Magazines and advertisements will bombard you with must-have items for baby. Go into a baby store to register, and you can quickly find yourself scanning everything from glow-in-the-dark teething toys to educational videos that promise to teach your baby Chinese by their first birthday.
But do you really need that self-sanitizing, gas-reducing bottle setup, or a machine that plays classical music and womb sounds while projecting constellation patterns onto the ceiling? Babies are amazing little people, but their essential needs are actually pretty basic. Here’s a list of things to financially prepare for before your little one arrives.
You shouldn’t expect to get much sleep in the early days of parenting, but your baby certainly will. Although it’s often broken up into periods of two to four hours, newborns can snooze for a total of 16 or 17 hours a day, so a safe sleeping space should be at the top of your shopping list.
Many parents like to start with a bassinet or co-sleeper to make newborn nighttime feedings and changings easier. A playpen with a bassinet feature will work, too. If space is tight, or if you want to keep baby extra close, a co-sleeper that tucks up next to your bed is a great option.
At some point, though, you’ll probably want a crib to give your baby a large independent sleeping space. A convertible crib will give you the most for your dollar because it can be converted to a toddler bed later. Pricier crib models are generally only based on aesthetics, so unless you insist on matching nursery furniture with just the right cherry-walnut finish, you can bargain shop or even buy used. Just check for recalls (a smart practice with all baby gear) and make sure there is no damage to the rails or moving parts.
If your crib isn’t equipped with one already, add a basic crib mattress. Instead of splurging on a pillowtop mattress that will be used for a year or less, stock up on coffee to power you through those early mornings.
Now that you have a space for baby to sleep, you’ll want to cover it with something soft. Bassinets and crib sheets are specifically sized and need to fit tightly to keep baby safe. Have at least three sheets to fit any baby bed in the house so that you don’t have to stress when baby inevitably spits up or has a diaper explosion in the crib.
Do you need the entire ABC animals nursery set with crib bumper, quilt, bedskirt, and pillow shams? Not really. Skip the overpriced suffocation hazards in favor of a few swaddling blankets and a sleep sack for colder nights. You’ll save money and have less bulky clutter in your attic when your little one outgrows the nursery.
Plus, friends and relatives love to make and buy baby blankets, so chances are that you’ll receive a few as gifts.
Car seat and stroller
In most areas, you aren’t allowed to leave the hospital until your baby is safely secured in a properly fitted infant seat. Having one already installed in your vehicle will make it easier to bring baby home and get started on your new life together.
Definitely purchase a new car seat, since there’s no way to know for sure if a used one has been damaged or in an accident. “Bucket” seats are convenient for newborns, since they can easily be snapped or strapped in and out of the vehicle without disturbing a sleeping baby. Check out the infant buckle as well as the mechanisms that install it to your vehicle and make sure they are easy to operate. You’ll have your hands full enough without messing with awkward straps and security devices.
Many bucket seats are also available as part of a travel system, where the car seat portion can lock into a stroller. No need to wake a sleeping baby when you’re running errands; just unlatch the car seat with baby still in it and attach it to the stroller. Later, the stroller can be used by itself so that your baby can sit up and see the world.
Strollers are great for hands-free shopping or ambling around the block, but sometimes you’ll want to be able to keep your baby closer. Whether you’re hiking through a state park or trying to cook dinner with a fussy baby in your arms, a comfortable baby carrier can be a lifesaver.
Options for baby carriers include everything from basic slings and wraps (basically one long strip of cloth that you wrap around yourself and baby) to high-tech, ergonomically designed packs suitable for all-day adventures. For everyday use, you’ll want something that’s easy to put on and is comfortable to wear—for you and baby. Read reviews, or borrow a friend’s baby and try on a few options to see what feels right for you.
Swing, seat or basket
OK, newborns don’t really sit—but when you’re not holding baby or wearing a carrier, you can keep your little one close by in the apparatus of your choice.
Newborns can’t hold their heads up, and need to be cozy and secure, so stationary play centers and doorway jumping apparatuses are better suited for older babies. Safe spaces for little ones include playpens, Moses baskets, bouncy seats, and swings. Infants can observe the brand-new world from any of these spaces, but don’t be surprised if they fall asleep there, too!
And keep in mind, you only need one of these things, not all of them. Unless you’re expecting triplets, cluttering your home with clunky baby gear is just a waste of space and money. Think about how you might use it—a swing is better if you want it to put baby to sleep, but a small seat or basket is easier to move from room to room.
Video baby monitor
If your baby will be sleeping in another room—including your room while you’re busy washing tiny clothes or scrubbing down the high chair—you’ll want to invest in a baby monitor. It will enable you to respond to your baby as soon as possible, and help put your mind at ease that your little one is sleeping, well, like a baby.
Although sound-only monitors have served parents well for many years, you may want to spring for a video monitor. (It will be helpful later, too, to make sure your toddler isn’t climbing the bookshelf or coloring on the wall when you’re out of the room!) When you dare to leave baby with a sitter for the first time, a Wi-Fi monitor will even allow you to check on your baby via smartphone or tablet from almost anywhere.
Read reviews and consider the layout of your home. If you don’t have fast internet, a Wi-Fi monitor may be more frustrating than beneficial. If you live in a sprawling ranch, make sure the sound can reach all the way across the house (and preferably the yard, if you have one).
Unless you opt for reusable cloth diapers, this is one area where, in a sense, you’ll be throwing money away. Diapering supplies are a necessary, if less than exhilarating, part of preparing for life with a newborn. Brand-name disposable diapers sometimes stop leaks better than generic ones, but many parents swear by store-brand diapers to save hundreds of dollars in the long run.
No need to break the bank buying 100 packs of newborn-size diapers—although you’ll run through them quickly in the early days, babies also tend to quickly outgrow the smaller sizes. On the other hand, making a trip to the store just for hygiene essentials may not be your idea of fun during the first week of baby’s life. So stock up on enough to get you through those first few weeks—and don’t forget wipes, too!
Buying in bulk, especially as baby gets bigger, can help you save money. Plan on about 10 diapers a day for newborns—and plan to add this budget item to your regular monthly budget until your baby is potty-trained. Having a baby will change your life in so many ways, but with proper budgeting, you can be well prepared for a lifetime of successful parenting.
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