A Dirty, Frugal Job - Cloth Diapering

Diapering. Nobody enjoys it. Every parent dreams of that day when they get the last kid potty trained and can close the door on this part of their lives. My baby diapering days started long before I was a parent. In college, I held a part-time job with a local daycare. For the most part, my job was to play with kids. Not bad, eh? I got paid for it too. Occasionally, I worked in the infant room. If I wasn't feeding babies, or rocking babies, I was changing diapers. So when our own baby arrived, a few years later, I was a lot less freaked out by baby poo than most new parents.

We, like normal Americans, chose disposable diapers for our first child. It went ok. Most brands couldn't stop 'blow-outs' aside from a local store brand (go figure). They don't really breathe that well, so baby had lots of diaper rash and irritation. Probably the worst part was running out of them from time to time. Usually at the worst times - very late at night, in small towns with no shopping.... We usually did OK on cost by doubling up on store coupons and manufacturer's coupons to get a decent price and buy several boxes at a time. But when you need them, you need them, and deals were not always possible. Actually disposing of them was also a pain. We had a Diaper Genie, which we now hate with a passion. By the time you filled that thing up, the diapers reeked and so did the baby's room. On top of that, there was the fact that we were adding all of this to the local landfill twice a week. We were normal.

As you should know by now, we are no longer normal. We are weird. With our second child on the way, and my wife, now a stay-at-home-mom, began investigating cloth diapering. Now people typically cringe when you mention diapering in general, but I've seen even the most seasoned diapering vet be grossed out by the mere mention of cloth diapering. "Really, you're going to do that?" How bad could it be? With the promise of money savings, a healthier baby and less impact on the environment, we decided to find out.

My wife found lots of great information, surprise surprise, on the Internet. Sites like DiaperSwappers (DS) and DiaperPin (DP) were very informative. On the DS forums she was able to ask questions and do research before actually buying any diapers. It was a great way to see what worked for others and what didn't. She also found out that you can save a ton of money by using cloth OR you could easily break the bank using cloth. DP has reviews of both diapering products and diapering online stores. They also have lots of great how-to information on cloth diapering as well a helpful definition page.

By our experience, the three best ways to save money when diapering are the following:

  1. Sew your own. There are some great patterns for diapers on the web. You can get some free ones but they usually have mixed reviews. My wifes favorite (and most diaper sew-ers also) is by VeryBaby. It doesn't take any special material to make diapers if you don't want it to. Really all you need is some elastic, hook/loop (Velcro to those not of the sewing persuasion), and and a small amount of cotton fabric. If you go with used 100% cotton tees (can usually get for free from thrift stores if you ask) it will cost you maybe a dollar per diaper plus your time. It really doesn't take any special talent to sew them. Lots of moms learn to sew by sewing diapers so don't think that this is only for the advanced seamstress.
  2. Buy/Sell used. You can buy everything used - even diapers. It really is not as gross and unsanitary as it sounds. A lot of times they have never been used or only a few times. Even if they have been used used they will be sanitary if you wash them properly before using them. Inversely, when your child out grows a size, you can sell the diapers to recoup some of the upfront cost. More on the details of this below. DS is a great place to buy and sell cloth diapers.
  3. Prefolds/flats. This is what most people think of when they think cloth. These are what first come to mind for most people because this is what your mom or grandma did. If you really want to have brand new, never touched anyones tush cloth, this is the way to go and still stay on a tight budget. They are much cheaper then the newer styles and still work great. But don't worry about hurting your child with a diaper pin. You can just use a snappi instead! Oh how diapering has evolved...
Yeah, but is it really that frugal? Well, yes. We've successfully made it through the newborn size cycle - Bought, used, and resold. Initially when you start buying these things, you have to ask, "Is there really a cost advantage here? Or is this some like other "green living" concepts that save the environment, but sacrifice your pocket book?". Well, I was skeptical too. Some of these fitted diapers were costing $14 new - $12 for a used one! At first, this did not look very frugal. At second glance, we had the potential to recoup 85% of that upfront cost. Not bad. I was very interested to see how this would come out. So like any good PF bloggers, we made a spreadsheet. Enter inner geek. What we came up with was a very useful document, that with a little user input would calculate all the pertinent info for cloth vs. disposables. We factored in not only the diapers themselves, but the wipes and storage products as well. But how did we come out?

Like I said, we've been through one cycle, and with this spreadsheet, we have more to offer here than just our opinion on the subject - we have real data. Our initial investment was $149.55. As we transitioned diaper sizes, we began selling off what of that we did not need. Certain things like cloth wipes (yes, our wipes are cloth as well) and wet bags (used for temporarily storing the dirty diapers, both at home and away), we would still be able to use and did not need to be sold off. As we were doing that, we knew the information that we needed to estimate what our disposable diaper costs would have been - number of days in this size and average diapers per day. After a few days of selling, packaging and shipping, all of the newborn cloth diapers were gone. We were very impressed at how fast they sold as well as the prices they fetched. So what was the outcome?
  • Cloth initial investment = $149.55
  • Cloth investment recouped = $102.81
  • Net cost of cloth diapers = $46.74
  • Estimated cost of disposables = $245.47
  • Money saved by cloth diapering = $198.73
So, for less than $50 we were able to diaper our newborn - nearly $200 less than it would have cost us to diaper the baby for the same amount of time in disposables. Thats all over the course of 48 days.

