My Frugal Parenting Fails

By now, you have probably long since guessed that the title of this blog is half-aspirational, half-ironic, as I am not at all paragon-like. I believe, however, that adults can grow and learn new tricks, so I get more and more paragon-like every day.

Or sometimes I fail spectacularly. Sometimes I learn something, sometimes I just have to move on. This week, enjoy a postmortem of my frugality-related parenting failures.

Natural Childbirth

Since I had excellent insurance, my two unplanned surgical births did not cost me anything out of pocket. (I maintain that no woman in labor should be wondering what her epidural is going to cost. That’s just cruel.) However, there were costs in terms of new clothing (larger underpants and nighties instead of PJs–thanks, Grandma FP) and, when Little Brother arrived, extra childcare; Big Brother was only 16 months old and I was not able to care for him.

Grandpa FP had to put Big Brother in his car seat. Apparently this was not acceptable.

Grandpa FP had to put Big Brother in his car seat. Apparently this was not acceptable.

This was not my fault, so it’s only a “fail” in the sense that I tried to make things go differently. Seriously, I read all the books and tried all the things, I just had giant-headed babies stuck at awkward angles. Fortunately, I had upgraded my insurance to cover any unanticipated birth costs. Sometimes, no matter how many books you read and how good your intentions, you can’t beat nature.

Birth Control

Unplanned babies are more expensive. Especially close together ones, because then you need doubles of a lot of things (play yards, baby carriers, etc.). Oops. This one was totally our fault.

The wages of carelessness. This is me in my second trimester of pregnancy, making up a oack n play with an eleven-month-old baby on my back.

The wages of carelessness. This is me in my second trimester of pregnancy, making up a pack n play with an eleven-month-old baby on my back.

Exclusive Breastfeeding


I got glass bottles for Little Brother so I could wash them in the dishwasher guilt-free. The narrow tops were hard to put the formula in. I still find the bottles handy in the kitchen for measuring and whatnot.

Everyone talks about how much money you save breastfeeding. Both my kids had formula. Both times, I ran into problems after six or eight months, the first time because I had gotten pregnant again and the second time… I dunno. I was mysteriously ill all that winter, was doing an internship, couldn’t pump more than an ounce, on and on.

I mitigated the cost by using store brand formula. All formula are pretty much the same nutritionally. In my experience, Parent’s Choice (Walmart) is hard to dissolve and Kirkland’s (at Costco, the best deal I’m aware of) is kind of foamy, but they both, you know, feed babies. I also kept cost down by switching from formula to gallons of whole milk as soon as baby’s birthday passed (which not everyone does).

The lesson here is that sometimes, you can’t do everything you want. I might have been able to keep breastfeeding if I had postponed my internship and just kept that baby strapped to my chest all winter, but that’s not what I chose.

Stroller Minimalism

Some people swear you don’t need a stroller at all because you can just use a baby carrier. (Those people apparently have never walked to a library or farmer’s market.) But since I owned a great baby carrier, I should just have needed one stroller, right?

Well, at one time I owned four. One jogging stroller, one cheap lightweight stroller, one nicer lightweight stroller, one double Sit n Stand. And I still wasn’t totally happy! Sometimes I wished I had an umbrella stroller, or a Snap n Go, or a side-by-side double, or a double jogger.

We still own two strollers (a single and a Sit n Stand) but haven't used them in months. Probably Craigslist time.

We still own two strollers (a single and a Sit n Stand) but haven’t used them in months. Probably Craigslist time.

If I were starting over again, I would probably still want three strollers: a jogging stroller for rough city sidewalks, an umbrella stroller or nice lightweight one for convenience after six months, and a Snap n Go for the first few months.

Early Potty Training/Elimination Communication/Exclusive Cloth Use

I did blog a while ago about how much money I have saved by an early switch to underpants. That is not, however, the same thing as actual potty training. Both my kids had frequent accidents until well past three and on towards three and a half—I just did a lot of laundry. Had I been able to get them to stop wetting themselves, I could have saved some money on utilities. I definitely wasn’t one of those people who have tiny diaper-free babies, although my hat goes off to those observant parents who make this work.

Have trained boys to put anything they pee on into this purple basket for pre-rinsing.

Have trained boys to put anything they pee on into this purple basket for pre-rinsing.

I did cloth diaper. But I used a lot of disposables for day care, vacations, babysitters, trips out of the house, etc. And while I fought the good fight (see this post on what I used to swaddle Big Brother in), I have long since given up on overnight cloth. Little Brother is still wetting and sometimes soiling at night. I tried two pairs of cloth training pants with a cover, but he kept getting his sheets wet. I could have kept using diapers at night, I guess, but I really wanted to be done with all diapers once we started using undies during the day. I just shell out for disposable training pants for nighttime. You know what’s great about disposables? You do not have to put on dishwashing gloves and rinse them in the damned toilet. Just drop them in an old bread bag and move on.

