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)

Covid, childbirth, and pregnancy: one family’s experience

As parents of two children who were born pre-pandemic, we can only imagine what the pregnancy/childbirth/postpartum experience is like during Covid. This period is difficult enough in normal times, without the additional complications presented by Covid-19. Now, decisions that never required a second thought, such as running to the pharmacy to pick up diapers, are carefully weighed with the risk of contracting Covid. You may be wondering how to protect yourselves and the baby during pregnancy and after, whether you should hire a doula when only one person is allowed to be in the delivery room with you, and when/how your family members can safely travel to meet the new baby. 

If you’re still reading at this point, we assume that you take Covid seriously and want to take steps to protect yourself and your family. You most likely have already extensively researched these questions and more online, so we won’t spend too long repeating what other expert sources have already told you, which is that pregnant and postpartum women are at increased risk for adverse effects from Covid , and the best way to protect yourselves is to get vaccinated against Covid-19, wear a mask indoors and in crowded outdoor spaces, and to wash your hands frequently . Rather than adding to the litany of medical advice you may have already read, we decided to give you a human angle on this subject. We spoke with our friends, who welcomed their son in May 2020, about the pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum journey in the early days of Covid. We hope that their words and advice give you some solace and strength as you and your partner embark on this, at times thrilling, at times terrifying, journey in these times.

The Rad Dad Box: The Covid-19 pandemic has been going on for almost two years, so parents-to-be now at least had knowledge of Covid when they made the decision to get pregnant. You, on the other hand, were blindsided by it. Can you tell us how you felt when Covid caused everything to shut down, 7 months into pregnancy?

To be honest, it was a mixture of disappointment, confusion and fear. I had never had a child in the United States before, close to all of our family, so we were really looking forward to getting to celebrate that time and those experiences (such as gender reveals, baby showers, and simply being around family as my belly grew) with our extended families for the first time. We had a miscarriage prior to getting pregnant with our son, which caused us to be cautious when it came to celebrating. In retrospect, I wish we hadn’t waited as long as we did to set up his nursery and have a baby shower etc. because we ended up planning everything for the end of March, a week after the country shut down and things either being cancelled or revamped. The whole pregnancy process and navigating the healthcare system and social distancing was confusing and we were engulfed with fear of something happening to our unborn baby, if Mom were to contract Covid while pregnant. It definitely was not the pregnancy and birthing experience we had envisioned. Instead, it was an experience full of unanswered questions and uncertainty most of the time, but it all ended the best that it could and we are stronger as a family because of it. 

TRDB: What did life look like for you being pregnant during a global pandemic and the national shut-down? 

It was extremely strange, to say the least. Our daughter’s school switched to online learning (like all the others), which required me (mom) to leave my part-time position in the clinic, so that I could stay home with her. We limited our outings to predominantly Dad going to work and running any essential errands that needed tending to and I went to my prenatal appointments. Other than that, we had our groceries and other necessities delivered and would play in the back yard or go to the creek to get some fresh air, while staying away from all family, friends and most all other humans and avoiding any enclosed/indoor locations.  

Virtual baby shower via Zoom

TRDB: What was Mom’s biggest fear while being pregnant during the pandemic and how did Dad help ease some of those concerns? 

I feel like the obvious concern during that time was of any one of us contracting Covid. I worried about losing our unborn son at 7, 8 and 9 months gestation if I were to contract covid. I would have panic attacks thinking about how we would possibly manage potential hospitalizations between any one of us, with the strict Covid protocols and restrictions that the hospitals were mandating at that time. 

The hospital had made it clear that if either Dad or myself were exhibiting any sickness or allergies symptoms that mirrored Covid 19’s symptoms when it came time for the birth of our baby, Dad would not be allowed to enter the hospital to be present. I also worried about the possibility of our infant not being allowed to share a room with me after his birth if either of us tested positive for Covid. 

However, my husband was amazing at reassuring me by limiting his outings to strictly work and the grocery store, while wearing his mask at all times when in public. He also carried sanitizer with him to work, ensuring to sanitize and wash his hands often. He chose not to eat his lunch in the office and once he got home, he would immediately throw his outside clothes in the washer and jump into the shower. 

TRDB: What are some things you missed out on during your pregnancy, birth and postpartum during the pandemic, versus a traditional experience? 

The pandemic caused us to miss out on many things that a couple may be excited about or look forward to leading up to the birth of their child. Some of the most notable ones for us include: 

  1. No Birthing classes, sibling classes, hospital tours etc. All of the classes were cancelled,  which was really disappointing because we had a first-time father of a newborn and first-time big sister who I felt could have benefited from those classes, in order to help everyone mentally prepare for this massive life change. Additionally, it was my first time giving birth in the United States so I wasn’t really sure what to expect and looked forward to gaining more insight during those classes to help me prepare for the birth of our son. 
  2. No gender reveals or in-person baby showers. However, our family did an amazing job at throwing us a virtual baby-shower, which we felt was extremely sweet and the best example of making lemonade out of life’s lemons, so to speak. 
  3. No visitors while in the hospital, which was alright with me because I feel those first days are so exhausting and so important for mom, dad and baby to bond, however, there is one exception which leads me to number four:
  4. Sister not being able to meet baby brother in the hospital and having to see him for the first time over a video call. We had planned for big sissy to stay in the hospital with us and she was very excited to do so. We had long talks about what birth would look like and how the baby doesn’t come out pink and swaddled in a blanket. We watched live birth videos to prepare and she was ready! We were all ready to welcome this new little soul into our life, together! But unfortunately, due to the pandemic, it was not a possibility and not our reality.

