Baby Necessities on a Budget Pt 1

With Lauri sailing on through her second trimester, she asked me what baby things they’d need and how best to get them. So it’s taken me a couple of weeks, but I’ve come up with a list of what I think you need when you have a baby, and how I think you should pay for them. It’s long, so if you don’t have need of this info you might want to skip it. Though, if you have a baby or children and you want to chime in with your own suggestions, that would be great, too.

Ok, let’s start with the basics:

Crib: Get a crib. Even if you’re planning on co-sleeping, get a crib. At the very least it gives you a safe place to put a crawler for a few minutes while showering. But, unless you’re very sure that you’re going to have a passel of children who are going to play rough, I’d say don’t buy a new crib. I comb Craig’s list and the classifieds every day and there is no shortage of cute cribs for sale there. This is a piece of furniture that your child will use for maybe 2 years, unless you’re planning on having more kids to pass it down to, it’s just not worth the expense.

When looking for a used crib, keep in mind that all modern cribs are built to certain safety standards. If you’re getting a crib that’s only a few years old they should be compliant as long as they’re in good condition. But if the crib you’re looking at is older than that (or you’re not sure how old it is) here are the safety guidelines you should stick to:

The slats and bars should be no more than 2 3/8 inches apart. There should be no cutouts on the head and foot board that your child could get their limbs or head stuck in, stay clear of finials at the end of posts, and posts themselves should be no higher than 1/16th of an inch above the rails.

One final note on cribs: get one with a drop side. You may never use it, but do you want to risk that? Here’s the thing. Your baby may end up being the easiest sleeper in the world. Your baby may NEVER vomit in the middle of the night. Your baby may be a light baby that doesn’t break your back to lift up and down out of a crib without a drop side. But, do you REALLY want to take the risk that one night you’ll be seriously sleep-deprived, unbelievably tired (I can’t stress that enough…), with a possibly sick, but definitely cranky baby at 4 AM when you’re trying to lay it down for the 6th time that night, and realize that the only thing that’s going to help this kid stay asleep while transitioning into the crib is for your legs to grow an additional 3 feet in height, or for the crib’s side to drop… and that at that point it’s far more likely that you’ll spontaneously gain the extra height needed because that side is NEVER GOING TO DROP because you didn’t think you were ever going to need a crib whose side dropped? Please, avoid that future blog post, get the crib with the side that drops.

Now, for the mattress. There have been recent studies that suggest that older (read: used) mattresses contribute to SIDS deaths. I’m not going to relate the theory here, but here’s a link if you’d like to read it for yourself. Reading the articles on the toxic-gasses theory of SIDS, it seems that older mattresses cause SIDS because of the toxic chemicals interacting with common fungus producing toxic gasses. Older mattresses have more fungus in them, but the new mattresses STILL have the toxic chemicals and flame retardants in them. For these reasons I recommend that whether you choose to buy a new mattress or go with an older mattress, you should wrap it or buy a gas-impermeable cover. We bought our mattress new for $40. If we have a second child before Sassa turns 3 then we’ll be buying a new crib mattress for our second child, too. However, if our second child comes at the same time, or after, Sassa transitions from a toddler bed (which uses a crib mattress) to a regular bed, we’ll be using our old mattress, but regardless; we’re buying a cover for it to reduce the off gassing. So, make choosing an old or new mattress a personal choice, but buy the cover, ok? It can’t hurt, but it could save your kid’s life. And even if it’s a total scam, at $30 for a cover (or less than that if you choose to wrap your mattress yourself) it’s a pretty cheap one.

Changing Table: Ah, the changing table. Use of a changing table is purely based on your lifestyle and choice. I can tell you that Klove and I use the changing table constantly. All Sassa’s diapers are changed on it, we get her dressed on it, we do her hair on it, we lotion her up on it. Considering that Sassa didn’t sleep reliably in her crib until she was a year old, the changing table has been the single most useful and necessary piece of equipment we bought. But you may not be like that. Think about what you’re going to need and how accessible your nursery will be to the rest of your living space. How likely are you to use a changing table as opposed to just using a mat on the floor or couch? The thing that’s helped our table’s use has been the fact that Sassa is such a small baby. At 23 months old she’s still only 23 lbs. If Sassa had been a significantly bigger baby we might not have been so willing to lift her up to the changing table so often.

