The costs of having a baby can add up! This article covers all the ways you can have a baby on a budget and save money on baby stuff over the first year of bub’s life.
Having a baby is an immense joy and a big responsibility. As new parents, we want the absolute best for our new babies. We’re excited and a little nervous, which makes us prime targets for marketers who tap into these emotions and try to convince us their product is a ‘must-have’ baby item.
As a parent of two, I’ve found a lot of the so-called essentials are not so essential, and there are plenty of ways to keep costs down.
Whether you’re buying baby gear, feeding bottles or nappies, I’ll show you how to save money without compromising on comfort or quality.
Raising a frugal baby goes beyond just saving money. By keeping things simple, not only are you reducing financial stress and clutter, but you’re also creating a more sustainable and relaxed home for your family.
How Much Does it Cost to Have a Baby in Australia?
It can be a bit of a shock when you add up all the potential costs of having a baby.
Research conducted in 2020 indicates that the average costs of pregnancy and a baby’s first year are $5552. This assumes public healthcare and does not include private healthcare costs.
The good news is there are lots of ways to save money on baby items.
Having a baby budget and saving beforehand can make your first year as a parent less financially stressful. Here are some costs to consider:
- Reduction in income
- Medical costs
- Childcare costs
- Baby gear
Below I break down these costs further so you know what options you have and the different ways you can save.
Reduction in Income
Having a baby usually means some time out of the workforce for either you or your partner or both. If time off is unpaid, then a reduction in income is a significant, albeit indirect, cost of having a baby.
There are things you can do to reduce the impact of unpaid leave. For starters, you may be eligible for paid parental leave (see below), which is paid at the minimum wage. Your award or agreement may also offer paid parental leave. Another option is to use your annual leave to help cover costs.
There are also other government support options to help cover the costs of having a baby, outlined below.
Depending on your circumstances, you may be eligible for government support that can help cover some of the costs of starting a family. Available support (2022) includes:
- Parental Leave Pay
- Dad and Partner Pay
- Newborn Upfront Payment and Newborn Supplement
- Family Tax Benefits
- Childcare Subsidy
- Parenting Payment
For information about available payments, services, eligibility requirements and what you need to do to register, check out the Services Australia website.
If you’re a public patient in Australia, you will likely have few or no medical costs. Routine care and tests are bulk billed, which means you don’t pay out of pocket. So, the first way to save money on your baby is by using the public system. But keep in mind that if you choose to have shared care with your GP and they don’t bulk bill, you may have to pay the cost of the visit.
According to BUPA, if you’re a private patient, out-of-pocket costs can range from $1725 and $7392, or sometimes more [source 2021]. If you opt for a home birth, the costs can vary widely – between $3,000 and $5,000. As private medical costs vary, it pays to shop around for both insurance and doctors.
If you have private health insurance, check with your insurance provider to see if you are covered for pregnancy and birth. Find out what costs are covered and what out-of-pocket expenses you’ll have. Also, check to see if your baby is covered from birth in case they require medical care.
If you need medical services after having a baby, the free healthdirect helpline (1800 022 222) is invaluable, especially if it’s late at night and you’re not sure what to do.
Depending on where you live, you may also have access to an after-hours home visit doctor that bulk bills. This is an excellent service for those late-night illnesses that crop up, and it helps you avoid long waits at the hospital emergency department.
Childcare is another cost to factor in if/when you plan on returning to work. Childcare costs vary depending on how many hours a week you use the service, what the provider costs are, how many children you have in care and what government subsidies you’re eligible to receive.
Long day care that charges around $105 a day translates to around $28,000 a year for full-time care. If you receive the maximum subsidy, you can expect to pay approximately $13,000 a year for full-time care [source].
The other main cost of having a baby is the gear you need.
There is a LOT of baby stuff available to buy. And as research shows, it can add up to thousands.
The good news is that most of it you don’t need and of the stuff you will need, there are plenty of ways to save money, as outlined below.
