1. Register with all the formula providers and get the free samples. I wish I’d done this while I was still pregnant. Even if you never use formula, or even if your baby will only take a certain kind, you’ll have samples around to give to your friends or others who need them. But if your baby isn’t fussy (like ours) you’ll have a nice little free stock to begin with. Here are the main companies that provide samples:
Nestle Good Start Very best Baby
Enfamil Family Beginnings
Similac Strong moms
Wal-Mart Parent’s Choice – fill out the form online or call the formula maker PBM Nutritionals at 1-800-485-9918 and leave your name, address, phone number and whether you prefer a milk or soy product.
Earth's Best Family
Sam's Club Member's Mark
2. Go for the free stuff. Let your friends know you can use formula so they can send their unneeded samples or leftovers your way. People give away samples and unused formula all the time on my local freecycle. If you are open to cans that have been opened, you can benefit from families who had to try multiple formulas before finding one that worked for their infant. Since few people are willing to use open cans, these are readily available and a shame to waste.
3. Don’t be afraid of the generics. Since for us, formula was a supplement to breastfeeding, I figured River was getting the good stuff from the breastmilk. He didn’t need a top of the line formula. They all seem pretty similar anyway. You can pay about half the price for the generics.
4. If your baby accepts it, take the soy. Extra free samples of soy formula seem to be available more often than the milk-based samples. River didn’t seem to distinguish between them, so while we only bought the milk-based formulas, if someone offered us a free can of soy, we took it gratefully.
5. Use coupons. When you register with the formula makers, you’ll also receive coupons, or formula checks in the mail. These are larger in the early days (often $5-8 off) and come in smaller amounts as your baby gets older (probably, after the maker thinks your baby is hooked on their brand). If you are in need of coupons/checks, you can buy them for a slight discount on ebay, or better, get them for free on freecycle or from your friends. If you have coupons you are not using, you can put them in the hands of someone who needs them via freecycle.
6. Check the clearance racks. At my local Shoprite, I got three large cans of a discontinued formula brand on clearance, $8 a piece. I’ve seen ready-to-drink formula in the clearance bin more than once.
7. If you find yourself overseas, stock up. The same or similar formula is priced differently in different countries. When we went to Panama we found the large containers of formula that cost $20-25 here cost $15 there. We came home with three.
8. Take what the hospital gives you, but only if it’s really free. After taking home our “free” Enfamil starter kit and diaper bag, I later saw on the bill that we were charged $60 for it (ripoff!). Yes, insurance probably picked up a big chunk of that, but do we really want such charges driving up our premiums?
9. Don’t feel you have to stick with the brand you received as samples. Why do manufacturers provide samples? Because when you first need formula, you’ll probably use the brand you have sitting around as a sample. If your baby accepts it, it’s likely you’ll go out and buy more of that brand because it’s a sure bet that your baby will take it and you are overtired and overextended anyway. It’s worth risking a few dollars to try a cheaper alternative. If your baby rejects it, you’ve lost a few dollars and hopefully you pass it on to someone who needs it. If your baby takes the cheaper brand, you’ll save a lot in the coming months.
10. Doing an occasional internet search for “insert your preferred formula brand” and “free sample” might bring up some special offers. Just be careful of scams, especially if it’s not offered directly by the manufacturer.
Using the steps above, plus relying on breastfeeding as the primary source of milk, we believe we’ll make it to 12 months old without ever purchasing a full-priced container of formula.