Cloth Diaper Sticker Shock

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to educate moms-to-be about cloth diapers at a breastfeeding expo in my town. This scene played itself out many times:

An expectant mother glances over a poster comparing the cost of disposables versus cloth diapers, nodding with excitement and a huge smile. She moves to the display of cloth diapers, picks up the one with the cutest print, turning it over, then touches the inside and marvels at how wonderfully soft it is.

Then comes the question: “How much are diapers like this one?” 

I explain the range of prices for different brands and types.

“But I can get a whole package of Pampers for the cost of just one of those!”


Some people seem to get that cloth diapers can save a ton of money, but as soon as they hear the price of an individual cloth diaper, they get all confused again. Sticker shock, I suppose.

The same scene plays itself out in many ways in the financial decisions we face as adults. There are a lot of smart things we could do with our money by paying for things upfront, but it’s just more convenient to go with the payment plan.

My husband and I learned this lesson the hard way. During the first four years of our marriage, we bought into that mentality and racked up a serious amount of debt very quickly. (Thanks to the advice in Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, we got serious and paid off our $50k of debt in just 13 months. I will share that story another time – but if you are struggling with debt, you need Dave!)

You see, disposables are the payment plan in the world of diapers. If you don’t look carefully at the big picture – your total costs – it can seem cheaper to buy diapers one package at a time.

After all, you can easily spend $400 to $700 if you buy a full stash of new cloth diapers and all of the accessories in one pop – which sounds like a lot. It sounds like a lot, that is, until you compare it to the $1,500 to $2,500 you’d spend on disposables during your baby’s diapering years.

Disposable Diapers are a Payment Plan

But let’s say you understand the financial benefits of using cloth diapers and you can afford buy everything you need before your baby arrives. Even then, it might not necessarily be wise to do so. Two years ago, when I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I were debt-free and living the easy life with two full-time incomes. I knew I wanted to use cloth diapers, so I bought everything I thought I wanted (and then some) upfront a few months before our son was born. Unfortunately, after I had the chance to use those diapers on my baby, I decided that I wasn’t crazy about them. I sold almost everything in online trading forums and started building a new stash slowly, trying different brands and styles every month or so.

I encourage parents to take their time deciding on what cloth diapers to buy. Ease into cloth diapers gradually by taking advantage of a newborn diaper rental, layaway, or cloth diaper trial program. Many specialty cloth diaper retailers such as those listed below offer these types of programs for their customers. (You won’t find that level of service on Amazon!)

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This blog post is a part of the November 2013 ”School of Cloth“ event.  This is a month-long educational event sponsored by the Real Diaper Association, cloth diaper businesses, and various bloggers.