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Monday Q&A |How Much Baby Stuff Do I Need?

Every Monday I answer questions sent in by you, my readers. If you have a question you’d like me to answer in an upcoming Q&A post, leave me a comment or send me an email (thefrugalgirl {at} gmail {dot} com) with “Q&A” in the subject line.


This question is from Jill, and since my answer got so long, hers is the only question I’ll answer this week.

My husband and I are expecting our first child at the end of October. Can you give some frugal tips for a first time parent (cloth diapers, what you really need and don’t need for baby, food, etc.)

This is a good question, as the baby paraphernalia marketers would like you to believe that you need a plethora of stuff in order to properly take care of a the smallest person in your household!

And while babies do require a certain amount of new purchases, I think you can get by without most of the stuff that’s sold at Babies R Us. Some baby products are helpful, to be sure, but it’s good to remember that people raised babies for years and years without exersaucers, baby manicure kits, and potty chairs that sing.

This post is not going to be exhaustive (though it’s long enough that you may get exhausted reading it!), but it will give you an idea of how I approached this.



(can you tell this is an old picture?? I’m slightly embarrassed by how dependent I was on flash when my kids were babies!)

One of the best and most frugal things you can do as a new parent is to breastfeed. The health benefits for you and your baby are numerous, and breastmilk could hardly be less expensive. In addition, it’s a no-waste way to feed your baby. I breastfed all of my babies, but one week when my son was a baby, I had to be on some medicine that precluded breastfeeding. I pumped and dumped and used formula instead, and I was astounded by how much was wasted. It was so hard to predict how much my son was going to drink, and more times than not, he only partially finished a bottle.

There are a number of accessories sold for breastfeeding, of course, but I didn’t find many of them to be necessary. I even managed to forgo nursing bras with my last few kids, opting instead for a stretchy traditional one. I used a blanket to cover up while nursing in public (special covers are certainly not necessary).

I did use nursing pads (you can buy washable ones) and Lansinoh for those first painful weeks of nursing. Since I wasn’t returning to work full-time after the birth of any of my babies, I bought a simple motorized pump, but if you need to return to work, you’ll probably want a nicer model than what I had.

I know breastfeeding doesn’t work out for some moms, but if you need advice on formula feeding frugally, I’m not the person to ask! My experience with formula and bottles is exceedingly limited. I know I have some readers who formula feed, though, so maybe they can share some tips in the comments.

Once your baby is ready for solids, the baby marketing machine is there waiting for you with all sorts of specialty baby feeding products.

I wrote a blog post on feeding your baby frugally a while back, so instead of reiterating all of that, I’ll just link you to it: Homemade Baby Food for Busy Parents

Baby Equipment


When it comes to this sort of thing I’m hesitant to make specific recommendations because each baby and each family varies so greatly. I’ve used a crib for all of my kids, but co-sleeping families probably won’t need one. I didn’t find a walker to be very helpful (they don’t work well on carpet!), but families who live in homes with hardwood floors throughout might feel differently. I loved having a baby swing, but some families might not have room for one.

I think two things are important to keep in mind when shopping for baby equipment.

First, it’s usually a good idea to look for used baby stuff (just check for recalls). You can save a lot of money this way, and since babies don’t usually wear stuff out, you can find items in very good condition.

Secondly, you probably don’t need a piece of equipment with lots of special features. Your baby will probably be just as happy in a swing with three speed settings as in one with 7 (and music! and vibrations!). And your baby likely won’t mind if the baby bathtub you buy is the one without the aquarium theme.

An awful lot of this stuff is just thought up by marketers who are trying to sell something, not by people who saw a need and manufactured a product to fill it.

That said, here’s a list of equipment that I liked:

-a crib (we used a port-a-crib for our first because of space issues in our tiny apartment)

-a baby bathtub. It’s not necessary, but it makes bathing a slippery baby so much easier. Mine was second hand, no frills one that fit into a kitchen sink.

-a baby swing. I bought mine used from the PennySaver, and it lasted through all of our children.

-a Bumbo. I only had this for Zoe, but I LOVED it. So portable and sturdy, and it let her sit up and watch what was going on before she could sit up on her own.

-a bouncy seat. I bought mine off of Ebay, and though it had no motors or music, my babies loved sitting in it. It’s the one you see in the photo above (which, though flashy, totally cracks me up).

Diapers and Wipes


(I’m just interjecting here to say, “Yay!” because I found a baby picture that wasn’t taken with the flash. Ahh, much better.)

When we had our first baby, we lived in a basement apartment with no washer and dryer. Once a week, we had access to the upstairs laundry room, and so I decided that cloth diapers were not going to work out. And for various reasons, I never did get onto the cloth diaper wagon. I kept thinking we were done having kids or were almost done and thus was hesitant to make the initial investment.

Anyways, I think cloth diapers can save money, especially if you use them for multiple children, but I don’t have enough experience with them to be helpful. Readers, you can chime in here!

For disposables, I adored the Luvs brand. They’re much better than the store brand diapers, but not expensive, and I found they worked much better for my kids than the expensive brands.

You can make your own wipes or use cloth ones, but somehow, I never got around to that. I did not, however, fork over a bunch of money for fancy quilted wipes with aloe. 😉 None of my babies had particularly sensitive skin, and so I used whatever wipes I could obtain cheaply whether they were store brand wipes or name-brand ones on sale (with a coupon!).


You’ll probably receive a lot of baby clothes as gifts, so I’d be surprised if you had to buy a lot of these, at least at first! If you do end up needing to purchase something, check a consignment store or Ebay before paying full price.

Newborns outgrow their clothes so quickly, they hardly have a chance to wear them out, which means that consignment stores usually have a ton of newborn/baby clothing items for sale in good condition.

