Binge on a Budget: Cloth Diapers (and Potty Training, Oh my!)

Let’s get this potty started!


If you’re struggling with your family budget and have young children, probably the thought of cloth diapering has at least crossed your mind. I’ve cloth diapered 2.5 of my three children. That is, Bitsy spent her first year in cloth, her second year in dollar bills (um, I mean disposables) and is now, a week shy of her second birthday, in UNDIES! Huzzah! The (King of the) Universe is rewarding me.

Now that we’re full swing into potty training we only need two diapers a day. I’ve decided to put Bitsy back in cloth for her naptime and nighttime diapers. I don’t know why I didn’t do this six months ago.*

*Oh yes I do. Poop.

We just ran out of diapers, and they come from the same “shopping and entertainment” budget I use for everything besides home improvement, utilities, and groceries. This includes things like taking the kids bowling or to a pumpkin festival, or apple picking at an orchard with a cover charge– all things I’m hoping to do this month. I also need to buy new workout sneakers and everyday shoes for me, and two pairs of jeans for Dr. Awesome (he is not happy rocking the ripped knee look). So I seriously needed to save the $30 I would otherwise spend on diapers, and we already had the cloth in the house.

Cloth diapering is generally cheaper than disposables, but when I first began, it wasn’t really the money that motivated me.

Once upon a time I was a young mother determined to save the planet. Have you heard of this devastating thing called global warming? How many billions of diapers are in landfills? If I’m completely honest, I wanted to be cool enough to go “a little granola.” I knew a lot of moms who did it, so I was familiar with the idea way before Sally was born. I registered for some prefolds and covers to start my collection while baby Sally cooked.

I lined up a diaper service for the first two months postpartum, figuring I would save myself the stress of both caring for a newborn and washing diapers. That was a mistake– diapers sat for a week stinking up my nursery between deliveries, and I still had to wash the covers every other day anyway! Plus it was $71 per month; hardly a savings. So after a month I ditched the service. I used prefolds and Snappis, which are great and cheap for during the day. For the night we needed something more absorbent. I bought three BumGenius pocket diapers, where you stuff a microfiber pad into a shell that is waterproof on the outside and soft fleece against the baby’s bottom. I loved those things. They were amazing . . . until they weren’t. They fell apart much sooner than I thought they would, even before Pete was born. I ended up ordering replacement velcro and leg elastic to fix them myself, which was a serious pain in what used to be my diaper area, if you know what I mean.

After 3 kids and almost 4 solid years of use, this is basically all I have left.


And these are the kind we use for toddler Bitsy:


“Flip” brand microfiber insert on the left, regular (stained) large cotton prefold, Flip adjustable snap waterproof (laminated polyester) cover. The other two covers and 5 inserts are in the wash.

These are not the cute, trendy cloth diapers you see on a lot of blogs. The ugly gray cover was on clearance for being ugly, but clearance is probably what you need if you’re thinking about cloth diapers. That’s what we used for diapering our older two (at home; on vacation it was always disposables). Then a dear friend lent me a fantastic stash of adorable all-in-one diapers right before Bitsy was born. These are like cloth diapers for the cloth-diaperphobic. They were awesome and easy, but they only worked until the baby was mobile, because then they leaked. Now we’re back to our own diapers and that means back to basics, because of a dirty little secret that the cute cloth diaper makers don’t want you to know: they all wear out!

If you’re looking to start cloth diapering and you have the money for the trendy, $30-a-pop all-in-ones, good for you! Have fun with it. But don’t expect to get two kids in those diapers. Elastic will have to be replaced, as will velcro. I’ve even had snaps rip off on covers.

And at the end of the day shit is still shit (pardon my Anglo-Saxon) and when it hits the diaper–microfiber or not–you still have to wash it off. Save yourself the money and get some cheap, heavy cotton prefolds. They can stand up to serious washing and boiling water (which my LG HE washer used to do). Splurge instead on the cutesy covers that cost about half as much as the all-in-one diaper. (My favorite brand is Thirsties, because the double leg gusset holds in a breastfed baby blow-out better than anything else, and they actually have lasted through all my kids.) By the time the prefolds wear out, you will have gotten thousands of uses from your $1-a-pop investment, and then they can be bleached again and resurrected as household rags.


Even prefolds don’t last forever.

But the greatest thing about cloth diapering, in my opinion, is not the money you save, it’s the earlier time you end!

Sally and I were highly motivated to potty train. I was very pregnant with Pete and tired of bending over to do the extra laundry. She didn’t like feeling wet. Around 20 months I switched her out of all the microfiber (softer, dryer feeling cloth like the Flip insert pictured above) because I noticed that she had completely stopped wetting the cotton prefolds. She was holding it because she didn’t like the feel of the wet cotton. Naturally, I used this to my advantage. I put her in only cotton diapers. If she wanted to feel dry, she could use the potty. She did. She was out of diapers all of her awake time by 22 months. No expensive Pull-Ups, just undies, or free air.

Pete showed interest in the potty a little later than his sister, and wet cotton didn’t bother him at all. It wasn’t until we instituted an “all commando all the time” policy around 26 months that he began using the potty consistently. He still can’t hold it all night, though, and since he wants so badly to sleep in undies but physically can’t, we’ve finally fallen into the Pull-Up trap that I avoided for so long. They are ungodly expensive! Two months ago I went to Target and bought exactly 1 large box of house-brand baby wipes, 1 box of house-brand size 4 diapers, and 1 box of actual Pull-Ups. I left the store feeling broke and defeated, $78 later.

As of last month our Target has a house-brand training pant, which is a little cheaper than Pull-Ups, but not much. Yesterday, however, we might have had a break through.

Pete is just not ready for nighttime dryness, and I know this. We’re likely looking at another year (and another $360ish) in Pull-Ups, because he insists “Diapers are for babies!” But Bitsy is back in cloth diapers and talks about it at bedtime (“Mommy, cloth dipah? Cloth dipah for Bitsy Mommy? Soft.”) and Pete has taken note. I asked if he thought we should try cloth pull-ups for him. He said yes.

So I am on a quest to find a reasonably priced cloth pull-up that will fit him and can handle a lot of overnight pee. This might be a tall order, but we shall see. As often as I do laundry, I probably only need three reusable pull-ups. If that costs me $90, I’m still saving $250 in the long run.

And with that money, just think of all the books I could buy…for reading on the potty.



One thought on “Binge on a Budget: Cloth Diapers (and Potty Training, Oh my!)

  1. If I ever had another baby, I’d definitely try cloth-diapering.

    And ugh, Pull-Ups. My 4-year-old is still in them at night. She went for two months being dry, and then wet again. So bizarre.


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