance bloggers/new parents with whom I spoke all say the same thing: Your bundle of joy doesn't necessarily have to cost a bundle.

Not that they set themselves up as paragons of parsimony: All three admit to buying things that weren't strictly necessary. For example, J. Money of Budgets Are Sexy bought his baby a T-shirt that looked like a tiny tuxedo.

"He didn't need it, and he grew out of it in a month, but it was awesome," says the writer, whose son was born in July 2012.

Bowled over by the adorableness factor at a children's boutique, Scott spent $24 for two items. Elle, who blogs at Couple Money, bought "cute little cowboy boots" for her daughter, born in July 2011.

Picking your spots

The bloggers don't lose sleep over such purchases because they save money in other ways: hand-me-downs from relatives and friends, shopping consignment and secondhand stores, and using Craigslist and/or The Freecycle Network.

More to the point, they know the difference between wants and needs. After all, they're personal finance bloggers.

They do spend on what matters. Elle and her husband moved up their purchase of a replacement vehicle. However, it was a 2007 Honda Accord -- "the fanciest new car we've ever had" -- bought for cash and only after a lot of research.
J. Money and his wife purchased some baby items new, including a crib and car seat. "That was something that was important for safety. You just don't know," he says.

(Not sure about secondhand stuff? The Consumer Product Safety Commission's "Thrift Store Safety Checklist" offers tips on what not to buy.)

All three writers also point out that parenthood can have a positive effect on spending. Scott and her husband eat out as little as once every two weeks. J. Money and his wife never go shopping anymore, ordering everything online because work + baby = zero time to browse in stores.

Elle and her husband rarely eat out and spend a lot less on student debt, having paid all but one loan off before the baby's birth. The extra money is "rearranged" for things like the health insurance premium (nearly double since the baby's birth) and a bigger emergency fund. While they hope not to touch the EF, it may be tapped for extraordinary expenses -- Elle has taken fewer Internet consulting jobs lately.

Tips from the pros

Thinking about starting a family? Use this advice to get started:

Know your benefits.
Talk to your boss about how much maternity/paternity leave you get. If you don't think it's enough, ask about unpaid leave. Ask about telecommuting at least part of the time.

Track expenses.
Use a free money management site program such as or to figure out where your money's going. Then decide where you want it to go.

Seeing that number grow each week is "a security thing," Elle says. Try to live on just one salary -- after all, you might change your mind about being a two-income couple once the baby is born.

Attack your debt.
It won't get any easier after the baby is here, especially if you want to start a college fund.

Buy used.
Scott and her husband outfitted the nursery for $250 -- a mix of hand-me-downs, Craigslist, garage sales and repurposing items they already had.

Buy in bulk.
Warehouse stores have great prices. Elle and J. Money both use Amazon Mom. Price-comparison websites like and will help you find good deals (often with free shipping).

Be kind to yourself.
Certain frugal habits, such as coupon clipping and cooking at home, may change. Cut yourself a little slack.

Think about why you buy.
Of course you want your child to have the best of everything. But what does that mean? Hip toddler outfits and a series of stuffed animals are "really for (our) satisfaction," Scott says. "What they really need is you -- your attention and your love."

Got any frugal-meets-baby tips to share?

More on MSN Money:

Feb 26, 2013 4:55PM

Donna, here is my advice:


Check all medical and doctor's bills for accuracy.  They make mistakes very often, and somehow these mistakes are never in your favor.  Call them up and don't be afraid to negotiate with the billing dept as necessary.  A common mistake is forgetting to deduct the co-pay that I already paid at the office.  Another time I had to have the required Rho-gam shot at the hospital.  I was correctly billed out of network by the hospital, but I called up and explained to them that I had no choice but to use the hospital facilities as recommended to me by my OB.  It wasn't fair to penalize me just because the specific doctor administering the shot did not take my insurance.  They dismissed the bill entirely. 


You should know your insurance benefits.  My OB's receptionist was ready to charge me a $30 co-pay for EACH OB visit, instead of just for the initial visit (huge difference!).  I politely explained it to her and she wasn't interested in listening.  So guess what?  I had the insurance rep call their billing department directly and straighten them out.  I got such great service after that! 


I love your column, BTW! 

Feb 26, 2013 12:32PM
I always bougth a few new things for my kids ,a buy at  second hands and  sales my kids always look ggod and get  plenty of nice compliments on their clothes. they do not need to have the new toys instead  all that $ that I have saved I take them camping,vacations and provide a nice home for them....
Mar 5, 2013 11:01PM
Breast feed if possible and use cloth diapers.  I fed my each of my 2 kids for less than $100 for their entire first year-bought a quality breast pump and then sold it to a co-worker (who replaced all the tubing and essentials).  No point in paying for what God gives you for free!  Used the same diapers for both kids and now use them as dust cloths, window cleaners, etc.  They're great! Bought used furniture via classifieds and thrift stores and garage sales for clothes/toys.  Kids outgrow long before they wear out clothes (and they're already pre-shrunk-can't tell you how many new outfits (gifts) they only wore once because the kids wore it once, washed and then was too small).  Made my own babyfood, too, unless traveling.  Babyfood is easy-boil a sweet potato, mash and there you go!  Mashed banana with a fork, avacado, etc.  With no history of allergies, I was feeding my kids scrambled eggs at age 10 mos. Google homemade baby food and see. Make big batches and freeze in ice cube trays, then transfer to a ziplock. Take out one cube and defrost as needed.  The only thing I bought new for my kids was the carseat!  All this fancy-schmancy stuff you think you need, you really don't.  Babies don't care!
Feb 27, 2013 3:17PM

People always comment on how nice our kids look and how well behaved they are. We are a family of 5. Two are still in diapers and one is being homeschooled. I am a stay-at-home mom and we are living and saving on my husbands' income of less that $20,000. We have what we really want and everything that we need but stuff isn't what makes people/kids happy.

We have learned that you can't outgive the Lord...tithing is our 'secret.'

Feb 27, 2013 3:14PM
Yeah, it's expensive to raise kids but my hubby and I have 3 and are living and saving on one income...less than $20,000/year. I am a stay-at-home mom and am homeschooling our oldest. We buy 2 sets of diapers for our youngest two. We are happy and so are our don't have to have a ton of stuff to make you happy.
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Donna Freedman's Frugal Nation blog is for readers who want to live cheaply -- whether due to necessity or a lifestyle choice. It explores living sustainably and making life more meaningful at the same time.


Donna Freedman

Donna Freedman, a writer based in Anchorage, Alaska, writes the Frugal Nation blog for MSN Money. She won regional and national prizes during an 18-year newspaper career and earned a college degree in midlife without taking out student loans. Donna also writes about the frugal life for her own site, Surviving and Thriving.