A Stinky Situation: The High Cost of Pricey Diapers

the high cost of pricey diapersKimberly-Clark (KMB) and Procter & Gamble (PG) -- America's diaper duopolists -- are making good on their threats to increase prices on diapers and baby wipes. They're putting the pinch on parents, and making it hard to keep up with the rising cost of bringing up baby.

Talk about a hot-button topic: A column I wrote in April describing diaper makers' plans to raise prices 3% to 7% got a huge response (as in 571 "likes" on Facebook). A large number of readers advised parents to do an end run around the price hike by ditching the disposables, and using cloth diapers instead.

Fewer Disposable Diapers

Now, personally, I think that's a fine decision. (At the Smith homestead, our newest baby boy is also clad in cotton.) But according to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, the price increase has panicked a lot of parents into making rash decisions.

According to the article, many parents are buying fewer diapers, changing them less often, and making up the difference in Desitin. (To the elation, I'm sure, of Johnson & Johnson (JNJ), which makes the diaper rash ointment.)

The Journal reports that diaper sales in America have been dropping steadily since at least August 2010, declining both in terms of units sold, and dollar-sales recorded on those sales. Data suggest that parents are "trading down" from premium brands such as Huggies and Pampers, as well as buying fewer diapers than they had in times past.

When you consider the strong parental instincts built into the human animal over eons of evolution, this clearly goes against everything parents would want to do in an ideal world. Further illustrating how entirely unprecedented this phenomenon is, Consumer Edge Research reports that it has happened exactly "never" before in American history. Or at least not during the time people have been tracking such things.

And lest you think there is some other explanation for diaper sales dropping -- people having fewer kids, for example, or improvements in diaper quality permitting parents to use fewer diapers safely -- consider this factoid: At the same time as diaper sales dipped, sales of diaper rash ointment spiked 8% higher.

The Law of Supply and Doo-Doo

There's only one logical explanation for this phenomenon. People are still making babies. These babies are still making, well, deposits. But, out of simple economic necessity, parents are skimping on the cleanup.

Buying disposable diapers is a big part of the cost of bringing up baby. Procter & Gamble estimates the annual cost at $1,500 per child, per year, for parents who change diapers six times a day. If a parent can shave just one change off that daily figure, that's a $250 savings. Make Baby wait just a little bit longer, and "save" two changes, and that's $500 in your pocket.

Clearly, there's an incentive to skip a change or two. And if it requires a parent to buy an extra tube or two of diaper rash ointment, well, that's not going to make much of a dent in the $500 savings.

But is it worth it?

Rash Decisions

Let me say right out front: I'm not going to take sides or render judgments here. Every child is unique. Every situation is different. What works for me might not work for you, and vice versa. That said, if you are a parent facing financial hardship, and if cutting back on diaper changes is an option you're considering -- but one you'd rather avoid if you can -- there are alternatives. For example:
  • Cloth diapering. See above, and see here, too.
  • Cheaper disposables. Store-brand diapers don't necessarily mean lower quality, but do usually mean lower prices. Shoppers patronizing warehouse clubs such as Costco (COST) and Walmart's (WMT) Sam's Club can also score good deals on bulk purchases of name-brand nappies.
  • Cheap, with free shipping. Tech-savvy shoppers should also consider giving Amazon.com (AMZN) a try. In a clever attempt to capitalize on the diaper price hikes, Amazon recently launched a new service titled "Amazon Mom." In essence, it's a short-form version of the company's vaunted "Prime" service, but with a twist: Members can clip 30% off the cost of diapers, baby wipes, and related products. To sweeten the deal, Amazon throws in free shipping for your purchases. And just in case domestic budget constraints have caused you to cancel your Netflix membership, too, you'll be pleased to learn that Amazon Mom comes with free access to Amazon's catalog of 8,000 streamable movies and television shows.
  • Diapers? We don't need no stinking diapers. A fourth option is to consider potty training earlier. While children in America habitually embark upon this journey around age 2, this is far from a universal rule. Indeed, in other countries it's common to begin potty training -- and begin exiting the diaper racket -- when Baby is as young as three to six months.
You've heard what I have to say. What's your solution to the high cost of pricey diapers? Tell us about it below.

Motley Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of any companies named above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Johnson & Johnson, Wal-Mart, and Costco. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, Wal-Mart, Netflix, Costco, Procter & Gamble, and Amazon.com, as well as creating a bear put spread position in Netflix and diagonal call positions in Wal-Mart and J&J.

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October 14 2011 at 1:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pam Miller

This country has screwed everyone no matter where you try to save money. If you go back to cloth diapers, your water bill will go up. So, your not saving anything. Oh, try to find the GOOD diaper pins, that won't stab your kid. They aren't made anymore.

October 14 2011 at 8:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Pam Miller's comment

actually, my energy bill has only gone up $5 a month since switching to cloth, I'm still saving thousands in the long run, especially as I can sell my cloth diapers when we're done. Can't re-sale a disposable!!

October 14 2011 at 11:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Um that's because no one uses pins anymore! If they do use the traditional prefold/flat with waterproof cover (which is made of wool or PUL- no more yucky plastic pants!) they use these- http://www.gogonatural.com/Snappi-Diaper-Fastener.html They work just like a fastener on an ACE bandage. Of course most parents use the even easier All-in-one or pocket type diapers which are styled just like disposables except that you wash them.

