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How Much Does it Really Cost to Have a Baby?

By Amalah

Your intrepid advice columnist has up and had herself a baby, and will be taking a couple weeks off from her bossing-around duties. In the meantime, she’s arranged a cavalcade of her favorite writers from around the Web to come and take a crack at some of your questions, share their personal style secrets and wisdom, and hopefully keep you entertained while Amy attempts to sustain human life using only what she keeps in her bra.
Today’s guest columnist is the brilliant Amanda of Mandajuice and the Naked Ledger. As a former professional financial planner, Amanda knows herself some budgets, people. Which is why I knew she was the perfect person to pawn this question off on bring on as an independent consultant for more qualified insights.

So, I’ve been wondering, how much does a baby cost? No, I’m not talking about shady black market purchasing of babies. I mean, how much does it cost to get prepared for and have a baby?
I am making my five year plan, and I’m so excited that finally my five year plan includes a baby! However, I am scared of how much it will all cost, and am planning on doing some saving beforehand. I read your blog and I think you have a similar snobbiness/love of pretty things to practicalness ratio to myself, and so I felt I could ask you this question realistically since all the other stuff I found online was like “well, if you find your baby’s crib in a dumpster and only breastfeed (no pumping or bottles), then this is how much it costs.” Okay, not exactly, but you get my point.
When you add up all the gear and clothes and nursery stuff and feeding stuff and miscellaneous who-knows-what stuff, how much is it in upfront costs? I’m imaging the continuing costs not to be that bad, or at least manageable, like formula or nursing supplies and diapers and such.
Thank you!
Elle

Bravo, Elle, I can’t help but admire a woman with a five year plan! Me? I was working as a PROFESSIONAL FINANCIAL PLANNER when I found out I was pregnant and yet, in my infinite wisdom, we found ourselves totally and completely unprepared. We didn’t even have our own place to live when OOPS, two pink lines! Our five year plan became a nine month plan overnight.
The good thing for us (and hopefully for you too!) was that I ended up having THREE baby showers. I hadn’t registered for much, mostly because we had about 14 square feet of living space, but I ended up getting literally everything I needed. In fact I got so much stuff that I had to go back to Target and Babies ‘R Us (aka Babies ‘R Expensive) and register for MORE stuff just so all the people my mother invited to the baby shower(s) would have ideas. It was insane.
So my first advice to you is to take the generosity of your loved ones into consideration. If you had a big wedding and you still live pretty close to where you started? You’ll probably hit the mother load when you have a baby. If you’re having the first grandchild? LUCKY YOU. They won’t even LET YOU buy a damn thing.
But, if you’re like most people and you have to prepare for baby mostly by yourself, I’m happy to give you some suggestions about how much to save. Unfortunately, the best answer I can really give you is, IT DEPENDS. You’re probably not Paris Hilton, so I’m assuming you’re going to have to make informed decisions with your dollars and not go out and buy the $800 stroller AND the $500 diaper bag. (Although would that not totally rock the Kasbah?)
When I first sat down to answer this question, I started by making lists of stuff. Strollers ($100-$300), travel systems ($200-$300), bouncy chairs ($50), baby bathtubs ($20), bottles ($50), boppy pillows ($40), slings ($40-$100), highchairs ($40-$200), swings ($80-$130), not to even mention a crib ($100-$1000) and all the other furniture you may or may not want to buy. And the truth is? It’s totally futile to try and individually ADD UP all the expenses you might incur before baby arrives. In fact, it borders on impossible.
Instead, I thought I’d just break it down for you, Hammer Style.
For about $2,000, you can totally set yourself up for a baby. IKEA has some damn cute furniture and you can pick and choose which bright colored crap you want to stub your toes on for the next three years. Of course, two grand isn’t going to buy you EVERYTHING your heart desires. You might have to substitute the Graco travel system ($300) for the fancy European one ($500 and up). You can rock the baby to sleep in the recliner you already have, throw a pad on top of your dresser and call it a changing table and stock up on onesies when Old Navy sends out those awesome TWO-FOR coupons with free shipping. You would be FINE, though. $2,000 is about $2,000 more than MOST people save before having a baby.
But for $5,000, you can do it with a little bit more style. You might be able to splurge on a Fleurville diaper bag ($150) and buy an extra sling or two. You could choose slightly nicer bedding for the crib and find a couple of solid wood furniture pieces to last through more than one baby. You could buy the double electric breast pump ($300) and some ridiculously adorable outfits for your baby to barf and/or poop on. This wouldn’t be NO HOLDS BARRED spending, but your munchkin would want for nothing.
Obviously, you can save more if you want to spend more. I’ve known people who spent $4,000 on JUST a crib. If I had it to do again, I would’ve saved around $3,000 and then because of the baby showers, I could’ve bought a new digital SLR camera and a photography session with a real professional (you know, other than JC PENNEY’s), two things I look back and regret not having. That and a pedicure budget for when I couldn’t reach my own toes.
Here’s the part where I get all Financial Plannery on you! (I can’t help it, sorry!) Saving AFTER the baby is born is WAY more important than setting up the nursery. Things I encourage you to consider before having a baby: life insurance, disability insurance, HEALTH insurance (The above expenses are for STUFF only, not hospital costs! My epidural cost me $800 out of pocket!) (Totally worth every cent!), 529 plans and money for early childhood education. For us, affording preschool on one income has at times been a herculean effort ($500 a month for two HALF days a week!). It all adds up, so the more you plan and save BEFORE you have a baby, the better off you’ll be.
However much you decide to save, the fact that you’re thinking about it already? This far in advance? Makes you my hero. You’re going to have SO MUCH FUN shopping for your baby!