How to Save Money on Baby Gear – General Tips
Before we get into specifics, here are some general ways you can save money on the cost of baby stuff:
1. Have a baby shower. Getting baby necessities as gifts can reduce the cost of buying them yourself. A gift registry can help people pick things you need. If you don’t feel comfortable with a formal gift registry, have a list of ideas ready if people ask you what you need, or suggest a gift card so you can choose what you want.
2. Borrow or hire. Have any friends or family had babies recently? You may be able to borrow items and save money. An alternative is to hire things you’re only going to need for a short time.
3. Keep newborn stuff to a minimum. Babies grow quickly, so you’ll probably need less newborn stuff than you think. Start with a few infant nappies and clothes, and stock up on the older sizes as well.
4. Look for items that grow with baby. Rather than buying things for each stage of your baby’s growth, opt for a car seat and a pram that goes from baby to toddler, and cloth nappies (if using) that are resizable.
5. Look out for sales. Sign up to store newsletters and look for deals or discounts on new baby items. Aldi has a twice year baby sale when you can bag some great buys, including more affordable cloth nappies.
Should You Buy Second-Hand Baby Stuff?
Buying second-hand baby gear is a great way to save money on baby stuff.
Because babies change and grow fast, you can get second-hand items that have been very lightly used.
Having said that, items like infant car seats, cots, mattresses, baby gates and breast pumps should be bought new for safety reasons.
Items you can safely buy used include clothes, baby baths, toys, prams, furniture and changing tables. Here are some things to keep in mind when shopping second-hand:
- Check that the model number, safety label and instruction booklet are available.
- Check that the item meets current Australian Safety Standards by locating the safety code on the label.
- Check that the product hasn’t been recalled (you can find a list here on the ACCC website).
- Check that the item is complete, with no worn or missing parts.
- Check that there are no broken or sharp edges.
- Check that the product hasn’t been altered.
- Make sure the item is solid, sturdy and in good condition.
- Look for loose bits, chipped paint or potential choking hazards.
Finally, you can recoup some of the costs by selling what you no longer need. Only sell items that are in excellent condition, haven’t been recalled, and that retain tags, labels and instruction booklets. And make sure you clean them beforehand!
How to Save on Essential Baby Items
Walk into any baby shop, and you’ll find an avalanche of baby items to purchase. And because shopping is fun and you’re excited about having a baby, you can walk away with a tonne of stuff you don’t need and won’t use. Here are some essential things that you can’t live without. By the way, nappies (diapers) and feeding get a section of their own later.
At some point, you’ll need maternity wear.
You can save money by making your clothing last as long as possible with the old ‘hairband through the jeans’ buttonhole trick, or by using a belly band and bra extenders. Clothing styles that are naturally roomy or have empire waists can also be worn during pregnancy.
Other ways to save money on maternity wear include:
- Looking for second-hand clothing in thrift stores, garage sales and online
- Buying clothes on sale
- Keeping your pregnancy wardrobe minimalist
- Borrowing clothes from friends or having a clothes swap
Infant Car Seat
According to national child restraint laws, you need to use an approved infant car seat when transporting your bub in the car.
When buying a new car seat, ensure it meets Australian safety standards. You can, however, save money by purchasing one on sale.
It’s also a good idea to get it professionally fitted. Ask at your prenatal clinic if there is a local service they can recommend. For more information on choosing a car seat, check out CHOICE’s car seat guide.
Bub will need a safe space to sleep.
For many families, that means buying a cot and placing it in the parent’s room for the first six months. Because a second-hand cot is not recommended, save money by shopping around for a cot on sale. All cots must meet current safety standards.
Keep in mind that wooden drop-side cots are no longer recommended for safety reasons and are banned in the US.
Cot bumpers, mattress paddings and quilts are not recommended for safe sleep, so these are expenses you can cross off your list. A safe, high-quality infant sleeping bag that fits properly and has no hood can be a great alternative to consider.
Co-sleeping is another option parents may choose, but it can increase the risk of sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI). If you decide to co-sleep, it’s important to follow safety guidelines and best practices.
