Can You Be Too Frugal With Your Children?

by Kelly · 12 comments

in A Frugal Family


Kristy raised an interesting point in her comment on my post Frugal Pregnancy Tips. She said:

A lot of folks around the blogosphere seem to be having babies and talking about the associated costs. What’s always struck me when reading the posts is that a lot of them do spend quite a bit. I don’t know if it’s just that baby costs have seriously escalated over the years or if some of them are choosing not to be as frugal in this area of their finances. Interesting topic, Kelly! I’d very much like to know from the other parents out there, is there such as thing as being too frugal in this area? I’m sure there is, but not being a parent, I don’t know.

So the question is “Can you be too frugal in this area?”

I think the answer is “It depends.” Kristy is right in that costs are higher now then they were in the past, which is no different for pregnancy and baby stuff than for any other category of goods. But I also think that our (western) culture, which encourages people to ‘buy, buy, buy’, makes us feel like every last doodad or gadget is necessary and we can’t do without it.

But I also think that you can be too frugal when preparing for a new baby, both for financial reasons and psychological reasons. Financially, you are too frugal when you don’t buy enough of something (like pyjamas or diapers) and then have to do lots and lots of laundry, more than you would have to if you had bought enough in the first place. Of course some would argue that you can never be too frugal, that instead, it’s called being cheap and I would have to agree. This was the point raised by other commenters on the frugal pregnancy post, particularly Shevy who said:

It wouldn’t be very frugal to skimp on the vitamins (especially as I believe the folic acid issue is really only critical during the first trimester and immediately prior to conception) and then have to deal with a child who had an exposed spinal cord and might never walk.

I also think that celebrating the arrival of a new baby and the rituals involved in doing so are very important. This is why so many cultures have set up rituals around pregnancy, childbirth and new babies. I think when you don’t do so, you’re being too frugal psychologically.

After having my first two children, I saved a lot of their clothes and baby things, but not everything. When I found out I was pregnant with my third, we knew that there were certain things we were going to need to buy again: diapers, a stroller, a crib. It just so happened that in a period of about three weeks, all in the first trimester of my pregnancy, we were given or found really good deals on everything we needed. I didn’t need to buy anything to prepare for the baby after about the third month. Our daughter moved into her brothers’ room as well, so we didn’t need to prepare a nursery either (which I don’t think that babies necessarily need).

I am really grateful and pleased that we were able to find everything that we needed, either as a gift, as a hand-me-down, or used. But I think that it is important to take the time to prepare for a baby, and that maybe buying stuff, figuratively feathering the nest, is part of that preparation and transition.

What do you think? Can you be too frugal when preparing for the arrival of a new baby or with your children?


1 Dana May 22, 2009

I think it can be somewhat subjective, as well. People are often frugal in one area so they can be extravagant in another. And if you truly can’t afford something, what I would consider being “cheap” for us.because we have a good income would simply be frugal for another family.

Dana´s last blog post..Frugal composting

2 Amanda May 22, 2009

You can absolutely be too frugal when you don’t buy things that may jeopardize the baby’s health and well-being. I believe taking prenatal vitamins (or closely watching your dietary intake) is necessary, as is good prenatal care. Also, extreme frugality could often promote people to use an old crib no longer considered safe for baby or a car seat that’s been in an accident (or no car seat at all).

On the other hand, having a baby is one of two events where it’s so easy to get bullied into spending when you really don’t have to (having a funeral is the other time). New moms who really don’t know what they need will be handed a list of non-essentials for which to register, and they’ll begin to feel totally unprepared if they don’t the latest and greatest travel system and/or bath thermometer.

Having a baby doesn’t have to be an expensive business if you open yourself up to receiving lightly used items from friends and family, posting needs on Freecycle, shopping Craig’s List or resale shops, watching for clearance sales, and making some items at home.

Amanda´s last blog post..The Third

3 Amanda May 22, 2009

I think there is a fine balance between too much and too little. Strollers, car seats, and other baby appliances don’t come cheap but like Amanda said above some things done too cheaply can be a safety concern.

I also find that many people blow budgets on the first born. There is so much excitement and lack of parenting knowledge it is very easy to fall into the “have to have” group. If only there was a way to really show first time moms that you don’t need all that stuff and used is good cause you’ll be taking it to consignment in 3 months anyway.

Is there a way to teach being frugal with common sense to mom’s-to-be?

4 penguinlady May 22, 2009

I am a woman who needs medical help to conceive (and let me tell you, IVF is not a frugal proposition to begin with!), so the likelihood I will have a second pregnancy is very slim. Sitting on a waiting list for months gives me a lot of time to think about how I want to manage my pregnancy spending and how I want to handle early babyhood. (Hey, a super expensive, painful procedure has an upside!) There’s a careful balancing act I’ve been thinking about; since I’ll only do this once and have gone through so much to get there, I really want to cherish it. On the other hand, I won’t be handing down/reusing a lot of stuff. My feeling so far is to go quality second-hand on large ticket items, but skimp a bit on clothes and toys. There is a huge “psychological” aspect to it for me, but if I’m not careful, I’ll have a basement full of baby stuff!