Don’t forget to visit Amalah’s must-read weekly Pregnancy Calendar.

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Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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g.s.dane
Guest
g.s.dane

Elle, I think Amanda did a great job presenting you with different (cost) scenarios. I just wanted to add a few thoughts… 1) Hand-me-downs are great (and free!), especially during the first year – when your child outgrows these cute little outfits in a matter of weeks. 2) The crib is not really that necessary in the first year – my daughter slept in a Graco Pack ‘n Play until she started walking. 3) Maternity clothes get pretty expensive… so you may want to add that to the spread sheet… 4) and daycare/babysitter costs are HUGE… When I had my… Read more »

heels
Guest
heels

There’s SO much crap you can buy, and that every baby magazine and all of the advertising will do a really, painfully good job of trying to guilt your hormone-wracked-self into buying. When I went into it, I had a little mantra of sorts: “Do I REALLY need it? Wouldn’t I rather have (X)?” More often than not, I put stuff back. We had no nursery, no changing table (a blankie on the end of our bed worked JUST fine), no expensive stroller, no “travel system,” no wipe-warmers, special garbage cans, or bottle sanitizers. And my son is now 3… Read more »

ashley.
Guest

I’ve often wondered how much the actually prenatal care and birthing would cost – but have never given a thought about the actual STUFF. Probably because mine would be the first grandchild and the first great-grandchild. And we live near everyone. I know we’d be inundated with hand-me-downs and generosity. (My aunts have reminded me many times.)
I’ve heard all the health care – hospital stay, doctors visits, etc – can add up to upwards of $10K – is this true?? If so – it will be MUCH longer before I have a baby. 🙂

Joceline
Guest
Joceline

Just like Amanda said, there’s a ton of variation in what you can spend. I breastfeed and we use cloth diapers, so we save a bunch there. We did buy a slightly more expensive stroller. We hardly got/bought any of the “equipment”: exersaucer, etc. but we’ve got three different slings/babycarriers. You’ll figure out what you care about and what you don’t, to some extent, and you’ll certainly buy some things you’ll find you didn’t need! Try to find a friend or relative who has similar values to you and ask what they did and didn’t use. To me, that was… Read more »

CK
Guest
CK

I second Joceline’s comment to ask someone with similar values as yourself. We used a lot less stuff than other people just because I don’t like…stuff. So our cost was lower than a stuff-person’s might be. But others like having all the gadgets and toys. Which is fine, but it will cost more.
And please: know your insurance. We ended up paying about $4K out-of-pocket for the birth, $1,500 more than we expected, because we underestimated what a 10% co-pay looks like on a hospital bill for an emergency c-section. Hint: a lot.

