Buying Baby's Layette on a Budget

by Dawne Brooks


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One of the first things you hear when you get pregnant is how expensive babies are. You'd think the little bundles come out requesting caviar and Perrier. Now don't get me wrong -- there's definitely some added expense with having a child, but there's also plenty of ways to get the ever-expanding baby layette (and all the extras that go with it) on a budget. Here's some tried and true examples any frugal parents or parents-to-be should know about:

  1. Have a shower - Don't you even feel a tinge of guilt if you have to drop hints, or just come out and ask a friend or family member, to have a baby shower for you. You're embarking on an exciting and new journey having a baby and it's only normal for those who love you to help you along. Give the shower organizer a list of "must-have" items to include in the invites. Enjoy all the gifts when you get them, but don't hesitate to take things back that you can exchange for more-needed or practical items (or just some much-needed cash for when baby arrives).
  2. Recruit "sponsors" - Along the same lines as the shower, don't be afraid to ask closer family members (grandparents-to-be, aunt and uncles) to help out by buying the baby one of the bigger items needed, i.e. a stroller, crib, rocker, playpen, etc. Most soon-to-be grandparents will be so smitten with the idea of their new title, they'll agree without even thinking twice and be thrilled to be part of planning for baby.
  3. Stash those diapers - One of the best pieces of advice I got from a friend during my pregnancy was to start buying diapers as soon as you find out you're pregnant. Having a nice, large stash of these essential items lessens the shock to the checkbook once baby arrives. Try buying just one pack or so of newborn size, in case you have a bigger baby, but mostly packs of size 1 and size 2. And don't ever buy brand-name diapers without a coupon -- you can easily shave another $1 to $3 off the price with the weekly newspaper coupons, and by shopping when the discount stores have their monthly sale on the Mega pack size.

    About half-way through the pregnancy, start stocking up on wipes, too -- just buy one pack in the plastic case and stick to the less expensive refill packs from then on. And don't forget coupons for those, too!
  4. Stroller alternatives - If recruiting for a stroller "sponsor" isn't an option, think about alternatives to buying a stroller for the first year (or ever), like carrying your baby in sling when you're out. Every mom should have a sling even if a stroller is purchased anyway, for the pure convenience of "holding" baby while getting things done around the house or as a great aid when nursing in public. New slings can sometimes be pricey, so check out resale stores for more reasonable prices of $10 to $20, or if you sew, make your own for less.
  5. Car seat options - Experts recommend not buying used car seats unless you're absolutely sure they meet current safety standards and haven't been in an accident. Some hospitals and county programs offer reduced-price car seats to new mothers, so be sure to ask about it when you know where you'll deliver. Insurance companies also sometimes offer such deals, for example, HealthNet insurance holders get a free car seat when they take part in an approved early pregnancy class and get a certificate. And as for the special head gear to hold baby in place during those first months, skip buying the little U-shaped accessories at the store and simply roll a blanket or two up for each side to keep baby's head sturdy.
  6. Toys - It seems there's more and more pressure these days to buy baby just the right toys to broaden her horizons and make her a little genius by the tender age of six months. Don't fall into the "baby won't learn as much if I don't buy this toy" trap. Instead of getting the fancy language tapes to help baby be bilingual, teach her what you know of a language -- simple things like names for body parts (as you point to them), greetings, basic sentences, etc. And when it comes to enjoying classical music, Mozart and Beethoven don't need to be packaged especially for baby for her to enjoy it. Grab some recordings, classical or otherwise, in the bargain bin at the mall music store and give her a variety of musical experiences on the cheap. Also, read the fine print when joining book clubs for your child -- you might get eight books for one cent, but you could be required to buy $40 worth or more later for doing so.
  7. Furniture - Those baby superstore ads sound nice, but what baby really needs two giant dressers? Some adults don't even have that many, and their clothes are bigger. Better than buying a nursery set on "sale" at one of those stores is to seek out pieces separately that will work for your nursery in particular. For instance, if you've decided to have a family bed, you might not even need a crib for baby's room. If you do, resale stores often sell used cribs for cheap, or yard sales are another place to look. As with the car seat, you should be absolutely sure the used crib meets current safety standards. If you'd rather buy a new crib, import stores like IKEA offers some competitive prices for quality nursery furniture. When purchasing a dresser or changing table for baby, look for a piece that can be used for both. A diaper pad placed on top the dresser saves you money and space, and keeps clothes at easy reach when changing baby. Skip a fancy toy chest for a large plastic storage container covered with a baby blanket. Stack stuffed animals and books on top while you stow away items that are too small or too big for baby inside.
  8. Bedding - Once you've been revived after fainting when you see the prices of crib bedding sets, get creative. Most doctors say not to place a blanket in the crib with baby anyway for the first year, to protect against SIDS, so the fancy sheets and quilt may just be a waste. If you sew, there's a variety of patterns for crib sets. Or keep it simple and mix and match pastel baby linens you get on sale. Instead of the $300 plus crib set, spice up the baby bed with a $30 mosquito netting hanging over and surrounding it (until baby is big enough to stand, that is -- then it should be removed).
  9. Clothes - Fight the urge to buy every adorable outfit you see for baby, because frankly, they're all adorable. Be sure to request the essentials for shower gifts, shop resale for extra items and if you must buy new, head to the sale racks. Stores like Target, Walmart and JCPenney's often have great sales where you can get a truly gorgeous baby outfit for $3 or less. Splurge and spend $4 if it's so cute you could spit. And make those outfits last for months longer by adding snap lengtheners (a panel to lengthen those onesies) and cutting those sleeper feet off, which I've had personal experience with. My 3-month-old seems to have 6-month-old legs, so converting sleepers over has been a real moneysaver.
  10. Breastfeeding - Of course, feeding a baby naturally is going to save lots of money, not just on formula, but on doctor's visits, since studies show breastfed babies tend to get sick less. Nursing accessories, like a nursing shawl, can be made instead of bought by attaching a ribbon for a strap onto a receiving blanket. Breastfeeding pillows are nice extras, but a firm pillow from the bed or couch will do just fine. And washable nursing pads prove much less costly in the long run than the disposable kind -- but be aware if you leak a lot, you may need at least 15 sets to start out with. If you are formula feeding, be sure to join all the clubs each formula company has -- their welcome packets alone will give you about a month's worth of formula samples for free.
  11. Diaper genie and bags - The diaper genie is a terrific invention, but a sealable plastic container from a discount store will do the trick as well. Just line it with a plastic bag and throw the dirty diapers in it until it's full. Place an air freshener inside to keep it smelling good, and paint or wallpaper the outside if you want to disguise it. As for bags, you're likely to get at least one free diaper bag, probably two, when you deliver at the hospital. They're nice and sturdy, too, so save your cash for something more important.
  12. Bath time savings - There's no need to buy a fancy baby bath. Either line your sink with towels and wash baby there, or have her join you in the big tub. Special bath wash and towels aren't a necessity, either. Most sensitive skin formulas for grown-ups will be just fine for baby as well (check with your pediatrician on which one they approve). And just take some towels of your own, wash them in the gentle detergent and allot those for baby.
  13. Bank on it, baby - Maybe the most important item to get for baby's room is a piggy bank as soon as you find out you're expecting. Drop your spare change in whenever you can and it's a foolproof way to start baby's first savings, even if you think you can't afford to save right now. When you compile a decent amount, look into ways to invest it for baby's future. After all, your baby will be an adult one day, and she'll be thrilled to find your frugalness paid off and there's some cash to help her with college.

Dawne Brooks is mother to 3-month-old Kitty.

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