A Frugal Mindset

I think the most important thing to remember as you register for gifts and shop for your baby is that babies need a lot less stuff than we (and the marketers) think they need.

Babies just don’t know the difference between a Pottery Barn nursery and a nursery outfitted in second-hand items, or between a Tommy Hilfiger undershirt and a Gerber undershirt.

Buy second-hand, think simple, and save your money. You could put it into a college fund and someday when your baby is 18, you’ll probably be really glad you forewent most of the fancy baby stuff in the stores.


Readers, if you have any helpful advice for Jill, please share in the comments! I’m sure I’ve forgotten something, and I’m also positive that some of you can help out with cloth diaper or formula advice.

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Friday 23rd of May 2014

Garage sales!!! And do you have any friends with children a few months older? Gender doesn't really matter, especially for onesies and sleepers. I always had plenty of clothes from garage sales and hand-me-downs, but I always purchased a "special" outfit or two each size. ShopKo is awesome because they sell "sets" like 2 onesies and a pair of pants. Plus, they have the "grow it out before they wore it out" guarantee.


Monday 5th of May 2014

I second the breastfeeding and homemade baby food. Although I did end up needing formula for baby number one. Costco or Sam's had the best prices for formula and diapers. I loved using luvs. Cheap and effective. Even my sensative kids had no problem with them while store brnds often caused a rash. I also used my bouncy seat. It was a dual purpose one that doubled as the seat of the baby swing. I purchased it at a garage sale. One child loved the swing, while the other loved the bouncy seat. I, unlike another commenter, loved having a travel system. It was so nice to be able to transport a sleeping infant without moving them to and from the carseat. As for breastfeeding, I never used bottles or pumps. I am still using lanolin samples from the hospital and never needed pads. I did however purchase nursing bras. So very cost effective for me. I never seem to find good deals on used clothing at places like once upon a child. I prefer to shop the clearence racks with my coupons to buy brand new clothes for cheaper than resale is worth the time for me. I do find good deals on baby gear and toys at resale shops though.


Monday 16th of January 2012

From an older (way older) mom: my daughters walked at 8 mo. (first one)and 11 mo. (second). It seemed to be genetically determined. (My husband walked at 8 mo. and I walked at 12 mo.)

I never had a walker and don't think it would have mattered. It really seemed unnecessary to me and according to several sources at the time would have perhaps had a negative impact on leg/bone development.


Thursday 27th of August 2009

My son is 14 months old, a scooter, and not walking yet. :-)

Due to massive breastfeeding issues (don't ask, it's a long story involving a lactation consultant, pumps, supplementation, and blood), we started formula feeding at 3 weeks. The munchkin couldn't tolerate milk-based formula, so we had to buy soy (which doesn't go on sale very often!).

My biggest piece of advice: Buy Target brand formula. It's been great for us, and it costs just over half of what Enfamil and Similac cost ($13.50 per cannister of powder vs. $25 in our area). It has the same DHA/ADA compounds that are important for brain development (yeah, biochemist for a hubby means we pay attention to stuff like that!).

As for what you actually "need" for a baby, I'll list what we purchased or were given. We live in a 1-BR apartment, so space is a premium.

- Changing pad to place on top of 4-drawer dresser (you really don't need a changing table, just a pad to place on an appropriate-height flat surface) - Hamper to place next to dresser - White plastic drawers to stack on other side of dresser to hold diapers, children's medicine, and changing supplies (you don't need a specific diaper pail if you're using disposables - just throw them in your covered kitchen or bathroom trash and empty the trash every other day or so) - portable crib that we used in our bedroom for the first few months, now a full-size crib in the living room - Storage bins for clothing (stuff he's grown out of to use on future kids, stuff that's given to us that's too big to be used in future) that fit under full-size crib - Stroller with ample under-seat storage for long walks and trips to the local parks - Carseats (infant for when he was under 25 lb, now one that goes up to 50 lb - keep the kid facing backwards as long as possible, not just till 1 year; ours only lasted until last week because he's so heavy - his carseat is only rated for rear-facing up to 35 lb, and he's already at 30, so we turned it around) - Exersaucer - the modern version of a walker, doesn't move, definitely buy used (they're pricey), the munchkin loved this because it allowed him to be up higher - play "gym" - those things you can place over your still-prone baby so he has something to look at and reach for - random soft books, soft toys, and things that light up and make sounds - I bought a whole collection of used toys from a former coworker for $25 (included the exersaucer and gym) We keep them in repurposed diaper boxes under the coffeetable - Trifold cloth diapers - BEST BURP RAGS EVER. Don't bother with the "official" burp rags - just buy about 2 dozen of the cloth diapers, and you'll be set. Much more absorbant than any of the "official" burprags I got! - Nursing pillow, something rounded or boomerang shaped - I actually sat on mine when we went out (third degree tears do a serious number on your sitting bits!), but apparently they're good for nursing, too. ;-) - Rocking chair - my dad made one for us. Definitely get one that you can fall asleep in - so very helpful on those tough nights when kiddo will only sleep on you and not in the crib!

That's it. No official fancy-shmancy matching crib-changing table-dresser set. Kids don't have to be expensive. I decorated our nursery area (since he was sharing our bedroom!) with framed cutouts from the gift bags and paper I received at the shower. I bought a set of matching frames from Target for around $20 (10 frames). It looked very cute and put-together, and took about 2 hours on one of those exceedingly long days in the two weeks before delivery.

Weekly Roundup - Swine Flu Preparations Edition | Frugal Dad

Thursday 27th of August 2009

[...] How Much Baby Stuff Do I Need? New parents can burn through a lot of cash those first few months. If you are expecting, or no one someone who is, you may want to run this article by them.(@The Frugal Girl) [...]

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