Cloth Diapering on a Budget

>a guest post by Penny Saver of The Saved Quarter

So, I’ve just bought all the diapers I’ll need for my third child, and I’ve spent less than $100 out of pocket. Shocked? Don’t be–read on and I’ll let you in on the tips, decisions, and products that can help your family save hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars on diapering your kids, too.

I can’t lie; for the first month, I’m using disposables. I know the transition for our second baby was such that the cute little cloth diapers just didn’t get the use I thought they would, and they were outgrown so quickly! This time around, I bought a 40-count bag of newborn and 300-count box of size 1 diapers for the first month, for a total of $6 out of pocket. The newborn diapers were marked 50% off at my supermarket because the bag had a snag, and I had a $2 off coupon, so I spent $4 for it ($.10 per diaper). The box of size 1 diapers were an even better deal. I saw them at Amazon for a sale price of $37, or $.12 per diaper. Not bad, but if you signed up for Subscribe and Save, you got 15% off, and if you signed up for AmazonMom, you got another 15% and free shipping; this brought the price down to $.09 per diaper. Excellent! I had $25 in Amazon credit from Swagbucks, which brought it down to $2 out of pocket – less than $.01 per diaper. We’ll gladly take whatever the hospital gives as well. With newborns using about 10-12 diapers per day, we should be set.

That leaves me with about 2.5 years of diapering for $96. Sounds impossible? Cloth diapers make it doable!

Most of the cloth diapers I used on Sweet Pea were given to a friend and my cousin after Sweet Pea outgrew them (some are on their 5th baby bottom!), but I still have on hand some diapers that I bought secondhand and have used on both Peanut and Sweet Pea. Since I bought and used them before this baby, I’m not counting the expense of them. Had I bought disposables with the same money, I obviously wouldn’t be able to use them on a second or third child!

There are a number of cloth diapering options these days; it’s not the pins and plastic pants of 30 years ago, and they can be as simple to change as disposables but much cuter! Here is a good site for the basics of cloth diapering. You can spend as much on cloth as you would on disposables depending on your system, and there are some adorable, pricy options available.

Every cloth diapering system includes two parts: an absorbent layer and a waterproof layer. I’m going with the simplest, least expensive system: prefolds and covers.

Prefolds are just like they sound: pre-folded pieces of absorbent fabric. You can pin them onto baby if you wish, or you can use a Snappi fastener, which holds them together without the chance of pricking baby’s skin. Even easier, you can fold the prefold into thirds and lay it inside the cover, letting the hook-and-loop or snap closure of the cover keep it secure on the baby. Easy! To refill my stash, I purchased another 2 dozen infant and dozen premium sized prefolds from a friend who recently closed her cloth diapering business. I have enough diapers to cover the baby for three average days between washing, from newborn to toddler, and I spent $20.

Next, the covers to keep the wet in. These are often made with PUL fabric that keeps the moisture in, and have snaps or hook-and-loop (“Velcro”) to secure them to the baby. There are also wool and fleece covers, but I haven’t tried those. Again, I had some covers leftover from use on Peanut and Sweet Pea (6 newborn, 3 medium), and my friend gave me an additional 6 covers (4 medium, 2 small.) That left me to fill in size small. I bought 5 used covers on Diaper Swappers for $26. Since my kids are both on the skinny side, neither made it past medium covers before potty training.

Unlike disposables, cloth diapers can be resold after their use, making used diapers a financially attractive option for those on a budget and giving you a chance to recoup some of your investment after your baby learns to use the toilet. I love that our diapers are on their 3rd bottom (or more!) and will likely be in good enough condition to be resold after this baby for even more use.

I also bought 5 one-size pockets (Bum Genius 4.0) in their seconds clearance for $10 each, to have on hand for babysitters and grandmas who just want to put on a diaper that works like a disposable–just velcro the whole package onto the baby. Pocket diapers are like a pillow–the absorbent layer goes into the pocket case, with a soft outer layer against baby on one side, and a waterproof layer on the outer side. They close around baby with hook-and-loop or snaps and are as easy to use as disposables once stuffed with an absorbent layer, making them very easy for the cloth diapering novice. I’ll stuff them with the prefolds. One-size pockets adjust with snaps to fit babies from newborn to toddler; I used the Bum Genius one-size pockets on both 3 year old Peanut and newborn Sweet Pea with just a simple snap adjustment.

