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The Ultimate BabyCost Matrix

April 28, 2012

“All babies need is boobs.”

This may well be true, especially from an evolutionary standpoint. Certainly no one argues that babies need to be fed, and that “breast is best.” (Well, almost no one argues that last point, though I admit the tone can be a bit sanctimonious – how much “better” is “best”? I’ll post my own thoughts later.)

What, then, is the Baby Industrial Complex doing to take over our hearts and minds with the “YOU MUST OWN THIS” mentality?

Five years ago while puttering around on the internet and talking intermittently with a coworker who was my age about her experiences as a mom of twins (!) I thought I’d start a little Amazon.com private wishlist. Because, you know, I’d like to be a mom someday. And breastfeed someday. But I’ll probably have to work, so I better put bottles and a good pump on that list. Breastfeeding was hard for her, so maybe I should have some money saved up for a lactation consultant. And research more about natural childbirth. Hmm, might need some maternity clothes that double as nursing attire. I guess my kid’s gonna need a bath sometimes? What about a highchair or crib? Should I be thinking of cosleeping?

Ooh, cloth diapering! I’m totally doing that! But what the heck is with ALL THESE CLOTH DIAPERS???

And toys? Does my newborn or infant really need anything beyond lots of time and attention from loving parents and caregivers? (Where am I going to find the time?)

I’m supposed to get an infant carseat, right? MAN THOSE THINGS ARE UGLY. Do I have to get a stroller? Can’t I just put the baby in a sling/wrap/carrier and call it a day?

If you look at every single one of the Amazon Listmania!’s out there on “MUST HAVE” or “STUFF WE NEVER USED” baby products, you’ll find a wide area of overlap. One parent’s “lifesaver” is another’s “useless junk.” But, how can you tell ahead of time what is and isn’t useless junk for you and your newborn? How do you plan for and budget for this sort of stuff?

My Amazon.com wishlist quickly grew to ten pages of stuff that was impossible to divide and conquer. What was a “must have”? A “probably need, but not right away”? A “I really don’t think I’ll want it myself but maybe I’m totally wrong and my baby’s gonna FREAK so I better keep track of it just in case”?

If all babies need are boobs, then why does it cost some people $30000 for babycare in the first year of infancy? (That tax deduction really doesn’t cut it in the U.S., in that case.)

Enter the Ultimate BabyCost Matrix.

What it is: for me, it was a divide-and-conquer strategy for baby gear and baby budgeting. See, this is the thing about babies: you don’t need everything right away, and you may never need some tools that other parents find invaluable (but you should keep some wiggle room in your budget for these, just in case). What you will want for a newborn is…

a) a place to sleep and a plan that appeals to you and your partner (though I’d advise you to leave some budgetary bounce for baby’s temperament and breastfeeding needs, in case you end up needing to cosleep for a month or twelve),

b) diapering tools of your choice,

c) feeding tools of your choice (yeah, you don’t technically “need” any accessories if you’re breastfeeding, but you might as well know what stuff could help you start out on the right boob, and set some emergency funds aside for after birth. If you’re formula feeding you should consider some serious budgetary wiggle in case your kid needs hypoallergenic formula, and see if you can figure out bulk discounts or cheap places to shop ahead of time),

d) transport gear of your choice (going straight to a convertible car seat? Do you really want a stroller at birth, or are you interested in exploring babywearing first?)

e) something to wear (babies do grow fast, but prices on baby and kid clothes are small for new stuff, and microscopic for thrifted/garage sale stuff. Also ask yourself quite seriously if your kid really needs shoes before they are walking),

f) toys, décor, and safety items as desired. Remember that infants don’t really need babyproofing gear until they start indicating a desire to crawl & cruise. Also, if you need a place to set your newborn, he can’t fall off the floor (though he may be pretty annoyed just laying there without any stimuli or attention from mom or dad).

You can also use the BabyCost Matrix to help budget for daycare, pediatric visits and OB/midwife care, just by adding those in as rows. I even included a row below to track the lost income XY and I might have to compensate for if I went to work part-time. (Since we currently save one third of our pre-tax income every month I’m expecting we wouldn’t have to suffer too much, but it’s wise to be realistic about those numbers and take a hard look at parents-to-be’s spending habits before getting pregnant.)

Finally, you can also enter in $0 in the “low end” category for anything you are registering for, or where you’re not sure if you’ll need it at all. I haven’t done that here for our potential registry items, only for items I’m not sure we’ll buy at all, but I’m expecting that realistically a lot of this stuff we could get through our registry, or later on as Christmas or birthday presents. I’d expect we’d hit somewhere around the $200-$500 mark with gifts. Personally, though, that’s not enough for me to NOT budget for this stuff. If we do get it on our registry, or score the item we want on sale or used, great! If we have to pay full price, well, the money’s there. If you’re thinking you’d like to get certain items used, you can check out craigslist in estimating prices while perusing used cribs or Boppy pillows, for example, and then enter your $ based on that. Just add a dollar or two if you’re not sure and you’ll probably end up somewhere in the ballpark for budgeting used versus full price.

If you’re in the preconception or early pregnancy phase, you can browse around a little more and be a little looser in budgeting your categories than I’ve been here, but you can also get an idea of what you might want to spend money on. For myself, after five years of collecting info and opinions on babyrearing I feel pretty secure in what I think I’d want for a first time singleton pregnancy, with plans to avoid a subsequent pregnancy until at least the two-year mark (though likely longer, or possibly never). Most of the products I’ve picked have pretty good track records so if we were thinking of having more kiddos, we’d be able to pull stuff out again and reuse it again for number two. We’d probably also need another bed (not sure how two Montessori floor beds in the same bedroom work), and maybe some new clothes and a dresser. But almost all of the stuff I picked out is reuseable for future babies, and the toys, if introduced at the right age, should remain entertaining well into the toddler and preschooler years. These items, if well-cared for, could also be passed on to other parents or sold on craigslist without too much trouble (maybe we wouldn’t net much selling on craigslist or eBay, but I’d expect we might get 10-50% back on what we originally spent, depending on the specific item).

The way I see it, if we plan for frugality but also leave ourselves a maximum for spending, XY and I will probably not go overboard on everything while having a very realistic concept of what baby products we’d like to budget for. If we do budget for the “max” on what we’d want at 0-3 months postpartum, and then find that we’ve actually spent half of that money, we can just shove our savings into the kid’s 529 account and give ourselves a high five. If we end up needing to spend it, we’ll have the money, because it’s what we budgeted for before getting pregnant.

Knowing that even if you don’t get your dream high chair in your registry, it’s still not something you “must have” the minute your little one exits the womb/enters the room should make you breathe a sigh of relief. You have six whole months to save up the money! And browse craigslist and eBay in that time if you’re feeling thrifty. You don’t know whether or not you want a glider or rocker or nursing stool at birth? If it’s not on sale now and your instinct says, “eh, maybe”, just put it on the list to be budgeted for later, and pat yourself on the back if your comfy chair + ottoman nursing scheme works out just fine. Lots of cool toys are out there, but they probably won’t interest your kid until six months, or a year, or later. Why rush to get them when there are Christmases and birthdays ahead? If you think the grandparents won’t bite, again, scan eBay and craigslist yourself and see if you can’t score a deal. And don’t forget that for many kids a favorite toy is an empty cardboard box!

It is so hard to judge what is a “need” versus a “want” with baby products, but with due diligence and a thorough examination of yours and your partner’s personalities and baby daydreams, you should be able to plan this out when planning your conception. Heck, maybe it’ll turn out all your babies DO need are boobs. Puts quite a bit of extra cash in your pocket if you budgeted well, no?

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