Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Baby on a Budget: What You Really Need

Having just spent 16 days out of state with my newborn, staying at relatives’ homes and living out of suitcases, I think I have a good handle on what a baby really needs.  Yes, I’m glad to be home and have access again to some of the baby items that make life with a little one more convenient, but I realize that those items are simply that: a convenience and not a necessity. 

Source: via Mandi on Pinterest
New parents and parents-to-be are bombarded with advertisements and advice that make it seem like every item in a baby store is necessary.  The truth is, babies need very little.  And because each family’s circumstances and parenting style is different, there is no one-size-fits-all set of baby items to buy.  When I was preparing for my little one, I scoured the internet reading lists of baby necessities and lists of the most worthless baby products.  What I found was that some of the same items were on both lists (especially the Boppy Pillow, it seems you either love it or hate it – I personally am in the former category).  So instead of making my own list of baby necessities (and what do I know really, my little one is only a month old), here are some questions to ask yourself as you make your own list of what to buy for your little one on the way.  By asking yourselves these questions (and answering honestly), you should come up not only with a list of necessities but also a list of which items you should look for used.

At the bottom, there’s a link up for other bloggers to link to their own lists (which, although they don’t all agree still are immensely helpful to read to help decide whether they work in your circumstances). 

1. Is it necessary? The following questions will help you narrow down items that you aren’t sure whether you will need or not, but before you get to them, I’m sure there are many items that you can rule out simply by using common sense.  If you can’t think of specific reasons or situations why you might need something, or if you are just wanting to get it “just in case”, “because everyone has one”, or “because it’s cute”, than it is probably not a necessity.

Source: via Mandi on Pinterest
Ex. Shoes for toddlers, matching nursery bedding and decor, shopping cart covers.  Yes, some people use these, and some germaphobes may consider the shopping cart cover a necessity (and yes, I actually do have one, given to me brand new by a friend that received one for her first child and never used it with either of her kids), but these are not necessities.  A cute nursery is great (and we do have one), but if you decide to forgo one because of lack of space, you plan to keep your child in your room with you, you just don’t want one, don’t feel bad.  One of the main reasons I have one is because family insisted (but we had the room and they bought us much of the decorations!).  I would say you need to have some kind of furniture to keep baby’s clothes and items though, but a dresser in your room could work just as well (and doesn’t need to be bought special, see below).

2. Do we have something already that will work?  For each traditional baby items you think you may need, consider its function and whether you already have something in your home that can fulfill that function.  Just because something isn’t made specifically for a baby, doesn’t mean it can’t be used for one. 

Ex. Furniture. While you probably don’t have something just hanging around your home that can function as a crib, you may already have furniture that can serve as the remainder of the nursery furniture (if you are having a nursery; that in itself is not a necessity).  My husband’s parents bought him a very nice bedroom set when he moved out of state to start grad school.  When we got married, my furniture became our bedroom furniture and his became guest room furniture.  When we found out we were pregnant, we decided to just get rid of the bed and keep the rest of the furniture for the baby.  We simply needed to find a black crib to match it. 

3. Is there something else “non-baby” that will work instead?  Similar to the last question, can you buy something similar without the “baby” label to do the same function.  It seems that anything found in the baby section automatically has a mark up in price (I found the same thing regarding “wedding” items when I got married a few years ago). 

Ex. Diaper pails, furniture.  Diaper pails can be ridiculously pricey and require specific pail liners.  It’s much cheaper to buy a nice step on trash can and use regular trash bags (or a few washable pail liners if you are cloth diapering). Perhaps they don’t contain the smell as well (although I’ve heard that they don’t really work any better), but that simply means you have take the diapers out a little more often.

4. Do I have room for it?  Many people who are starting a family on a budget are doing so in a small home or apartment.  You may not have room for all the baby gizmos and gadgets that some others consider to be mandatory.  My husband and I are fortunate in that we have been able to afford a two bedroom apartment, however, we would have welcomed our daughter into a one bedroom as well.  Even being a two bedroom apartment, our home is small and there are certain things we’ve forgone because of space.  Keep in mind how much space each item will take and that may help you narrow down what is necessary.

Source: via Mandi on Pinterest
Ex. Full sized bassinet or crib, changing table, baby bath tub.  While we do have a full nursery with a crib, we opted for a non-traditional changing table.  After scouring the internet for a foldable changing table, I found this one at Ikea.  Although we keep it up all the time, it is smaller than a traditional changing table. Some other options for a changing table is to buy a crib with an attached changing table, a changing pad for the top of a dresser, attach a pull-down changing table to the wall, buy a pack-and-play with a changing table included, or simply forgo it all and change your baby on the kitchen table, floor, wherever.

For me, a baby bath tub, although not usually too pricey, is still a waste, especially of space.  Some are inflatable, but to have to inflate it each time seemed to be too much work.  The plastic ones seem to take up a lot of room that we don’t have.  And since lining a sink with towels works just fine, no baby bath tub for us. 

