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Having a Baby Without Breaking the Bank: List of essentials

On a budget with baby on the way? This list of essential baby items is SO helpful! Aside from lots of love and nurturing, these are the only 5 things you truly NEED!

Last time in this series we discussed how having a baby really doesn’t have to cost you a fortune. If you didn’t get a chance to read it yet, be sure to go here and do so. The numerous comments left on the post were incredibly insightful–you all are one great bunch of wise people!

Today I want to talk about what I see as the basic essentials one needs to have and care for a baby. Obviously, there are variety of opinions out there when it comes to “must-haves”. I’m not an expert, just a mom who has raised two young vibrant little girls without spending a lot of money to do so.

First off, we must start by asking ourselves, “What does it really take to raise a baby?” I believe our society has become so materialistic and consumer driven that we hardly know how to even think in basic terms.

Aside from lots of love and nurturing, here are the essentials I believe you truly need:

–Clothes (For starting out, I think you can get by just fine with around six onesies, six sleepers, a few pair of socks, a few hats, and 4-6 blankets.)

–Bed (unless you’re planning to co-sleep)

–Car seat

–Stroller

–Diapers/wipes (either cloth or disposable)

(And if you are unable to nurse–as I know happens on occasion, or if you are adopting, you would also need to add formula to this list.)

And that’s about it, folks. Seriously. There are other things that are nice to have, such as a swing, a sling (or ERGO), a few nicer outfits for baby to wear out of the house, a diaper bag, and so forth. But none of those things are absolute necessities.

If you have any baby showers at all or get any gifts, you can see how easily you could accumulate the few items you really need for your baby. And that’s why I recommend you don’t buy anything until after your baby showers (if you will be having any). There is no point in buying a lot of items you don’t truly need if you can’t afford them.

That said, if you are going to be buying everything yourself, here are a few of my suggestions for how to buy the necessary items very inexpensively:

There is no need to buy name-brand, brand-new clothes for your child. If they are anything like most little children, they will likely be quickly staining them or growing out of them. So you might as well get them as inexpensively as you can! If someone offers to share their hand-me-downs, willingly accept them.

Sign up for your local Freecycle.org and watch for folks who are getting rid of baby clothes and other items in your area. You can often snag sacks of baby clothing and other baby things this way–all for free!

Freepeats.org is another online baby site which allows members to trade gently used baby and maternity items for free. Sign-up is only $1 right now, so this is definitely something to consider if there is a Freepeats group in your area.

Other great options are thrift stores and garage sales, of course. Also, check and see if there are any church rummage-type sales or consignment sales in your area. These are often goldmines! And if you start looking for items at least a six months before your baby is born, you’ll likely be able to accumulate everything you need for pennies on the dollar this way.

For the record, I recommend buying your baby’s bed and car seat new, just out of safety precaution. But that doesn’t mean you need to spend an arm and a leg. Start looking at least a few months before your baby is born for deals at local stores and online deals. The majority of the time, by hitting an online sale and combining it with a coupon code plus cashback from eBates, you’ll be able to get a pretty good deal.

Also, if you are in the market for deals on new baby items, be sure that you check out BabyCheapskate and BabyGoodBuys. Both are websites dedicated to alerting you to the best baby deals and freebies out there.

Oh and before I forget, The Natural Mommy has a great two-part series up on Reducing the Cost of Birth and Babies which I highly recommend you check out here and here. You might not agree with all her conclusions (just like you probably don’t with mine!) but hopefully it will give you some more food for thought!

That about covers everything on the list of essentials except for diapers. Next week, I’ll talk about saving money by cloth diapering and or stockpiling disposable diapers.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think is a list of absolute necessities for having a baby. What are your best ideas for acquiring these inexpensively?

