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  • Writer's pictureRebecca Herbst

How much does a baby cost?

Updated: May 9

An amazing couple I know just found out they are expecting and due around the same time my baby Isaac was born last year. They're both Learn to Invest course graduates and we've spoken about finances intimately before. So when they found out she was pregnant, they asked me point blank, “How much does a baby cost?!”. This, of course, is a question I have asked myself. In general, I think it’s quite hard to answer. Your expectations for what a baby needs might be very different from mine. You also might need much more or maybe less assistance, whether that’s in the form of childcare, medical needs, food, baby supplies, you name it. 


Before I go any further with this, I want to say that all forms of parenting are beautiful and amazing as long as your child is loved and fully supported. And as my husband’s cousin says, “There are no parenting styles, it’s just survival”. Which is pretty hilarious, and also sometimes very true. Joe and I have put substantial thought into what is important to us in raising Isaac, but of course we are human and make last minute purchases on Amazon too.


Baby Isaac is just shy of 6 months old now. And I cannot believe how time flies. I don't have a clear idea of how much it costs to raise a toddler or a teenager. Hopefully Isaac doesn’t want equestrian lessons! But I do know what I have spent on Isaac in his first 6 months of life, and I’ll share that real data with you here. Hopefully it’ll be of some help!


First, let me lead with our baby spending philosophies: 


  • In our personal lives we try to consciously consume, spending generously on things we love, and cutting ruthlessly on things we don’t care about. This has definitely bled into baby stuff. For example, we did not decorate Isaac’s nursery to look like a Pinterest post. It simply wasn’t important to us. We just wanted a functionally nice space for him.

  • If possible, we try to get something used. Facebook Marketplace is flooded with name brands and the turnover is huge because the timeframe for using baby items is so short. Sometimes the deals aren’t great though, or we want a very specific item, in which case we have definitely bought new. 

  • We get baby gear guidance from people we know and trust, as opposed to buying things because they were advertised to us. 


A raw picture of our nursery room. Keeping it super simple and functional.


Before I get to numbers, I should also mention that we did not have a baby registry for Isaac. In general, Joe and I felt that obtaining what we needed was very much so within our financial wheelhouse, and so it felt largely unnecessary to ask for gifts. I’m also Jewish and there is a strong taboo against celebrating the birth of a baby before it is born. I didn’t grow up with baby showers or registries. And in general, American style baby showers are not really my cup of teas anyways. So it didn't feel right for me all around.


Conversely, I did ask a friend to help set up a meal train for us, because I knew that being fed was something we really needed help with in those first few weeks. This is my first hint to spending on babies...focus on what you and your family specifically need.


With that in mind, here’s exactly what we have spent on Isaac so far. From pregnancy through his first 6 months of life: $3,821


A snapshot of my actual baby spend. I use Monarch Money to track my expenses.

Check out this post for how we track our data as a family. 


Let’s break this down further! I like to think of this in two ways. First, on a timeline. And second, the big items. 


Here is how much we spent preparing for Isaac to arrive. $1,144


In the months leading up to Isaac being born we started to prepare like everyone else. Theoretically you have more time on your hands now to research and acquire items, but you also don’t know exactly what you need. You can buy the it pacifier and there is a real chance your baby won’t take it. So we’d tried to strike a blend of absolute necessities and nice-to-haves.


This is all the stuff you might register for and then some. About half of this was spent on items under $30 – from baby Tylenol, to a waterproof mattress cover, a baby nail filer, soap, and then some. This tiny stuff definitely adds up. Else, here are some of the larger items we purchased.


  • Used cloth diapers, both newborn size and the larger size - Total of $293 (see more thoughts on cloth diapers at the end of the post)  

  • A used dresser that doubled as a changing table - $100

  • A used crib with mattress - $90

  • A used stroller with car seat attachment - $100. I call this our starter stroller as we initially purchased one that was too big for trips to tighter spaces. We ended up buying a second one brand new for $170 (see more thoughts on strollers at the end of the post).

  • A used Pack n’ Play with a changer and small bassinet - $60

  • A used wipeable changing pad - $40

  • A used glider - $40


You’ll no doubt notice a trend here – the word “used”. Yup! Since we had months to acquire these items, we spent time finding most of what we needed on Facebook Marketplace.