5. How long will I use it for?  It’s probably no surprise that babies outgrow their clothes quickly.  The size labels are deceiving as well – our little girl has outgrown some of her 0-3 month clothes already (at barely over a month).  But babies outgrow other baby gear as well.  While your baby will certainly need clothes, and you may want to get him/her some of the other baby items that will be outgrown quickly, look for these things used.  They will be in great condition because they were only used for a short time.

Source: via Mandi on Pinterest
Ex. Bassinet, bouncer.  If your baby is going to sleep in your room for the first few months, but you don’t want him/her in your bed, you don’t have to get a traditional bassinet.  They are expensive and take up a lot of space (see previous question).  We got this Rock ‘n’ Play Sleeper as a bassinet, and even though we decided to have the baby sleep in our bed, it is great because, unlike a traditional bassinet, it can be easily moved around the house as a place to put baby while I’m doing housework, taking a shower, etc. and can easily be brought to someone else’s house. 

6. Does it fit our lifestyle/parenting style? It’s often hard to know exactly what your parenting style will be like before you are actually in the midst of parenting, but I many people have an idea of how they would like to parent.  Some items are more useful for stay-at-home moms.  If you will be working and your child will be in daycare, that may dictate some items that you may or may not need.  If you plan to attachment parent, certain items are no longer necessary.  If you are environmentally conscious, some baby items don't make sense (disposable diapers/wipes, plastic baby items and toys that will eventually end up in landfills).  So if you have ideas of how you would like to parent, keep in mind how that will affect the items you need for baby.

Ex. Baby wraps/carriers, strollers, cribs, waterproof pads. I knew we would want to sleep with our baby in our room for at least a few months, so I knew a crib wasn’t a necessity right away.  We registered for a crib anyway and received it as a gift from several family members (post to come about gift receiving), but if we hadn’t, we would have waited to buy one until we needed it or until it was on sale.  Lucia sleeps in the bed with us, so all we really need for her right now is a waterproof pad. 

Source: via Mandi on Pinterest
If you plan to baby wear, a stroller may not be necessary.  I rarely use our jogging stroller (also a gift, registered for at my husband the runner’s insistence), but my Moby Wrap is a necessity for us. 

7. What if baby doesn’t like it? Many baby items are not easily returnable once you open them, wash them (everything fabric should be washed before touching baby’s skin), and put them together.  In many cases, it’s easier to wait to buy something until after the baby is here and you determine that you need it.  Although you might have to pay full price if you wait until you need it, so if you see something at a great deal or very cheap used, it may be worth it to buy it then.  Or if you receive something as a gift, you might want to wait to take the tags off and wash it until you need it. 

Ex.  Swing.  My baby hates her swing.  I know, all babies loves swings, right?  Mine is just strange.  Maybe she will still grow to love it, but right now, I’m so grateful that it was given to me by a friend who already got great use from it with her two kids. 

8. How many do I really need? This is very similar to the question above, you don’t want to have so many of something that some of the items never get used.  There are a few things that you probably can’t have enough of.  In our house, these are burp clothes, receiving blankets, and washcloths.  But most other baby items, buy sparingly, especially ones that will be quickly outgrown.

Ex. Clothing. This question especially pertains to clothing: if you take off the tags and wash them, most places won’t take them back.  Sure, babies go through clothes quickly, but you’ll probably be doing wash often so that items don’t stain when their diaper leaks or when they spit up, so you really don’t need that many outfits.  And you probably will want more sleepers, onesies, and matching pants than the adorable outfits.  We have found our favorite sleepers for Lucia and those get used very often while some of the more cumbersome items to put on and off only get put on when going out and when company comes over.  Every parent I’ve talked to has told me that there were outfits that their baby never wore because they outgrew them too quickly.  So don’t go overboard with clothes (plus, you’ll probably get many gifts when the baby is born, and these tend to be clothes, so be prepared for that).

Remember, just because you rule something as non-essential doesn’t mean you can’t have one, it simply means that you should budget for the essentials first.  You may very well receive that non-essential item that will make life so much easier as a gift or find it at a garage sale (in fact, garage sales are brimming with the “unnecessaries”!).  I’ll admit, I have many of the items I’ve listed above as examples of non-essentials.  Some of them I even love.  But I didn’t (and wouldn’t) pay full price for any of them, they were either gifts, hand-me-downs, or purchased at garage sales. 

Ex. Wipes warmer.  One of my favorite non-essentials is my wipes warmer.  My mom went crazy buying baby items at garage sales last summer while I was pregnant.  She bought us a wipes warmer for $1 (and later saw ones at other garage sales for $0.50).  It is certainly a luxury, but for that price, I certainly can justify the purchase.  It works wonderfully and Lucia loves having warm wipes during diaper changes, it’s definitely eliminated all crying on the changing table!  Would I suggest you pay full price for one? Never.  But if someone gifted it to you, gave you theirs, or you came across it at a garage sale, go for it!