A pram is a convenient way to transport bub when you’re not driving. Here’s how you can save on this essential item:
1. Choose a pram that grows with baby. This will save you money because you will only need to buy one pram.
2. Choose a pram that suits your needs. Will you use it regularly or not? Will you be jogging with the pram (you might need something sturdier) or using it in the shops (you might prefer something light and foldable with storage space)?
3. Make sure it fits in your car before you purchase. Some prams can be super bulky. As well as making sure it will fit in the car, make sure you’re able to lift it comfortably.
4. Borrow or hire a pram. If you’re lucky enough to be able to borrow a pram, that’s a great way to save money. Alternatively, hiring one can be cost-effective if you’re using it for a short time.
5. Keep an eye out for sales. If you start looking early, you may come across a sale and save money. The downside is that you might not know what you want or need until after baby is born.
6. Opt for a budget brand. All new prams must meet Australian Safety Standards, so you don’t need to buy the deluxe Rolls Royce of prams. Choose one within your budget.
7. Buy a second-hand pram. As with every second-hand purchase, make sure the pram is labelled with the current safety standards, there’s no wear and tear on the straps, it’s clean and sturdy, and there are no loose parts.
8. Accept hand-me-downs. Free stuff is great. Just make sure hand-me-downs meet the same criteria as second-hand items (above).
A baby carrier is a great option to use with or instead of a pram. A carrier keeps baby close and is super convenient for hands-free shopping. There are many brands and styles of carrier, including slings, wraps and modern carriers.
If you can, borrow some carriers to test them out before making a purchase and find out which one suits you best. We personally loved the Ergobaby carrier, but it’s important to find the right option for you. One option is to join a local babywearing group. Like the other items, keep an eye out for sales or purchase second-hand, making sure the buckles, straps and fabric are in good condition.
Because babies grow so quickly, it pays to save as much money as you can on clothing. Here are some money-saving tips:
- Keep newborn sizes to a minimum.
- Shop with a list (See essentials checklist at the end of this article).
- Choose gender-neutral clothing. You can also pass them down to future siblings if you decide to have them.
- Buy second-hand. Thrift stores and online sellers have oodles of lightly worn clothing for a fraction of the price of new clothes.
- Keep clothes to a practical minimum. You need a few changes of clothes but probably not as many as you think.
- Keep it simple – onesies are practical, easy to put on and comfortable for bub. Comfort should ALWAYS trump style.
- Invest in some bibs if your baby spits up a lot (my first baby did – these were a lifesaver). Bibs will reduce the number of changes.
- Make sure nappies fit properly to reduce leaks and blowouts.
- Buy items on sale.
- Have a clothes swap with other mums.
- Accept hand-me-downs.
- Let grandparents splurge if they want to.
- Avoid the fancy and expensive brands (unless you can get them second-hand). They look stylish but, in my experience, they’re fiddly and restrict baby’s movements.
- Look for second-hand baby markets/fairs/car boot sales. You can bag a bargain at one of these.
- Join local Facebook baby groups to find online bargains.
- Don’t buy seasonal clothes in advance in case your baby doesn’t fit that size anymore.
- Avoid shoes. Babies learn to walk better on bare feet. Soft booties and/or socks are good to keep the baby’s feet warm. Onesies also keep toes warm without extra socks.
How to Save on Non-Essential Baby Items
Some people swear that the following items are essential. Others never use them. For example, we didn’t use a changing table for either of our children, but I know people who find tables easy on their backs.
While you can save money by holding bub on your lap while feeding them, it’s easier when they can sit in a high chair.
A simple high chair without all the bells and whistles (that still meets safety standards) is not only cheaper, but it’s also easier to clean. Reduce the cost by purchasing it when it’s on sale.
High chairs can also be purchased second-hand. If you choose to do this, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Is the chair sturdy and robust? Does it collapse when you put weight on it?
- If it is foldable?
- Does it lock securely without collapsing?
- Is it easy to clean?
- Does it have a five-point harness in excellent condition?
- If it has wheels, do they lock?
- Does it have easily detachable parts?For more information on highchair safety, check out the Australian Product Safety Guide.
