How We Didn’t Save Money with Our Babies

by Lindy on August 3, 2011

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(Our tutorials page is getting really close to being done! But I’m having too much fun writing all these articles that begin with the word, how, so I’m keeping it up for now.)

Ah, babies. So cute. They eat money.

Though we did a pretty good job saving money on our wedding, by the time our first bundle of baby flesh came around, we’d lost our savings mojo. It didn’t help that baby boy came at a time when we were the least prepared, and therefore felt the need to solve our problems by buying things. He also came when we were going through our spendy phase. But live and learn, so they say, only this time you’ll be learning from our mistakes. Free of charge, as always.

So I’ll just dive right in with the juiciest one.

1. We didn’t breastfeed.

Though we tried (okay, I tried, husband A-Rob’s hands were a little tied on this one).

Our baby boy EeBee was a crankster. The first few weeks he was an angel – quiet, calm, slept well, breastfed well. At my two week follow-up visit with the pediatrician they proclaimed he had taken to breastfeeding like a “duck to water.”

Then he woke up from his newborn sleepiness.

It was literally a few hours after my parents left to fly far away home, when EeBee started crying.

And crying.

And crying.

Nothing was consoling him. We weren’t being overdramatic new parents, even though the nurses all thought we were. The crying was all. the. time. If he wasn’t sleeping or eating, he was crying. All day, all night.

And then a few days after the non-stop cryfest began, he stopped sleeping. The only way he would sleep was bent up into a frog pose on our shoulders. We’d take shifts in the night sleeping with him on the recliner.

The lactation consultant surmised that he had a milk protein allergy. That meant any milk or dairy I consumed was getting to him through the breast milk and upsetting his wee tummy. She informed me that babies with this condition would often react to trace amounts of milk proteins, and that it would take several days for them to get out of my system.

Since I was already a vegetarian, that meant I had to transition to full on vegan. It also meant I had to become a label reader, since dairy is used in a lot of products and hidden under names like whey, casein, delactosed, and lactalbumin. Taking the time to read labels while my baby with the aching belly cried in the grocery aisle was no easy task. And no more restaurants for me since I had no idea what was in anything they prepared.

The only things I could figure to eat in a pinch were Clif Bars and vegetarian sushi rolls. Bottom line, radically changing my diet with a newborn was not going so well. And to top it off, I was brimming with hormones. Mamma needed her cheese in a bad way.

Then while I was trying to figure out the diet thing, baby boy stopped breastfeeding too. He’d root and root and root and cry and root some more, until we’d both be crying after 45 minutes of this 3 am dance (looking back, I’m pretty sure I had what they call forceful let-down, though I didn’t know at the time).

I agonized over the thought of quitting breastfeeding. I cried every day about it. I spent every spare moment researching online, I talked to nurses, I talked to friends, I talked to lactation consultants, I tried different holds, I tried different techniques, but nothing was helping. Baby boy kept crying.

I’m not sure how things are now, but at the time, the breastfeeding propaganda was heavy-handed and woven into everything. It kind of had the effect of making one feeling like an evil devil mother if she had to formula feed.

After six weeks of carrying on like this, I’d had enough. I bought a can of Similac, called the doctor to get instructions (feeling I was being sent death rays through the phone for being an evil formula mother, though there was a chance that was all in my postpartum head), and filled up baby boy with 4 ounces of soy formula.

The next day, he was a completely different baby. He had actual moments of being awake and not crying. He slept. He was happy.

We never looked back.

We also were on the hook for $200/month in formula expenses at a time when we could least afford it. Since I’d started him on the Similac liquid concentrate, and since it had cured him, I was too scared to experiment with the less expensive brands. I also had no clue about coupons or deals, so I just bought it full price from the CVS around the corner.