October 19 2011 at 10:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

The high cost of stinky diapers starts with illegal aliens having their babies in American, just so they can force me to pay for their diapers. I will not pay for someone else's diapers and I don't care who they are, where they are and where they were born.

October 13 2011 at 10:15 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

Cloth diapers (birds-eye fabric), soak in a diaper pail, wash in hot water with mild detergent and chlorine bleach. Hang on the line in the sun to dry (ozone makes the diapers smell sweeter when dry and the sun's bleaching rays work wonders).

You'll do a load of diapers a day--but that's FAR less than the cost of disposable diapers or a diaper service. In fact, a diaper service is probably cheaper than disposables--and think of all those trees you'll save and all those landfills that won't get clogged with the plastic sheeting that doesn't degrade for a thousand years or more.

October 13 2011 at 7:51 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
3 replies to JoanneVLavender's comment

A problem of their own making. Diaper companies are whining because people aren't using diapers as often as they used to. Yesterday I saw a commercial for 12 Hour Pampers!! They're selling these to people who need to be warned their coffee is hot - they don't understand the 12 hours is if the baby is SLEEPING, otherwise, change when the baby wets or dirties the diaper!
My babies are older (28, 18, and 13). We used cloth diapers almost exclusively - and we didn't have all those cool things they do now to make it easier. No, we had diapers, pins, and rubber pants. My red-headed children (sensitive skin) never had diaper rash because I changed them as soon as they did ANYTHING in that diaper!

A bonus to cloth; your kid will feel wet early, and (as long as you've always changed them quickly), won't like feeling wet or dirty. That equates to a baby potty-trained earlier than usual! Mine were all between 14 and 17 months old.

October 13 2011 at 7:50 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

what happened to cloth diapers? these young moms and dads would rather fess up 30 bucks for 2 weeks of paper crap holders that clog landfills? Go to cloth and learn to wash em out..you'll save tons and your baby will be happier..bunch of greenie wannabes..

October 13 2011 at 7:42 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Perhaps people should give MORE thought to the cost
of raising a child BEFORE they consider popping them out!

October 13 2011 at 6:24 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply

oh great now all the mexicans will be stealing all the baby supplies too.

October 13 2011 at 6:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to kjdj49dfmn's comment

Do you REALLY have the need to accuse Mexicans of "stealing" baby supplies on this post?
Why would you accuse them of stealing in the first place?

October 13 2011 at 6:31 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sadiemae1214's comment

Because, in their peasant culture, stealing isn't a sinful thing. Getting caught stealing is the shame.

October 13 2011 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down

what an ignorant statement! And I am NOT HISPANIC!

October 13 2011 at 7:05 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

also you dont need to wash them every day...you can wash them every 2 or 3 days....i use ALL IN ONE and POCKET DIAPERS with my daughter... i wash them every 3 days..i throw in baking soda in the wash cycle...then some white vinegar in the rinse cycle and i line dry the diapers.. they smell clean and look clean and its really not that hard of work...for those parents who "dont have time" to wash the diapers every 3 days you can get a diaper service..but that also cost extra $$ and if your going for the "cloth diapering for eco reason" your kinda back trackin on that...a easy way to make diaper washing duty is to cut your laundry in half..instead of doing all your clothes, towels,etc laundry 1 day...do it 2 different days during the week..then you can also wash the diapers on those days as well...thats what we do! also if you dont have a washer (which we didnt for the first 3 months when we moved into our new apartment) you can hand wash the diapers..it takes longer to do but its not that bad...just fill the tub halfway with water and your laundry soap and some baking soda..make sure you got some good rubber gloves..and throw your diapers in..scrub them together and swirl them around for some odd minutes...let them soak for about 20mins..come back and give them a good scrub together then drain the tub...lightly wring out the diapers..fill the tub half way with cold water and some vinegar and do the same as above..let soak for about another 20mins...then drain the tub and wring out the diapers...line dry...i would have to do this every 2 days..it wasnt that fun but it still was cheaper than buying disposable diapers...but thank God we now have a washer :)

October 13 2011 at 5:53 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to korryaortiz's comment

My grandmother, mother, and I used a metal tub and a washboard. My grandmother out of necessity; my mother until she could afford a wringer washer (hot technology in the 1940s). I did it because I enjoyed it and resorted to the fully automatic machine only if I felt like it. Using a washboard was great for the waistline and the abs.

October 13 2011 at 7:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

we cloth diaper out daughter..and when i do have to buy disposable diapers i buy store brand diapers..they are cheaper and work just as good (i use disposable diapers for my daughter at night and when we are on long trips) i can buy a pack of 70 diapers for less than $15 and that pack will last me 3months (more or less...depending how often i use them) i also buy my cloth diapers lightly used..i go to cloth diapering swaps/trades and i buy WAHM diapers (work at home mom,made diapers) when i can...the best thing is my daughter is 2...were going to start potty training her soon and i have a huge garbage bag FULL of her smaller sized cloth diapers in the basement..i can still get a good use out of them for any future children we have...which means more savings for my family ..cloth diapering really has saved us TONS of money...i suggest it to all my new mom friends(or any parent friend who is looking to save money)

October 13 2011 at 5:45 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply