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Do Cloth Diapers Save Money?*

do cloth diapers save moneyby Frugal Fran, our thrifty correspondant

'Do cloth diapers save money?' When my I was toying with the idea of trying cloth diapers I wanted to know  specifics like  'How much?'  As well as other important questions like: 'Do they leak?' ,  'Do you have to change a diaper every 45 minutes?' , 'How bad is the laundry', etc. etc.   After lots of thorough research, I became frustrated because the articles and discussions that I found were all written by committed cloth diaper advocates and were full of confusing lingo, acronymns and refereces to landfills.   I was  having trouble finding real numbers or data as far as estimated savings.  So Addie and I decided to conducted some hands-on research of our own...do cloth diapers save money?.  

If you're new to Cloth Diapering, then you may be as confused as I was to the lingo that you encounter on the Cloth Diaper websites and chat rooms.  To read more about  the different types of cloth diapers, and my pros and cons list on each, see the Cloth Diaper Primer.

You may also want to check out my Cloth Diaper Journal, to see how our little experiment turned out!

 If you just can't do cloth diapers save money with Frugal Fran's other practical and creative ideas!

And Handmade Adelaide gets in on the savings action as well: See the homemade baby gift ideas page full of things to make for baby.  Also check out Craft and Projects for free baby patterns for wet bags, wet wipes, and other cloth diapering essentials that you can make at home.

Do Cloth Diapers Save Money?

By Frugal Fran

It's the question that was on my mind when Addie and I started hearing glowing reports from some  cloth diapering Mamas.  These were a mix of working Moms and stay at home Moms...some of whom have lots of kids, and not a lot of free time.  These ladies do not have a laundry service. And before they switched to cloth diapering, they were considered to be mentally competent.  Could it be?  Do cloth diapers save money, and somehow, this money saving strategy that had slipped by me?  I had always considered cloth diapering to be very labor intensive and old fashioned.  But there was too much buzz from some very busy and competent Moms who loved cloth diapers!  And so the research commenced!  Addie and I decided to investigate the different types of cloth diapers, and most importantly, we wanted to find out for sure "Do cloth diapers save money?"  

After finding lots and lots of confusing lingo, and no real money saving figures, Addie and I took things into our own hands.  Here is what we came up with when we calculated our potential savings with the brand of cloth diaper that we were interested in trying. Of course, our research is not a hard and fast figure that applies to everyone, so my brother-in-law, and fellow frugal enthusiast, George, provides an equation that you can plug your own numbers into.  I'm not going to factor in the landfills, as it's not as easy to add into the equation.  Let's just deal with dollars, and the landfills will just be a big priceless bonus. 

do cloth diapers save moneyDo Cloth Diapers Save Money?  Figuring Our Start Up Costs:
The diapers that we want aren't cheap.  We are considering Bum Genius one size fits all pocket diapers (henceforth, to be referred to as BG's).  They are the Cadillac of cloth diapering, and they run almost $18 each.  The cheaper brands run around $10 each, or you can go way cheap and just use the old pre-folded birdseye cloth diapers with covers.  Of course, I wanted the best quality and value for my family.  To me, it makes more sense to get a couple of dozen 'one size fits all' diapers than to stock diapers in different sizes.  

If you choose to invest in individually sized diaper systems,  you'll need two dozen in each size.  So calculating the costs for 2 dozen of each of these sizes: Preemie, Newborn, Small, Medium, Large, Ex-Large.  That would easily surpass the start up costs of the pricier BG's.  One friend that uses cloth diapers owns 80 diapers, in a range of sizes.  That's a whopping start up cost comparatively.  Some Mom's just stock the size that their baby is wearing, and 'swap' (sell the smaller sizes/buy a bigger size). That works, but it's not efficient enough for my taste.  And if you're planning on keeping your diapers for future kids, then you're talking major storage space for a sized diaper system.  So we're figuring for the pricier one-size-fits-all diaper on the basis of convenience and price. 

Just the Diapers: We chose to start out with 2 dozen cloth diapers.  Cotton Babies, the main distributor of BG's,  was selling a 12 pack at $203.40 with free shipping.  So startup cost for just the diapers was $406.80. 

Other Essentials: I also bought four $1 packages of six baby washcloths at our dollar store to use as wipes, and mixed up a wipes solution from items that I already had at home.  I spent $2 on spray bottles for the wipes solution (one for the diaper bag, and one for the changing area at home).  Making your own wipes is actually easier than trying to find a place to put a used disposable wipe. The washable wipes just wash with the diapers, and help save a little more money as well.  Note: I switched to some homemade flannel wipes soon after, and I like them better than the washcloths.  My cost in making the flannel wipes was also cheaper than the washcloths. 