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93 Comments

  • PollyS says:

    I very much agree with your post today about an abundance of baby items. My friend had a baby two years ago. Oh my lands! That girl got every single baby gadget known to man. Even the night vision baby monitor! After seeing her abundance, I can tell you that I am so happy that I kept things to a minimum. Along with the items you listed, I found my world would have been incomplete without a swing and a Boppy Pillow. I had big babies and when they get sleepy while they’re nursing, well my arms needed some help. As my babies got older, I found a mega saucer to be vital. I needed to be able to walk away and know they were safe (and happy!). As an aside, all of these items were bought at consignment/thrift stores for 1/2+ of retail. The only things I paid full dollar for were my kids’ bed, high chair (which I highly regret as I got the “top of the line” and hated it!) and stroller which I still use. Everything else was bargain basement.

    Another way of saving money on baby is to have a home birth. I am a big home birthing advocate. The personal touch of the midwife, the ability to do things your own way and the reduced costs have made me a believer and evangelist! If you feel comfortable with this option, I highly suggest you look into it.

    Oh, and eBay and clearance racks and hand me downs! My children are quite dapper and I have NEVER paid full price for clothes for them.

  • Carrie Kirby says:

    Even if you are cosleeping, most would agree you need a bed for your baby. It’s not recommended to put a baby down on an adult bed alone, and since a newborn will spend many more hours sleeping than you do, she needs a safe place to do so.
    Also, you are going to need a safe place to put your baby down when your hands are full, whether this is a crib, bouncy seat or whatnot.
    Since I have other children, I can’t imagine surviving without a sling or carrier. Free hands are needed!

  • Noah Heutchy says:

    I’d get a good baby carriers (sling, mei tai, moby wrap, etc) before a stroller. Cheaper, and I never used a stroller until at least 6 months. Now if you have an older sibling, a stroller for the sibling might be essential.

    And NEVER buy a carseat used. Ever. The exception is if you know the person selling it to you and can verify it’s not expired and has not been in an accident. It’s not worth risking your child’s life to save a few dollars. Ever!

  • gina says:

    Also, check out ETSY for slings and other homemade stuff. Help support people trying to keep it simple and make money from home!

  • Jenn says:

    I’ll echo Goodwill and the other thrift stores…….. I rarely buy anything really new for my kids anymore, it’s all new from Good will 🙂 And as I watch the stores and accumulate clothing, I’ve gotten “picky” and often will only buy name brand clothing in good condition, unless I really just needed a red shirt or something to match an outfit.
    Same thing for maternity clothes – my sizes change quite a bit thru pregnancy, so I have a full range of clothing options accumulated over the last 4 years and 3 pregnancies, most from Goodwill. It’s nice to get a pair of jeans that fits nicely and know that in a month when they don’t fit anymore you can put them in a box not feel bad about spending too much money! Now, I have several pairs of maternity in every size and a range of “post maternity” jeans ranging from huge (that I hope to not stay in long) to more my normal size.

  • Annaelisabeth says:

    So many helpful comments.
    We’ve just had #5 and agree that there are few essentials.
    I would get a stroller especially if anyone has back or ankle problems. An expensive “system” isn’t necessary. I see so many people spending loads on these for their first child then a few months later buying a cheap umbrella stroller as they are so much easier in cars or on public transport. It is possible to buy umbrella strollers that work from birth-they are slightly more expensive that those which are suitable from six months as they have an adjustable seat so the baby can lie down.
    We’ve saved so much by using cloth diapers and using old terries or prefolds as wipes. I don’t bother to make complex solutions to soak them in-tap water does the trick!
    Annaelisabeth

  • Becca says:

    I would also rather have a sling type of carrier for a newborn, and get a stroller later on, once the baby can sit up and a full-reclining stroller isn’t needed.
    Hopefully a thermometer and infant Tylenol won’t be needed right away, but it’s nice to have them on hand if they are!

  • Randi says:

    As a mother of newborn twins, I think my stroller is a necessity. There’s no way I could take the babies anywhere by myself without it! Seriously, can you picture a mother carrying 2 infant carseats & a giant diaper bag? That poor woman! So my double stroller has been a lifesaver!