There are lots of different options for diapers. We couldn't find a good excuse for us not to go with cloth. The advantages far outweigh disadvantages. In fact, diapering is not so bad any more, our baby's room doesn't smell and we've not seen one diaper rash! Even our baby's doctor was saying how she notices that the babies she sees who use cloth rarely have rashes and are in better health than those in disposables. She openly admits that she believes it's the cloth diapers and that a lot of infant skin problems are due to the harsh chemicals that are now found in disposables. When she has kids... she's using cloth.

Below are some helpful links to get you started:

Very Baby
Diaper Swappers

Cloth Diapering How To /FAQs - Everything You Need To Know to Cloth Diaper Your Baby
Soft Cloth Bunz
Diaper Pin
The Diaper Hyena

Diaper chemicals
Diaper Drama 3 at the Diaper Pin

Diaper rashes
Diaper Drama 2 at the Diaper Pin

Cloth savings articles
Diaper Drama 1 at the Diaper Pin
Tips at the Diaper Hyena

Cloth savings calculators
Calculator at the Diaper Pin

Prefold/flat folding tutorial
Diaper folding at the Diaper Hyena

Like our spreadsheet? You can buy it for 99cents (USD)!
**UPDATE** See this post for more details on all the formulaic goodness.

We're going low tech for this.
  1. Use the purchasing options on the right - RME or PayPal.
  2. Drop us an email at jetsetnotthe at gmail.com with "Diaper Spreadsheet" in the subject line. We'll reply with the spreadsheet.
Clearly, we're not looking to get rich here, just recouping some of the time and effort put into it.

***UPDATE*** Welcome Festival of Frugality readers! Please take a few minutes to check out some of our other frugal living articles. If you are new here, find out more about Not the Jet Set here.

***UPDATE*** Welcome Carnival of Money Hacks readers! Please take a few minutes to check out some of our latest articles. If you are new to NtJS, find out more about Not the Jet Set here.


Autumn said...

WOW! Awesome post! Thank you :) I'm sure you'll be getting lots of traffic for this info.

Autumn Beck

Bloggers said...

What an awesome post!! Thank you for it.

Heidi S. said...

I did the math for our family....

On diapers, and covers because of gifts, we only spent about $150 on excellent-quality cloth. If I were buying disposables, I'd spend about $32 a month. The diapers themselves are paid for by the time the baby is 5 months old. The FIRST BABY to use them. For a lot of these diapers, I've used them on 2, 3 or 4 children, so far.We hope to have more, so we'll save even more. Then to maintain them, I pay 5 cents a load in water, 2 cents a load in energy ( I line dry), 1 cent a load in homemade detergent, 2 cents a load in white vinegar for a rinse. 10 cents a load. MAX two loads a week. 80 cents a MONTH.
That's a savings of $31.20 a month. All I have to do is a little work. Well, I figure my hubby sure was WORKING for that $31.20

That's $936 savings by the time the child is potty trained.

Then, if he goes into pull-ups for naps and night, it goes on. I have bed-wetters, so it goes on for a while! I spent $100 in excellent-quality cloth/PUL pull-ups. The washing is in the same load with the dipes, but we'll count it separately here. If I bought them disposable, it would be $20 a month. Again, pays for itself in 5 months. Then I save $18.20 a month for a total savings of around $655, not even counting the loads of sheets I DIDN'T wash because they were wearing the pull-ups.

So a total savings of $1591 per child, using cloth. That's for the FIRST CHILD. Every additional child is about $1841 savings, because we didn't have to re-buy the diapers. That means so far, we've saved almost $6500 using cloth. (Baby's not potty trained yet.)

Not enough savings to convince you? Here's some extra fun. Dave Ramsey-style. Take the savings for one child, put it in a Roth IRA at a competitive interest rate, NO ANNUAL ADDITIONS (meaning it just sits there, you're not adding to the fund!), and by the time that child's old enough for college, the first year at a pretty good school is completely PAID FOR. Using my numbers above (based on my water prices and my diaper prices) that's over $19,000. That's tuition for one year at a private college. Versus poopy paper in a landfill. I think that's pretty good savings. :)

Mr. (not) the Jet Set said...

Wow, heidi! Excellent comment. We totally negated the cost of washing/drying. Miniscule as you've shown, we are on well water AND line dry when possible. A number like 80 cents per month is good to have as someone is bound to ask.

Also, our assessment is for one child. As you have clearly shown, the savings is huge as you have more children.

Love the Dave reference, too. Thanks for reading and commenting!

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