LESSON TO BE LEARNED: You are NOT evil if breastfeeding doesn’t work out. And if you use formula, you don’t have to buy Similac just because it’s the name brand that everyone recognizes. And if you do buy a name brand, there are several options for getting it for less, like Amazon Mom, or, or CVS rewardsLook for Similac coupons and rebates using Coupon Sherpa to further reduce brand-name formula costs

And if you do have a cranky baby, or any baby at all really, then read The Happiest Baby on the Block. It was a life changer with my second little guy.

2. We bought the Cadillac of breast pumps.

Yeeeaah. I was nervous about going back to work and breastfeeding (this was back when EeBee was still in his angelic newborn phase and things were peachy). My parents were kind enough to spring for the $400 Medela breast pump to ease my fears.

Needless to say, it became a very expensive weaning machine. Luckily we were able to sell it on Craigslist for $100 to a couple who badly needed it.

LESSON TO BE LEARNED: If you’re a new mom, rent a breast pump from the hospital for the first few months. If breastfeeding doesn’t work, then there’s nothing lost. If it does work, you’ll have a better idea of the kind of pump you’ll need as time progresses.

3. We insisted on brand names.

We used Pampers diapers and wipes, we bought Gerber baby food, we bought all the baby gear with the best brand recognition.

It wasn’t until my second baby was 6 months old, and I was standing in the grocery aisle choosing Gerber baby food that I realized, the generic brand was half the cost and was the exact same thing. Pureed carrots are pureed carrots whether they have a fancy label or not. It was an epiphany moment for me. I switched to Target brand diapers and saved $20 a month. I bought whatever baby food was on sale.

LESSON TO BE LEARNED: You are not an evil devil mother if you use generic baby products.

4. We picked the most expensive daycare.

Well, maybe I don’t feel so badly about this one. Paying extra for the peace of mind that our little guy was being well taken care of in the only bright and happy facility we felt good about was worth the extra expense, even though we were paying as much in daycare as we were in rent. Ouch.

LESSON TO BE LEARNED: Just go with your gut on this one.

Do you have any baby stories to share? Have you been able to save with your little ones – or are you like us, spending whatever it takes to make it work?

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  • Oh, Lindy I feel you on the breast feeding. After I had the twins, they were so tiny they had to be fed with syringes, so I knew from the get go breast feeding would be difficult. Long story short it didn’t work out. So when I had my son a few years later I was so excited to try it again. After weeks, I still was only producing one or two ounces and it just wasn’t enough. I remember crying (me), pumping and trying to feed was my cycle. I did have two year old twins running around too. I was a mess. I just gave up, it was too much for me and the stress of everything I know didn’t help. I did feel guilty for a little bit, but I was a happier person and mommy once I made the switch. It definitely is not cost effective, but not being an emotional wreck is good too.

    • Lindy

      Not being an emotional wreck is key. It’s such a delicate time too, right after baby is born. It’s amazing when women can make it work, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Thanks for sharing your story Niki.

  • Oh, diapers.

    The diapers. The name brand, softest diapers.

    Halfway through with Jr – our second – and knowing we were going to have a third if WE had anything to do with it, we did a cost analysis and switched to cloth diapers, for no other reason than it is saving us money.

    And our grocery budget (from which the diapers used to be bought)is thanking us in big ways.

    The worst part? I had bought cloth diapers to use with my first, and didn’t. We resold them for the price we bought them at, which was great, but think of all those $28 boxes of diapers we bought in the meantime.

    Or don’t, because it gives me a headache.

    • Lindy

      Oh yes, the Pampers are so soft and smell so good. But I don’t think my baby could tell what was on his bum either way.

      Thanks for bringing up the point about cloth diapers. That is such a money saver. I was never brave enough, but I’ve had several friends who have done it. I hear all the cool cloth diaper products make it a lot easier.

  • I spent, spent, spent when I had my babies. Formula milk because huge babies need a lot of milk (first one weighed 11 8.5!!). Pampers just because I didn’t know any better!!Expensive daycare because it was the nearest to my house!

    You live and learn…if I had to do it all again….

