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Sunday, September 1, 2013

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Cloth Diapering on a Squeaky Tight Budget

Diapers are expensive. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say that diapers are, for many parents, the most expensive part of having a baby. You don’t get a lot of hand-me-down diapers (at least not disposable ones). A single child can easily go through a sixty-dollar case of disposable diapers in a single month—and there’s no return on that investment.

On other hand, cloth diapers are expensive. A single diaper can easily cost twenty dollars or more, making the cost of a startup stash prohibitive for many parents—especially parents who are willing to give cloth a try, but aren’t sure they’re willing to stick with it. If you’re already living on a budget so tight that it squeaks, it may be hard to even imagine purchasing enough cloth diapers to get through a day.

Luckily, there are budget options available—you just have to know where to look for them! If cloth diapering is a financial necessity, not a luxury, there are corners that can be cut, just like anything else. It just takes some effort to dig those corners out from the piles of fluff. Disclaimer: This post isn’t for people who are looking to save a little bit of money on their cloth diaper stash. This is the post for people who are desperate, need a solution yesterday, but just don’t have the money to do it.

Suppose, for example, that last month, you had a choice between buying diapers and paying the utility bill. This month, everything has come together all right, and you have enough to buy one box. Just one. Thirty dollars to spend on diapers—that’s it.

Buy two Econobum covers. They’re made by the makers of bumGenius, and they’re only a little bit lower quality (thinner PUL) than the rest of their line. They don’t come in bright, fun colors, but that’s okay! They’ll keep baby pee and poop contained, and that’s good enough. When baby pees, wipe out the cover and reuse it. If there’s poop on the cover, swap to the other one and hand wash the first one in the sink.

Then, you have a couple of choices. Do you have an excessive number of receiving blankets that you’re not using? They can be used just like flat diapers, including pad-folding into a cover. Lots of old, worn t-shirts? They serve much the same purpose. In a pinch, so do kitchen towels. Beautiful? No. They do, however, keep your baby’s bum covered. If you have a dozen of the above, you can take that remaining ten dollars and buy a third cover, and wash every day. At a dozen and a half, once you’re out of the newborn stage, you can probably wash every two days.

If you don’t have old t-shirts or receiving blankets that you can part with, visit your nearest Wal-Mart or Target and purchase a dozen flour sack towels (found in the kitchen aisle). These can be folded just like flats, and are, in general, much cheaper.

An Econobum trial package—one cover and three prefolds—can also be purchased for around twelve dollars, which is an excellent starter deal. Three of those packs would get an older baby through most single days, though you would have to wash daily.

Over the coming months, as your budget allows, you can purchase more covers, real prefolds and flats, and other accessories—but two covers and a dozen inserts (whether they were originally intended to be diaper inserts or not) will get you through the day. If you prefer to wash every other day, around four to six covers (depending on how often your baby poops) and twenty prefolds, flats, or inserts will diaper your baby adequately.

Once you have the bare necessities, you can take the time to expand your stash a little bit. You can explore pocket diapers, all-in-ones, or fitted diapers, depending on what catches your interest—and since you no longer have to purchase diapers every month, you have the freedom to allot a little more or a little less money to your stash as your budget allows.

As your baby gets older, you may find that you need more absorbency than a flour sack towel, receiving blanket, or t-shirt can offer. At that point, it may be necessary to move on to prefolds. Medium-sized prefolds fit well in a one-size cover on the largest setting. If you’re able to save ahead of time and purchase these all at once, you’ll save a great deal on shipping. If you get blindsided, build a little bit at a time again, as the budget allows.

Cloth diapering can be a real budget saver—not to mention lessening the stress of wondering if your paycheck is going to clear the bank before you run out of disposables. It may take some dedication and a little bit of work for the first month or two as you’re building a usable stash, but once it becomes part of your routine, you’ll wonder how you ever did without it!

By Emily

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Rachelle T. said...

Emily, thank you for this post. It is unfortunate that someone would have to go through such hardships, but it is something that happens a lot. I was laid off from my job when I was four months pregnant and very slowly have made my stash from thrifted cotton bed sheets, flat diapers that were on sale, hand me down receiving blankets, and off brand covers. My little one arrives next month and I feel confident about not having to worry about buying diapers!

Laurie said...

I started using cloth diapers for this very reason. I was worried about the initial investment but I was blessed with a mother who taught me how to sew. I used coupons to get my pul cheaply and used t-shirts and receiving blankets as inserts. I even bought a pack of 36 microfiber towels at Costco for $15. I also made diapers for other moms in exchange for materials. I have 2 in diapers and we have just enough diapers for a single day. It took a lot of resourcefulness but we're very happy with the result and as I find materials on sale I'm slowly adding to our stash.