I say, hedge your bets. Unless you can get one for free don’t get one of those changing tables that are only ever changing tables. Don’t waste your money on one like this. Like a crib, this piece of furniture has a limited time before it’s useless and you’re selling it or storing it or passing it down. When every dollar counts, not only now but in the future, don’t spend your cash on something with a limited life span. If you’re going to spend money, spend it on a dresser. But also, don’t think that you need to spend hundreds of dollars on a special dresser/changing table combo. Klove and I spent hours on a hot summer day driving from store to store to pick out our changing table/dresser. We weren’t just shopping at specialty baby and children’s shops, either. In fact, most of our searching took place at regular furniture stores. We had specific size requirements because of the tiny size of our nursery, if you don’t have those then it probably won’t take you as long to find one. In the end we found a beautiful solid wood dresser at a store that sold unfinished furniture. The height was perfect for both Klove and I, and it was only about $60. My father finished it with a clear coat, but we could have done that ourselves had we needed to. Because it was solid wood we were able to attach a thick, contoured changing pad (around $20) to the top (via strapping and screws in the back) and a safety belt. The dresser is anchored to the wall behind it. Even if we had never, or rarely, used it as a changing table, it would still be a useful piece of furniture. And once we’re done using it as a changing table, it’ll remain a useful piece of furniture. Considering how much we have used this dresser, it was worth the time spent in going from store to store to make sure we got the perfect height.

Bassinettes, cradles, Moses Baskets: Nothing says baby more than one of these items and I don’t know about you but my heart just melts at the sight of a bassinette shrouded in white eyelet. But, if you’re on a budget, don’t buy one. Or, at least, don’t buy one new. Again, if you really want one, check the classifieds. Just keep thinking of the dollar spent/time used ratio, and keep the time used side heavier than the dollar spent. A baby is usually only in a cradle or bassinette for 3 months or so. Don’t spend a lot of money on something that will have more sentimental than practical value. Now, if you’re a busy person and you have a large home and you want something that you can lay your child down in to sleep that’s easy to carry around, then it might be worth it to get a Moses basket (I’d still get one used if you could). But if you’re just looking for something to put in the family room to hold your sleeping baby instead of walking across the house or up the stairs, then you can achieve the same effect by getting a pack n play with a convertible bassinette attachment. And, again, if you can get one used so much the better. Klove and I bought ours new and though it’s proven necessary and useful, it hasn’t been SO useful that I’m entirely happy with the $125 we spent on it when I see ones for much cheaper on the classifieds. Oh well, live and learn, eh? I guess, if you think you’ll use it a great deal, and you’d like one with a lot of bells and whistles, and you’d like it new, then put one on your registry and hope someone gets it for you.

High Chair: You know, before I had Sassa I had no idea how much a lifestyle can impact high chair use. I just thought that you get a high chair and that’s that. Good thing we got one for free. We got a nice high chair for free: removable pad, reclining seat, big tray that came off with one hand. And even though we got it for free, it wasn’t worth it to store it. By the time Sassa was big enough to sit in the high chair, she was used to sitting in her bumbo seat. And, more importantly, WE were used to sitting her in her bumbo seat. We sat her in her bumbo seat, on the table, to do almost all of her feedings. We put her in her bumbo seat, with toys, on the kitchen counter when we were cooking. She preferred to be up closer to face-level with us, and we preferred to have her in arm’s length. By the time she was old enough to pull herself out of the bumbo seat (and had the desire to do so) she was nearly a year old. She sat in her high chair for a while, but she missed being right at the table with us. So we asked for this booster seat for her 1st birthday. She’s been sitting at the table with us since. The booster seat is adjustable for weight and height, so she’ll probably be in this seat for quite a long time. So, when thinking about a high chair, think about your home and lifestyle. If you’ve got a smaller kitchen and/or dining room, you might consider just getting a booster or feeding seat.

