When you have a baby, everyone tells you how expensive your life will become. They aren’t wrong: between child care, diapers, formula, and baby supplies, some weeks it feels like most of my paycheck is consumed by my seven-month-old son. When I’m shopping, one of the first things I do is pull out my calculator to figure out the cheapest option. It quickly becomes apparent how much you can save by buying in bulk. For many families with low incomes, however, buying in bulk simply isn’t an option—saving money costs money.
Despite what some conservatives might have you believe, there are very few financial supports in place for families with young children that assist with the purchase of baby supplies. Families with low incomes are doubly penalized in that they have fewer resources to spend, and therefore pay more for basic supplies because they can’t buy in bulk or purchase memberships at wholesale stores. In contrast, I have annual memberships with Costco and Amazon Prime and a car that allows me to shop around to find the best deals.
I decided to spend a week tracking just how much my husband and I save on baby supplies due to economic privilege. I tallied what we spent and compared our costs to what a low-income parent would need to spend for the same items at stores in our neighborhood.
Diapers and wipes
I’m able to purchase diapers for $0.22 apiece through a discounted online delivery service that requires a monthly fee for subscription. By comparison, a small package of diapers costs $0.36 per diaper at the local grocery store. At 60 diapers per week, I save $8 per week on diapers. Similarly, we buy our wipes at Costco and save $1.00 per week.
Additional cost for low-income parents: $9
We buy our formula at a big box store and stock up when they have a sale. Recently, they had a $25 rebate for shopper who spend $100 or more. A great bargain for us, but $100 is easily a quarter of what a minimum wage worker makes in a week. Our total for formula comes to $20 per week, compared to $29 per week at our local grocery store. Breast milk is also far from free. A pump, bottles, and other supplies can easily cost hundreds of dollars per month. And that assumes that a minimum wage job provides adequate breaks to pump and a place to store the milk, neither of which is common among low-wage jobs.
Solid food for babies is much cheaper to puree at home than to buy at the grocery store. I have a food processor, dish washer, refrigerator, and storage containers that make baby food production relatively easy. For $5, I bought enough food for a one-week supply of meals. To buy the same amount of jarred food at the grocery store costs $18.
Additional cost for low-income parents: $22
I have a credit card that allows me to accrue points that I can spend on Amazon, which provides $30 to $50 per month (or about $10 per week) in free goods. In the last six months alone, I’ve gotten swaddles, laundry detergent, diaper cream, and bottles—all for free. Many parents in poverty do not have the necessary credit or income to qualify for a credit card, let alone one that provides rewards. And as a result of credit discrimination, people of color often have lower credit scores that might otherwise facilitate credit cards with these kinds of perks.
Additional cost for low-income parents: $10
All told, my family saved about $41 per week compared to what a minimum wage worker would likely spend. While that might seem like a small amount for a family with a lot of disposable income, it adds up to more than $2,000 a year and over 10 percent of total annual income for a family of three living at the poverty line. That means in D.C., where the minimum wage is $10.50 per hour, a worker earning that amount would need to work approximately 200 additional hours a year just to buy the same items.
Last year, the Center for American Progress proposed a Young Child Tax Credit that would invest in families when income matters most for children’s long-term outcomes and family budgets are often most strained. Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Rosa DeLauro introduced legislation that would create such a credit, as did Senator Michael Bennet.
This kind of reform would not only help all families afford the critical items they need to thrive, it would also mark a step forward in ensuring that people in poverty no longer have to pay more than other consumers for the things that all families need.