Cloth Diapers: A Lesson in Investing

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Before my daughter was born in 2016, both my husband and I did research on many parenting topics, including diapers. After our research, we decided that cloth diapers seemed like a good idea. Although cloth diapers can be expensive, when you calculate the two or more years that one child wears said diapers, it is easy to see the savings.

We purchased a brand frequently recommended in so-called mommy blog articles and highly rated on Amazon. They were diapers that had lots of snaps so they can grow with your child and be worn at many ages. We tried them on my daughter when she was one month old and found that they leaked. I remember saying, “That sort of worked,” to which my husband replied, “Diapers are not graded on a scale. They either work or they are a terrible disaster!”

After a second round research, we realized that a third of the diapers we received were fraudulent knock-offs of the brand we had ordered (the fabric wasn’t even the same); the “grow with your child” features even of the correct brand wasn’t making a secure seal; and our homemade laundry soap was making them water resistant, which is the opposite of what you want your diapers to be. We tried to troubleshoot for a while and then abandoned the lot and went back to disposable diapers.

From this experience, I learned several lessons which are also important in investing.

1. Diversify.

We bought one brand of diaper. When that diaper wasn’t the right one for the job (such as when our baby was a newborn or was lying on her back all day), our diaper portfolio was unable to cope. We needed to diversify our diaper portfolio and invest in multiple different cloth diaper brands. Even if some of them turned out to be duds (as ours did), others might have been able to carry the investment.

Diversification dampens both the highs and the lows. “Most of our diapers turned out well” is less exciting than “We love all our cloth diapers!” In diversification, you always have an investment to complain about and an investment that is your darling. See “Diversify and Rebalance More Than Just Your Investments” for more on this.

 2. The opinion of the Internet isn’t necessarily correct.

The diapers we purchased had stellar reviews. The laundry soap we were using was the standard on multiple websites. Yet both were less than the hype.

Investment Newsletters lie. Annuity advertisements fraudulently mislead. Active managers spin their short-term luck as long-term genius. Useless articles abound on the Internet.

Just because you can find someone who says something doesn’t mean it is going to help you.

3. Expense ratios matter.

By the end of our short stint with these diapers, I had contacted the company’s customer service and followed their advice. We had boiled the diapers as well as washed them multiple times with various additives to combat soap residue, hard water, and more. All these extra washings were like the expense ratios on investment securities. Each HOT water wash was another dollar lost to the “expense ratio” of these cloth diapers.

If I could have lowered the expense ratio, I would have achieved a better return on my investment.

4. Personalized advice is amazingly valuable.

I have a perfume allergy (technically a skin sensitivity) that prevents me from using most store-bought cleaners. (This is why I researched and wrote the “The Complete Guide to DIY Household Cleaners.”) If I had had a “diaper advisor” in my life who could have given advice specifically to me, I would have likely either skipped cloth diapers entirely or been provided with a personalized recommendation for a laundry soap recipe and diaper brand that would work for me. The value of this personalized service would be much higher than even just the cost of my mistake. It would also alleviate the time, stress, and mental effort I exhausted trying to rough it on my own.

Personalized financial planning proactively anticipates your needs, is specific to you, and empowers you with the information necessary to make your own confident decisions. It is worth at least the beneficial savings and mistake avoidance, but it is also worth more.

5. Every budgeting plan isn’t for everyone.

The route from wealth to well-being is spending money to buy free time. You are the only person who can be a mom or dad to your children. If stressing about cloth diapers is taking away from that precious time, then skip it. Buying time to make those relationships happen is a great life-planning investment.

Photo by Picsea on Unsplash

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Chief Operating Officer, CFP®, APMA®

Megan Russell has worked with Marotta Wealth Management most of her life. She loves to find ways to make the complexities of financial planning accessible to everyone. She is the author of over 800 financial articles and is known for her expertise on tax planning.