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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

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Diaper Costs: The Bottom Line #schoolofcloth

No doubt about it, the first thing people think of when someone says ‘we’re pregnant’, after squishy baby cheeks and ‘nom’able toes is the cost of diapering. The average age of potty learning in the United States is around 3 years of age for girls and 3.5 for boys. That means parents will be investing in thousands of diapers from the time those hospital doors go shut behind them. Sure, baby showers can give parents a little of what they need (using disposable diapers), and I’ve even seen hosts ‘raffle’ off gift cards for anyone who will bring a package of diapers for the mother-to-be as an incentive to cut costs for the family, but the hard truth is, even if you have really generous friends, you’re still not likely to receive 3 + years worth of diapering materials in one shot. Those that you do get may be the wrong size, or may cause allergies/rash, or baby might grow out of them in the middle of a box. What then?

The economy has been on a downward trend the last 5 years. This happens every 15 years or so on a boom/bust cycle, and those of us having kids in the bust years have to be a bit more creative and open to unconventional ways of doing things than those who diapered during the boom, where everything was plentiful, including ‘disposable income’—pun intended. A strident desire for companies to make a huge profit has led to them reducing packaging materials, ‘suping’ up diapers that can lead to dangerous diapering practices (such as re-use or extended wear of soiled diapers), and both raising the price AND cutting the number of diapers in each package. Is it really a bargain to buy a 12 hour diaper that your baby will actually need changed within about 2 hours? That’s a bit like taking a medicine that claims to work all day long but in actuality only gets you to mid-morning. You’re stuck with limited options—and none of them is sure to be a cure to the problem.

Da-da-da….. Enter cloth diapers. No really, I think they need a superhero cape. They’re both ‘modern’ and a throwback at the same time. Like Superman-without the tight squeeze of changing in the phone booth. Most parents aren’t really quite sure about cloth diapers at the outset. They seem hard, aren’t plastered on every television ad, and sometimes the information online can be an overload to the gray matter. Once a parent decides to take the plunge, however, there’s a good chance they’re going to think: can I really afford this? The simple answer is yes.

Unless you’re in the circumstance that someone else is giving you packages of disposables every week, or you’re getting them by the 5-finger discount, then money is coming out of your pocket somehow to pay for diapers. If you don’t have a baby yet, but are expecting, then likely you’re already clipping coupons, stockpiling, and researching how to get the most for your money out of disposable diapers through the potty training years. What most people don’t realize is that by using that weekly money in a different way, they can cut their diapering costs by THOUSANDS per child. If you can save up a little bit paycheck by paycheck while pregnant, that’s even BETTER, because you will have a definite budget and know what you can do with that amount of cash.

When making financial decisions, we often skip to the ‘bottom line’ factor. How much use am I going to get out of this and what does that make the total cost per (day/week/month/year)—and given the risk involved, how likely is it that I’m going to regret financing a larger purchase? We call it ‘depreciating it out’. Buying a washer/dryer set is a huge investment, but most people that can DO make the investment, because by depreciating it out over the machine’s lifetime of washing clothing versus paying per load at a Laundromat, the cost of washing at home is FAR less. By the time our first daughter was about 3 weeks old, we’d made countless trips to the store for diapers, exhausted, and resorted to ordering them online. I’d already done a lot of research on cloth, but found it overwhelming. Looking back, we’d have saved hundreds of dollars just in that short span of time by going with cloth diapers from birth. Depreciating out the cost of cloth diapers just made sense. How long do they last?

We made our first $75 investment in cloth diapers for size small covers and prefolds to last for one day. At first, it DID seem hard. We used cloth during the day and disposables at night. Then a funny thing happened: we realized that we didn’t have to buy as many disposables. That right there was money in the pocket to begin with—then other factors kicked in, like not having to drive to the store or pay for shipping online= money saved. The walk to the washing machine was about 15 feet. The walk to the dumpster included bagging up all the trash, putting on a coat and gloves, and walking down several flights of stairs with gag-inducing chemical smells wafting at your nose. What kind of price can you put on that? If you’re my husband with a super sensitive nose (and garbage duty?) it’s massive. I also discovered I wasn’t changing and washing all my clothing and crib sheets several times a day like with disposables. No leaks! We began to prefer the look, feel, smell and convenience of cloth diapering. We couldn’t get them washed fast enough! We soon discovered that the value of those 15 diapers was in fact priceless. Had we washed every day and not purchased another disposable, those would have fit our (big) baby for 3 months, or 90 days. Even if they only lasted for the one child, the depreciated cost was less than $1 a day, or about 6 cents per diaper change. It turns out those diapers have lasted through 2 babies and will soon diaper a third. In fact, the diapers themselves look like they’re brand new. Eventually they will be sold or donated to help someone else—something that disposable diapers at roughly 25 cents per change can never do.

Now, of course I wouldn’t be writing on a diapering forum if we’d only bought 15 newborn diapers and the story ended there. Babies grow and need bigger diapers. We happened to use a credit card and purchased ‘fancier’ diapers for our baby for Christmas. We got free cloth diapers and babylegs with our purchase and paid off the amount with the money we saved by not using disposables. It worked so well that we did it again for Easter. We bought pail liners and wet bags and other fun things. Soon our baby had more diapers than she could wear in 3 days. However, even with all our purchases, we figured we broke even when she was 18 months old. She potty trained during the day at 26 months and at night before she turned 3, or our savings would have been higher. Our second child I invested in a few more newborn diapers so we could start IN the hospital, those paid for themselves before she outgrew them at 15 lbs. The rest of her 2 years of diapering was free. Our third child will be getting a few new diapers purchased at discount just for fun. After 5 years of diapering (with more than 3 of them costing nothing out of our pockets)—I can truly say that they’re worth ‘the bottom line’. Even though we got to the point of OVERpurchasing just for fun prints, we still saved a minimum of $2,000 with our first 2 children. Had we been more frugal, the savings could have been significantly higher. At this point, actually I would say that the cost of diapering with cloth actually pays you BACK in the long run—it’s no longer depreciation, but in fact it’s value-added instead. Cloth diapers save you money—that’s the bottom line.

Bio: Jill blogs about her growing family (expanding within the month), country living, cloth diapers, and a life 'just this side of crunchy' at

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