De in D.C.
Guest

Ditto the previous comments, but also don’t forget about gently used items. You can get anything you’ve ever thought about for pennies on the dollar, and because babies don’t move that much, most of the used gear is in pristine condition. I hit up a couple “Twins Club” sales my last month and coupled with shower gifts, probably spent less than $500 for baby’s first six months of life (and most of that was on diapers).

Mrs Kennedy
Guest

I also wanted to add this for those considering getting knocked up for the first time…if you’re working full time, chances are that your company offers Aflac short-term disability or something similar. In my situation, I will be able to get a check for approximately $5000 just for having a baby (this varies based on income and which plan levels you choose). Since my company doesn’t offer paid maternity leave, this will come in very handy. Just something to think about if you’re looking for a cost-savings method or extra baby-related income.

Leah
Guest

I want to second the comments about the costs of having a baby that aren’t related to baby “stuff”–hospital stays, prenatal appointment copays, genetic testing fees, health insurance for the baby himself, childcare, maternity leave paycuts…all those expenses that you can’t put on a baby registry. Between tons of hand-me-downs and generous gifts from friends and family, we have more clothes and gear than we could ever use–it’s the medical expenses and bills that are killing us.

Suzy Q
Guest
Suzy Q

Could someone please explain what the hell a baby “travel system” is? This sounds like some completely unnecessary type of yuppie invention. Right or wrong?

Sarah M
Guest
Sarah M

I had decent PPO Blue Cross insurance when my daughter was born 3 years ago but it ended up costing us about $8000 out of pocket in co-pays and deductibles. My delivery was complicated (induction due acute high blood pressure) and then my little girl got a bit of jaundice and had to spend a few days in the pediatrics ward (which was a whole different set of deductibles because *she* was the patient instead of me). We were totally unprepared for those bills. The total bill, including what the insurance paid, was almost $100k. I’m due again in November… Read more »

Lisa
Guest
Lisa

A travel system is one of those carrier-style car seats that snaps into your car or can snap into a stroller without having to take the baby out. The “system” includes the car seat and the stroller, plus the base that stays in your car.
Our biggest expense when we had both kids was medical care. Obviously that will vary for each person, but my daughter needed time in the NICU, and it ended up costing us a lot more than we expected.

Laura
Guest
Laura

Just to answer how much the hospital costs are- it of course varies. With my second child, we have generally good insurance, a PPO, and it covers 80% of everything after a $300 deductible. For my prenatal care (including sonograms, labs, and office visits) hospital stay, epidural, and newborn care, it came to about $2500.
In contrast, my old health insurance when I had my first child was a crappy HMO, but they covered all maternity costs after a $250 co-pay, and I had a $20 co-pay for all office visits. Much cheaper.

amy
Guest

Ashley – if you are considering the cost of having a baby without health insurance, I’d bank on higher than 10K. It cost roughly 12k for me, and that was the adjusted insurance cost. If you went in without any insurance, it would probably be close to double that. Suzy Q – a travel system is just a stroller and carseat/carrier that all fits togther. There is a little base thingy that stays in the car, and you can snap the carrier/car seat into it. And of course, it snaps into the strollers. They are EXCELLENT when they are little… Read more »

Kelly from Almost Frugal
Guest

@Suzy Q, A fancy (yuppy) name for nothing more than a stroller, with maybe an infant car seat that snaps in to it. If I had to add my two cents (and I guess I do) than I would second Ikea for furniture. Then I would splurge on a really good quality, squishy cushy car seat and a nice, SMALL, stroller. I longed for a MacLauren with babies one and two and finally got one for number three (barely used on eBay for about 1/3 off) and don’t regret it one bit. My kids would never stay asleep in the… Read more »

SAVANAmom2SYDALEE
Guest
SAVANAmom2SYDALEE

a travel system is the infantseat/stroller combo =]

Diane
Guest
Diane

Suzy Q- A travel system is just one of those stroller/infant car seat combo things. The car seat snaps into a base in the car and also snaps into the stroller. These are GREAT for about the first 6 months of the baby’s life, because you can take them from the car into the supermarket back to the car and into the house and NOT WAKE THEM UP. They aren’t necessary, but since you need a car seat anyway and most people want a stroller anyway, they are a good way to make life a little bit easier in the… Read more »

Kate
Guest
Kate

Ashley–My insurance paid for everything except a couple of small co-pays, but the actual cost of the delivery and hospital stay alone was about $11k. I did have a c-section, but a vaginal delivery would have only dropped that down to about $8k. And that doesn’t include any of my prenatal visits.

