The Only 21 Things Our Newborn Kids Have Ever Really Needed

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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

1. LOVE
2. ATTENTION

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.

The essentials

3. SHELTER

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.

4. FOOD

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.

5. CLOTHES

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.

6. HEALTHCARE

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.

7. DIAPERS
8. WIPES

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.

The gear

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:

  1. Safety.
  2. 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.

10. STROLLER

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.

11. CRIB
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
14. BOTTLES

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!

The developmental

15. BOOKS

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).

16. EXERCISE

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!

17. EXPLORATION

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.

The morbid

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.

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42 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • MyMoneyDesign February 17, 2014

    Great picture, Matt! Newborns really are pretty amazing. You really begin to realize how basic our human needs are once you’re taking care of your first child.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      Their needs are definitely pretty minimal, if not easy to fulfill. It takes a lot of time and patience, but not a lot of stuff.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money February 17, 2014

    Solid post, will definitely pass on to some of our friends who are having their first kids.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer February 17, 2014

    Matt, that is an awesome pic of you two. 🙂 I would definitely put a glider or rocking chair in the need department, though, for sanity’s sake. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      Haha, see that’s one of those things that everyone told us we needed and we ended up almost never using. For some people it’s definitely a lifesaver, but our kids have always needed us to be standing up or they freak out so the rocking chair has mostly been ignored. To me, that’s a perfect example of how everyone’s “needs” are different once you get past the basics.

  • Holly Johnson February 17, 2014

    Kids don’t need the majority of stuff you can buy at Babies R Us! I still had a lot of the baby gear but most of it was handed down from my sister. Now that my kids are older, I buy used toys and then resell them once they are done with them.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      I know. Babies R Us is filled with so many gadgets that look cool and useful, but most of it just isn’t necessary. Helpful? Maybe. But not necessary.

      I do like the buy and resell approach, though a lot of our toys don’t really look they’ll be in good resell shape by the time we’re done with them. They’re definitely getting used!

  • Michelle February 17, 2014

    Great post and picture! We don’t have children yet, but we know that our time will be in the next few years 🙂

  • Michael Solari February 17, 2014

    Great post. I agree with you, there are a lot of people who rush to purchase a home when they might not be ready or don’t need to.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      That’s probably the best example of overspending, simply because it’s such a huge purchase. But it can be hard for people to wrap their head around the fact that it can be a really poor short-term decision when our society is so focused on home ownership.

  • John S @ Frugal Rules February 17, 2014

    Love the picture Matt! I could not agree more either, so little is truly needed though we too often give in to the belief that you “need” all sorts of stuff for little ones – of course Babies ‘R Us loves that and we did the same thing with our first one. Thankfully though a big chunk of it was bought by the grandparents. 😉 I’ll second you on the Costco wipes. They go through them like crazy, but Costco does have a good deal on them.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      There’s just so much anxiety around being a first-time parent and buying stuff helps you feel prepared. It’s definitely understandable, especially with all the marketing geared toward new parents. But most of it you could really go without.

  • Tulie Taylor February 17, 2014

    Great list, Matt. The only thing I’d add is a rocking chair. It was critical in getting our kids to settle down for sleep, and it soothed our frayed parental nerves in the process. Fortunately for us, we were able to borrow one from a family member for a few years, so it didn’t cost us anything.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      Thanks for stopping by Tulie! You know, a lot of people swear by the rocker but we barely ever use ours. Both Aiden and Nolan have needed us to be standing up for some reason. I guess the thinner air is more conducive to being calm? Whatever the reason, sitting has rarely been an option so the rocker has been mostly unused. It sure does look pretty though!

  • Brian @ Luke1428 February 17, 2014

    Haha…this brought back a lot of memories of those first shopping trips. Saving on diapers and wipes was the primary reason we purchased our Costco membership. Now that we are out of that stage we don’t get as much bang for our buck there. Think the dumbest thing we bought was a warmer for the wipes.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      If we bought nothing but diapers and wipes at Costco it would still be worth the membership fee. As for the wipe warmer, that’s one purchase we managed to avoid.

  • Done by Forty February 17, 2014

    Aaaaand….bookmarked in the “Future Kids” folder. Thanks, Matt! Though I wonder what new essential might crop up in the next couple years. Baby-sized iPad & Google glass combo?

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      Haha, it’s actually amazing how adept our oldest is with things like smart phones and the iPad. It’s like they come out of the womb ready for all the newest technology. It’s crazy.

  • Shannon February 17, 2014

    We were definitely of the same mind set this week. As new parents it is easy to get carried away with “stuff” for the baby and lose sight of what is truly important.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      Great minds! And I totally agree. I think the stuff helps us feel a little more ready in the midst of feeling scared and anxious.

  • Stefanie @ brokeandbeau February 17, 2014

    Seems like I’m missing the whole “morbid” category. Once I can afford those, I guess I’ll know I can have a baby 😉

  • Shannon Ryan February 17, 2014

    Great list! It’s so true with the first baby that you tend to over buy. You’re so excited and you don’t really know what you need. Everyone is giving you a ton of helpful (wink, wink) advice so I think it’s pretty common for most first-time parents to overspend. Love the picture too. 🙂

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 17, 2014

      Thanks Shannon! I totally agree that all the outside input definitely increases the pressure to spend, even when it’s truly meant to be helpful. What works for one person just might not be needed for another.

  • save. spend. splurge. February 17, 2014

    Great list. I pretty much have everything on the list you have up there except for Crib. Don’t plan on buying one, we have a Japanese futon for the floor which we ourselves sleep on as adults, and we bought one for the baby, so that covers “mattress” as well.