- A changing table is another item where you can save money by buying second-hand. When buying a changing table, here’s what to look for:
- A sturdy table with storage
- Roll-off protection (although you should always have one hand on bub when changing nappies – and never leave them unattended)
- Strong locking devices that prevent the table from collapsing or rolling
For more information on changing table safety, check out the Australian Product Safety Guide.
You can get by without a baby bath, but they are certainly handy to have. This is a great item to buy second-hand (you may even be able to find one for free). Our large thrift store has dozens of baby baths.
Look for one that is clean (not mouldy) and has no cracks, breaks or sharp edges.
While not essential, if you’re staying at home to look after bub, baby activities are invaluable for getting you out of the house and connecting with other parents.
And while there are a lot of options available (baby gym, baby music, baby sensory classes), you can usually find free activities run at your local library. These may include baby rhyme time, song time, storytime and other activities. Playgroups and Mainly Music are great low-cost options to consider if available in your area.
I’m a little biased, but I think baby books are essential. Reading to your baby is great for their development as well as a wonderful way to snuggle together and bond. Discount stores like Big W stock a range of quality baby books for a fraction of the cost of book stores. Babies don’t really need toys, but because reading to your baby is so beneficial, it’s great to stock up on some books.
Other Non-Essential Items
Depending on your circumstances, the following may be useful:
1. Nappy bag. Save by using a bag you already have. A beach tote works perfectly.
2. Baby monitor. If your baby sleeps in a cot in your room, you won’t need a monitor. But if they’re in another room and your home is large, a monitor may come in handy. This is a great item to pick up second-hand.
3. Car sunshade. A tea towel over the window is a free alternative to a sunshade – just make sure it doesn’t dangle in bub’s face. Non-branded shades that slide over the window are an affordable option.
4. Potty. A plastic potty can help be easier to use at toilet training time than the regular toilet. Keep an eye out for a second-hand one.
How to Save on Nappies
Nappies (diapers) can be a significant recurring cost over the first couple of years of a baby’s life. There are, however, ways to reduce the cost.
Whether you choose to use cloth or disposable, here are some tips for saving money:
Cloth nappies are generally cheaper than disposables over the long term, although the upfront costs can be high.
The price of a disposable nappy can range from 15 cents to $1, while the cost of a cloth nappy can range from $1 to $40, depending on the style you choose. However, unlike disposable nappies, this is a one-off cost with a nominal ongoing laundry cost.
The cheapest variety is the terry-towelling flats or terry flats at around $1–2 each. This is the type of nappy I used with my two children. Terry flats are cheap, can be folded in different ways to grow with baby and are easy to wash. They’re also quick to dry and can be used (when clean) for other things, like a burp cloth.
When we bought our terry flats (2010), they were $1.70 each and lasted for both kids. At the time, we added up the cost of washing (electricity, water, detergent, etc.), and it came out at approximately 30 cents per wash or 2.14 cents per nappy. Adding in the cost of purchase and incidentals (liners and covers), we calculated that the total cost per wear was 6 cents – less than half the price of the cheapest disposables.
Modern cloth nappies mimic disposable nappies. While easier to use than the flats, they can be more expensive.
Here are some tips for keeping the cost of cloth nappies down:
- Look for cheaper brands
- Keep an eye out for sales
- Buy second-hand cloth nappies
- Accept free hand-me-downs from friends
- Get adjustable all-in-ones that grow with baby
- Add modern cloth nappies to your baby shower wish list
- Wash in cold water with minimal detergent
- Avoid using a dryer.
If you’re looking for second-hand nappies, check out baby markets/car boot sales, eBay, Facebook Marketplace and Gumtree. Ask how they were washed and cared for and check elastic, snaps, Velcro and fabric for wear.
Another way to mitigate the cost of cloth nappies is to sell them once you’re finished – if they are in good condition.If you’re handy with a needle and thread, you might also try your hand at making your own cloth nappies. To get you started, check out this roundup of cloth nappy patterns and tutorials.