TRDB: What was Dad’s biggest concern regarding prenatal, birthing and postpartum care during the pandemic? 

Dad was stressed out because he was not able to accompany me to the prenatal appointments, which prevented him from being able to ask any questions or get any reassurances from the doctor, which as a first time father to a newborn, you can imagine he had plenty of questions and could have benefited from some reassurance. He mentioned that it was challenging because we were unable to gather with family prior to and following the birth of our baby. It was also really difficult to prepare for our baby as in-person shopping was limited due to the shutdown at that time. It definitely took away from the fun of baby-shopping by going and actually looking at the items you want and need. Instead we did all of our shopping online, which isn’t quite the same, nor nearly as exciting. 

TRDB: What did the prenatal, postpartum and baby’s check-up appointments look like during the pandemic? 

Again, it was very strange. Our son was born with a condition that required many follow-up appointments after his birth for testing and therapy so we were in and out of the clinic quite a bit. And again, only one parent was allowed to accompany him. For the more “important” appointments, we had to get permission for both parents to come. There was one time that we took him to the hospital for an appointment, with our pre-authorization for the both of us to attend and that doctor ordered x-rays for him. When we were walking to the other side of the hospital to get his x-ray done, we got stopped by security asking if we both had authorization to be there. We mentioned that yes, we did and the security guard called ahead to x-ray. He then informed us that since it was in a different part of the hospital, we needed to get another authorization to both be present during the x-ray. We decided that it would take more time to do that than for Dad to just stay behind while I took our son to go get his x-ray done. That is just one of the many examples of the hoops that we had to jump through, for regular care.

We grew very used to “virtual waiting rooms” for all of our son’s follow-up appointments and wellness checks, where we would arrive to the clinic, phone in at the office, answer the Covid-19 questionnaire to ensure that we didn’t have any symptoms and then wait in the car until they called us to come to the door where someone would meet us to let us into the clinic for the appointment.

Another challenge we faced was our baby not being allowed to accompany me to my six-week postpartum appointment. It made for a challenge because he was exclusively breast fed and refused the bottle, so Dad and I had to try to plan and schedule everything out perfectly, taking into account drive-time to and from the hospital and a guesstimation for how long I would be there, in hopes that it would all be completed between his feeding times. Disclaimer, I very barely made it. Ha! 

TRDB: Mom, What was one of the biggest challenges you faced after having a newborn baby, during the pandemic? 

One of the challenges that I least expected was not being able to buy postpartum pants that fit during that awkward phase, because I had no idea what my size was and all fitting rooms were closed down. Therefore, I only had the choice between my pre-pregnancy pants that were way too small and my maternity pants that were way too large to wear to all of those appointments. It seems so silly now, but it was actually quite stressful at the time. Haha!

TRDB: Dad, same question!: 

Everything! It was my first time being a father to a newborn so… I really don’t know what is different outside of the pandemic. You know what I mean? Like, I have no basis of comparison between having a newborn baby pre-covid versus the pandemic. And diapers. Finding and buying diapers was a challenge because everyone bought up all the diapers and toilet paper. My wife ended up resorting to cloth diapering for a while to help alleviate that issue for us.

TRDB: Any other thoughts on this topic? 

Yes! Something unusual that we both noticed was our son was able to read eyes really well from a very early age. Even with everyone having a mask on, he could tell if someone was smiling at him under their mask and would smile back, or if they were being serious, he would also be serious etc. And then, once restrictions started letting up after people began getting vaccinated he discovered that he was scared of uncovered faces! Being that he was accustomed to seeing only our three faces, since everyone else’s face was always covered,it was a lot for him to process initially. It was especially stressful for him when people would begin showing differing facial expressions, even if they were smiling, he would cry because he was not used to that, at all. Haha! 

TRDB: Almost two years later, the pandemic is still here and it looks like Covid is likely to stay. What advice would you give to new parents and parents-to-be based on your experiences as “Covid parents”?

Dad: Always remember that regardless of a pandemic or not, children (especially of a young age) are extremely susceptible to getting sick. So, be sure to wash their hands regularly, always have sanitizer handy, and be mindful that, as parents, we are less likely to get sick from bacteria or a virus and it is our job to protect our children. 

Mom: Trust your gut. Now that our country is letting up on restrictions, don’t let people or “social norms” pressure you into doing something that you are not comfortable or ready to yet. This goes from allowing people to hold your newborn simply because they want to, to getting said newborn vaccinated simply because someone says that you should. An example from us in regards to this is, in our state, we are allowed to be maskless in public places as long as we have been vaccinated. Both my husband and myself have been vaccinated, but we have two children (one very young, the other asthmatic) at home and do not feel comfortable removing our masks when in crowds and indoor settings. Therefore, we continue to wear our masks any time we go out in public and we often get dirty looks for it, as if we are unvaccinated and people don’t agree with “our decision.” The fact is, they don’t know our reality and our truth. Even though we are vaccinated, we choose to wear masks to set an example for our children who aren’t, and to try to keep them as safe as possible. We won’t let those dirty looks encourage us to remove our masks just to “prove” ourselves. So, do your research. Know your child/ren. And make an educated decision based on the information that you have learned, rather than just what you have been told via social media or your next door neighbor. But most especially do not feel obligated to do anything regarding the safety of your children and your household, that you are not comfortable doing. 

For more resources on Covid and pregnancy, please visit the following sites:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention: Covid and Pregnant People: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/pregnant-people.html

Mayo Clinic: Covid-19 and Pregnancy – What are the risks?: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/coronavirus/in-depth/pregnancy-and-covid-19/art-20482639