When Lisa van de Geyn became pregnant with her first daughter, “the excitement took over,” she recalls.
The excitement took over her wallet, that is. The Ontario mom, then based in Ajax, dropped $900 on her first trip to a maternity clothing store and spent hundreds of dollars more on baby outfits shortly after.
“I overbought and overspent on everything,” van de Geyn told Global News.
Lots of new parents tend to do that. There is a special kind of guilt that comes with trying to save money on infant necessities when you’re welcoming your first bundle of joy, said van de Geyn.
“You want your baby to have the very best of everything.”
Reality, however, tends to set in after the birth, when you realize your newborn will never know the difference between a gently-used hand-me-down and a $30 onesie.
So how much does a tiny human being’s first year of life cost and how can parents prepare for it?
Overall costs vary significantly
The low-ball estimate of the cost of raising a child in Canada comes from the Fraser Institute, a conservative think-tank, which famously stated in 2013 that “an annual outlay of $3,000 to $4,500 (depending on the community or region and the age of the child) would be sufficient.” The number refers to 2010 so in inflation-adjusted terms, you’re looking at $3,400 to $5,150. But experts have widely criticized the study for leaving out many of the costs faced by families with children.
Another well-known estimate comes from Canadian magazine Moneysense, which in 2011 put it at $12,824 a year, or roughly $14,350 in today’s dollars.
Van de Geyn, a freelance writer who used to work for Today’s Parent magazine, grapples with this in a new guidebook for parents called Babies, the Real Story of How Much They Cost, which she wrote for CPA Canada, the national organization of chartered professional accountants.
“According to parenting magazines and online parenting sites, some families spend $10,000 or more on their baby’s first 12 months,” she writes.
The reality, though, is that there is no broadly accepted method for estimating the cost of having kids. Trying to figure out the overall price tag for a child’s first year of life is likely even trickier, as babies vary wildly in their needs and preferences.
More important than the headline number is budgeting for what you can predict and reading up on ways to save, according to van de Geyn.
WATCH: Here’s how much it costs to feed a family of four
The list of things your baby needs is long, but van de Geyn’s advice is to start small.
“Be prepared for the baby – have the car seat and the crib, but the whole room doesn’t need to be outfitted,” she told Global News.
That Pinterest-perfect white sheepskin rug might not seem like such a great idea after your newborn has spit up on it. And you might quickly find out that what you really need is a bouncy-chair, not the swing you asked for at your baby shower – or vice versa.
Some babies only fall asleep with dummies. Others spit them out immediately. Many parents would consider a diaper pail an absolute necessity. Others describe it as a colossal waste of money. It’s hard to predict on which side you’ll be.
One way to keep costs under control is to buy the essentials and budget for the most predictable costs, like diapers and wipes, but leave plenty of extra room for added expenses. You should also do extensive research on an expanded lists of items. Once baby comes, you’ll know what you really need and you’ll already have a pretty good idea of where to find it.
“If I were to do it over, I would get my daughter to try, say, a swing at a friend’s house to figure out whether I really need to buy one,” said van de Geyn.
WATCH: Here are the cheapest and most expensive kids’ activities
Baby costs for which you can budget in advance
Here are many of the essential costs for which you can budget in advance, (cost estimates are from van de Geyn unless otherwise noted):
- Crib (costs range from about $50 to over $2,500).
- A mattress for the crib ($100 to over $200).
- A change table ($200 to over $400).
- A change pad (starting at about $20).
- A rocker for feeding the baby (starting at about $300).
Even breastfeeding isn’t free. You might want to buy:
- A nursing pillow ($30 to $60).
- Nursing covers ($15 to over $40).
- A breast pump (from about $60 for a manual pump to over $350 for an electric one).
- A few bottles.
READ MORE: When is a child too old to breastfeed?
