Welcome to the first post in my new series, Baby On A Budget. As many of you know, last fall I left my “serious” job for one that paid a lot less, but allowed me a TON more time with my kiddos. It was great.
Then this spring we discovered that we have another sweet blessing on the way. With the smaller paycheck, it just wouldn’t have made sense to pay for daycare after the baby comes, so I’ve now left that job to be a full-time stay at home mommy, which is WONDERFUL, but not terribly lucrative. While I never was a big spender in the baby department, it’s especially important this round that we keep the baby related expenses to a minimum.
The first thing that many of us start doing when there is a baby on the way is to plan our “Dream Nursery”. I must admit that those designer nurseries in the catalogs are absolutely adorable. But let’s get one thing straight right now. Those perfectly coordinated, brand new, designer and name brand nursery sets are for Mom. The baby doesn’t give a hoot where he sleeps so long as he is loved, fed and cozy. I’d add that he should absolutely be safe as well, but at his age, he doesn’t care much about that. Good thing he has a mommy who can take care of that detail for him.
While there is nothing wrong with spending a lot on your baby if you can and want to, I’d like to demonstrate that it is entirely unnecessary to spend a fortune, and in fact very easy to find everything your bundle of joy needs at a fraction of the cost of just that brand new coordinated designer nursery.
Now then, let’s try to sort out the difference between needs and wants. First, I think it’s important to recognize that household rhythms, parenting styles, and even babies are different for every family. So you very well may need something that I would find myself rarely using. Keeping that in mind, I’m going to run down a list of commonly purchased baby gear and whether it’s worth buying based on the way my family works.
- Crib: Most Americans would agree that a crib falls into the Need category. What many don’t realize is that you may not need it right away. I kept my most recent baby in her bassinet next to my bed, and only used the crib for occasional napping until she was around 5 months old. Our oldest, on the other hand, slept in her crib (with forays into my bed for night nursing) from day one.
- Bassinet: While I did use one for 5 months, I’d put this in the want category, as long as you have a crib or another safe place for your baby to sleep. It is a very convenient item to have though.
- Changing table: Nice to have one with a strap once baby learns that she can escape mid-diaper change. Unless you plan to keep it in the living room, you probably won’t use it much. Not a need.
- Play pen: Not a need, but can be useful for travel, or if your baby’s room isn’t on the main floor and you want to keep an eye on him while he naps.
- Stroller: Only a need if you anticipate that you’ll be doing a lot of walking longer distances than you can comfortably carry your baby and the stuff you bring with you when you go.
- Car Seat: Unless you absolutely never ride in a car this is a need.
- Baby Swing: Not a need. But can be a very worth your money if you have a baby who likes to swing. It can save your sanity and buy you precious moments to get things done.
- Bouncy Chair: Not a need. But again, can buy you moments if your baby likes it.
- Baby Bath: Not a need. Your baby will be perfectly happy to be washed in the sink, or in the regular tub with you.
- Diaper Bag: If you ever leave the house you will need something to carry a few things for the baby. It doesn’t have to be an actual diaper bag, however. A backpack, an old overnight bag, or even a grocery bag will work in a pinch. My mother-in-law actually preferred to toss a couple diapers, wipes and onesies into a grocery bag rather than carry the giant, stuffed to the gills, HEAVY diaper bag I had for my older girls.
- Diaper genie: Not a need. Seriously, just take out the trash when it gets stinky.
- Wipes warmer: I’ve heard babies like warm wipes, but I’ve successfully raised two through the diaper stage without ever owning one. Not a need.
- Baby Monitor: How big is your house? I can hear practically everything in our smallish 1915 farm house. I did however use one with a receiver that I could clip on my belt to go out and do yard work while the baby napped. It was nice to have, but not a need.
- High Chair: My oldest never had one until she was almost a year old. If it is a Need in your eyes, it can be put off for at least 5 or 6 moths after the baby is born.
This list could go on and on. Bottom line is that you don’t have to buy or use every gadget that has been invented and marketed to you. Think about your lifestyle, choose the items you think will be useful to you, and leave the rest on the shelf.
