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Baby on a Budget - the Barest Bare Essentials

By Amy Morrison
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I love websites that list the essential baby items you’ll need and list a wipe warmer. I’ve got nothing against wipe warmers but I’d hardly call them a necessity when you have a baby and they are certainly not a necessity if you are having a baby on a budget.

So I decided to make my own list and try to figure out what is the least you could get by with and not lose your mind. I mean, sure, we could all forgo the toys and bouncy chairs but if you factor in all the money you’ll have to spend on your mental breakdown, then you’re still ahead of the game if you spring for them. So here goes:

Baby on a Budget:

1. Baby Lotion:

There are good baby lotions out there that are super expensive, and cheap baby lotions that are full of shit. So I checked around to find a baby lotion that was reasonably priced, not too full of gunk and fairly easy to find. Aveeno Baby is what I came up with. You can also get away with coconut oil or unscented lotion for grownups. Just take a look at the label and pick the one with the fewest ingredients. You can find Aveeno Baby lotion on Amazon here.

2. Dr. Bronner – Organic Castile Soap Unscented Baby:

This stuff can be used for EVERYTHING including baths, soaking clothes and washing hair. It is fantastic. It seems a little more expensive but a little goes a long way. It comes in a few sizes – small, big and fricking huge. You can find it here on Amazon.

3. Multipurpose Ointment:

You can use it on bums to prevent diaper rash and cheeks to stop chapping in winter. Coconut oil or Petroleum Jelly are other alternatives (some people aren’t big fans of petroleum because it’s not as environmentally friendly as other options). Here are some options on Amazon.

4. IKEA ANTILOP Highchair with safety belt:

I had this highchair. I loved this highchair. It is easy to hose down and chisel off cereal that has dried to the consistency of cement. It is no frills, no screwing around and awesome. I would recommend this highchair to anyone whether they were trying to save money or not. You can find it at IKEA.

5. Infantino Carrier:

I think everyone needs a baby carrier and this is a great reputable brand that makes inexpensive carriers. (If anyone cries “crotch dangler” you can direct them here.) You can find it on Amazon. If you want to see all the options out there, you can check out our post: Best Baby Carriers: Which Carrier is Right for You?

6. Gerber 5-pack Onsies:

Onsies are one of those items that rarely make it into the hand-me-down piles because they get ratty fast. Plus, if the weather is warm, this is all they really need to hang out and sleep in. You can find them on Amazon.

7. Bath Tub/Seat:

Some people skip the bath items altogether and just put their baby on a folded facecloth in about 2″ of water in the bath. This will do the job just as well but I was just too twitchy about freestylin’ like that. If you're twitchy too, I highly recommend The First Years Sure Comfort Deluxe Newborn to Toddler Tub. It comes with an infant sling when they are in the slippery chicken stage that can be removed when they are older. You can find it on Amazon.

Oh, and here are some tips on how to bathe that newborn.

8. Thermometer:

You're going to want a thermometer on hand if you have a baby. Fevers go from nothing to something very quickly with kids so you're going to want to be able to measure that. The Safety 1st 3-in-1 Nursery Thermometer is a solid thermometer that's inexpensive and reliable. You can find it on Amazon.

9. Bouncer:

I’m sure there are a few people that say you don’t need one of these but this is a bit of a sanity saver. If you have other children or pets running around, you may not want to put an infant on the floor, and propping them up on the couch has topple-off-head-crack potential, so this is a nice solution to keep them put and give them something to look at. Here are some options on Amazon.

(I should also mention that companies redesign their bouncers quite often so availability is often up and down, just find an inexpensive one you like the look of and go for it. Fisher Price and Bright Starts seem to always have consistently great reviews and you can often snag them for under $40.)

10. Bottle Set:

Even if you are breastfeeding there may be times when you want to have a bottle on hand. As long as you’re willing to wash them frequently you don’t really need that many. Keep an eye on what the flow is – the older a baby gets, the higher the flow. Generally (but not always) infants have low flow (smaller holes in the nipples) and older babies have high flow. Here's a good infant set from MAM on Amazon.

11. Wipes:

Store brand wipes are usually cheaper than brand name and they are just as good – try to get unscented if you can just keep potential irritants to a minimum. Keep an eye out for wipe sales as they go on sale often. You can also load up on a bunch of inexpensive baby washcloths and use them with a bit of water for wipes.