An alternative to buying cloth nappies is to use a nappy delivery service – if there’s one in your area. This isn’t cheaper than disposables, but it gives you the eco-benefits of modern cloth nappies without the large upfront cost and the hassle of washing nappies yourself.
For more information on the variety of cloth nappies available, check out choosing cloth nappies.
If you have multiple children in nappies, or you’re juggling work and parenthood and don’t have time for cloth nappies, you may prefer to use disposable nappies (either part-time or full-time).
Here are eight tips for reducing the cost of disposable nappies:
1. Use cost per unit (nappy) to compare prices. It’s easier to compare costs between brands and sizes when looking at the cost per nappy. Here’s one example: The Huggies seem more expensive based on the sticker price, but the cost per unit makes it cheaper. Knowing what you pay per nappy makes it easier to compare brands and recognise great sales.
2. Have a few favourite brands. You’ll save more money if you have a few favourite brands to choose from when nappies go on sale.
3. Consider home brand/cheaper brands/Aldi brand. Generally, more affordable brands are just as good as the more well-known brands, but at a fraction of the cost. If you’re unsure about buying a large pack of nappies you may not like, check out reviews from other mums or see if you can try one from friends with babies. This is where a mother’s group can come in handy. You could have a nappy swap one day to try out different brands.
4. Look for sales. Once you know which brands you like, keep an eye out for when they go on sale. Chemists and discount stores like Big W also stock nappies, so check their catalogue sales.
5. Stock up when on sale. Avoid paying full price by stocking up when nappies go on sale. But don’t just stock up on newborn sizes. Stock the next size up so you don’t end up with extra nappies that don’t fit anymore.
6. Keep the smaller size as long as practical. You don’t want bub to be uncomfortable or risk leaks and blowouts. However, the longer they can comfortably stay in the smaller nappy, the more you’ll save as there are fewer nappies per pack as they get bigger.
7. Buy in bulk. Usually, buying nappies in bulk (biggest packets) will be cheaper than smaller packets. Always check the cost per unit because sales on smaller packs can be cheaper. Don’t forget to check online for bulk buys.
8. Consider Amazon Family. Amazon Family gives you 15% off nappies (and other baby items) when you use their subscription service, and they offer a variety of brands within this service. You can also find bulk buys here too. This can bring the cost per nappy down but not always. It’s worth comparing price per unit with other retailers, especially when there are sales. An added benefit to a subscription service is reducing the stress and hassle, which can be worth the extra dollars when you have a newborn.
How to Save on Feeding
Breastfeeding is the healthiest option when feeding your baby – and it’s also the cheapest. But if you formula feed for whatever reason, I’ve got you covered too. Here are the typical expenses for breastfeeding, bottle feeding and feeding solids, followed by tips for saving money.
While breastfeeding can be entirely free, you may have outlays depending on your circumstances. For example, if/when you choose to go back to work, you may need to supplement breastfeeding with pumped breast milk.
Some costs may include:
- Maternity bras
- Breast pads
- Nipple cream
- A feeding pillow
- Breast pump
- Freezer bags for freezing breast milk
It’s a good idea to wait until after your baby is born to buy most of your breastfeeding items. This saves you from spending money on things you don’t end up using. Save on bras, pads and cream by shopping around and looking for sales. You may be able to get free samples from your hospital as well.
When expressing breast milk, the free option is to do it by hand. This is great if you’re not expressing a lot. It is, however, more work than using a pump.
The next cheapest option is a manual pump, which will set you back around $30–60, while an electric breast pump can cost anywhere between $130 and $300, depending on what brand you buy. To reduce the cost, shop around and look for sales. I don’t recommend buying a second-hand breast pump due to the risk of bacteria building up in the pump.
An affordable option may be to hire a breast pump from your hospital. You’ll need to buy new parts to go with it (around $50). Ask your antenatal clinic if you’re interested in hiring a breast pump.
Formula feeding can be a significant cost in a baby’s first year. Some costs may include:
- Teats (the sizes change as bub grows)
- Bottle cleaning brush and sterilising equipment
These tips below will help save you money on formula:
1. Use regular formula. Unless otherwise recommended by your paediatrician, Infant Feeding Guidelines recommend formula made from regular cow’s milk, which is cheaper than specialty formulas. Obviously, consult your doctor for individualised advice.