I  invested in 2 wet bags for the diaper bag, and a diaper pail liner and an X-large wet bag for vacation that also doubles as a diaper pail liner.  The total cost for these would be around $80 after shipping.  So add another $86 on for start up supplies.   
Side Note: I happened to have a large mattress cover made of waterproof fabric, so I made my own and only spent about $10 on zippers and supplies. Yay cheap!

Washing Costs:  I figured that I could run a load every 2 1/2 days, so about 3 loads a week. 
We figured out a generous rough estimate of about $5 in washing costs a week (with a double wash cycle and the cheap-o additive free Sun Detergent) 

So, now I'm really wondering how do cloth diapers save money?  Total start up costs for cloth diapering with the BG's: a whopping $492.80 and forced visitation with the washing machine 3 times a week...AND adding in an even more intimate daily experience with human waste.   Am I crazy?  I am starting to sound crazy!    But we press on... We're getting closer to knowing once and for all: do cloth diapers save money, and exactly how much?

Do Cloth Diapers Save Money?  Figuring our monthly savings:
Disposable Diaper Costs:  We figured an average of about 8 diapers a day with our 2 month old baby.  That's 56 diapers a week, or 240 per month.  A large pack of size 1 diapers has about 88 per pack.  The discount brands can be had for around $12, while the premiums cost around $20 per pack.  That works out to about $.13 to .23 cents per diaper. 
That's $31.20 per month for the cheapies,
and $55.20 a month for the Pampers.  Obviously, your cost may vary.  My sister in law uses about $75 in diapers a month with one child in day care.  You can figure out your own monthly diaper cost for the equation below.  

Accessory Costs: Wipes run between $2-3 per single refill pack.  I used about one a week, so I'll add $2.50 a week for wipes,
so add $10 per month onto the diaper bill. 

Also, if you use a diaper disposal system with bags, then add that cost in as well.  I like my diaper champ, which uses regular trash bags. (I won't figure those in).  

And I will also abstain from adding in the increased cost of disposable overnight training pants, swim diapers, etc. etc.  Let's just K.I.S. shall we?

Do Cloth Diapers Save Money?  

Doing the Math:

The official 'do cloth diapers save money' equation has two simple parts.  The first part figures out your total monthly savings if you switch from disposables to cloth diapers.

Part I of the 'Do Cloth Diapers Save Money' equation:

A=disposable diaper expenses per month
B=wipes/accessories expenses per month
C=monthly maintenance cost for cloth diapers

( A + B ) - C = total monthly savings 

OK.  So now that we have all the variables nailed down, let's plug our numbers into the 'do cloth diapers save money' equation.  (I'm using the premium disposable diaper numbers, but you can plug in your own):

($55.20 + $10) -$20 to wash cloth diapers= total monthly savings of $45.20
Per month, we spent $65.20 on disposable.  We'll still be using about $20 a month to maintain the cloth diapers, so that brings our monthly savings to $45.20.  Cha-ching!

Part II of the 'do cloth diapers save money' equation

 Part II figures out how long it takes for you to pay off that almost $500 start up bill.  To figure this out,  take your total start up costs, and divide by total monthly savings to find out how many months it will take to 'pay off' the investment:

Total cost of cloth diapers + total cost of other cloth diapering supplies
Total monthly savings

We're interested in using Bum Genius cloth diapers, so our numbers would look like this:

$406.80 + $86 = $492.80 
                                        $45.20/month savings=10.9 months

So it will take us about 11 months to 'pay for' the cloth diapers with the money we save by not using disposables.  And now...our final numbers...do cloth diapers save money?  Drum roll, please:  

Show me the Savings:
Assuming that it takes us the average of 24 months to potty train our child (and not even  adjusting for the ridiculously expensive disposable training pants) we'll save approximately $587.60 for the first child that uses cloth diapers. 

And More Savings:
And now, for the cool part. 
If you decide to use them again with a second child, you'll be rolling in pure profit my friend.  You'll save $1084.80!  

And even MORE Savings!  How can this be?
If you take good care of them, the BG's also hold amazing resale value.
Well cared for Bum Genius diapers are currently reselling for $10 and up on diaperswappers.com. 

I swoon, and commit myself to a trial period of going hand to hand with human waste.  What is there to loose?  BG offers a money back guarantee for you to try out one of the diapers just to see if you like it before you make a full committment.

Our Conclusion:  They DO!
Cloth Diapers save money

...and can potentially make a good bit of your money back!  
And thus we prove not only do cloth diapers save money, but that a person actually does use algebra in real life.  ;)

So, farewell my cushie tushie disposable friends.  We are off to new and foreign territory to explore the uncharted land of cloth diapering...join me in my cloth diapering journal to see how it went!  

do cloth diapers save money

*the information presented here is the opinion of the author, and should not be taken as scientific research or imperical data.  Prices in this article are prices from January, 2008, and may be incorrect in today's market.  To find the current price of Bum Genius Diapers, please click here.