    • Lindy

      11 pounds! It’s easy to spend as a new parent because you want to do what’s best for your little ones. But at least they don’t stay babies for long!

  • Looks like you had quite the time with this – I dont have a baby, but always find reading about how they work interesting.

    • Lindy

      Just wait until your day comes. ;)

  • Margie

    I don’t have any children of my own yet, but your breastfeeding story resonated with me because a close friend of mine went through difficulties with it a couple of years ago.

    In her case I think she wasn’t producing enough, but it took all the medical professionals a while to figure that out. Poor little bub was hungry, and they kept making my friend persist with breastfeeding “because it’s the best”. In the end of course she had to switch to formula, and finally she had a sleeping daughter who was also gaining weight properly!

    She felt so guilty and sad about not being able to breastfeed. It was hard for her when it happened again with her second daughter, but at least she knew what to expect and didn’t persist with the breastfeeding for nearly as long.

    In this day and age you’d think they’d be more on top of these sorts of issues… rather than making new mums feel like the devil. >:-(

    Thank goodness when my time comes I’ll at least have heard through the experience of others that formula IS ok if it’s needed.

    • Lindy

      When I had my second, I thought since I’d been through breastfeeding before and knew what to expect, that it would work out. But different issues led us back to the bottle again. In hindsight it’s always easier to say I could have done this or that to make it work, but when you’re in the thick of it (and filled with hormones too), it’s so much harder.

      I understand why people advocate for breastfeeding by saying it reduces SIDS, prevents childhood obesity, builds up baby’s immunity, makes them into super-geniuses, etc. But there needs to be another voice out there saying that if breastfeeding doesn’t work out, that doesn’t mean you’re causing your child to be obese, dumb, and sick, because it’s just not true, but quite easy for new moms to feel that way.

  • I pumped exclusively for my son and it cost as much as formula feeding. I always laugh when people say breastfeeding is free. After the pump, the special bags to freeze the milk in, the lotions, the creams, the pills, the trips to the dr for mastitis, and so on. It certainly wasn’t cheaper for us!

    • Amy K

      And, in my case, the special food! Like Lindy I’ve had to cut out dairy for my wee one. Because I have no energy to cook I’m taking the pricy frozen vegan burritos to work, eating frozen vegan pizzas for dinner, and wanting ice cream this summer I’ve been getting Tofutti Cuties and fancy sorbet.

      Thankfully my breast pump was a hand-me-down from a friend, so I think cost-wise I’m still ahead vs. formula, but just barely.

  • Nice lessons learned. Generics have value and their place, nothing devilish about them. Both our boys were bottle-fed due to a lack of breast milk.

  • Great post! I’m due with our first this Monday (!!!) and we’re trying to figure out the most frugal way to go about these first few months. I really really really want to breastfeed and I hope it works out. I worry that it won’t because I’ve heard horror stories about how bad it can hurt or how some babies just don’t like it (but I did read “The Happiest Baby on the Block! I’ve got the 5 S’s memorized pat!.

    I will admit that I’ve been stocking up on 7th Generation diapers – which aren’t the cheapest – because I like that they are more enviornmentally friendly (cloth diapering isn’t an option for us) but that may have to give or we may have to strike a balance.

    • Lindy


      I’ve known several people who’ve had absolutely no problems breastfeeding. It does hurt, but that usually fades after the first month. Just be sure to stock up on some lanolin while you’re at it.

    • Daina

      Exciting! Good luck with your little one — and breastfeeding. I was also afraid of the pain of breastfeeding, and I experienced a lot of it. (One of the nurses in the hospital said she’d never seen a mom as sensitive. Ow.) BUT the best two pieces of advice on breastfeeding, I got, I’ll share with you: there is pain, but it is ultimately brief. If breastfeeding goes fine otherwise, the pain ceases, and then you reach a much longer period where it is easy and soothing for you AND baby. This encouraged me in the difficult early days. I hurt for about three weeks and can barely remember it now, but I nursed for WAY longer. (For ME, the hard part was figuring out how to wean! Hah.)