Kate
Guest
Kate

@suzy Q: I would assume a travel system is a carseat and whatever other basket-y type things you need to safely move your child in your preferred means of conveyance.

Leslee
Guest
Leslee

Keep in mind the cost of getting pregnant. Home pregnancy tests are expensive, not to mention the cost if you have to see a specialist…

Amanda
Guest

You guys are all totally right, you CAN go seriously cheap when having a baby (second and third babies are especially cheap!). But for a person who likes to shop and has a well-thought-out plan, nothing is more fun than shopping for a baby! The travel system was both a necessity and a huge money saver for me. Between the grandparents (who watched my son while I went to work) and our two cars, I bought one car seat and FOUR bases instead of four carseats, thus saving us hundreds of dollars. Leslee, I just noticed that the Dollar Tree… Read more »

LizP
Guest
LizP

Amanda’s not kidding about accepting the generosity of others! We raked it in for kid #1 then two weeks before I unknowingly got pregnant with kid #2 we gave most of it away to hubby’s brother & SIL. Big bummer! Fortunately there are some great ‘gently used’ kids stores in town. We prefer to ‘reuse’ rather than buy new when at all possible. Save money now for all of those “other” expenses like the OB, the anesthesiologist, the hospital, the breast pump rental … and anything else they think they can bill you for. Then there’s day care, preschool, tot-soccer… Read more »

Kendall's Mom
Guest

Sorry girls, I’m one of those dumpster-crib types, boobs only for feeding… If I’m lucky enough to do it again (kid no. 2) I’ll probably do it with LESS even. The things NOT to skimp on? The carseat – safety first. And the breast-pump. Even if you don’t work (outside of the home,) it’s a good idea to have one. A few of the luxuries we did have? A wipe warmer, much nicer for the babe. And a folding travel swing. My daughter loved it. Not sure I ever could have done dishes or cooked dinner without it. We used… Read more »

Suzy Q
Guest
Suzy Q

Thanks, laydeez!

Olivia
Guest
Olivia

If you don’t have insurance and can’t afford it, don’t forget to check with your state’s medicaid program. I qualified for a pregancy only plan in my state. And if you are facing large costs even with insurance you may consider a homebirth with a midwife. My midwife charges $2k for all prenatal care (except lab fees and ultra sound), the birth and 3 postpartum visits. Insurance or medicaid will kick in if you have to transfer to the hospital and for the extra lab fees. Oh, and one of the best things about a midwife? She comes to my… Read more »

Leianne
Guest
Leianne

My big splurge is going to be the stroller…Valco, Bumbleride, or Phil & Ted’s (all-terrain models in the $400 price range)…but that’s just because I know it’s something we will use the heck out of. We have great walking trail systems in our town, and I just don’t think a typical Graco/Evenflo travel system-type stroller will cut it. On the flip side, however, I truly don’t think the crib is THAT big of a deal. Baby will be in pack n play thingy in our room at first, and then what, in a crib for < 2 years or so… Read more »

Christine
Guest
Christine

My twins are almost 4, and we’re trying to have another. A few things I learned… don’t get a travel system. Usually you’ll only like a part of it. Spend the extra time to try out carseats and strollers, and pick the ones you’ll use correctly, especially since you’ll use the stroller for a couple years. A good dresser doubles as a changing table, and you’ll get more use out of in the long run. Skip the fancy bed linens. A few fitted sheets and a “sleep sack” are all you need; baby is only going to sleep, pee, and… Read more »

demitria
Guest
demitria

Best advice I got was to check out eBay and Craigs List for our area. We got a 1400$ crib and changing table set for 400 total from someone and it was in terrific shape. Do your research make sure that what you are buying still is up to safety code and is not in recall status and its a win-win. And I totally agree with going to register with someone who is like minded as you. So much easier and very less overwhelming!

s
Guest
s

Just wanted to chime in with the after baby “utility” costs to account for as well. More laundry, keeping the house warmer/cooler, more electricity etc etc can cause quite the uptick in all those bills.