If you’re formula feeding:
- Powder formula costs about $25 for a 900-ml container of powder that will last one week. Keep in mind that most babies start eating solids between four and six months, but the use of infant formula is recommended until they reach one year of age. Ready-to-feed formula is far more expensive. Budget $50 or more for a case of 18 cans per week, writes van de Geyn. Investopedia puts the total cost of formula feeding at US$900-$3,000 per year, or C$1,140-$3,780.
- Bottles. You’ll need lots of them and might spend anything from $5 to more than $15 per bottle. “Don’t be surprised if you have to try a few different brands and types of bottles and nipples to find out what your baby prefers,” writes van de Geyn.
Once solids are introduced and baby can sit up on her or his own:
- Highchair ($85 to over $400).
- Baby cereal. That’s the first thing many babies eat. One box costs about $5 and will last about one week.
- Baby food. The cost of baby food jars and pouches start at $1, but you might be able to skip that by blending your own baby food.
No, we’re not talking about flying with baby (good luck with that). This is just what you’ll probably need to get yourself and baby out of the house:
- Car seat. You can save by buying a car seat that converts from a rear-facing infant seat to a forward-facing toddler seat for kids up to 65 lbs. Costs range from about $150 to over $450. The arguably more convenient alternative is buying an infant car seat that detaches from the base so you can easily carry your little one to and out of the car. Those cost between $200 and over $400, and you’ll have to buy a toddler seat later.
- A full-sized single stroller ($250 to $3,000).
- Diapers are the biggie here. The average child uses more than 2,700 diapers in the first 12 months, according to Investopedia. Disposable diapers tend to cost 20-25 cents each, so you’re looking at $550 a year at least. Cloth diapers cost about $20 per diaper – or nearly $500 for 24 of them, according to van de Geyn. A diaper service that picks up soiled diapers and delivers clean ones can cost more than $25 per week, she adds.
- Baby wipes are also a big drain. Budget about US$20 or C$25 per week, says Investopedia.
- Diaper rash cream ($10).
- A newborn-to-toddler bathtub ($20 to $40).
- Baby head-to-toe soap (about $6).
- The average cost of baby clothes is US$60, C$76, per month in the U.S., according to Investopedia. Clothes are notoriously cheaper in the U.S., but that may still be a useful ballpark estimate for Canadians, as clothing is one area where parents can easily save by using hand-me-downs or buying second-hand items in store or online.
Ways to save
Keeping a lid on costs doesn’t necessarily mean passing up on state-of-the-art baby gear. Whether you’re getting top-of-the-line equipment or everyday supplies, saving often comes down to accepting help and deal hunting.
Baby showers are a great way for parents to get some of the priciest items off their list. “People understand that the main reason for having a party is to shower the expectant mother with things she needs for her new arrival,” writes van de Geyn. And friends and family are often happy to pool their resources to buy something like a stroller or a crib.
In many parts of Canada, parents have turned to Facebook to buy and sell used kids’ clothes, toys and gear. Especially if you don’t have family to turn to for hand-me-downs, these groups can be a great resource. You might even be able to buy leftover boxes of diapers for a fraction of what you’d be paying in store.
Other buy-and-sell websites
Sites like Kijiji, Craigslist and eBay can also be a source for great finds. However, make sure to check that second-hand items comply with Health Canada’s current safety standards, warns van de Geyn. Car seats, for example, expire after five years and should not be used after an accident.
“Manufacturers of baby products love sending free samples of products and coupons to both expectant and new parents. Many companies offer perks for signing up on their sites and will bestow you with gifts (some send diaper bags, others send formula samples, for example) for doing so,” writes van de Geyn.
You can also sign up to get email alerts about sales and promotional offers. That’s an easy way to spot price drops for expensive must-haves like car seats or baby gates.
Online subscription services
Several online retailers will offer discounts if you sign up for regular shipments of things like diapers and wipes. Amazon Prime members, for example, get 20 per cent off if they sign up for regular diaper deliveries.