5 RML May 22, 2009

I wrote something about this on my blog not long ago when I had my third child- so many things I bought for number one and two ended up being sold at a loss very soon after. I am being very sensible this time- so much is hand-me-down, second hand from friends and otherwise its “make do and improvise”. And I don´t feel deprived, this time is so transient that nothing is needed for long. The only necessary “good” investment is a quality pram/buggy. A good one really can make your life easier.

RML´s last blog post..Diamonds Are A Girls Best Friend

6 Jerry May 22, 2009

My wife and I just have one daughter but preparing for the first is terribly daunting. We did manage to do it on the cheap, for the most part. We used craigslist and resale stores to get many of our items. But, you’re right about paying heed to every marketing ploy there is out there for new parents. Do so leads to buying way more *stuff* than you probably really need. We found there were a lot of things that we didn’t use. But, we did get some hand-me-downs. You’ll need it when all of a sudden your insurance premium goes up!

7 Emma @ May 24, 2009

When I was preparing for my son… well, I didn’t do much preparation. I just couldn’t figure out what to buy and deferred the decision till it was almost too late 🙂 Luckily I had so much help from friends with hand-me-downs that I hardly had to spend in the beginning. It was good in 2 aspects, the obvious (money) and the less obvious – I had some time to learn what babies do need and what is an “extra”, a “nice to have”. So I’d say it’s not easy to be frugal with your first baby, because as people here already said, you get tricked into buying “must-have” things which are not a must-have at all.

Emma @´s last blog post..Before And After the Baby

8 Floss May 24, 2009

Hello there – I’ve just discovered your fascinating blog because I’m about to cut my 11-year old son’s hair for the first time! (Wish me luck!) I like your balanced arguments about frugal babies here. Our boys were born when my husband was back at university doing his PhD. We had to be very frugal – second hand or borrowed everything – but I never felt we were putting the boys at risk. That’ s the only thing to bear in mind – safety, I think. If you add in not giving yourself too much work, as you mention, those are the only areas where you need to spend. Everything else can be done surprisingly cheaply. Thanks for your advice.

Floss´s last blog post..‘The Right Way to Make Jams’

9 uxordepp May 26, 2009

Safety is definitely important. When our last (surprise!) baby was born, nine years after his next eldest sib, we had no baby things around. We were given many things and did some second hand purchasing. I checked all the large items (car seat, stroller, etc.) with regards to recalls and did upgrades where necessary. I would strongly recommend this.

I found the hardest thing to get were cloth diapers. Used were nearly non-existent (I did eventually find a stash, but it took months) and new ones are SO expensive. I eventually switched to disposables as we had purchased a super efficient front loader which, I discovered, was too water efficient to wash cloth diapers well (and I think I tried everything! I suspect this would not have been a problem with the old-fashioned fold-them-yourself diapers). Our little guy was nearly two and I figured he’d be trained soon (oops. He ended up being VERY slow to train). Okay…I tried.

10 Kristy @ Master Your Card May 27, 2009

Hmmm, this is interesting. I guess not being a parent I really had not clue, but I have to say the answers to the question were different then I thought they’d be. My very limited experience with parenthood has been through my sister – who as a first-time parent went way overboard, only to let half the stuff she had sit around for awhile, unused. She was a bit more sensible the second time around, but it was interesting watching her learn the ins and outs. Had she listened to my mother the first time through, she would have saved herself a small fortune.

Do expecting mother’s really skimp on the prenatal vitamins? I take them now just because they offer all of the suggested vitamins a woman’s body needs even before pregnancy, I couldn’t imagine not having them if there were another life depending on those nutrients. And, from what I’ve experienced, they’re not all that expensive, especially considering that in many cases the over-the-counter prenatal vitamins are just as good as the prescription ones. I find this area of being “frugal” to be kind of awkward and wonder why anyone would be opposed to taking them just to save money.

Kristy @ Master Your Card´s last blog post..7 Money Mistakes Newlyweds Make

11 Becky May 28, 2009

I loved Dana’s comment. Very insightful. Babies really don’t need all that much. Certainly there are a few (very few) things you shouldn’t skimp too much on, if you can afford it, but if you truly can’t afford something, you’re not being cheap or too frugal to not buy it. That includes “safety” issues, like a brand new crib. Prenatal vitamins, by the way, are only about $10 for 3 months for the cheap ones, if I remember right. At least around here.

12 Iris Robin September 1, 2009

This is a very deep subject, but you hit the nail on the head with a lot of the points you've made. These reminds me of the old "necessities vs luxuries" discussion. Obviously there are things that your baby requires, but people do get out of control going over board with pampering their baby to the extreme.

I think doing as much research as possible will help you in saving money when it comes to raising a baby. I've found that there are a lot of scary things out there when it comes to "tricks to save you money with your baby". Just be very cautious.

One example to illustrate this point is home made baby formula. It does lack a lot of the essential vitamins they need (obviously breastfeeding is still the best way), but home made vs store bought baby formula…store bought wins out, it is much safer.
.-= Iris Robin´s last blog ..Beauty On A Budget: 6 DIY Spa Treatments You Can Enjoy At Home =-.

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