    But yes, if you only have one baby at a time, then I don’t suppose a stroller is an absolute necessity. 🙂

  • Jill says:

    http://www.labump.com is a great place that works like craigslist but is specific to maternity and kids stuff…nice to recycle and get a good deal on stuff that still has lots of life left in it.

  • Morgan says:

    Have you heard anything about CVS buying out Longs Drugs? We have Longs Drugs in our area (Sacramento) and I would LOVE if they would turn into CVSs so that I can start CVSing!!!! Their circulars still say Longs but online it says “Longs Drugs operated by CVS” what does THAT mean? I didn’t know if you had heard anything about it.

    -Morgan
    mvalencia@astoneagency.com

  • ana says:

    When we had our first son we recieved so many things. One thing we got that I wish I would have returned and bought some diapers was a wipe warmer. I have never owned a changing table and honestly don’t think it is essential. I agree with all of your essentials, but I would add my sling/carrier. My first son was colicky so I had him with me most of the time.

  • Jenny says:

    I completely agree with your basic list!

    The only change I’d make is that I’ve found a sling essential in my household (even moreso than the stroller). We live in the city of Chicago and don’t have a car. It’s really tricky to get a stroller on and off of public transportation (and store it once you get where you are going), so I use the sling multiple times a day.

    If I had to swap out for something on the list, I would swap the carseat out. We probably only use the one we got as a gift once a month–and could probably find one to borrow for those times.

  • Michelle Z. says:

    My son is older now, but if I were about to have a new baby in the house for the first time, I’d make sure I had a humidifier or vaporizer (in addition to the other basics you suggested).

    I still remember the first time my son got sick, and I was totally unprepared to take care of an infant who didn’t feel good.

    Likewise, I think a good baby care book is an essential, especially for a first time mom. My Dr. Sear’s book was falling apart by the time we outgrew it, and it was a valuable source of information and reassurance.

  • liz says:

    Stockpiling diapers is the way to go. I only buy diapers when they are on sale or I can get some ECB from cvs or RR from Walgreens, or a catalina coupon from the grocery. It drives the cost of diapers way, way down. By the time my son is a year old, I project I will have spent only $160 on diapers and supplies for his first year. That’s for disposable diapers! Dont’ be loyal to a particular brand, just buy whatever is on sale that works for your child. I know some people get hung up on only having the best for their baby, but really, when your child is graduating college, will it matter whether you used Pampers or the Walgreens brand?

  • Jennifer says:

    I do think you need more sleepers and things. 6 isn’t very much when newborns frequently leak out of diapers. These can be picked up so cheaply second hand though, that it shouldn’t cost much at all to have 10 or so. Especially with boys, who if it is pointing the wrong way they can actually go to the bathroom and soak their clothing, but not get a drop on the diaper LOL.

  • Doe tips on saving on daycare….shop around…sometimes a mom who stays at home with her children already is happy to watch your child cheaper than a daycare.
    Relatives may watch them as well cheaper than paying a stranger

  • Jan says:

    Another place to find good used baby clothes and equipment- do a google search to see if there is a “Twins Club” or “Mothers of Multiples Club” in your area- they almost always do rummage sales- I have found all of my good deals there!

  • Thanks for the link love! It is much appreciated!

  • Marcia says:

    Someone asked about the “best” kind of diaper to buy on sale. We used disposables, and the answer is … it depends, really, on how big your baby is.

    In the first month of “newborn” phase, we could only use pampers. Huggies were too big and leaked. But eventually, the Huggies started fitting. We tried a store brand once, and he got terrible diaper rash.

    As far as slings/strollers go…I had a sling that I used for 6 weeks, then he was too big, moved to the bjorn front carrier. But we also needed a stroller…my back could only take the bjorn till about 8 months (didn’t know about the Ergo back then). I walked a LOT with my son, so the $100 spent on the jogger stroller was well worth it, and we still use it occasionally (he’s almost 3).

    For working moms…I work too. A good breast pump is a must, and extra bottles or you’ll be washing constantly. As far as daycare goes…just look around early and figure out what you want. We really like the feel of home daycares, which have the added benefit of being more affordable, in general (but not always). The home daycares run by women with degrees in ECE tend to be more expensive.

