Saving money with a baby: baby gear substitutes

Baby gear illustration (1)

It’s a fact: babies are expensive. Another fact: no matter how carefully you plan for and try to save money for baby, you will inevitably end up running to the drugstore in the middle of the night and paying a premium for a necessity that never occurred to you to buy. And with inflation at an all-time high as of June 2022, many families are having difficulties budgeting and trying to cover for necessities and emergency expenses. To help cover these unexpected expenses, it can be useful to know which baby items are truly necessary and which ones you can do without. This will also leave you more room in your budget for small “luxury” items.  (We’re focusing on baby gear items in this post since they tend to be the most expensive.)  We brainstormed with one of our team members, who has a 9 and a 2 year old, and came up with this list. In our 6 years as parents (and our team member’s 9 years as a parent), here’s what we’ve found not to be completely necessary:

  1. Changing table. A piece of furniture solely for changing diapers and storing diaper-related items will set you back anywhere from $80-$100+, according to a quick Google shopping search.

Our suggestion? Get a waterproof changing pad for approximately $20 (such as this Summer Infant pad) and changing pad covers (optional; $9.99 for 2 here. If you use these, we recommend 4 for the newborn days). Place on top of your already existing dresser or bed. Potential savings: $40-$100

Guerilla tip to save more money: Go without the changing pad and change baby on top of a soft towel on your bed. Potential savings: $80-$100

2. Diaper genie. We’ll admit that baby poop – especially after they start eating solids – stinks. And unless you’re one of those diaper-free parents who thinks they’ll potty train their kids at 12 months (good luck with that, by the way), most of us are looking at 2-4 years of changing – and disposing of – diapers.

Enter the diaper genie, with its promise to lock away those awful odors. We understand its appeal. But here’s the catch: you really have to squeeze and push the diaper to get it inside the diaper genie. And there’s a chance some “juice” may leak out. Personally, I was always very eager to get the diaper out of my hands and into the trash can as quickly as possible, and for that, a trash can is very suitable. Plus, if you take out the trash regularly (once or twice a day), you won’t have to worry about smells. You can even use a lidded trash can if you’re really concerned.

Potential savings: $30-$80.

3. Diaper bag. We were gifted a diaper bag from a friend and while we did get a lot of mileage out of it, we eventually found it easier to use a regular backpack. A regular backpack can hold diapers, wipes, a diaper changing pad, and any liquids just as well as a diaper bag, especially if you bring an ice pack and a small insulated bag. That being said, diaper bags have come a long way since we first became parents in 2016, when most existing diaper bags were just totes. If I were a new parent now, I might be tempted to pick up one of those diaper bag backpacks, especially those that come with a fold out bassinet.

Potential savings: ~$50

4. Sound machine. We did have a few sound machines, including one that was in a stuffed animal lamb, but our kids didn’t like them. If you want to try before you buy, we recommend downloading a White Sound app on your phone or playing one of those white sound songs on YouTube (cost: free!). Our team member also mentioned that their family used a box fan that they already had.

Potential savings: $20-$100 (depending on the type of sound machine)

5. Baby towel. We’ll admit, there are few things cuter than a clean baby in a hooded bath towel. However, if you are looking to save some money, you can just use a fluffy grown-up towel. In our experience, baby towels can be pretty flimsy as well, so adult towels absorb more and get baby dry more quickly after a bath. You can use a dry (adult) washcloth to dry their hair. Also, grown-up towels last longer and keep their softness for a while, whereas our oh-so-soft $25 bamboo baby towel got pretty hard and scratchy after a few rounds through the washing machine and dryer.

(That being said, baby washcloths are worth the money, especially the bamboo ones. We still use ours for our kids 6 years on.)

Potential savings: $13-$25 (depending on the brand)

6. Baby Bullet/baby food processor. While these are cute, a regular blender works just as well (and better) for making your own baby food. Our team member mentioned that the baby bullet she purchased was “trash” and didn’t work well.

Potential savings: $65-$70

7. Pack ‘n’ Play/playpen. Supposedly, pack ‘n’ plays are a good place to place your baby when traveling or visiting friends. We never found one necessary. We did use a lighter, cheaper travel bassinet for our first child when he was 2-4 months old, but after that, he just slept with us in the hotel bed when we were traveling. Also, Pack ‘n’ Plays are quite heavy and hard to set up, so trying to lug that around with you for an hour-long visit at your friends’ place seems rather unnecessary when baby can just sit in your lap or lay on a blanket or playmat on the floor.

As far as playpens go, we were given one by my parents but never used it (in fact, it is still sitting in the storage, unopened, almost 6 years later). We knew that our son would not sit still in it and would be quite unhappy being trapped in such a small space (he was enjoying rolling around and exploring the house). If you do need to keep your baby from exploring certain areas (stairs or fireplace, for example), baby gates work just as well and will still allow them to explore other parts of the house/apartment. Some parents also use play-pen gates, which allow you to adjust the size of the confined area.

Potential savings (Pack ‘n’ Play): $70-$200 (depending on the brand)

Potential savings (playpen):  $50-$100 (depending on the brand)

Potential savings if you forgo both items: $120-$300 (depending on the brand)

8. Glider/nursery chair/breastfeeding chairI’ll admit that I got pretty good use out of our breastfeeding chair with our first child. And I do think that a comfortable chair is important, especially in the early stages of breastfeeding, and especially if you’re struggling to breastfeed. However, if you already have a comfortable chair at home, like a recliner, the breastfeeding chair or glider/nursery-specific chair is not necessary. Recliners have more padding and support and are more comfortable to sit in for breastfeeding/bottle-feeding/rocking baby to sleep.

Potential savings: $100-$1000 (depending on the brand)

9. Wipes warmer. Last but not least, any list of unnecessary baby gear would be incomplete without the much-maligned wipes warmer. I will say that I could see how this could be useful, especially after one of the first times I wiped our newborn son with a cold wet wipe and saw him shudder in response, but he got used to it. Our daughter never protested. Plus, if you are using the wipes warmer, what happens if you have to change your baby outside with a cold wipe and they’re not used to it? Better just to use cold wet wipes from the beginning and not have to worry about it, in our opinion.

Potential savings: $20-$30

There are also quite a few other baby items could or could not be unnecessary, depending on how your baby takes to them and whether you are breastfeeding, bottlefeeding, or a combination of both. In these cases, we recommend trying to buy the minimum amount, or finding the cheapest safe version possible (or buying used, or borrowing from a friend) to see if your baby will like it. These items include:

  • Crib and crib bedding sets (if you are planning to co-sleep, this is probably not a necessary purchase. We did use a crib, but many families don’t.)
  • Strollers (some babies like them, others preferred to be worn. And on that note…)
  • Baby carriers (as with strollers, some babies like to be worn, but others don’t. Also, unless you’re gung-ho on getting a black belt in parenting, we don’t recommend the wrap as it’s very difficult to get “right”)
  • Bottles (Some babies don’t like the bottle, others do. If you want to get a bottle, we used The First Years bottle for newborn-3 months because it imitates the flow of breast milk.)
  • Pacifiers (as with the bottle, some babies like it, and others don’t. We recommend using the pacifier that the hospital gives to the baby to see if your baby will like it. Both of our kids rejected the pacifier after 3 months, but as a preschool teacher, I have seen 3 year olds use it to help them sleep.)
  • Breastfeeding pillow (this was a necessity for us in the early days – we used My Breast Friend – but many families find that a pillow suffices)
  • Breastfeeding covers (some babies hate them; ours were fine and I recommend the infinity scarf over all other breastfeeding covers, if you decide to use one)