Having kids is costly. According to a 2009 estimate by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a parent will spend $160,000 to $369,000, based on income level, to raise a child from birth to age 17. Want to, gulp, know your estimated outlay? Check out the child cost calculator at Bankrate.
Since being a parent is so expensive, we’re always looking for any way to save. From making your own baby essentials, to buying secondhand, there are plenty of ways to cut down on the costs of adding to your brood.
Here are five products aimed at kids that are a total rip-off, and what you should buy instead.
Bad Buy: Baby yogurt
Granted, these little yogurt containers are cute—the picture of the smiling baby on the side gets us every time. But there’s no reason the 24-month-and-under set needs a special yogurt made just for them.
Good Buy: Plain whole-milk yogurt
Children under age two need plenty of fat for brain development, but if the yogurt you offer them is made from whole, pasteurized milk, it’s fine if it’s not “just for babies.” To sweeten it, mix in a bit of fresh or frozen fruit, which will cut down on the amount of sugar per serving, along with the cost. Note: Never sweeten food with honey, as raw honey is dangerous for babies under 12 months of age.
Bad Buy: Jarred baby food
Don’t get us wrong. Jarred food is incredibly convenient, created under strict standards in the United States, and perfectly fine from a health standpoint. In short, there’s nothing wrong with serving it to your baby. But a bargain it ain’t!
Good Buy: Fresh fruits and veggies
Making baby food is easy. You don’t have to buy any special tools or stress yourself out brainstorming menu ideas; all you have to do is mash up a banana or some avocado and serve it to your wee one. For a tiny step up in the effort department, steam a sweet potato, scoop out the inside, and mix it with some formula or pumped breast milk to get the correct consistency. You can do the same with cooked apples or pears, or broccoli, or carrots, or squash, or … you get the idea. For the best advice, check first with your child’s pediatrician before starting solids.
Bad Buy: Name-brand diapers
We were shocked to learn from Consumer Reports that parents will spend $1,500 to $2,000 in disposable diapers for each baby! Until your child graduates to underwear, there are a few ways to cut costs.
Good Buy: Bargain diapers
Consumer Reports found a savings of 3 cents per diaper when buying the Walmart brand versus Pampers, which results in $108 over the course of a year—not exactly small change! The magazine also suggests that parents buy the largest-count, economy-size boxes; keeping your child in the smallest diaper size he or she can wear comfortably, since larger-sized diapers cost more; buying in bulk if you’re the member of a warehouse club; and, if you’re willing, using cloth diapers instead, which cost significantly less over time.
Bad Buy: Greeting cards
A present is one thing we’re always happy to spend money on, but we go crazy when we buy our nephew a $15 toy and the greeting card costs an additional $3. Talk about a waste.
Good Buy: Handmade or computer-printed
For adults and older children, a thoughtful note on regular stationery is plenty lovely. If you have preschoolers or older kids, put them to work crafting cards for any and all occasions, which is fun for them and sweet for the person receiving the card, too. We also found reasonably priced computer paper and accompanying envelopes for anyone who wants to send professional-looking cards at a fraction of the cost.
Bad Buy: Juice Boxes
Good things do not always come in small packages (much like baby yogurt). Ounce for ounce, these individual-serving-size boxes are almost double the price-per-ounce than the exact same juice in a larger bottle.
Good Buy: Bottles of Juice
Buy the big bottle and put it in your fridge, then stock up on some handy, reusable water bottles and cups with lids to serve your children. That way you can water down the juice you serve your family, which is a smart idea since experts believe too much juice can contribute to obesity, cavities, and other health problems. It’s also fun to make a drink of half juice, half club soda, a lemon wedge, and plenty of ice—bubbly, refreshing, and a lot better for you than soda or straight juice.
Andrea Pyros lives in New York’s Hudson Valley, where she raises her two kids and writes for coupon site RetailMeNot.com.
Photo credit: Gabi Menashe