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Finding Bargains for Baby

Ylan Mui

The Associated Press recently wrote a story reporting that some frugal moms are switching from disposable to cloth diapers in an effort to save money.

I admit that I don't have kids, so the idea of washing out a poopy rag is really not that appealing. But many of my mommy friends share my opinion. Proponents of cloth diapers say that they are more environmentally friendly and really not that unpleasant. But the point that intrigues me the most is the argument that cloth diapers are actually cheaper.

This debate is interesting because it is essentially about cost vs. convenience. What price are we willing to pay to make our lives a little bit easier?

I did some digging online and found this very handy spreadsheet on The Happy Housewife that shows cloth diapers have higher start-up costs but they pay for themselves after 8.4 months. The calculations account for the cost of the water, detergent and electricity required to wash the diapers at home. If your child is in diapers for two years, you would save $824.27 by using cloth rather than disposable.

However, many parents opt to use a diaper service instead of washing them on their own. I checked out a local cloth diaper service to find out average prices. Modern Diaper Services in Alexandria charges $16.50 per week to clean 50 diapers and tacks on a $3 monthly fuel charge.

According to the spreadsheet on The Happy Housewife, kids go through an average of 7 cloth diapers per day, which would result in 49 diapers per week. Following Modern Diaper Services' rates, you would pay $1,788 in cleaning costs over two years.

Add in the initial investment of $440.20 for the diapers, and your two-year total is $2,228.20. The two-year cost for disposable diapers is only $1,680.04. That means going with cloth diapers and a cleaning service is $548.16 more expensive than going disposable. But if you use cloth diapers and wash them yourself, you could save quite a bit.

I never say never, but I think I could be easily persuaded to give in to the convenience of disposable diapers from a cost standpoint. Of course, there are other factors to consider, such as the environmental impact and what is best for your baby. I don't think this is a debate that will go away any time soon!

What do you all think? And how much are you willing to pay for convenience?

By Ylan Mui  |  May 1, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Bargains , Cheap & Green , Ylan Q. Mui  
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Hi - Just to add another line to your budgeting, another advantage of cloth diapers is that you get to use them again for the next kid (or kids), eliminating that start up cost for the 2nd time around. Also, most kids don't start potty training until they're closer to 3, so I'd figure the costs at least at 2.5 if not 3 years of disposables.
I could go on about the advantages of cloth diapers but I'll spare you :) Thanks for the good post.

Posted by: Lina1 | May 1, 2009 10:24 AM | Report abuse

You may need to change your calculations for the diaper service. There aren't start-up costs if you use a diaper service. They provide the diapers as well (they don't clean the diapers you purchase yourself), so the difference is really only about $100.

Posted by: beth16 | May 1, 2009 10:36 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for the good points!

On the diaper service site that I used for these cleaning prices, it says that customers get a loaned diaper pail, bags, eeodorizer and one free velcro diaper cover -- but it doesn't mention getting the diapers themselves. But you're right that if the service does come with all the supplies you need, the cost differential would be $107.96 over two years.

Posted by: ylanmui | May 1, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I'm a SAHM who used cloth with both of my kids, but I used a hybrid approach: disposable diapers when I needed the convenience, and cloth all the rest of the time. We quickly found that for our kids, cloth at night meant wet crib sheets and clothes, which necessitated a complete change of everything during the wee hours (sorry for the pun!). So we switched to disposable during the night, and any time we expected to be out of the house for extended periods. We laundered the diapers ourselves, gave them a 15-20 minute tumble in the dryer, then line dried the rest of the way. We spent comparatively little on diapers and added less to the landfill. For further cost savings, consider the resale market for both buying and selling cloth diaper supplies. I know it might sound icky to some, but cloth diapers and diaper covers can be sterilized, and infant-sized diaper covers are used for such a short amount of time before they're outgrown that they're typically in excellent shape.

Posted by: small_world | May 2, 2009 8:04 AM | Report abuse

I laud your mention that there is a potentially less expensive alternative to disposables.

However, the editor of one of the "green" magazines a while back got into trouble by suggesting that disposables were MORE ecologically friendly because the growing of cotton is a major user of pesticides. Another factor in the puzzle. Another reminder that it's a system, not an isolated decision.

Anyway ... thanks for the discussion.
Stanley Abbot
Staunton, VA

Posted by: sjabbot | May 2, 2009 12:29 PM | Report abuse

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