Baby on a Budget
You could spend a small fortune preparing for the birth of your child, even before the little angel is born. So many cute outfits, cute bedding sets, and cute toys to choose from, it may be difficult for first-time parents to know what is actually needed and what you can go without.
Save on baby gear, and don't deplete your savings or incur debt to welcome your new sweetheart home. It's good practice to control costs now; parenting is a long road, and the expenses relating to raising children, at every age, will continue to add up.
Babies normally outgrow their clothes, toys, and gear long before the item is worn out. Look for gently-used baby items at baby resale shops, thrift stores, and garage sales. It's easy to control the possiblity of germs; even most toys can easily be thrown into the washing machine, dishwasher, or sprayed with disinfectant. (Rinse off the disinfectant with plain water.)
You can choose to buy neccesary baby items over the course of your pregnancy to avoid shelling it all out at once when baby is born. Or, even better, just save for those items until just before the time comes. You don't know what kind of baby gifts you'll receive, and you may find out that your rich aunt wants to buy a fancy crib, with all the bells and whistles, for your little one after you already bought and assembled the budget version. Even if you don't have a rich aunt, delaying purchases can help you avoid being stuck with two of something when you really needed something else.
Clothing and Toys
You may have friends or relatives that would be happy to give you items their child has outgrown; it can save a bundle if you buddy up with someone who has a child the same sex and a little older than yours. I'm sure you could work out a way to return the favor.
Another reason to avoid spending a lot of money on baby needs - babies are messy. Much of their clothing will becomed stained anyway, and it's easier to toss out a three dollar outfit than a twenty dollar outfit.
Babies really don't need as much variety as is possible with all the toys available; resist the urge to buy everything under the sun that "will make your baby smarter." Your baby will still develop at his or her own rate, regardless of the commercial toys you provide. Spending time with your little one during all your daily activities together will give them loads of stimulation. Not that baby doesn't need any toys, but just don't feel like you have to buy too many. Baby will mentally and physically outgrow age-appropriate toys quickly, and the cost can be high for relatively little use.
Crib - A convertable crib is the most cost-efficient baby bed; it'll cost just a little more, but you'll get many more years' worth of use from it. You can also save by buying a used crib, but it's harder to find one that's convertible, since they are a newer product and people tend to use them for a lot longer than they do a regular crib. A word of caution if you're considering a home-made or vintage crib: Be sure it meets current safety standards; if the space between the bars is too small, baby may get their hands or feet stuck, or if too large baby may get their head stuck.
Changing table - A changing table is one of those things that you can do without, a baby can really be changed anywhere. Put a blanket on the floor, on the bed, or even on a countertop for an instant changing spot. Many babies won't fit on a changing table past about the age of two anyway. If you would still like a specific place to change baby, look for a dresser/changing table so you can continue to use it beyond the diaper days.
Car seat - This is the only major item you absolutely must have before baby is born, and it is the only thing that must be purchased new. It is impossible to tell by looking at it whether it has ever been in an accident; a car seat can be structurally damaged and unsafe from even a minor accident.
Stroller - Though not an absolute neccesity, a stroller will save your back when you want to leave home, and also works as a portable bed for small babies. A car seat/stroller combo is a neat way to take baby out and about without having to wake a sleeping angel; car rides often put those little ones to sleep. The downside: strollers take up a lot of space in the car and the large size and wheels make them difficult for stairs, hiking, and crowded areas such as malls and festivals. Save big bucks by buying a used stroller, but avoid the used car seat/stroller combo.
Sling for newborns or backpack carrier for older babies - These can work as a great alternative to a stroller, and they allow you to go where it is difficult with a stroller. Babies love to be held and rocked, and a sling can allow you continue your chores while you comfort your baby. A backpack can be used when baby can sit up on their own and are too big for the sling. Slings aren't very expensive even when new, but a backpack carrier can cost as much as a stroller. You can find both in children's resale shop at a discount.
Mother's milk - Breastfeeding is not only the healthiest for baby, it's the less expensive way to feed baby - and it's also so much more convenient. Newborn babies feed about every two hours, around the clock. Breastmilk is always ready and the proper temperature, so midnight feedings are a breeze, compared to using formula. The main drawback to this is that Dad can't really help, so Mom will be responsible for getting up all night to take care of a hungry baby.
Formula - Formula will take a large portion of your daily baby-care budget until baby is a year old, so it can really pay to shop around. Buy in bulk, and check prices at discount warehouse stores. Read and compare labels of different brands; it's usually the marketing that causes the price increase, not the nutritional value. Sign up for brand-name baby clubs that mail you coupons. And forget the convenience packs; they are pricey. You can make your own single-serving size for travel with reclosable plastic bags. You can also buy bags that are specially made for formula single-servings, just fill them yourself and you'll still have the convenience of not toting around a big can of formula.
Combination feeding - There's no rule that a baby can't have formula and mother's milk. Some moms choose to nurse at home and use formula when they are out in public or when others take care of baby. How you choose to feed your baby is your choice, and those who qualify can receive assistance for either feeding method. Check with your local WIC office to see if you qualify under their income guidelines. WIC provides vouchers for formula, or if baby is breastfed, the vouchers are for the mother, to ensure she receives an adequate diet for healthy milk production.
Baby food - Babies begin to eat solid foods at about three months old, and commercial baby food is an unnecessary expense. You may choose to have a few jars on hand for quick meals when baby's hunger catches you off guard, or for when you go out to dinner. But most off the time, baby can eat what you eat with a little planning. The main concern with feeding a baby is that food should be pureed when they are just learning to eat, food should be simple so it's easier to notice if they have food allergies, and food should not be too seasoned since babies are more receptive to bland foods. Put baby's portion into a food processor when you are making dinner. Or, make baby-specific meals in advance and divide them into individual portions to put into the freezer. Either way, you can save big by skipping the baby food aisle.
Cloth diapers - Cloth means that you save the environment by not adding to the landfills, and you can save money with them if you do the laundering yourself. If you choose to use a diaper service, the cost becomes about the same as it is for disposables. Advocates of cloth diapers also say that it is better for baby's skin, since cloth diapers breathe better than disposables, but baby must be changed more often since cloth is less absorbent.
Disposable diapers - I apologize for my contribution to the landfills, but disposables were the choice for my kids. They are more convenient, required no smelly diaper pail, and required me to do no extra laundry. Name brands are more expensive, but it's not always due to quality. Test out the store brands at different retailers; some are of better quality than others, and some aren't so great. After you test them out, you'll likely find a few stores that offer diapers that are just as good as the pricier brands.
Baby wipes - They aren't just for baby bottoms; you'll use them for hand wipes in the car and as after meal-wipes, too. Same thing as with diapers, many store brands are just as good as the national brands, and they'll cost less. Wipes either pop-up like tissues, or they are folded so that you have to unfold each one yourself. I used to try to save money by buying the folded wipes, but realized I was spending more money that way. A squirmy, dirty baby won't wait for wipes to be unfolded. I would unfold some in advance, but it often wasn't enough, so I'd grab a bunch of unfolded wipes in a hurry and waste quite a few. Though a little more expensive, the pop-up wipes actually save money because you'll never pull out more than you need.
The one essential extra
Baby swing - These things are worth their weight in gold, at least to an exhausted parent who has no more patience for a crying baby wanting to be rocked. You'll only need a swing for the first few months; most babies don't want to be confined to a swing once they can sit up on their own and move around. These are perfectly fine to purchase second-hand, and they can usually be found in near-new condition since they are used for such a short time.