Car seat: This one is hard for me. Sassa was a tiny baby and so we used her bucket (detachable rear-facing baby seat that you can carry around with you) all the way up until her first birthday. She was small enough to sit in it and it was so handy when she would fall asleep in the car. We could bring it in the house and set it down and let her finish her nap. But many babies grow out of their buckets right away. So, here’s what I’d suggest. I’d suggest starting with a bucket. You could consider getting one used, but only if a) the seller can guarantee that it has never been in a car accident, b) it’s in good condition, c) you check with the manufacturer to make sure that it hasn’t been recalled, and d) it is not past the expiration date. The expiration date should be marked on it somewhere. Check that out. Don’t buy a car seat used unless all of these conditions have been met. I would not spend a lot of money on a bucket, though, unless you have a very small baby. I’d just go straight for a convertible seat. And get the safest one that will fit in your car regardless of price. This is what you’ve been scrimping your money for – so that you have the money you need so you can make sure that your baby is safe without breaking your budget. If you’re getting all those other baby “big ticket” items for free or used off the classifieds, then you can put the car seat you want on your registry and encourage people to chip in for it, or give you gift cards towards it. I’m not going to recommend specific brands or models or suppliers, though, as I’m not fully educated in the varieties of them and I’d hate to recommend something that wasn’t safe. Google it.


Most people probably wouldn’t put this on a list of basic necessities for a baby. I do, though, because aside from the changing table and our club chair, this piece of equipment was the most useful baby item we owned:

The bumbo seat: this seat is the reason Sassa was sitting, unassisted, when she turned 4 months old. We started putting her in the bumbo seat when she was 6 weeks old. At first she could only sit for a few minutes, but she grew stronger and stronger. Sitting in the seat, on the table or counter, put her in a position to see what was going on around her, and to begin interacting with everything and everyone from a very early age. It fostered her sense of independence and physical competence. In this way it was not only a useful piece of gear, but it was incredible for her physical and mental development. And it gave us a place to put her when we were making dinner, doing dishes, paying bills, or what have you. It was portable in the extreme – moving from kitchen to living room to outside. We carried it with us to friends’ houses to hold and feed her in. For $30 it was well worth every penny we spent on it and I can’t imagine life that first year without it. Even though she outgrew the bumbo seat by the time she was 10 months old, the ratio of price to use was so skewed to the use side it would have been a bargain at 3x the price. Since Sassa grew out of it we’ve lent it to two other families and they’ve both gotten the kind of use that we did out of it. If you can find one used, that’s great, but if you can’t then pay full price for it. It’s worth it.

Ok, that’s enough for today. Tomorrow: baby bathtubs, swings, bouncy seats, and other extras.

Edited: Just to test my own theory, I scanned the on-line classifieds today. Cribs: I could have gotten a basic crib with a mattress (basic meaning that I don’t like the style but could have painted it to blend in with my vision of the nursery) for $45. There was also a solid maple sleigh crib with mattress and bedding offered for $100 if I wanted to splurge. Or there was a cherry crib without mattress for $35. I saw a playyard/bassinette combo for $35 and a cradle for $25. If I was suddenly 9 months pregnant and needed to get this stuff bought TODAY I could have crib, mattress (but not the wrapping I feel is necessary), bedding, and a playyard with a bassinette attachment for $135. If I wanted to splurge I could get the cradle and make the total $155. And that’s just by looking for one day. If I were going to outfit a nursery now I’d start looking early, set my style and price ahead of time, and just bide my time looking for it to show up. 10 minutes a day scanning the on-line classifieds can end up getting you a crib that you are very happy with for less money than you’d expect. Unless you’re Bri and Wes, of course, because they’re picky… (I love you two, but I cannot see you getting a crib off the classifieds and being happy with it, so I’m so glad that you didn’t.)


10 thoughts on “Baby Necessities on a Budget Pt 1

  1. Interesting list! I can’t wait to read more.

    WRT the car seat, if you want a baby bucket you can be pretty confident will be usable to at least a year, I recommend the Graco SafeSeat Step 1. It is good to 30 lbs and 32 inches tall, which takes 97% of babies to 12 months.

    If you have the money for a biggish 1-time investment and aren’t committed to the baby bucket style, I would buy a Britax Boulevard or Marathon. They’re expensive, but convert from rear to forward facing, and can hold your child up to 65 lbs! If you aggregate out the cost over time, spending a lot for a good seat you can use until your child is 4+, it’s a good investment.