      The second piece of advice: if you DO have significant pain, you can get vented shields that keep your clothes from touching your sensitive breasts. The nurse at the hospital gave me these when I needed them. They are GREAT.

      Had a lactation consultant tell me that if you really can’t bear the pain anymore, you can allow your breasts to heal by using a pump (which is gentler), then go back to nursing. I considered this at one point when I was near my pain limit, but ultimately didn’t have to do it. It might be helpful for someone, though!

    • Amy K

      Don’t worry about the horror stories – it seems to work out more often than not. I had great lactation consultants at the hospital, on top of help from the nurses. I had to go back a few times because of latch issues and it was comforting to weigh the baby, feed her, and weigh her again to see exactly how much she had gained/eaten. She’s 6.5 months old now and still nursing. I love having “magic boobies” that make everything better.

      We also had a lot of crying and the pediatrician’s office was a font of tips for soothing a crying baby – every nurse gave different advice, which meant we had a menu to pick from instead of feeling we had exhausted our options. Admittedly the advice frequently conflicted because no two babies are the same. Definitely call in all of your resources for help!

    • Marie

      Every woman is different, but I find the pain of breastfeeding is over in the first couple of days – I once used a pump when I had a 9 day old baby and I found the pump much more painful. I find breastfeeding easy and convenient I’m so glad I could do it with all the children. I’ve had a hospital nurse trying to sneak formula into and to try to keep him in the nursery all night after claiming he needed a bath and (earlier that same day) a hospital nurse who was also a lactation consult and thrilled by how well he was eating and how early my milk came in.

      But I have 3 female relative who were not able to breastfeed at all or had to stop after a few months because of needing to take medicine dangerous to the baby (there is NOT always a safe alternative) or the baby having a different set of allergies than the mom leaving the mom unable to eat a balanced diet. I also have an immense respect for any woman who pumped regularly – that hurt and there’s all those things to wash and clean and keep track of and lug around.

      I’m happy to give testimonials about how easy and convenient breastfeeding can be, but I assume any woman who didn’t, or stopped before 18 months (that being my average) did so for a perfectly good reason that is none of my business.

  • Ann

    Great post. I don’t have any children, but I’ve had 2 friends who wound up bottle-feeding and feeling SO GUILTY ABOUT IT. Breastfeeding is obviously frugal and healthy and natural and all that, but it’s like breastfeeding propaganda has gone into overdrive to the point that people who NEED to bottle-feed feel like that makes them a bad parent. As you point out, on top of all of the hormones and everything else, post-birth is clearly not the time to be struggling with something this emotionally fraught.

  • when our DD was a babe, I breastfed for about 10 months, but I had trouble the whole way, so I empathize with and wouldn’t judge anyone who says it’s not for them…even if they won’t even try it. I do second what Lindy says: lanolin does help.

  • I’m loving your How-To series, especially the “Lessons learned”! Taking notes for the day I become a mother :)

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  • Great post… I was and am in the same boat regarding just about everything you said. I couldn’t breastfeed my milk wouldn’t come in and like you I felt like an evil mother but once decision was made to switch to formula there was no more tears from my son only from myself when people would give me that shocked look when I told them… It’s now 6 months on and I don’t care what others think anymore… I think it was all those hormones flowing around. Jack’s happy and thriving. As with everything else. We too didn’t save and maxed out our credit card for me to stay home for 6 months. So am now on the journey to repay debt and find other ways to do it. Thanks again for sharing your story.

  • It doesn’t help that at the hospital the breastfeeding nazis make you feel like a bad mom if you don’t do it. Even my mom who’s 80 was fed on cow’s milk (not the best option), but even back then not all mom’s could do it.

    One of the best things a mom did for me was buy me a pack of walmart diapers when I was a new mom and tell me they are just as good as huggies and 1/2 the price. I try to do it as well with other new moms. I don’t think I would have had the guts to buy them otherwise.