With that, my diaper stash is complete, and I spent $100 on everything I’ll need to diaper this next baby. Here’s what I have on hand:

340 disposable diapers
36 infant sized prefolds
30 premium sized prefolds
6 newborn covers
7 small covers
7 medium covers
2 Snappi closures
8 one-size pockets (including some leftover from Sweet Pea)
a few assorted pocket and all-in-one style diapers in various sizes
Wet bag
Diaper sprayer attachment for the toilet

The Cost of Cloth vs. Disposable

Environmental reasons aside, cloth diapers are a good choice if only for the significant cost savings.

The average baby goes through 8,000 diapers from birth to potty training at age 2.5. With an average price of $.25 per diaper, you’re looking at $2,000 on the conservative side, not including the cost of wipes and extra garbage service.

The cost of cloth can be significantly less! Let’s look at a basic prefold and cover option, if all bought brand new, including laundering.

The “Bare Minimum” package by Nicki’s Diapers – $228.30
24 small prefolds
24 large prefolds
8 one-size covers

Laundry – 2 loads per week for 2.5 years, hang dry (saves electricity and they last longer) = $3 (Laundromat prices)= $ 234

That’s $462.30, less than a quarter of the cost of disposables. If you have a second child and reuse these diapers, you’ll pay only for laundering the second time around – about 10% of the cost of disposables. After that second child is out of diapers, depending on the condition of them, you may be able to resell them for about half of your purchase price, reducing your total diapering bill even further.

However, the bare minimum isn’t quite enough for many, or convenience is important and another system is preferred. Even if you spend up to $750 on the initial investment – enough to buy a very nice stash of convenient, cute diapers, you’ll save more than $1,000. Even better, those cute, convenient diapers have a higher resale value if you choose to resell them.

But you know I’m not going to say to pay full price, right? You can definitely have a well-stocked, not-so-bare-minimum cloth diaper stash without paying full price.

Tips for getting started with cloth on a budget

1. Buy second-hand
There is a thriving second-hand market for cloth diapers. Many were bought and never used, or used once or twice just to discover that they didn’t fit right on that baby. Check Craigslist, eBay, and the For Sale or Trade forums on Diaper Swappers or other websites or Facebook groups.

2. Don’t buy a complete system without first testing it on your baby
You might really like a particular system–like the one-size pockets I like for easy on-the-go changes and babysitters–but one brand may not fit perfectly on your child. Another brand may work perfectly, and you don’t want to sink your whole budget into a style that doesn’t work for your baby.

3. Watch for sales and clearance specials
Like many other products, cloth diapers routinely go on clearance to make way for this year’s colors/patterns/slight adjustments. Some sites send out email announcements of their clearance specials. I am on the Cotton Babies list so I hear when they add new stock to their clearance section, where I was able to buy the one-sized pockets I like for 45% less than regular price.

4. Don’t buy everything your baby will need from birth to potty training all at once.
Buy only for the current stage if you can’t afford to buy all at once. There is no urgency to have the larger sizes if you have a newborn, so hold onto your money and keep an eye out for sales!

5. Consider prefolds!
These are the workhorses of the cloth diapering world, and while they’re not as cute as some other options, they’ll definitely be worth your money. You can use them as I am, with a cover as a diaper, or you can use them to stuff pocket diapers. They can be doubled up for heavy wetters and overnights, make great burp cloths, and when baby’s outgrown them, they’re excellent cleaning rags.

6. Don’t use too much detergent, and line dry
Too much detergent will damage your diapers. Use a detergent recommended for cloth diapers and experiment to find the amount that works best for your diapers. Line drying is obviously going to save over the dryer, but sunlight also has the bonus of helping to eliminate lingering stains, stink, or microbes.

7. Register for cloth diapers
They’re small, soft, and cute, which makes them fun to give as gifts, and you can register at a number of stores online and brick-and-mortar that will carry a variety of cloth options.

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About the Author:
Penny Saver is a frugal mom to 5 year old Peanut, 2 year old Sweet Pea, and a pea in the pod due this winter. She is making the most of modest means, saving her quarters to save a quarter of her income and blogging about it at The Saved Quarter.

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