I remember it well.
Walking into Babies”R”Us, checklist in hand, ready to buy all the things we “needed” for our first-born son.
Man, were we clueless.
Would 4 burp clothes be enough or should we get 8? We definitely need a chair. Should we get a rocker or a glider?
I think our experience was pretty typical for first-time parents. You have no idea what parenthood is going to be like, so you go on the web, read a couple of books, ask friends and family, make a checklist and set out to buy just about anything and everything your baby could ever need.
It’s understandable, but it also leads a lot of new parents to spend a lot more money than they have to.
To help you fight the urge to overspend, I’ve put together my list of the only 21 things our newborn kids have ever really needed. These are the things I find it hard to imagine really going without.
My hope is that this gives you a base to work from. You’ll probably buy more than what’s on here (I know we did!), but you can sleep well knowing that you’ll be totally fine if this is all you have.
The most important
If you can give your baby only these two things and nothing else, you’ll still be in pretty good shape.
Giving your baby plenty of love and attention will help her form a secure attachment to you, which will make her better prepared to handle all of the challenges life will throw her way. That’s really the most important gift you can give her.
Now, this doesn’t mean you have to spend every minute of every day with her. As a working dad I’m well aware that life has other priorities that need our attention. But it does mean that we should make every effort to make sure that the time we do have is quality.
There’s simply no substitute for the love and attention that you and only you can give your child.
If you don’t feel like you have space for a baby in your current home, you might be tempted to make a big upgrade. That might be the right move for some people, but keep a few things in mind before you make a huge financial commitment here:
- There’s nothing wrong with renting. We actually moved from a studio apartment to a 3-bedroom after we got pregnant and ended up paying $100 LESS per month because we were willing to get creative and stick with renting. Buying a house can be a good long-term move, but it can be harmful in the short-term there’s no need to rush into it.
- Take a tip from my friend Alexa and don’t be afraid to get creative. She took a difficult financial situation and created a happy life for her and her girls by venturing outside the norm, which included an unconventional approach to shelter.
Remember, a baby just needs to be warm and dry. All of the rest of it is irrelevant to him.
Pretty self-explanatory. Our kids have both nursed so the costs here have been pretty minimal. But plenty of people either choose to go with formula or are forced into it, and that can be a pretty decent cost. I’ll admit that I don’t know a lot about formula, but this is where I would probably start if I had to learn.
They don’t need to be stylish. They don’t need to be brand new. You don’t even need a lot of them.
All you realistically need is a few sets of clothes that fit reasonably well and can keep your newborn warm. Depending on where you live, this might include more or less in the way of blankets, hats, little gloves, etc.
But we’ve never needed a ton of clothes, and we’ve definitely never needed anything fancy. We’ve been lucky to get a lot in the way of hand-me-downs, but you can get similar quality at thrift stores and consignment shops. This does not have to be a huge expense.
Your baby will need checkups, vaccines and access to emergency care (hopefully you never need it). If you don’t have health insurance through an employer, the new state exchanges can help you find coverage. You can go through HealthCare.gov to find your state’s site.
Newborns go through these FAST. Don’t worry though, it gets a little better as they get older.
The best prices we’ve found on both diapers and wipes are at Costco and the quality there is good. The savings on diapers and wipes alone has been worth the cost of the annual Costco membership for us.
9. CAR SEAT
This is the one thing that everyone says you have to buy new. I’m no expert, but I’m certainly not going to disagree. There weren’t going to be any hand-me-downs for us here.
One thing I’ll say is that you don’t need a lot of bells and whistles. For a while, your baby is just going to sit in there and either cry or sleep. So there are really two important characteristics for an infant car seat:
- Ease of moving it around. Your baby is going to fall asleep in the car seat and you’re going to want to keep him asleep. We got a car seat with a base so that we could easily just pop it in and out without having to deal with any straps. It didn’t end up being the easiest thing to carry around, but it was manageable.
I will say that it might be worth thinking ahead a little bit if you’re looking to save some money over the long-term. We knew we wanted to have another child within a couple of years, meaning we’d need to buy another car seat soon anyways. So we had no problem buying one of the basic infant car seats to start. But if you think this will be your only child, or it might be several years before the next one, you might think about things a little differently.
There are many great options out there, but in case it’s helpful here is the car seat and base we bought for our first-born. He’s graduated to a bigger car seat with cup holders by now (hugely helpful once they start using cups), but our two-month-old is now in the infant seat.
