Baby Gear on a Budget

Baby gear is a multibillion-dollar industry, but do you have to spend billions to get your baby what they really need? No. In this post, we’ll talk through the essential things that you need for baby, as well as how to get those essentials for cheap or free.

Somewhere to Sleep

In the early days, baby needs a spot to rest their adorable fuzzy head. They do a lot of sleeping—especially in the first few months—and it’s best if they do it somewhere safe. A safe sleep space is simply a firm surface where they can’t wiggle and fall and are not too hot or too cold. If you’re shopping, you’ll have a lot of options from cribs to pack ‘n plays or travel cribs to bassinets.

My favorite solution is to get one thing that can be both regular bed and travel bed and can grow with baby. For instance, we’ve used the same travel crib for both of our kids since they were each about six months old (before that they slept in a bassinet we borrowed from a friend). I bought the travel crib used, washed it well, and it’s been amazing all this time. Borrowing gear from friends or family who aren’t currently using it is another great (and even cheaper alternative) to buying used. Another option is to ask on neighborhood websites or your local Buy Nothing group, as a lot of people don’t want to store baby sleeping gear once their babies have grown out of it.

Diapers

There’s no getting around it: babies pee and poop a lot, and they need diapers. The type of diapers you choose can make a big difference in how much this line item figures into your baby budget. If you go with cloth diapers, your initial investment will likely be high (unless you find a great deal on secondhand cloth diapers), but then you won’t have to continuously buy disposable diapers as baby uses them up. If you’d prefer disposable diapers, there are tons of options on the market, ways to save by subscribing, and—if you’re experiencing financial hardship—diaper banks available where you can get diapers for free.

Something to Eat

If you’re planning to breastfeed, great! Hopefully it will all go smoothly, and you’ll have a free (except for your time, that is) source of food for baby with only minimal gear required. If you are not planning to breastfeed or try and it doesn’t go well, take heart. There are plenty of great and affordable formula options today. Formula is very tightly regulated and is safe for baby. Because it’s so tightly regulated, it’s just fine to buy a generic formula instead of a name brand to save some cash.

Clothes

Baby has to wear something, but baby clothes are so affordable—especially used. Check out a children’s consignment store in your area or look on Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist for deals. And if people are asking what gifts to give, pick out some nice, basic clothes online and send them the links. And baby doesn’t need to look fancy, just have functional clothing that is comfy and temperature-appropriate.

Car Seat

I’m not sure if you’re planning to put your baby in a car (on the way home from the hospital even), but if you ever hope to do so, you need a car seat. This is one category where it’s better to buy new, unless you’re given or purchase a seat from someone you know and trust. This is because car seats may look no different after an accidents, which may weaken them structurally and make them less able to protect children should another accident occur. But don’t worry, there are several very good, extremely safe kids’ seats that are also affordable. My favorite one of these is the Cosco Scenera Next, which you can get for less than $40.

And that’s it. That’s the whole list of what baby needs. Sure there are things that you could add on. I personally loved my stroller and walked both of my children to sleep in there many a time during the early days. I also bought my stroller for a great deal used, which made me love it that much more. It can be so temping to max out a credit card, getting baby everything that the baby industry has convinced you they need, but really, the main things are listed here. If you also love your baby, you’re doing great.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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