2. Use powdered formula in the can. Skip the pre-made formula or formula sachets. Powdered formula in large cans is the cheapest way to purchase it. There are minimum standards that all Australian infant formulas must meet, so cheaper brands are just as good as the expensive ones.
3. Buy on sale. Keep an eye out for deals and purchase extra when on sale. There are limits on how much formula you can buy in one shop, but you can buy two cans at once when it goes on sale, resulting in significant savings over the year.
4. Look beyond the grocery store. Baby formula isn’t just sold at the grocery store, so keep an eye out for sales at your local chemists and variety stores like Big W.
5. Skip the toddler milk. Toddler formula is expensive. The Infant Feeding Guidelines recommend regular milk rather than toddler formula after 12 months of age, except in the case of known allergies or if your paediatrician advises otherwise. Consult your doctor if you have any concerns.
Tips for Saving Money on Bottle Feeding
- Avoid the tiny newborn bottles and go straight for the big bottle fitted with the newborn, low-flow teat. You can mix small amounts of formula in the large bottles, and the bottles are large enough to grow with baby. Simply upgrade the teats as necessary.
- Start with a few bottles and buy more as they go on sale.
- Some people suggest trying a couple of brands to see which one baby prefers. If you want to do this, buy one or two different bottles before going ‘all in’ on a particular brand.
- A microwave steriliser is inexpensive and saves a lot of time and hassle compared to boiling bottles. Check out Raising Kids for more information on sterilising bottles.
- Make life easier by prepping several bottles ahead of time. Fill sterilised bottles with the correct amount of cooled, boiled water and store the sealed bottles in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Then add formula right before feeding and warm if desired. See more tips on preparing formula safely at Raising Kids Network.
- The cheapest option for formula feeding when out and about is to take a bottle of cold, boiled water (keep it insulated) and the formula powder in a separate container and mix when needed. You don’t need to warm the bottle if your baby is happy to drink it cold.
Transitioning from milk to solids is an exciting step! First foods might include iron-fortified rice cereal or pureed meat.
Ways to save money on baby food include:
1. Make your own food. The best way to save money is to make your own rather than buy store-bought baby food. The simplest way to make baby food is by steaming plain vegetables when cooking your own dinner and finely mashing or pureeing them. For convenience, freeze mashed vegetables and fruits in individual portions. Ice cube trays are the perfect size for babies.
2. Serve small portions. To reduce food waste, give babies and toddlers small portions and give them extra if they are still hungry. Babies and toddlers have small stomachs and don’t eat as much as you might think. Three servings are better than one big serving that mostly gets smushed into their hair and thrown on the floor.
3. Use face washers rather than wipes. When cleaning up, save money and the environment by using flannel face washers rather than disposable wipes. Rinse them and throw them in the wash with the towels to clean.
4. Save on cutlery by keeping it minimal. When starting solids, one or two baby spoons (which you can buy on sale) and a regular bowl are all you need to get started. Once bub transitions to finger food, it’s worth using the highchair table as a plate – it will be one less thing that ends up on the floor.
5. Always carry snacks. When you go out, bring appropriate snacks and water. They can keep cranky toddlers happy and save you from making extra purchases.
For more information on transitioning to solids, check out the Department of Health website.
When you’re expecting a baby, it’s easy to get carried away with all the available baby products. However, most of them are unnecessary, and you probably won’t use them at all or for very long.
To save money, focus on core baby needs: a safe environment, loving attention from caregivers, and the freedom to grow, move and explore safely. Fancy toys, contraptions and designer clothes are all expenses that can distract from these core needs. Instead, you can save your money for those expensive teenage years.
Just kidding … sort of!
Baby Essentials Checklist
Here’s a downloadable checklist of items you may need for your baby’s first year.
What to read next:
- Frugal Baby Toy and Play Ideas That Encourage Sensory Exploration
- Creating a Baby Nursery on a Budget