Once you’ve decided what you do want to have, don’t run out to the big box store, or for goodness sake, a baby boutique and get everything brand new. While it may seem unfair to your precious bundle to make him sleep on a used mattress, or ride in a used stroller, think about what you plan to do with that item after your baby outgrows it. You’ll probably use it for your next baby. So used is good enough for your second baby, but not the first? Babies just don’t put much wear and tear on these things. They can easily last for several babies worth of use. I’ve actually gotten some nice used items, ran them through both of my kids, and sold them for the same price I paid. I felt like I won the lottery!
So where do you find it if you aren’t getting it at the baby gear store?
- Friends and Family: When you announce that you are expecting, you’ll likely get many offers of hand-me-downs from friends. If the items are in good, safe working order, and gender neutral, take them! If you end up with something that works better for you later, you can always ask your friend if she would like her item back, or if she would rather you pass it on. This is, by far, how I’ve gotten most of my baby gear for all of my babies. If you don’t have a large family, or are new in town and haven’t made a lot of friends yet, you may have to rely more on the other methods, but can still get most of what you need very inexpensively.
- Yard Sales: If you live in a populated area or near a nice neighborhood, yard sales can be a gold mine. Since I live about a 30 minute drive from our nearest large town, I only go to yard sales if they advertise an item I’ve been looking for, and happen to fall on one of my “town days”.
- Thrift and consignment stores: While you’ll have to do some digging, thrift stores can hide many good treasures and usually at great prices. Consignment stores will have the treasures pre-sorted and on display, but you can expect to pay a little more.
- Internet Sales sites: I used to use craigslist.com quite a bit, but lately have found that buy/sell/trade groups on Facebook usually have more of what I’m looking for and usually closer to home. Take a look at what’s available in your area. Often when a family is “done” having babies they will sell everything either in a lot or by the piece. (I put “done” in quotes, because I sold and gave away all my baby gear about a year ago and here I am looking for all that gear again 😉 ) Just to give you an idea of what is available in our area, today I looked at Craigslist and saw a crib with a mattress for $75, a swing for $20, a carseat for $50, and a changing table for $45. Those were just a few items from the first half of the page. Often if an item isn’t selling fast enough, the seller will take offers.
I started gathering items for our new baby about two months ago, and so far I’ve spent $46. All I still need to get in the “Gear” department is a car seat, and maybe I’ll eventually pick up a high chair or booster seat. I intend to be extra picky about the car seat I buy, for obvious safety reasons, and also because it needs to fit between the two older kids in the back seat of the car I already own. I’m prepared to spend a little more or possibly buy a new one, which I’ll keep in good shape and resell when I’m “done” with it. If I have to get the one I’ve had my eye on new, I’ll spend about $200.
Assuming I buy a new car seat, that’ll total about $250 so far.
Let’s have a look at some popular nurseries online.
You can get this one which includes a crib (no mattress), changing table, and a dresser for around $300.
This one, on the other hand will run you closer to $1400. Even if you get the “budget” option you’ve already paid more for just a crib, dresser, and changing table (still no mattress or bedding, or the cute little teddy bear that you know you’ll want to prop up on the dresser top), than I’ve paid for a crib, a crib mattress, a bassinet, a baby bouncer, two strollers, a play pen, a Bumbo seat, a Boppy pillow, a dozen newborn prefolds, 4 newborn diaper covers, and a car seat (assuming I have to buy it new) . There’s a good chance I’m forgetting something I have already gotten and stashed away for later too.
The baby will also need some clothes before she arrives in December, so I’ll be doing some shopping in the next few months. I’ll share what I find and how much I spend in Baby On A Budget: Clothes, coming up soon.
Again, if you have a lot of extra money and want to spend a lot on your baby, that is okay. I’d just hate to have new moms and dads out there wringing their hands wondering how to afford everything the baby will “need”. Rest assured, your new baby doesn’t have to cost you a small fortune if you are thoughtful, creative, and patient.