Getty Images A recent article on the TODAY show’s website reports that young adults’ finances are in such dire shape that a significant number of them are delaying “the huge economic plunge of having children.”
The data back this up: The birth rate in 2011 for women aged 20 to 24 was “a record low,” according to the CDC.
You can see why young adults may be hesitant to start a family when you consider the USDA’s claim that the cost of raising a child through adulthood today costs an average of $235,000 — and even among for families at low end of the earnings scale, the average outlay runs to a startling $212,000.
Are Children Really That Expensive?
As a 27-year-old father of four kids (and with a desire for more), maybe I’m doomed.
If those numbers are to be believed, I’m looking at shelling out nearly $1 million over the next two decades. That leaves little left over for things like retirement, their college education, and (given that I currently have all girls) the inevitable wedding or two that may pop up shortly thereafter. Forget about my hobbies or my wife’s and my dream to purchase a small farm in the country.
But after many years of parenthood (our oldest will turn 7 at the end of this year), I’m skeptical about these numbers.
Sure, we’ve had to make sacrifices and, at times, money is tight. We may not get to take long, extravagant vacations every year. And our kids may not own the latest gizmos and gadgets (does your toddler really need an iPad?). But they’re happy, healthy, and we’re not in over our heads financially.
Which is why I know the actual costs of raising a child can be much, much lower.
So here are some tips (many of which I was hesitant about, but eventually came around to at my wife’s urging) we’ve used to make parenthood a little easier on our bank account:
1. Use Cloth Diapers. This has been the biggest money-saver for us. Yet it was also the one that I was most reluctant to try.
Diaper duty is never a chore parents look forward to. So the thought of having to revisit it again by washing the diapers really turned me off. However, it’s really not as bad or gag-inducing as it seems. Toss ’em in the washing machine, run a cycle or two (depending on how soiled they are), then into the dryer (or air-dry outside if it’s a clear summer day): Voila, clean diapers.
The savings quickly add up. Our preferred brand (after trying most of the brands out there) is bumGenius. A starter set of 12 diapers costs little more than $200. That’s equivalent to the price of about four 234-count boxes of Pampers — and those disappear with the trash.
If you take care of them, and regularly wash them, they’ll last for more than one kid. So it’s a long-term investment if I’ve ever seen one.
Tip: Definitely spend the extra $15 on a good “wet bag” or two. These are plastic-lined bags you toss soiled diapers into until you’ve got enough to wash. It keeps the mess (and, more important, the smell) in check.
2. Use DIY Wipes. Along similar lines, you can save the $20 a month or so that baby wipes cost and buy a handful of cheap washcloths for the same price. Mix baby soap with water into a cheap spray bottle, and you’ve got yourself a durable, reusable wipe system you can simultaneously toss in when you’re washing diapers.
Tip: If you have spare wipe tubs lying around, you can presoak washcloths in them, so that they’re quickly accessible in a pinch.
3. Breastfeed or Make Your Own Formula. Beyond the much-lauded health benefits, breastfeeding is completely free.
Unfortunately, not all mothers are able to breastfeed for a variety of reasons, so it’s not an option for everyone. One solution we’ve discovered that is much cheaper than store-bought formula is to make your own milk-based formula.
The version we use is based off a recipe listed on the Weston Price Foundation’s website. While some of the ingredients sound strange and difficult to track down, a three-month kit online that includes nearly everything except the milk sells for just over $250. A comparable amount of milk-based formula from Similac costs nearly $400!
Granted, the DIY formula cost doesn’t include the amount it costs to purchase milk, but using just 2 cups per batch, a gallon of milk stretches through eight batches.
Tip: It does take slightly more time to make your own formula than to quickly heat up a powder-based store-bought formula. But you can make a larger batch ahead of time and store it in a sealed glass container in your refrigerator until you need to refill your baby’s bottle.
4. Make Your Own Baby Food. When the time comes for your little one to graduate to solid foods, there’s no need to look for tasty treats in little jars.
First of all, they’re not tasty. Second, you’ll save a lot of stress down the road by making your own baby foods at home — with foods you’re already eating.
Different sources tell you when to introduce your children to different foods, so Google around a bit for a general idea. But when you do introduce solids, it’s insanely easy to take a small portion of the meal you’re already eating (yes, seasonings and all), mix in a little butter or milk or water, and feed the baby that.
It sounds too easy to be true, but believe me — your baby will prefer tasting new flavors rather than bland mush out of a jar. And you’re simultaneously teaching them to get used to the foods they’ll be eating alongside you as they get older. So feel free to introduce a variety of foods (sweet, sour, bitter, even a tiny bit spicy).
Tip: Don’t waste your money on one of those “baby food processors.” They’re cheaply made. Nothing but a gimmick. You can use your own food processor, or (our preference) a $35 Cuisinart hand blender and you’ll be set.
Looking for more ways to avoid the sticker shock of parenthood? Read “10 smart ways to save on raising your kids.”
Adam Wiederman is a contributor to The Motley Fool.