Under the boys' sink. I usually buy just a small package in hopes he will start to stay dry, but the nice name brand Pull-Ups were on sale at Costco this month.

Under the boys’ sink. I usually buy just a small package in hopes he will start to stay dry, but the nice name brand Pull-Ups were on sale at Costco this month.

This one was largely a matter of priorities. Sure, I could have found a way to make cloth work all the time, and I might have saved some money doing it, but I have found the quality-of-life factors to outweigh the cost.

I’m noticing a common theme to all of these–the results I got were generally proportional to my efforts. What I’m getting better at is choosing better where to spend those efforts in the first place. We are past the baby years now, but the general awareness of my skills and priorities as a parent is helping me choose what to worry about. (If I had to start over with a new baby, I’m sure I would do better in some of those areas, but others–most notably natural childbirth and exclusive breastfeeding–I wouldn’t even attempt.)

What have you learned from your frugal failures, parenting-related or otherwise? Or feel free to tell me in the comments how you avoided all these problems!


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About frugalparagon

I'm a part-time librarian and mom to two small boys. I blog about striving for the long-term goal of financial independence while running a tight ship at home.

7 responses to “My Frugal Parenting Fails”

  1. mrsssc says :

    My natural childbirths cost me over $1000 each out of pocket. It made me curious what they costs for women with complications or an epidural.

    Sometimes we have found we don’t mind paying for certain items – like strollers. We have 3. And I want to buy a sit-stand attachment for one of them just to save the frustration about fights for whose turn it is to sit. But, we use a stroller at least 4 days a week for evening walks and adventures, so to us its worth it.

    I did have intentions of cloth diapering more – but well, disposables are easy, and it was too difficult to keep up with the laundry. Plus, my husband never got on board with it.

    • frugalparagon says :

      Those attachments look fun but watch out–then they will be fighting over who gets to stand! Once Little Brother was over about two, neither of them would sit in the stroller seat. One would stand on the standing board and the other would sort of perch on the back jump seat.

      I paid an extra few hundred dollars a month during pregnancy to get the no-copay birth. Once I was safely delivered of a healthy infant, I scaled back to a cheaper plan. My anesthesiology bill alone was $16K (for an unplanned epidural during labor and then the extra meds in it for the c-section)–twenty percent of that would have been a lot! We also could not have accorded the copay for, for instance, a NICU stay.

      My sister actually coughed up FOUR GRAND out of pocket to pay for a home birth that her insurance wouldn’t cover. Yikes!

  2. lifestyles of the destitute and obscure says :

    Children are an investment and while yes, the baby merchandise industry can be a racket, strollers (for a variety of uses) are a necessity in the western world. To anyone who disagrees, have you ever tried to put a double jogging stroller in the trunk? (I have twins) or go running with an umbrella stroller? Take it easy on yourself, do what keeps you financially afloat and metally stable– it’s a fine line. Thanks for the awesome read. I can relate on SO many levels. 🙂

    • frugalparagon says :

      I couldn’t even get my SINGLE jogging stroller in my car, and I have a generous-sized mid-90s trunk!

      “Necessity” is probably a bit strong–I mean, people raised babies for millennia without them, and some people claim to get by with just a good baby carrier. Those people, presumably, had only one baby! I used my stroller a lot after Little Brother was born–I would put the baby in a carrier and put Big Brother in the single jogging stroller. (Which I NEVER used for jogging. I got pregnant again as soon as I bought it–I do not jog while pregnant–and then I had two babies.) With twins–well, you would never have been able to leave your house without a stroller!

  3. Tarynkay says :

    I found that Up&Up formula (the Target generic) was the way to go- they make several different kinds in imitation of the big brands. Sort of like Designer Imposters but for formula. I agree with you about the Parents Choice and Costco brand issues.

    Kids are expensive! I know it’s popular in the personal finance world to argue that they aren’t, but unless you’ve got a way around paying for childcare (or the cost of losing one income) and medical insurance/medical care, they just really do cost a lot. All of the stuff about dressing them in hand-me-downs and cloth diapering is great and we do all of that, but in the end, that is the low-hanging fruit.

  4. frugalparagon says :

    I’ve never been a frequent Target shopper, but I did try some of theirs when I visited a friend and had underestimated my formula needs. (This was during the awkward overlap period when I was still trying to breastfeed, and we visited friends who were unapologetic, from-birth formula feeders with, of course, adorable healthy children–helped ease my decision to hang up the nursing cover for good.)

  5. Basham says :

    In my opinion, baby strollers are the MUST HAVE thing when caring your kids. Sometimes, we even have 2-3 strollers at home, because each one has been used for specific purpose, etc when travelling, when jogging,…

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