Mary
Guest
Mary

I’ve actually had all my daughter’s pics done at Sears and been pretty happy with it. And I own the rights to all the photos since I purchased the photo CDs, so I can edit/reproduce them at will. $3000 would have only paid for maybe 2-3 sets of professional photos where I live. I’ve had my daughter’s pictures done 5 times already (she’s two, though I missed getting the 2-yr pictures done).

Marnie
Guest
Marnie

Ashley – I was able to see all actual and adjusted insurance costs through my provider, and the unadjusted (meaning, the $ if I hadn’t had insurance) for a c-section was a little over $20K. Those anesthesiologists are pricey, as is the surgery charge to sew you back up. I know the post was about the “stuff” but another cost to keep in mind is he cost of not working. It wasn’t clear whether Elle is working or planning to be a working mom, but if so, I recommend factoring into the 5-year plan any time off and how much… Read more »

lolismum
Guest
lolismum

Elle, I also want to stress how important to wait until the baby is born to buy most of the gear. Car seat is a must, they won’t release you from the hospital without it and of course diapers, clothes etc. But things such as slings, bouncers, swings, wait until the baby is home. Almost everyone swore by their swings, my first child hated hers. My second child hated slings, loved a nice comfy stroller. With both kids I co-slept, making that nice crib useless for the first couple of months of their lives. And unfortunately, the infant gear is… Read more »

MommyTime
Guest

My two cents on travel systems: I hated the strollers for nearly all the travel systems for precisely the reason someone above mentioned: they won’t function on trails or for jogging. I skipped the travel system, and instead got something made by Kolcraft called a “snap and go” (I think — this was a while ago) — It’s basically a frame with wheels that’s made to hold almost any style of infant carrier carseat. So you buy the carseat that you can pop out of the car base (with the sleeping infant still inside), and snap it onto this stroller… Read more »

Susan
Guest
Susan

Wow, I must have really good insurance or something because the total bill that I got from the hospital was $189.00. and my MIL (1st time grandparent)bought us the travel system, swing and pack n play. We got a crib from a friend and most clothing from a friend who keeps circulating boxes of baby cloths with all of our friends since we are all the same age and having baby’s right now. Oh, and the rocking chair is an old wooden one that used to be in my husbands room when he was a baby. But then again, the… Read more »

JayBee
Guest

Those are all great, practical tips and make me feel so much more secure about having a baby than the articles on BabyCenter, etc.
A couple of people mentioned photography, so I wanted to throw this out there. My SIL is an awesome photographer in the Wilmington, NC area. She specializes in maternity, newborn, etc. She’s been taking pics for a long time, but starting her own business now…so her rates are reasonable and she does lots of promotions. Her website is: http://www.katiemathewsphotography.com.

Timi
Guest

I second (or third, or whatever) the snap and go with the carseat instead of the travel system. If you’re just using the stroller as a rollable base for the carseat the snap and go has the benefit of being much tinier and lighter. Buy the stroller you want as a stroller, not how it hooks up with your carseat. For example, we have the peg stroller (which is part of a travel system), but we have the Graco carseat because we thought our kid was going to be a little squished in the peg carseat. We kept the snap… Read more »

Allison
Guest
Allison

I dont recall getting a single bill for any of the doctor appointments or labor and delivery with either of my children, had GREAT insurance which I had to get from the state unfortunately, but at the same time it saved me thousands of dollars. I found that stores with gently used clothing were a complete waste of time. I could go Childrens Place (the store or the website http://www.childrensplace.com) and buy BRAND NEW quality cute clothes for the same price as walmart used clothes at one of those dumb gently used clothing stores. Face it, the people who brought… Read more »