Being realistic about what a baby needs is immensely important to saving money with a baby.  Once you have a list of what you think you will need, you can further budget for baby by acquiring those items in the most cost-effective way: asking for them as gifts, buying them used, acquiring them as hand-me-downs, buying them on sale or with discounts/coupons (posts on each of these to follow in the upcoming weeks). 

If you have written (or would like to write) a post on a similar topic, whether it be your “Top 10 Baby Essentials”, “The Most Worthless Baby Items”, or something more specific like your “Breastfeeding Necessities”, please link up your post here.  Since each baby and situation is different, it would be so helpful to get a range of opinions about which baby items did/didn’t work for you so that other moms can weigh their choices and try to figure out what are true baby necessities for them.  Thanks!

Please check out the other posts (including some great guest posts) in my Baby on a Budget series.


  1. I suppose I'll write something and link up, but for now these comments should suffice:

    YES on the Rock n Play... I didn't even know what one was really, but my sister got it for us and we LOVE(d) that thing.
    To me, a changing table IS a necessity...bad knees, bad back...
    The stroller will be more useful than you think...I am all about baby wearing, but walks around the block with the stroller are wonderful once babies are able to sit up better.
    I couldn't agree more on the clothes comment.
    G hated her swing for a while and then loved it, and then hated... It still gets some use when I'm ironing (I tried to wear her while ironing = impossible).
    We couldn't survive without our baby bath tub....just us ;-)

  2. Really great list! And well thought out, with all your examples.

  3. Sarah, thanks for linking up!

    Kaylene, we love our changing table too and had a really hard time on vacation without it (although I'm sure I could do if I had an alternative changing station that was at a regular height), but some people told me it was a waste because they never used theirs - to each their own!

  4. You have absolutely no idea how grateful I am for this post. I've been trying and trying to find answers to what I should/could register for. My mom is a big minimalist when it comes to babies and I like to be over prepared so, this is creating a bit of a struggle. I'm working on the registry now...any additional thoughts would be helpful.

  5. Great post! These want vs. need things have driven a lot of my baby registry and pre-baby shopping. I called my sister, who has a 1-year-old, and we went through the Babies R Us registry "suggestions" list and knocked off about half of it (and she's not a 'minimalist' parent by any stretch).

    I'm a fan of the changing pad on top of the dresser, especially since the dresser was a hand-me-down. I feel like we'll get many more miles out of it than a changing table. I found a bassinet at a consignment sale for $15, so we went for it. I also had friends who said stuff about white noise machines--I hate unitaskers, so I got a cheap but nice CD boombox for cheap and figured I could just download some white noise onto CD's if necessary. (If you have a fancy phone, there are also white noise apps out there. Our CD boombox also plays the radio and can hook up to an mp3 player.) A lot of other things were given to us, and I don't know if they'll get used. But it's nice to have options :)

  6. Super insightful! I've always thought that the "necessities" I see in magazines or baby blogs are crazy! Your baby is not going to know the difference between a stroller you got handed down, or the $400 dollar one at Babies R Us. I remember when our friends had their baby and bought one of those animal teethers from Europe that were $25. Ridiculous!

    Thanks for all the pointers! I definitely look forward to more posts in the series. :)

  7. Very smart, and very frugal. You're right that society tells us we "need" which we certainly don't. I like that you laid it out simply, if we're able to get pregnant, we'll work in much the same way :-).

  8. Great questions to keep in mind! My list of top items is here: I highly recommend looking into an infant car seat stroller frame - very convenient for running errands especially if your baby falls asleep in the car and I'm sure you can easily find them second hand as they're one of the first things to go!

  9. Great post! We decided to register for what we really wanted, but not for every little thing. We also decided whatever we didn't get gifted, we would get second hand. But, people were very, very generous for us, we got nearly everything we needed/wanted.

  10. My favorite is Go Green Diapers! I finally, got one of their diapers and really love it :)
    new born baby clothing


  11. Great list!  I do have to disagree with one thing for toddlers are a need, not a want.  I think you meant to say "infants".  :)  Toddlers are walking, and you can't have them walking around stores/the park/in the snow barefoot!  We have a pretty small "baby needs" list (for new baby coming any day: onesies, diapers, wipes, some dresses, muslin swaddling blankets, Rock n' Play sleeper, car seat, breast pump, bottles, wrap carrier, sun hat and swimsuit, nose sucker, burp cloths, and one or two other things I forgot).  It's amazing how much some people spend on new babies!!

  12. What an awesome, thorough post.  Love it!  Happy to be linking up :)

  13. Great post! So much helpful information. I linked up, too :)

    1. Thanks for linking up Brittany (and for the kind words!)


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