    The list of everything we bought can be found here on my Baby Tracking Page:

    http://www.savespendsplurge.com/tracking-the-cost-of-the-baby-from-pregnancy-onwards/

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 18, 2014

      I had to look up what a Japanese futon was, but that’s a really cool alternative solution! Thanks for sharing. Also, that baby tracking page is awesome! I don’t have the discipline to stick with that kind of detail, but that’s an incredibly helpful resource.

  • Andrew February 18, 2014

    Excellent post Matt! I wanted to write something like this too. There are so many articles scaring new parents saying how expensive raising a baby can be…while it is, many things are frivolous and not necessary. I love your list. We have the snap and go too and think it’s great since it’s light and compact. Quick question though, my son is like 7 months and seems to be growing out of it though. When do you switch Aiden to a different stroller/convertible car seat. And for sleeping together…we did that too in the beginning…

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 18, 2014

      Thanks Andrew! I can’t remember the exact age we switched but when he could sit up well on his own we just got a tiny little umbrella stroller from target for like $10. It still works and he’s almost 2. Of course now we also have a double stroller, which is a MONSTER of a contraption. That thing is crazy annoying to lug around, but it’s pretty useful.

      As for the car seat, I think we switched at around a year. We definitely could have kept going with the infant car seat since it goes up to 35 pounds and he’s still nowhere near that. But we were going to need another one anyways and the cup holders were helpful.

  • Alexa Mason February 18, 2014

    I ended up with all kinds of unnecessary gear with my first daughter. By the time I had my second daughter I was down to the bare essentials, that’s all you need! Everything else is just a waste of space and money. (Especially changing tables – does anyone even use those?)But, you’re sooo right. Kids don’t need everything and nothing is more frustrating to me than people saying that having children has to cost tens of thousands of dollars per year – because it doesn’t.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 18, 2014

      Haha, we did use the changing table for our first but certainly didn’t need to. I actually don’t really use it at all for either anymore. Our oldest kind of outgrew it so I got out of the habit and now I just change them both on the floor.

  • Pauline @RFIndependence February 19, 2014

    Until the baby can walk it won’t care too much how big is the house, so you can save big by staying in a smaller place for a while longer. That said it is added stress to move with a kid in tow. I used to see lots of freecycle ads of people giving away full boxes of baby clothes and toys in my town, I imagine it is fun to buy a cool outfit once in a while but if I have kids I think I’ll be just fine with hand me downs until they ask for something new.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 20, 2014

      Agreed. Our current place is definitely smaller now than we’d like our eventual “permanent” home to be, but it works well enough for us for now. The good thing is that we have plenty of parks nearby, although those are harder to use in the winter.

  • Student Debt Survivor February 20, 2014

    Great tips here. I’m not a parent yet, but both of my sisters are. One sister’s insurance company actually covered a breast pump, so if there’s anybody out there who’s expecting they might want to check with their insurance company before buying one out of pocket.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 20, 2014

      Great tip! I can’t remember whether we even looked into that, but you’re absolutely right that it’s worth asking. I’ll add it to the post. Thanks!

  • Momager @OurMoneyOurWay February 23, 2014

    Great article! We had more than we needed for our daughter, but we weren’t overwhelmed with ‘stuff’. I’m so glad you included love and attention in this list. I think sometimes people forget those two things in the whirlwind of having a baby.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 24, 2014

      I think almost everyone gets more than they really need the first time around, even if it’s not crazy excessive. It’s hard not to when you’re nervous and really don’t know what to expect.

  • Erin February 24, 2014

    Part of the ACA is that insurance companies are required to pay for a breast pump. Some will pay for a great double electric and others may only pay for a single manual. The point being every expectant mother should check with their insurance to find out what is covered before buying anything.

    I would challenge you on the stroller option and say a stroller and/or a baby carrier (a good, ergonomic one, not a crotch dangler). Baby carriers are a great alternative to strollers, especially for people who don’t do a lot of car driving or want to keep babies close as much as possible. We used our baby carrier much more than our stroller once we got the hang of how the baby carrier worked.

    I would also strongly suggest for any expectant parent to check out big children’s consignment sales. There are some regional organizations (All 4 kids, just between friends, etc.) who put these on every 6-12 months in many cities around the country. You can find pretty much anything you need at these sales. Both the “necessities” from your list as well as the things that make life easier. I know buy 95% of my son’s clothing, toys, etc. at these sales and save a ton of money that way.

    • Matt @ momanddadmoney February 25, 2014

      Wow, thanks for the great input Erin! I didn’t know that about the ACA, but that’s some great info and I’ve added it to the post (attributing to you). Thanks for making this a better, more informative post.

      That’s also great advice about consignment sales. There are so many ways to get a lot of this stuff much cheaper than brand new. Especially with things like clothes and even toys, that they grow out of so fast, it just doesn’t make sense to spend a lot.

      As for the carrier, that was something we used as well. Actually, the walks I talk about talking around the neighborhood were largely with my son in a carrier. So we definitely found it useful and I really like your input that for some people it may even be more useful than a stroller. I would say we personally used the stroller more often though, particularly because it helped carry the weight of both the baby and the diaper bag and whatever else we were bringing along with us. That’s really why I put it here, but it definitely depends on the individual

  • Marcelina September 22, 2014

    Solid list but I would argue the crib is unnecessary. I used the same playpen for both of my daughters (gifted from my dad) until each of them turned 2 years old, which saved us from spending on this huge expense.

    • Matt Becker September 22, 2014

      Great point! However you do it they need somewhere to sleep, and a playpen can be a great way to save some money. Thanks for the input!

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