Expecting a new baby is one of life’s greatest milestones and joys. But whether the addition is through pregnancy or adoption, almost all new expectant parents stress about pre-arrival preparations. What do you need during those first few months? What should you buy? Here are a few budgeting tips for new parents.

Baby Break the Bank

Most couples create a baby registry in preparation for the new arrival, but there are so many items that are marketed to parents even though many are unnecessary. Swaddles, pillows, toys, books, diaper wipe warmers. The list is endless. In those endless lists, parents are riddled with anxiety about the uncertainty of what they want versus what the baby really needs.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture “Expenditures on Children by Families, 2015,” families spent on average around $12,600 each year from birth to age 2. These expenses took into account housing, health care costs and other expenses. The report revealed that “the estimated expense to raise a child from birth through age 17 is $233,610 (in 2015 dollars) for a middle-income (before-tax income between $59,200 and $107,400), married-couple family with two children.”

Food, housing and clothing are essentials. But what about the other items—those “extras.” What items should parents add to their must-have list to budget for a baby?

For families who are watching every dollar, understanding the wants versus the needs of a baby’s first year are essential to ensure financial survival. Child rearing is expensive, and every dollar counts. Before you head to the store to purchase items for your new baby, consult our baby buying guide to make sure you know the difference between what you want and what your baby really needs.

But First…A Lesson on Second-hand Baby Items

Many parents look to gently used items as a way to save money on baby items. However, while there are a few items that are safe to buy used, there are many baby items that you should never buy second hand. These include:


Never buy a used crib mattress. A used mattress might have lost its shape from the previous owner, and a crib mattress needs to fit somewhat snugly in the crib. Gaps between the crib’s structure and the mattress can trap the baby—leading to death or injury. Don’t buy used mattresses!


Used cribs also are a no-go. You don’t know the structural stability of the bed. You also might not know if that version of the crib was subject to a recall. Always buy a new crib. If you’re on a budget, look for sales or head to Big Box stores like Walmart or Target.

Car Seats

A new car seat is a must-have for safety. A used car seat might have been involved in a car accident, damaging the structure of the seat. You should never buy a used car seat—even if the seat is from a friend.

Stuffed Animals

Thrift stores are home to many plush toys. Don’t buy them. They may harbor bed bugs, allergens or even harmful bacteria. Plush toys are cute, but babies don’t need them anyway.

What You Can Buy Used


Used clothing is a great way to save money. Babies will outgrow clothes quickly, so you’ll need to purchase new sleepers and outfits often. Thrift stores and consignment shops often sell brand name baby clothes that are gently used or maybe even new. Stock up and save by shopping secondhand for clothes.

Certain Toys

Toys that can be cleaned are ok to buy used. But Parents Magazine advises that you steer clear of toys with paint that’s flaking or chipped or any toy that’s broken.


Parents Magazine also notes that used strollers are fine, just make sure that the stroller was made after 2007. If you’re not sure about the manufacture date, then skip it.

What Items Are First-Year Must-Haves?

There are many items that a baby needs for the first year, and these items are non-negotiable. You need a crib—although you could choose a more budget-friendly portable version. You also should have a place to store baby’s clothes, but you don’t need a dresser or bureau. A closet with plastic storage containers works just fine! Here is the ultimate checklist for NEEDS:


Once again, this can be a portable crib to save money. Portable cribs come in many options and designs, so shop around for one that meets your budget. Standard cribs can vary in price and can be incredibly expensive, especially if you choose a brand name version. Your baby will not know the difference between a top-of-the-line crib and a more budget-friendly option.


This is basically a portable crib. It’s a must-have for many parents, because it gives you a safe place for a baby to rest or play. You also can use it for travel, as they pack up quickly and easily. Don’t ever put blankets or stuffed toys in the play-yard with a baby, as any plush item can be a suffocation hazard.


Strollers are an absolute must-have for stores and other outdoor excursions. As your child gets bigger and heavier, you won’t want to carry them everywhere. Strollers also provide a place for naps when you’re out and about. While many strollers can be purchased together with a car seat—this is known as a travel system—you can also buy them separately. You can find strollers in a wide range of prices, colors, weights and designs.

Car Seats

Babies need a rear-facing car seat for the first two to three years of life.  Many parents choose a carrier car seat for the first few months of infancy and then switch to a larger version later. The carrier car seat typically secures in the stroller for easy travel. However, there are many options for infant and newborn car seats in many price points. Consumer Reports ranked the best car seats, rated according to crash tests and ease of design.

High Chair

Babies will start eating solid foods eventually, and you’ll need a safe place for feeding. However, high chairs come in a variety of styles and designs. Some are the standard fold-out models with slide out trays. Others attach to a dining room chair. What you choose is based on your budget, your needs, and lifestyle. Some parents find that the standard models are the easiest to use. Whatever chair you select, be sure it features a safety harness and crotch strap. Babies need to be secure!

Baby-Proofing Items

Safety is non-negotiable. All parents must baby-proof their home. This means purchasing electrical outlet guards to seal up plugs, pads to cushion sharp corners of household objects such as fireplaces, and locking mechanisms for cabinets and drawers where knives, chemicals, or other dangerous items lurk. If your home has stairs, you will need baby gates to block the access points.

Other Essentials

Of course, there are lots of little must-haves that a baby needs during the first year. These items include diapers, bottles, formula (if you aren’t breastfeeding), diaper cream (for rashes and irritation), baby wipes, onesies, baby soap, sleepers, a couple burp cloths and a few outfits.

The First-Year Wishlist That You Could Live Without

Some items for a baby are just extras to make our lives easier. Your baby doesn’t need a wipes warmer, bouncy seat or an ExerSaucer. Yes, these items are fun to have, but they are not essential. Baby also doesn’t need a mobile in the crib…and definitely say ‘no’ to crib bumpers (they are a suffocation hazard!).


Many parents love cute little baby shoes, but these are unnecessary until your baby takes his/her first steps. Skip the shoes, and stick with little socks.

Nursing Pillows

Breastfeeding moms might be led to believe that they need a nursing pillow. Yes, they might make positioning the baby easier, but they are not a necessity. Your arms work just fine; you can use a pillow to prop up your elbow for comfort. But never, ever leave your baby lying on a pillow.

Baby Carriers

Front carriers or even backpack-style baby carriers are in vogue. Are they necessary, though? No! You do not need a baby carrier. Often the stroller is the best and most comfortable spot for your baby when you’re out and about!

Receiving Blankets

Many parents think receiving blankets are a must, but they actually are not. Sleep sacks that zip up like an outfit are a much better choice. Blankets should never be in a crib, as they can lead to suffocation. If you’re afraid your baby is too cold, use a sleep sack or dress the baby in a warmer sleeper.

Changing Tables

One of the easiest places to change your baby is on the carpeted floor with a soft quilt underneath. But many parents want a changing station. Don’t splurge on an expensive changing table, however. Changing table pads can be fastened to certain nightstands and used as a makeshift changing table. All changing pads should be firmly attached to furniture and the pad should feature a buckle that secures your baby. Never leave a baby alone on any surface unattended.

Raising a child until adulthood is a serious financial commitment. The first few years of the baby’s life can be incredibly costly especially for budget-strapped parents. While many items are marketed to new parents as “essentials,” the real must-have list for a baby is quite a bit smaller than most parents are led to believe. The baby basics are all about safety and good health. The rest of the items are just little luxuries that make life a bit easier, but only add to the cost. At the end of that first year your baby won’t remember if they slept in a designer crib or a travel crib. Plus, all babies will outgrow clothes in a blink. Spend your money on the musts, but don’t splurge on the wants.


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