    The time to ask around about daycare is now, to get a feel for actual costs and availability. Other options are to offset your work hours, cut back to 3 days/week, work weekends…try to get your bosses to be flexible if you can (hard, I know, I had that gig for a year and then got a new boss who said “no more part time”. So I quit. And went somewhere else.)

    Anyway, daycare options are home daycares, friends, family, institutional daycares, church daycares. If you space your children out far enough (4 years or so), you only have to pay for one at a time. And check to see if your company has child care reimbursement accounts. If you have that, you can get $5000 from your paycheck annually that comes out pre-tax, saving you $1500 to $2000 per year in taxes. Otherwise, you can take a child care deduction in your taxes. (I do miss that bennie in my new job, I hope they institute it. But it’s a startup and only 2 of us have kids in daycare, soon to be 3.)

  • Rachel says:

    I’m so happy to have read this article. I feel like the only mom sometimes who doesn’t think my son needs new, name brand, expensive stuff. That being said, the thing I used most often with my son was my maya wrap. He was so fussy for the first 8 months and this always helped. At 20 months old and 30 pounds, he still enjoys being in it.

    I also found that when he was over a 1 year old, he loved playing with my empty plastic containers, lids, spoons, and cups.

  • Julie says:

    I found the book “Baby Bargains” by Alan & Denise Fields to be invaluable. It kept us from buying a lot of junk we didn’t need and also had reviews from other parents.

  • tripnmama says:

    If you are going to buy a crib, you will also need at least 2 crib sheets and a mattress pad. You can skip the bumper pads, quilts, etc. though.

    Also if you are going the formula route, don’t forget you will need bottles. Generally, it is easier to get enough bottles to get you at least through one full day.

  • Laura says:

    Crystal – Thank you so much for posting this information and opening up the forum for discussion! I’m expecting my first baby in April 24 and plan to stay home, so our income will definitely be limited. This list is so helpful to me as I figure out what is really necessary and what we could live without (or what we should register for).

  • Becky says:

    Thanks for the great list! I think our country has totally gone overboard with “essentials” for baby. Not only do expecting moms feel the pressure to buy everything under the sun, but it seems everything has to be top-notch.

    Thanks for sticking to the basics and helping readers know that you don’t have to have much when you’re expecting a little one!

  • Rebecca says:

    I agree with the list and would only add 2 things to it. One is a diaper bag. However it need not be a commercial diaper bag. Most of us have back packs or other cloth or gym bags around the house and this can be used just fine for a diaper bag. If not most grocery stores are selling reuseable grocery bags for around a dollar a bag so that would be a cheap option. The other thing is more of a sanity saver which I found necessary.
    A sling or ergo which you can often get from craigs list or yard sales etc. or often from someone at church who no longer needs theirs. It really helps to be able to carry the baby around with you while you are trying to get your basic necessity housework done. Also, for the larger priced items often your parents or inlaws or others will ask what you need so you could have a small list of things you’d like to have when they do ask.

  • Margaret says:

    I highly agree with the folks who recommended the sling/carrier. For us, it was a necessity if I did not want to go insane! But we got ours (a $40 sling) at a consignment sale for $8. (www.jbf.com–a national bi-annual sale) I also think the high chair/booster seat is a necessity when they are eating solids, unless you just want to get mess everywhere!!! (and some bibs, of course, a lot easier than tying towels which come off around the neck)

  • Sarah S. says:

