When I became a parent a decade earlier than anticipated, one of my biggest concerns was money. How on earth would I afford to have a baby, I wondered, when I was still an indebted university student? All my life I’d been led to believe that babies were exorbitantly expensive and that it was hard for anyone without money to do a decent job of raising kids.
How wrong I was. I soon realized that the projected costs of a baby’s first year that I’d encountered on the Internet were off by a long shot. Ranging from $3,000 to $12,000 in the first year alone, those estimates assume that parents want to keep up with the latest trends, buy all new gear for their little one, use disposable diapers, and formula-feed. While some of those things may be necessary, the cost does not need to skyrocket to those astronomical levels.
In my baby’s first year of life, I spent $600. Half was spent on a large quantity of high quality cloth diapering materials. The other half was spent on a car seat. Everything else was either a gift or a hand-me-down. Sound impossible? You’d be surprised at how eager people are to get rid of baby gear once their kids have outgrown it. I found myself turning down offers of multiple cribs, strollers, high chairs, and garbage bags full of clothes in great condition. I also breastfed exclusively and did not pay for daycare -- although it’s important to note that the above estimates do not include the cost of daycare, either.
There were a few sacrifices to be made by raising a baby so frugally, space being one thing. The three of us shared a bedroom for the first year, which was tight, but then we moved into a two-bedroom house before our second son was born. North American society, however, has a warped perspective of space. Many people think they need massive square footage in order to raise a family, but there’s really no need to upsize. Living in a small space simply requires good organization.
I’ve also refused to join the minivan craze. I’ll continue to drive my old Toyota Matrix until it dies. It fits the two kids’ car seats very well, and having limited space encourages us to pack lightly whenever we go anywhere.
The best thing I learned was that frugality can lead to a greener, more sustainable lifestyle. When shopping isn’t an option, one has to reduce, reuse, and recycle. Eventually that lifestyle becomes addictive because it feels good; it saves money for bigger, better investments; and it teaches kids how to live with less.