By Jennifer Margulis
Author of The Business of Baby
Who says you need a fortune to start a family? According to the USDA, the average American family spends over $13,500 a year on raising just one child-and that number doesn't factor in the cost of college or even medical expenses. Does it really have to cost so much? Savvy moms know you can stick to a budget without compromising one minute of your baby's childhood.
Savings start in utero. Instead of spending $50 a month on expensive prenatal supplements, you can save money by eating healthy whole foods. Did you know one serving of kale contains enough folic acid to meet a pregnant woman's needs? Plus it's exactly the type of healthy whole food your growing baby needs to grow and thrive. Try raw kale in salads, sauté kale with garlic and orange slices, or blend a bunch into a smoothie.
Learn one simple skill before you leave the hospital. Or not-so-simple, if your experience is anything like mine. Breastfeeding takes awhile to get the hang of, but once you've mastered it, the health benefits and the financial savings are enormous. Giving your baby the optimal start in life, you'll save over $2,500 a year in the cost of formula and baby bottles, plus you'll cut down on expensive trips to the doctor (breastfed babies get fewer ear infections and colds than their bottle-fed counterparts). According to a study by researchers at Harvard, if 90 percent of babies were breastfed for just six months the savings to our healthcare system would be $13 billion a year.
Save over $1,920 with a different type of diaper. Parents are sometimes reluctant to try cloth diapers, but these modern wash-and-wear reusable wonders, which are as comfortable as plastic diapers and gentler on a baby's skin and on the environment, are actually much cheaper in the long run. Plus babies who wear cloth diapers usually potty train earlier, which means more savings and less hassle for parents in the long run. Use washcloths and warm water instead of disposable baby wipes and save $200 more a year.
Skip store-bought playthings. We think we need fancy gizmos and electronics for our babies, but the truth is your infant and toddler will be just as happy-or happier-playing with your hair, looking into your eyes, and reaching for your keys. Kids love to play with household items. Toddlers love empty egg cartons, purses, and uncooked potatoes. Preschoolers can make fairy houses with peach pits, tree leaves, sticks, and other treasures they find outside. Scarves, cardboard boxes, and couch cushions also make excellent toys. Hear that ka-ching? That's the extra $300 a year your family is saving.
Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is an award-winning journalist, a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, and the mother of four. She has worked in international development on a child survival campaign, and in international human rights advocacy. Her articles have been published in the New York Times,the Washington Post, and on the cover of Smithsonian Magazine. Find more ways to raise a healthy baby on a shoe string in her new book, The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don't Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth and Baby Before Their Bottom Line (Scribner).