    When my son was little *(he is 10 now) my mom and I hit Walmart often! There were many times that we found clearance outfits that would fit my son the following year. A good idea to hit for is infant-toddler clothes sizes(at least for my kids) ran small. So other than say Carter’s or Children’s Place my boys were wearing 18 months at 12 months, etc. Children’s Place is a great place to shop ahead of time, hit their Monster Sales (get on their email list) then they also mail out their 15-20% off coupons. Their pj’s are wonderful!!! I miss my son wearing them, the footed ones go to about size 3.
    We also got very into Babies R Us double couponing (not sure if they still do this, you can ask them) but we used to use coupons from Pampers, plus their diaper coupons making diapers cheap and wipes. Watch their clearance on clothes as well.
    I totally agree with everyone that said you don’t need a lot of stuff, I received a lot of stuff at showers and had a lot to get rid of when it was all said and done. The swing is nice—if the baby likes it, surprisingly some don’t! Good luck to everyone in their baby planning! With my youngest who is now 5, we went a lot more basic and it was a lot of fun just interacting with him.

  • Jenny says:

    Thank you Crystal!

  • Tiffany says:

    I love the big consignment sales that they are having now. They are a little bit more than garage sales,but not much, but everything is in one place, sorted by size, and must be stain & hole free. It saves so much time.

    Also, a good place to look for an affordable crib is IKEA, we were able to get our current crib and mattress for $120. They aren’t fancy but sturdy and good quality. We really like it.

  • My advice additional advice. Buy a convertible car seat instead of an infant and then a toddler seat. Spend more to save in the long run. Also consider a stroller system that will take you from infant to toddlerhod. Buying a cheap snap and go and then a “real”stroller is a waste. I’m loving the new Quinny–but it is pricey.

    Also don’t forget about all those excellent contests! This month is Expecting Mom’s Month on Momtrends and I am giving away more than $600 in goodies. Here’s one to start with:

    http://momtrends.blogspot.com/2009/02/giggle-momtrends-help-expecting-moms.html

  • Melanie says:

    I have some thoughts for the Mother’s interested reducing daycare costs. I worked in two different daycares. The cost for infants in the national franchise center I worked in were considerably more than the smaller independent center. Your baby will need more spare clothes and diapers at the center than you think and outgrow them fast, so bring in more cheaper mix and match clothes and fewer fancy coordinating pieces. It is easier to just change pants for a small spot than a complete outfit. The same for bedding, more cribsheets don’t bring a qulit they are usually not allowed because of SIDS, a thick blanket sleeper is better.
    Label everything!
    This is a hard one to say ,please have a plan for when your baby gets sick. I did my best to keep things clean, but when both staff are feeding or changing babies it is nearly impossible to pick up dirty toys before another child grabs them and puts them in their mouth.Your baby will get sick even before crawling around just from breathing in the air.
    Try to plan Dr. visits on Friday. We had to send home many babies with fevers etc. from reactions the day after vaccines were given.
    Please be very patient with the staff. There are times when Mom and Dad can’t calm one fussy baby, so imagine two people with eight!!

  • Kari says:

    I think another necessity is receiving blankets/burp cloths. I don’t think you can have to many of those, especially if your kid ends up being spitter! I think a few more sleepers than 6 are helpful for the same reason – there were definitely days that we went through more than 6 outfits!

  • LANA says:

    I needed the baby nail clippers for tiny fingers and toes. Wouldn’t have been able to go without! Only pinched 3 X combined; not bad:)

  • jillbert says:

    Two years ago we were given care of a newborn baby with only 1 hour notice (foster care). We had nothing for her. She came in a diaper & t-shirt with an extra pack of diapers and a few binkies. Within a day I was able to get all the necessities together (car seat & crib borrowed from friends, some basic clothes & a few bottles — all for under $20). She lived with us for 5 months and we bought a few more things (bath tub, bumbo chair, stroller — all used) and I knit her some cute hats and sewed some blankies and clothes, we never had any large expenses. Our philosophy has always been to get the basic equipment but go hog wild on showering a baby with love and attention. It’s free and the investment you make in holding and loving a child pays off for their entire life.

  • GIna says:

    Britax usually has a sale on their car seats during February and September (I think it’s Sept for their fall sale). Google Britax Sale and you can find out about it. That’s definitely the best time to buy a car seat!

  • Kris says:

    If only I knew then what I know now about what is actually necessary for a baby. I spent a fortune on stuff we did NOT need when my kids were born. I look back and think, Oh what I could have done with all that extra money!

