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Gino Santa Maria/Gino Santa Maria © 2006 All Rights Reserved

Every spring, as the summer styles hit the stores, I buy a few new clothing items to perk up my wardrobe. Usually it's just a summer dress or two and a pair of sandals. This year, I had to completely restock my closet. My husband and I are expecting our third child and this is my first summer pregnancy. When contemplating another child, we gave a lot of thought to the costs of raising a third. But I forgot to factor in the expense of building a maternity wardrobe, from work clothes to casual wear, from scratch.



Decades ago, maternity clothing was limited to dresses that resembled housecoats festooned with bows and polka dots, but there is a lot of choice today. There is much more available than there was even a few years ago, when I was pregnant with my first. Now I can find maternity jeans perfectly on trend, save for the elastic waistband, instead of just pants made out of jean material. Yet it's hard to justify spending much on clothing of such limited use.

We only wear the clothes for a short time. I started in maternity gear at 16 weeks, giving my new wardrobe a life span of six months. Still, the clothing is an absolutely essential part of pregnancy. For women in the workplace, in particular, it is important to maintain a professional look, which requires an investment.

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"Just think of it as a sunk cost," advises one friend. It's a largely non-recoverable, fixed expense of procreation.

Sarah Deveau, a married mom of three young girls living in Airdrie, Alta., writes about the price of pregnancy in her book Money $mart Mom: Financially Fit Parenting. "Before you've even bought your first sleeper set, you'll find plenty of pregnancy-related things you need, want or just can't live without," she says.

For those of us trying to stick to a budget during pregnancy, saving any extra cash for our maternity leaves, Ms. Deveau has a number of cost-saving tips.

Borrow clothes from friends. When you're at the stage where you've outgrown your regular clothes, but don't quite look right in maternity clothes yet, borrow larger sizes from friends. "With no extra cash available to buy shirts that would only fit for a few weeks, I called on all my friends to see if anyone could lend me any larger shirts and sweaters," Ms. Deveau writes.

Once you're ready for maternity wear, collect as much as you can from friends and family who have had children in the past few years. After I had my last two children, I was only too happy to lend my pregnancy shirts, skirts, dresses and pants to friends in need. When I announced my pregnancy, my friends all offered to return the favour. I've received bags of clothing from a circle of women I know and they have really helped make my transition into maternity wear easier and more affordable. Just make sure that when you borrow, you keep a record of what you received from whom, warns Ms. Deveau. "Return each item as soon as you're done with them, and don't forget to enclose a thank you note."

Buy from consignment stores. Ms. Deveau, who owns and runs a children's consignment shop, is a fan of second-hand maternity wear. "In recent years, consignment stores have gained credibility as great places to find quality clothing someone else no longer has a need for." You need to shop carefully, though. Watch out for stained items and avoid clothes that don't fit well. "It's no deal if the item hangs in your closet for your entire pregnancy."

Shop out of town. If you live in a small town or rural area, you might need to visit a bigger city to find inexpensive maternity wear, Ms. Deveau says. While I live in a large city with many nice maternity apparel shops, I have bought most of my maternity clothes in the United States. I travel on business frequently and have often found that clothing at the same chain store is priced at least 25-per-cent less south of the border. While you can shop at Motherhood Maternity in Canada, the same clothes will cost less at the American store. It is frustrating to see the discrepancy when the Canadian dollar is so close to par with the greenback. One of my favourite U.S. stores is Destination Maternity, which carries premium maternity lines such as Pea In The Pod and often has items marked down to a steep discount. Destination Maternity ships to Canada if you don't have plans for a trip any time soon.

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Stick to the basics. I decided to invest in a few higher-quality essentials for my maternity wardrobe, rather than in many lower-quality, less flattering pieces. I plan to just wear them over and over again. The key to this trick is to buy the essentials in basic colours and styles that will mix-and-match easily and that aren't so distinctive that everyone will notice their frequent reappearance. "Simple black pants and dark-washed blue jeans are easy staples," Ms. Deveau says. "Avoid easy-to-remember items with multiple pockets, zippers or odd colours." She wisely suggests buying the bare minimum of what you need. Instead of buying 10 shirts right away, buy five and "pick up others as the seasons change, your belly expands and you tire of the other items."

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