Here were some of the things that our friends let us borrow, to later return:


  • A bassinet. Good thing we borrowed as Isaac only slept in this for 2 weeks until I gave up on it and put him in bed with me. He then went straight to his crib. 

  • A breast pump. I only ended up using this for 3 months too when our breastfeeding journey ended.

  • A breastfeeding support pillow


And then we got a whole bunch of stuff for free or as generous gifts:


  • From the Buy Nothing community on Facebook, we got a huge haul of clothing in amazing shape. We also got his baby bath.

  • A friend of mine who ended up having a c-section dropped off all her postpartum stuff she didn’t end up using 

  • A baby carrier and baby boppy from my sister-in-law

  • Another friend gave us an old bassinet stroller, which was a great addition to our other stroller at the newborn age. 

  • And then we received other little gifts from friends and family like baby books, two beautiful homemade blankets, a snowsuit, a sun hat, little towels, pacifiers, a mobile, and more. Many of these things were hand-me-downs!


In Isaac’s first month of life: $409


I define this as a time of emergency purchases. When I look back at my transaction history, every single purchase is from Amazon. Things I really needed ASAP. The vast majority of this money was actually spent on me trying to get comfortable with breastfeeding. From cooling pads, to different types of nursing bras, nipple butter and more. The only baby things we got this month was a snotsucker and some vitamin D drops. 


The next 5 months: $2,273


This includes some big ticket items:


  • Formula - $611. Breastfeeding ultimately did not work out for us. And incredibly, we did not really research the cost of formula beforehand. It came as a real shock (see more thoughts on formula at end of post).

  • The additional stroller we got from Walmart, as mentioned above - $170

  • Additional cloth diaper needs, as mentioned above - $100


This number is a little inflated because we are also buying some items we expect Isaac to grow into soon including: 


  • A used, but very high-end hiking carrier for $175

  • A used, but very high-end bike trailer for $115 

  • A used baby bouncer that converts into a kids table - $70

  • A convertible car seat as he is already beginning to outgrow his infant one - $125. We purchased this off Facebook Marketplace as well, but decided to go for a brand new one to make sure it had the longevity we wanted. Plus a travel car seat, this one used for just $15 bucks in preparation for some bigger trips.

  • A new high chair from Ikea with a used seat cushion - $35


In these 5 months, we have a massive amount of those $15-30 dollar purchases again. SleepSacks off of Poshmark, baby hats and gloves, more clothes from our local kids thrift shop, a travel size bouncer that we could take with us on an airplane, new pacifiers, and all the other little things.


Other big ticket items not included above:


  • We spent a total of $390 on birthing education and classes (For those wanting a doula expect to pay $1,200 - $2,500. We opted not to have one.)

  • I spent about $1000 on maternity clothing. I really struggled to find anything remotely comfortable and so I didn't even really love these purchases. But it was obviously a necessary part of my pregnancy journey.


But what about childcare?!


In reaching Financial Independence, Joe and I have chosen to use our time to be stay-at-home-parents to Isaac. We realize what a blessing this is, that we both can do this heavy lifting together. I am in genuine awe of all the parents out there, especially single parents who are raising kids, going to work, and doing it all. For the next few months, we don’t plan on sending Isaac to daycare, but of course that is a cost we are looking into as we get ready for fall. So far it seems much less expensive to send him to daycare in Utah, as compared to Boston where we used to live. 


With all that said, you may have noticed a little yellow bar earlier marking childcare. So far, we’ve only paid for a babysitter once, although we just decided to have someone watch Isaac one day a week for four hours so we can have some dedicated time as a couple. We’ll be paying $15/hr for that. 


But what about the medical stuff?!


Yes! You should be asking this question. I cannot tell you what your medical costs will be. That is impossible. But here are some guidelines. 


I should mention that we had a relatively normal pregnancy and birth. Isaac was a healthy baby for the most part, and we did not experience major complications. As such this is always a possibility, but we did not have any extreme payments we couldn’t make when it came to hospital bills.