13. Washcloths:

Use these with some water in lieu of disposable wipes to save some cash and give your baby’s bum a break at the same time. These are also great for wiping hands, bathtime, or wet in a ziploc for a quick mouth wipe when they decide to eat sand at the park. These ones from Gerber are nice.

13. Receiving Blankets & Swaddles:

These were such a staple for both of my kids. Use them as burp cloths, boob covers, floor mats, change pads and, well, blankets. Get a neutral color if you plan on having more than one kid. Amazon has a nice selection.

14. Newborn Diapers:

The cheapest way to diaper a baby is with cloth, but that doesn't always work with your facilities or lifestyle. Even if you go with cloth, I recommended disposable when they were newborns because they are in them for such short period of time. If you go the disposible route, store brands (Up & Up, Mama Bear, Kirkland, etc.) are often the cheapest and the quality is great.

What’s Great (and Not so Great) About Cloth Diapering
Cloth diapering is adorable. Disposables (AKA sposies) are easy. Here are a few other pieces of the diapering puzzle to take into consideration.

15. Portable Playard:

I’m going to get a little kooky here, and suggest you use this as a bassinet when they are a newborn, then a crib / playard when they are bigger. They are safe to use as your full-time crib and they are cheaper and fully portable. Get a gender neutral color so it will work for subsequent children and it will be easier to sell down the road and make sure whatever you opt for is safe for sleep. Graco is a good bet for safe, inexpensive option. You can find them on Amazon.

Best Safe Sleep Options
A flat, firm, bare surface are safe sleep ideals. A quick refresher on safe sleep options, now that the Rock ’N Play has been recalled.

16. Unscented detergent:

Baby detergent is weirdly expensive and I haven't read any studies that convince me that it's any better than a regular detergent in a 'sensitive' formlula. Get a detergent that is free of dyes and perfume – like ALL Free and Clear – and you’re good to go.  Find it on Amazon.

17. Cloth Diapers:

There is no doubt that cloth diapering is a big money saver. It’s a large upfront cost but it is far more cost efficient in the long run especially if you want to have more than one child. Many people will even sell their cloth diapers on Craigslist, Kijiji and eBay where you can get them at a fraction of the cost.

18. Used Clothes & Gear:

Babies fly through clothes in their first year and parents often overbuy in the beginning so you can find some barely worn duds at almost all second hand and consignment stores or buy them as lots online.

19. Good Buy Gear

Check out Good Buy Gear for open box and gently used gear. You can score a stroller for a fraction of the price because it was returned to a big box store and they didn’t want the hassle of making sure everything was still there. Good Buy Gear checks it to make sure it’s all in working order and safe and passes the savings onto you.

20. Timing:

Lastly, my best tip of all, have a baby when all your friends’ kids turn one. They will be banging down your door with clothes, strollers and exersaucers (or as I like to call it, “the glorious circle of neglect”) and they will thank you for taking them – a baby swing is a godsend when your baby likes it and a piece of plastic crap that is taking up your living room the second they outgrow it. Check to make sure anything you’re getting second hand is up to today’s safety standards and hasn’t been recalled.

Now, I know this may not be the most practical baby on a budget tip, but I thought it was worth a mention.

Things I left out

I have a couple of somewhat optional items depending on where you live and what your lifestyle is like.


I left out strollers because depending on what you use them for, (hiking through snow vs. zipping through a hot mall) really changes what you need. Here’s a great post on stroller basics along with a quiz to figure out which one is right for you. Plus, if you're really on a budget you can probably get away with a just a carrier for the newborn stage and an inexpensive, lightweight stroller – like the Summer Infant 3D Mini – once your baby can sit up.

Car Seat

I also left out car seats because if you don’t have a car, well, you don’t need one but it is a must if you are putting a baby in a vehicle. All new car seats are safe as they have to meet government standards so go for the least expensive one. Cosco makes excellent budget friendly car seats. They don't have the same convience bells and whistles of pricier seats but they adhere to all safety standards.  If someone offers you a relatively new car seat (check the expiration date molded in the car seat or printed on the shell) and you are sure that it’s never been in an accident – you can go for that too. Here’s a post on picking a great car seat too.

Pick the Best Infant Car Seat Quiz
Take our quiz to find out how to choose the perfect Infant car seat for your baby. On a budget? Small car? Matching a stroller? Pick the right seat for you.

What else would you add (or subtract) when you’re having a baby on a budget?

I want to keep honing this list so it’s nimble as a thimble so post stuff you think would be helpful.

Our next recos: What to Get When You’re Expecting – New Baby Checklist

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