TONS of options here. We chose a simple snap-and-go stroller for our first-born that fit with our car seat rather than getting something fancy. We did this for a few reasons:
- It was less expensive.
- A baby sleeping in the car seat could easily be transferred to the stroller and kept asleep.
- It was lightweight.
- It did everything we needed it to do.
There are some pretty fancy strollers out there with some pretty useful features. And to be honest, there have been times where we thought it would be nice to have some of them. But we’ve never needed more than the basics.
12. MATTRESS (AND SHEETS)
I’ll be honest, our newborns have spent a lot of time sleeping right in our bed with us. No, you’re not really supposed to do that (or are you? Parenting advice can be confusing!). But it’s the only way we’ve been able to get any sleep, so that’s just the way it’s gone.
But eventually your baby will need her own place to sleep. Really, it will happen! I promise!
13. BREAST PUMP
It might be a stretch to file a breast pump under the “need” category, but I’m honestly not sure how we would have gotten by without it. I realize there must have been some point in history where people did it, but it’s been a pretty big integral of our routine so I’m putting it down.
See, our kids nursed, but Mommy wasn’t around ALL of the time. Besides working on Saturdays, it’s just nice for Mom to have the ability to do things on her own and not HAVE to be around for every feeding.
Plus, there are times when we might not have the kids for an extended period of time (thanks Grammy and Grampy!) and it can get pretty painful for my wife. So the breast pump has multiple uses, all of which are incredibly beneficial.
I’m sure there are alternatives and I’d love to hear about them in the comments. But for us this was a pretty essential item.
As for the bottles, well your baby’s gotta have something to drink that milk from.
**UPDATE: In the comments KK first suggested that your health insurance might cover a breast pump, and Erin later added that the new health care law actually requires plans to cover it (confirmed here). So it’s definitely worth checking with your insurer before buying one on your own. Also, I have awesome readers!
Reading is an awesome way to bond and a great way for your baby to start learning. We read to our kids a lot and now our oldest will go into his room and read through his books himself. This is one area where I’m happy to spend money (though we could probably make better use of the library).
Do tummy time. Help them practice sitting and standing. Give them space to crawl and eventually to walk and run. Exercise not only helps them develop physically but it also makes them tired and helps them sleep better. It’s a win-win!
Babies learn through experience. This includes things like playing with toys, but they can just as easily play with household items like measuring cups, bowls and almost anything else you have lying around.
One of my favorite things I used to do with Aiden was taking him for walks around the neighborhood. We would stop and touch the bark of a tree, the leaves, a sign post, whatever. As we walked I would talk to him about all of the different things around us. I have no idea how much he understood, but that kind of exploration was fun for me and gave him something different to experience and learn from.
I’m not going to go into detail about these things here because I’ve written about each of them pretty extensively before and you can follow the links if you want to know more. But these are the building blocks of the financial security that will make sure your kids have the resources they need no matter what.
18. EMERGENCY FUND (read more here)
19. LIFE INSURANCE (read more here)
20. DISABILITY INSURANCE (read more here)
21. WILLS AND OTHER ESTATE PLANNING (read more here and here)
And that’s it!
Now let me be clear. We DEFINITELY bought more than what’s listed here. We had a changing table, a baby bath, a carrier, a mobile, and plenty of other things you won’t find anywhere on here.
That checklist I carried into Babies”R”US? It was pretty well checked off.
But while those things were helpful, they weren’t NEEDED. We could have gotten by without any of them.
And even if they made our lives easier, they might not necessarily make your life easier.
And that point is really the key. People who have been parents before will spend a lot of time telling you about all of the things you need based on what they remember being helpful for them. But you’re different. And your baby is different. If you try to buy all of the things that other people say are important, you’ll end up with a lot less money in your bank account and a lot of stuff you barely ever use.
If you’re worried about the cost of a baby (and who isn’t?), the best advice I can give is this: before the baby is born, don’t buy any more than you truly need. Keep it as minimal as possible.
Once the baby is here, you can find out for yourself through experience what kinds of additional things you really want. You’ll probably end up with more than what’s on this list, and that’s totally normal. But you’ll also end up with a lot less stuff overall, and in particular a lot less stuff that you never use.
That will save you money. It will also save you from clutter. And both of those will make your household a happier one.