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  • Katherine

    I so agree with your description of “evil death rays” when talking about formula feeding vs. breastfeeding. I held out for 4 months trying to breastfeed my first, because I felt like I should, and I was absolutely miserable. I definitely had some postpartum depression with him, and breastfeeding problems just prolonged it. Quitting was like a weight being lifted from my shoulders. With my second, I lasted 2 weeks breastfeeding, and I could feel those same feelings creeping back in. I decided to formula feed rather than resent my child.

    I plan to try breastfeeding with any future children I may have, but I’m completely okay with not doing it, and I love to hear stories of others who have switched. It is absolutely okay to formula feed. And also, yay generics!

  • ChrisD

    “the special bags to freeze the milk in”
    The midwife suggested my friend use ordinary icecube bags for this and she got on very well with them.

    Probably even in cave man times not everyone could breastfeed, back then you might have gotten a friend to help out. The mother of a work friend use to help breastfeed her neighbour’s baby.

  • Daria

    I had four children close together in 6 years. I breastfed 3 and stopped two weeks into the 4th because I could not relax enough to let the milk down.The last two were 15 months apart. They say that breastfed babies are healthier. Well, all four of my children have asthma (my husband and I do not), and the first child, who I breastfed the longest (15months) was in the doctors office every week his first year with runny noses, severe coughs, and he was always cranky. I was stay at home mom so he wasn’t getting sick because he was in daycare. I had the guilt wondering why he was always sick. Finally at 5 he was diagnosed by the school nurse with asthma. It was a relief to use formula with the fourth one and have some help with feedings from my husband and mother. None of my children were overweight growing up and only one was an athlete. They have put on a few pounds as adults but I attribute that to desk jobs and grabbing fast food.

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  • I linked to this article on my site. I owe you an apology!

  • Bobbi

    We loved cloth diapers with our twins. And tried breast feeding… we lasted three months before breast infections became too much to handle. We made most of their baby food in the blender. And virtually all of their clothes and toys are second hand. We estimated once what we spent on their first year and it made us laugh really loud when compaired to the articles in the magazines about what kids will cost.

  • Ellen K.

    Great post. I have twins who were formula fed. I attempted nursing for a couple of weeks; it didn’t work out for everyone due to a host of factors, not the least of which was low birth weight. I’ve never felt guilty about it. Many of my friends also struggled with breastfeeding or have adopted children, so I’ve never predicated motherhood on breastfeeding. I have a very supportive, noncompetitive group of friends. My twins have never had an ear infection and only 3 or 4 days of illness each in almost 3 years. And we didn’t go broke, because we used generic (Target brand) formula, so the total cost for 1 year of formula for twins was approximately $2400. Bottle and formula feeding also allowed my husband to be fully involved in their care, which is a HUGE plus.

    I totally agree about renting the breast pump. I gave my barely-used pump to a friend after trying to sell it on Craigslist. She appreciates the $300 gift. : P

  • Tonya

    Breastfeeding is supposed to make you lose weight, right? Well, I *gained* two pounds A WEEK when I was breastfeeding. I have wacko hormones (was difficult to get pregnant) and the only way to fix it was to be on the Pill. I was so determined to do it with #3 that I rented a pump, stuck it out for 6 weeks till I could get on the mini-Pill, and STILL gained two pounds a week. I only gained 14 lbs with the pregnancy and had a 10-pound baby, then proceeded to gain 20 lbs in the 10 weeks I nursed him. The money savings was not worth the physical and emotional toll it took. Formula was worth every penny.

  • I think it’s great that you give an honest look into how to save money while raising a baby. Too many people don’t want to admit that sometime it’s okay to cut corners and opt for a cheaper product, it doesn’t mean you don’t love your child – just that you love them enough to want to save money to put them through college :)

    • Lindy

      Haha, that’s a good point. :)

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