  • Marie says:

    I am a daycare provider and quite honestly, I think you get what you pay for! I charge $35 a day (for 8 or 9 hours of care) to watch my friend’s little girl with my daughter (they’re the same age). You may balk at that $700 per month cost, but I am also super flexible with when they can pick her up/drop her off, I don’t charge them for being late, I don’t make them pay me “vacation days” or “sick days” and don’t mind letting them cancel at the last minute if the little girl’s grandparents want to be with her. She also gets to come with my daughter and me on playdates, to the library, or on a picnic to the park on a nice day. She also gets tons of kisses, hugs, cuddles and stories from one care provider who thinks of her as another daughter.

    I’d be weary of trying to go the cheap route when it comes to your kid.

    If you can possibly afford to cut back to part-time I would also recommend finding another part-time working mom and trade watching each other’s kids. My friend who is a nurse does this and loves it.

  • Sharon says:

    In case no one has mentioned the lost art of borrowing, I wanted to mention it. Infant car seats are only useful for six months to a year, and it’s not hard to find a family with a fairly new infant car seat stashed in their attic or basement that they would be happy to loan out. Of course, the seat should be less than 5 years old (or whatever the latest safety info. suggests) and never have been in an accident.

    Baby clothing is also not hard to borrow. The little ones go in and out of it so fast, it is a short term loan.

    It may be convenient to borrow a cradle or bassinet for keeping baby in the bedroom with mom and dad until you get them into the crib that you will want to own. I have also used a “pack and play” instead of a crib, which has more uses and folds up so easily.

  • Rae says:

    Just a tip to those saying that a new carseat is not neccesary if getting from a friend… even a minor car accident can cause stress fractures in carseats and make them unsafe which many people don’t know. So somebody that has a carseat that still looks like it is in new condition might think that it is just fine and not want to mention that it has been in an accident becuase they don’t want it to go to waste (and honestly think it is still safe). I personally would not risk my child’s safety just to save some money. Now if it is yours from a previous child and you KNOW that it hasn’t been in any accidents because you are the one who used it, this is different.

    About the stroller… I agree that this depends on your situation. We hardly ever use ours and the times that we did, we could have done without. However, peolpe that do a LOT of walking or that live in the city and don’t have a car, it would be a necessity. Just think about your situation and how much you would be walking with baby (and where). For instance, when shopping, I find it easier to put the baby’s infant car seat in the cart since I can’t push a stroller and a cart. I use the infant car seat all the time so definitely got my money’s worth. If do opt for a stroller, you probably would be fine with a convertible carseat.

  • Kacie says:

    I have been surprised at just how little money our baby has cost us so far. In fact, with this year’s tax credits, we’re coming out ahead right now!

    We opted not to get a stroller just yet. Instead, we put our baby in a carrier and wear him around. He seems to really like that, and it’s less bulk and hassle. When he gets bigger, we’ll get an umbrella stroller.

    Also, we chose to get a convertible car seat. The seat should last him until he needs a booster when he’s much older. We got the First Years TruFit, and it worked from the day we took him home from the hospital (he was only 5 lbs. 11 oz. that day!) and buckling him into the seat doesn’t take him that long. I don’t regret not getting an infant seat!

  • Great resource here – thanks for sharing!

    It has been a few years, but parents tend to always want to buy brand new products for their babies/kids usually the reason for overspending.

    I absolutely agree with you that there is no need to buy brand new clothes as babies outgrow them so quickly! For those comfortable using second-hand products, strollers are a great item to buy second hand too, especially if you know the seller and if you can’t quite figure out yet if you want a second or a third child (which will require a double or triple stroller).

    Cheers,
    Evelyn

  • Ivy Norton says:

    Great tips! I’ve used cloth diapers in the past to save money and it sure did! Also I was able to store left over breast milk so I saved a ton of money since I never needed to buy formula.

  • Laura says:

    I also think nail clippers.

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