As your due date approaches, you may be thinking of staying home with your baby for her first year, but aren’t sure if you can afford it. It may seem impossible, but if you are willing to make some trade-offs, you may find that you can make it work.
When I decided to stay home after my first son was born, I found that much of my lost income was offset by giving up a few luxuries and by taking on some additional household work myself. Comparing the cost of quality childcare and all the expenses I’d incur from working—including a professional wardrobe, gas, meals out, and pre-packaged foods—I found that the gap was not that great and that I’d rather give up the money for the chance to be with my infant full-time.
Here are ten financial strategies that will definitely save your family money and make living on one income easier:
- While you are eagerly anticipating your baby’s arrival, you may be tempted to buy all sorts of gear and clothing that you think you’ll need. Don’t do it. All you need when baby is first born is an infant car seat, a safe place for baby to sleep, and a couple of infant one-piece outfits. If you have friends and relatives who are likely to buy you baby gifts, you can expect to receive clothing from them and, if you’re lucky, even some useful gear. But you can wait to figure out which gear you really want as your baby ages.
- When you do decide that you’re ready to buy gear, go second-hand. Tell friends with kids that you would welcome hand-me downs. Look at resale shops or Web sites like eBay and Craigslist for strollers, cribs, and highchairs. By waiting until you really need the stuff, you’ll have a better idea of what you want and you’ll likely have more connections to other people with children who can give you good advice and leads on used gear. Don’t assume that more features make for better gear; often they just make for higher prices.
- Breastfeed: it’s free (almost). If you’re home full-time you may not even need to bother buying a pump and bottles. If you only need them for once-in-a-while, there are some good hand pumps you can get for less than $50—saving you almost $150 off the cost of an electric pump. The San Diego County Breastfeeding Coalition found in a 2001 study that breastfeeding cost about $300 per year in extra calories for the mom, and that formula costs varied from $1,188 per year for powder formula to $3,996 for some brands of “ready to feed” cans. Plus, breast milk is the best food for your baby.
- Make your own baby food. When your little one starts to eat solids, you can save a bundle by cooking and mashing your own food for him. You can do this in batches and freeze it in ice-cube trays. One study by the Center for Science in the Public Interest suggests that American babies eat on average 600 jars of commercial baby food by their first birthdays. Baby food jars cost from about $.59 to more than $1 for toddler foods. Assuming an average of $.70 times 600 is $420. You can save more than $300 off that by making your own.
- Eat at home and have your working partner take bag lunches to work. If it costs $7.50 on average to eat lunch out and $2 to pack a lunch and you eat out 250 lunches a year, you can save $1,375.00 per year. My husband cut back on restaurant lunches, although he didn’t cut them out entirely, and found that he was eating healthier as well as cheaper meals.
- Have fun for free. Go for walks, or to the park. Don’t go the mall unless you really need to buy something. Don’t make shopping a pastime.
- Have cheap dates. It’s important to keep up your relationships with your spouse and with your friends, but you can do it less expensively. Invite a friend over for coffee instead of going out to the coffee shop. If you give up a five-day per week latte habit at $2.75 per latte for a $.25 cup of home-brew, you’d save $625 per year. Rent a movie and have movie-night at home with your partner, cuddle up on the couch and make popcorn. A night at the Cineplex can cost $20 for tickets, $7 for snacks and don’t forget the $25 or more you’ll now need to spend on a babysitter. You can rent a DVD for about $3.50 and microwave popcorn for less than $1. That’s a savings of $47.50.
- Postpone big expenditures if you can. Don’t make this the year that you buy new furniture, a new car, or a computer. Unless the one you’ve got is broken, keep it going for a while longer.
- Take a year off from saving. Although this is heretical advice to a retirement planner, if you’re really short on cash, you could reduce your long-term savings for one year without putting yourself in the poorhouse in old age.
- Prioritize expenses and talk to your partner regularly about money. This is really the key. If staying home for a year is a very high priority for the two of you, then you can make the decisions together about how you will pay for it and you can both feel good about the trade-offs you make to do it. If either of you feel like you are the only one making sacrifices, it will be bad for your relationship and difficult to plan. But, if you believe that together, you are doing the best thing for your new family, you’ll feel great about what you are accomplishing and you won’t miss the meals out or new gadgets and clothes for yourselves. Instead, you’ll be enjoying your baby’s first year of life and focusing on what you value most: spending that time with your child.