In some good news coming out of 2020, my husband and I are expecting a baby this spring. Now, we obviously know that children are expensive, from the costs of childbirth to the costs of higher education and everything that comes in between. But we wanted to do this smart. How can we have a baby on a budget?
What does a baby need?
Technically, if you want to have a baby on a budget, the only things you really need are a car seat (unless you can walk or take transit everywhere), a safe place for baby to sleep, a way for baby to eat, and diapers. I suppose some people would say that diapers are unnecessary, but regardless of whether you go cloth or disposable, I think they’re pretty essential.
Of course, you’ll probably want more than just the bare minimum. I definitely recommend baby-proofing gear (outlet covers, cabinet locks, gates. Sure, we’d all love to be the parents who are with their child all the time and never worry about them getting into things they shouldn’t, but babies are tricky. Better safe than sorry.
You’ll also probably want to put clothes on your baby. While you don’t need a ton of baby clothes (depending on how often you are willing to do laundry), your baby probably can’t be naked all the time. You may want a way to transport baby – a stroller or a carrier or both. And you’ll likely want some supplies to support your feeding plan, be it breastfeeding supplies or bottle feeding supplies.
Where can you get deals?
Babies grow fast. And that means they outgrow things, both clothing and other supplies, very quickly. So there are great ways to get items used for your baby on a budget.
First off, let people know you’re expecting. Plenty of people have bins of baby clothing or other items just stacked up in a closet. Babies keep you busy and sometimes you don’t have the time to get rid of the items you aren’t using. As soon as we announced, we had multiple people offering things, and I wasn’t going to turn down used items. My baby doesn’t need brand new everything. We got a lot of clothing and some other daily use items.
We also bought a number of things used. A friend referred us to another friend who wanted to sell a few things at a really reasonable price. Sold! I also signed up for our local neighborhood buy/sell/trade groups, and there are always things available. I’m also keeping these sites in mind when it’s time for us to downsize from all the baby things we have.
We picked up a number of things from Amazon Warehouse. This is a site on Amazon where they resell returned items. Some of them have the boxes opened, but you can select like-new items and get great deals. If you setup a registry on Amazon and someone buys you a gift, you have a good amount of time to return the items – and that means that plenty of baby-related items get returned!
Where should you splurge?
While I’m a fan of baby on a budget, there are some areas where you need to spend the money. I do not recommend getting a used car seat unless you have a hand-me-down from a trusted friend or family member, know the provenance of the seat, and it’s still well before the expiration date. No matter what a person online may claim, you have no way to know how the seat was cared for or if it has ever been in a crash. (That said, apparently Target occasionally has a car seat trade-in deal where you bring in an old car seat and you get a coupon for a discount on a new one. If you’ve got the time to wait on this and someone wants to give you a used car seat, this might be a way to get a discount on new.)
I also think you should be very careful about used cribs. Crib safety regulations have changed significantly. Many older cribs are no longer considered safe. When I was a baby, my parents used a crib with a drop side. Those no longer exist because children were getting injured. You can certainly find used cribs that are safe, but be cautious about what you’re buying.
Depending on your situation, you may also want to splurge on a stroller, especially if you do a lot of walking or plan to use public transit with your stroller.
What don’t you need?
Don’t stock up on one kind of bottles. Babies can be picky and a bottle that works for one baby may be totally rejected by another. What we did was lay in a supply of a variety of bottles, with the knowledge that when we find one that works, we can stock up on that type. Conveniently, a lot of stores have freebies you can get just for starting a registry, and most of those freebie bags come with one or more bottle. We ended up with at least a dozen bottles that we can try for our baby. You can also buy bottle sample boxes from sites like Babylist.
You don’t need a bottle sterilizer or bottle warmer. Parents used to sterilize bottles after every feeding, but now it’s only necessary before you use the bottle. If your baby has been sick or was premature, you may want to be more cautious and sterilize more often, but even then, you can just sterilize in boiling water or even in your Instant Pot. Bottle warmers might be convenient, but you can just as easily heat a bottle using warm water from the faucet. And babies don’t even need to have their food warmed – plenty of parents feed bottles directly from the fridge (though some babies reject this or have increased stomach issues – your mileage may vary).
You definitely don’t need a dedicated changing table. That’s definitely a unitasker piece of furniture. Many parents nowadays just use a dresser with a changing pad atop it, but really, you just need a clean place to change your baby. I have always found it easier to change a baby on a raised surface, but you can change on the floor if you want, and many people use tables or beds.
Wipe warmers are also unnecessary. Your baby will be fine with a room temperature wipe, and wipe warmers just dry out wipes. Some parents like wipe dispensers to make it easier to pull out a single wipe, but that’s also just a nice-to-have.
What are some other baby on a budget considerations?
The one tip I’ve heard from a lot of people is “Don’t stock up too much.” Every baby is unique. A formula or baby wash that works great for one baby may cause irritation for another. Some babies never wear newborn clothes and quickly outgrow the 0-3 month size. That goes for diapers too. If you see a great sale on diapers, it can be tempting to stock up, but you just don’t know how fast that baby’s going to grow. Be reasonable with your stash.
You will see a lot of ads for “Three in One” cribs – cribs that convert to toddler beds and then to full-size beds. This seems like a great deal, but these types of beds are incredibly expensive, and you’re assuming that you will still want that same crib frame for the full-size bed. One friend got one of these, then her kid found it fun to gnaw on the crib railing. Now that full-size bed has toddler teeth marks in it. I do recommend beds that convert to toddler beds though – this simply means that at some point, one side of the bed can be removed and a toddler safety rail can be added. This is a change you can make when your toddler discovers he or she is big enough to climb over the railing. This is when you want to make that conversion. You can use the same mattress. When you buy your crib, make sure you have what you need to convert to a toddler bed (sometimes you have to buy an additional piece, other sets come with this safety rail), and you’re good to go when on a random Tuesday, your kid discovers he can climb out and you want to make the change that night.
Babies are expensive. But with some smart moves, you can absolutely have a baby on a budget.
Megan is a 40-something government employee in the Washington, DC area. She got interested in Personal Finance when she got out of college and realized that her paycheck wasn’t going to go as far as she had hoped. Since starting this blog, she has managed to buy a house and make a solid start on her retirement goals, and hopes to help others do the same. Here is her story:
In 2007, I was a gainfully employed 20-something with no debt but not a lot of knowledge about personal finance. It was a co-worker’s comment about Roth IRAs that sent me to the internet, searching for information. It was then that I realized that I really didn’t know a whole lot about personal finance and that my current financial situation was due a lot to inherent frugal tendencies, generous family members, a fear of debt, and good luck. While that was working for me, clearly I needed a better plan.
While I had no debt, I was also pretty much living paycheck to paycheck and not worrying about going over budget (I say this as if I had a real budget) because I had an emergency fund set aside to cover any overages.
Except that’s not what an emergency fund is for.
So I did a lot of research, read a lot of blogs, and decided that I needed a plan. I needed to budget. I needed to know what I was spending my money on. I needed to prepare for the future.
I decided to create a blog not only to make myself accountable to others but also to share the knowledge that I gained along the way. I’ve learned so much from my fellow bloggers, and I hope that my readers can find something useful in what I have to share as well.