Every year, even before I became pregnant, I hit my maximum out-of-pocket cost because I have an autoimmune disease that requires me to take super expensive medication. So I was already in the habit of budgeting for that worst case scenario. And given all the visits to the doctor and the sheer cost of labor, I knew I would hit it again when I gave birth. 


Now that Isaac is out of my belly and is his own little person, he has his own health insurance plan with his own monthly premiums, an annual deductible, and an annual max-out of-pocket. This is the case for us as we are on a Utah state health plan. For you, your little one might be a dependent on your family plan. Either way you will need to consider these three costs.


At minimum you will pay your monthly premiums. Then your best case scenario is you have zero medical costs beyond that (highly unlikely with a child). And your worst case scenario is you far exceed your deductible and actually hit your max-out-of-pocket. For me, I am so in the habit of budgeting for the worst case scenario because I have experience with severe illness. So I intend to be conservative on this front. You may feel differently! 



In the end, I must say we’ve made mistakes and have had to iterate. The stroller saga - we now have three strollers and might get one more - made me want to crawl into a hole. The pack n’ play we bought is not really soft enough for Isaac to sleep in, so we needed to buy an extra mattress. We ended up with way too many bottles until we figured out what was right for Isaac. And while I try to be prepared and well researched as possible, I’m also giving myself grace in this process. I haven’t done this before, it's a lot of tiny purchases that ate at my brain, and Isaac grows so fast it’s hard to stay on top of things. But overall I’m happy with the approach we’ve taken and I look forward to seeing what the next six months look like!


If you liked this post, check out my list of recommendations to help you save money on baby stuff. No hacks. No marketing. It’s just my simple way of approaching baby stuff.


Lastly, here are some additional thoughts on some of the bigger items mentioned above…


Cloth diapers thoughts: Since our initial purchase of used diapers, we have spent another $100 on additional cloth diapers supplies including more inserts and overnights. That brings the cloth diaper total to almost $400. This can feel like a lot, but in the long run, especially if you have multiple kids, cloth diapers will help you lower diaper expenses. But it is most certainly a commitment. They are harder to put on, and a lot more work to wash. I honestly don’t think I would have stuck with it without Joe pushing us hard to stay on course. If you need a cost estimate for disposable diapers, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Your baby needs between 6 and 12 diapers each day, possibly more in the early weeks… families may spend close to $936 on disposable diapers in the first year (about $18 per week).” And of course that’s only the first year.  P.S. Here's a hot tip for buying disposables – Facebook Marketplace is flooded with Pampers and Huggies for sale since people always end up with extras when their little ones have growth spurts!


Strollers thoughts: I feel like I lived through a stroller saga. The “baby tech” is simply overwhelming with the amount of options one can have. There is an astounding amount of options. Identifying strollers that work with car seats, to finding one with wheels that could handle our ridiculous bumpy sidewalks, to picking a stroller that fits in both our car and smaller public spaces. I don’t even want to start thinking about a stroller that also adjusts to having more than one kid. It was all too much to try to get this one right. Instead I just decided to go the route of buying a bunch of cheap strollers for different needs. I can’t say I'm proud of this approach as I don’t like owning lots of stuff, but it I don't think there is one stroller to rule them all, no matter how much I'm willing to spend. Since I figured I’d just end up being disappointed, I decided to go cheap. 


Formula thoughts: Breastfeeding didn’t end up working out for me and Isaac. And so we do need to account for the cost formula now. This is the one thing I think Joe and I really didn’t prepare for. When I first picked up a can of formula, like a dummy, I assumed it would last maybe a month. Um… i couldn’t be more wrong. Maybe it lasted us a week at first, and now it’s about 4-5 days per can! So what does that cost look like? Well it depends on brand. We have decided to buy formula on the more expensive side as Joe and I consciously consume dairy to the best of our ability for ethical reasons. And of course, most formulas have real dairy in it. We landed on Baby’s Only, which is one of the few options on Cornucopia’s Dairy Scorecard, which is also what we use to help guide us in our everyday dairy purchases. A can of Baby’s Only costs $25.37 with UT grocery tax and lasts Isaac 4.5 days, meaning we’ll spend $2,058 on formula this year. It’s definitely a huge expense.  


 

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