Some free advice

When we had our first daughter, A, my husband was three weeks away from defending his thesis in order to finish his PhD, hence we were living on a grad student stipend (read: very little).  We then moved on to a post-doc position and were living on a post-doc salary (read: very little) in one of the most expensive cities in the US.
 
Thankfully (it’s very funny to be thankful for this now!) I started contracting with A at 33 weeks, was put on limited bed rest, and had an abundance of time to worry about how in the world we were going to afford having a baby.
 
Somehow, during this time, I stumbled upon the website freecycle.org and my life was – literally – changed forever.
 
Here is their motto:
“The Freecycle Network™ is made up of 5,085 groups with 9,335,256 members around the world. It’s a grassroots and entirely nonprofit movement of people who are giving (and getting) stuff for free in their own towns. It’s all about reuse and keeping good stuff out of landfills. Each local group is moderated by local volunteers (them’s good people). Membership is free.”
 
When I tell you that I got 90% of the things we needed for A for free, I am in no way kidding.  Her crib (and all it’s fixings), pack-n-play (with the bassinet expansion), 200+ jars of baby food, my breast pump (I know, I know, you’re not supposed to re-use them…I got all new tubing for it for free from Medela and it all worked out just fine), an activity mat, foam squares for her to crawl on, an endless amount of clothes (sized newborn – 5T), an exersaucer, bouncer, more toys than I can count, a diaper genie and refills, enough diapers for the first 4 months of her life, a swing, bottles (which she never used – ha!), a bjorn, a sling, a snap-n-go stroller, and on and on and on.  I could not believe how fortunate I was.  Some items were gently used, but most were nearly – if not totally – brand new.  We were showered with things!  I was, and forever will be, so grateful to the good people of the freecycle family who gave to us at a time when we truly needed it.
 
And I have come to find out that freecycle isn’t the only place to get things for free.  Somerville, MA has a website called Somerville Moms, and one of the things available to its members is the giving and getting of baby/child items for free.  I’m sure many major cities have similar sites, so you should all poke around on the web and see what’s out there.  Of course Craigslist has a “free” section you can peruse.  I also highly recommend gathering your parent-friends together for swap nights.  You can have one dedicated only to clothing or toys.  You get to pick and choose how you run it and everyone benefits in the end!  The internet is full of information about how to manage such things, so read up on it and get swapping!
 
Think babysitters cost a lot of money?  Well, we got ours for free (okay for really cheap…$10 a year)!  I started a babysitting co-op.  It’s essentially 10+ families who come together and agree to babysit for each other free of charge!  We used “tickets” as our payment method, and it worked out wonderfully.  Again, I just did some internet research on the topic, and took out a few books from the library and – voila – a babysitting co-op was formed.  It was brilliant!
 
Speaking of libraries, they are an amazing resource for free things to do with your kiddos.  Libraries these days have story times and sing-alongs and puppet shows.  They have after school tutors and movie nights and author signings.  You can take out about a million books for free, plus they have every DVD your child could ever want, and most of them have an online system much like Netflix where you can request items and they email you when they’re ready for pick-up.  It’s so fabulous!
 
I have found that raising children is not nearly as expensive as I thought it would be and that, to a great extent, it’s only as expensive as you make it.  So many Americans believe that new is better, especially when it comes to their children.  I really hope that we can change this mentality and save the planet in the process.  There is so much “stuff” already out there for free (or very cheap) and, just because it’s used, doesn’t mean it should go to waste.  
 
We have moved on from that post-doc salary to one that pays well and yet I’m still an avid freecycler.  I would rather save the money and get a massage or fly to Hawaii.  I don’t need new stuff for my kids, and they certainly don’t know the difference.  One of the happiest moments of A’s life was the morning of her second birthday when she woke up and found her gift waiting for her in our living room…a play kitchen packed to the hilt with play food and play pots and pans…little did she know that her momma got it for free.
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