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Frugal parents toss disposable training pants

The recession is making life a little messier for some toddlers and their parents.

Disposable training pants, long viewed as a staple in potty training children, are becoming dispensable as some parents choose value over convenience in the recession.

These days, an accident here and there has become an acceptable tradeoff for saving some $30 to $100 a month.

And many parents say that doing away with the crutch has had an added benefit: surprisingly quick toilet training.

Parents embraced disposable training pants when they hit the market 20 years ago because they made life easier, preventing messy accidents as children transitioned from diapers to underwear.

The training pants contain absorbent material just like diapers, but are elasticized and can be pulled up and down like underwear.

Now rising unemployment, stagnant wages and sharp drops in both housing and stock markets have caused consumers to redefine what’s essential.

As they’ve pored over their expenses, sales data suggest more parents are finding it’s one product they’re willing to try doing without.

Darcy Forsell had spent so much on diapers in her daughter’s early years — at least $1,500 by her estimate — that when the time came for 3-year-old Liz to potty-train, Forsell decided to skip the training pants.

“It didn’t seem like a good investment in terms of time and money,” Forsell said.

Forsell trained Liz in a weekend by letting her mostly run around the house naked, an approach she learned from other moms. Similar to just putting kids in underwear, the thinking is that if children wet themselves, they tend to learn quickly that the way to avoid that is by going in the toilet.

Although it was a quick transition, Liz had about three accidents on the carpeting that weekend and Forsell did a lot of laundry. But, Forsell said, it was worth it.

“I think if we had just used Pull-Ups, that learning would have taken a lot longer because she would have been comfortable peeing in the Pull-Ups. They are so similar to diapers,” she said. Forsell did use disposable training pants at night as a precaution and still has them in the car for times when a bathroom may not be available.

Industrywide, sales of disposable training pants declined 3.2 percent to $731.2 million for the 52 weeks ending June 13 and the number of training pants sold is down 10 percent, according to data from The Nielsen Co.

That’s despite the fact that, U.S. births rose 3 percent in 2006 and 1 percent in 2007.

The decline in an industry that had grown steadily for 20 years raises questions about whether the trend will continue when the economy recovers.

Kimberly-Clark CEO Tom Falk said some parents are keeping their children in diapers longer because of the tough economy and the higher price of training pants versus diapers.

“I think it’s just more evidence of the consumer squeeze,” Falk said.

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