    We had a very different Bumbo seat experience. Noah used it a lot for about a month, but frequently dropped toys and then got upset because he couldn’t reach them over the side of the seat. I think I would try to get one used, but I wouldn’t pay full price again. If you can, borrow for a week or so and see how you and your baby like it.

  2. trista, you rock!!!
    being that i am likely going to be a single-momma-by-choice, this is AMAZINGLY welcomed…(so much so, i think i will start an email-folder for helpful stuff like this)… i wont be even to able to start ttc, for at least 2yrs, but this stuff is good to know!

    and if you have someone who is crafty – sometimes they may MAKE a sweel piece of furniture for you – HINT: check out Runner Girl’s blog from about a week or so ago… her dad made the changing table/dresser for the boy they are adopting and it is AMAZING – the child will be able to use it for a long long time 🙂 []

    thanks again!


  3. I’d like to add on to the high chair comment. We’ve never had a high chair. Cakie has been in his booster seat since the get-go. If you live in a place where indoor space is limited like New York, I highly recommend this option.

    Also, I agree with Trista on the changing table note. It was the one thing we didn’t have when Cakie came home (3 weeks early!) and we had to send grandparents to a different state to get one off of craigslist. I didn’t think we needed one, but changing diapers in the bassinet of our pack n’ play really started hurting our backs quickly. I guess we were too nervous to change him on the floor, which is mostly what we do now, but we still use the changing table a lot and our son is almost two.

    I heartily reccommend Britax carseats. They are pricey, but well-worth the cost. Our car rides became much more enjoyable when Cake moved fromt the lower-end bucket (which didn’t have great padding) to the luxurious Britax. It also always rates high if not the highest in safety tests. But it is expensive so put that sucker on your registry. I was really surprised when someone actually bought it for us.

    In fact, don’t be shy with your registry. If there is something you really want, don’t go for the cheaper one to save your friends money. Our family and friends went crazy with gifts, to the point where I wish I had asked for some fancier stuff.

    I also want to recommend that you get some kind of floor gym.
    A neighbor leant us her Baby Einstien one, and it was great to watch his developmental changes as he went from just watching the stuffed animals, to batting at them, to reaching out and grabbing.

    Ok, I’ll stop now!

  4. Delurking to chime in on one of my favorite topics! Great advice– just wanted to provide the giant baby perspective just in case the baby in question turns out on the big side. My daughter has always been very tall and has been quite chubby at times.
    Bumbo: I thought it was the cutest thing ever. She did not. Definitely did not get my $40 worth. Her chubby thighs were a major problem. I second the idea of borrowing one to see if the baby likes it first.

    Car Seat: Again, I loved the convenience of the bucket. Tall baby + small-ish car = baby does not like scrunched up legs in the bucket by 4 MONTHS OLD. I was so sad about that $100. I replaced it with a Britax Roundabout which I love (and she likes).

    High Chair: Due to above Bumbo problem, we used our reclining high chair right from the start as a place to put her when we were in the kitchen. HOWEVER, even our slim design high chair is a monstrosity and would not work well in a small kitchen.
    Great advice in the post and there’s no way to predict baby’s size, but thought another perspective might help. My husband and I are both tall, so I’m sure our experience reflects that (and in case the advice users are tall– test out your diaper changing surface for comfortbale height).

  5. I agree with you about the Bumbo. It’s great, especially now with the nifty tray. We’ve been using it since she could hold her head up. She can almost get out of it, though. Ugh.

    I also agree about the changing table. We have one that has a dresser and a little mini wardrobe under it, so it will continue to be useful.

    We have a SpaceSaver high chair that reclines and has a big dishwasher safe tray, and the back comes off for later when she needs the booster. It straps into a regular chair, so it doesn’t take up floor space. I love it.

    The one thing I’ve been most grateful for is the swing, however. I would have thrown myself into traffic early on had it not been for the swing.

  6. All very, very smart recs.

    I totally agree on the crib thing. We have a borrowed crib, and although we cosleep, I’m both glad to have it and glad we didn’t spend money on it.

    We have the same plan with the bumbo/booster seat. When Finn transitions out of the Bumbo we’re going to get a Handysit booster seat. The other thing I like about that is he will get to eat at the table with us. And we don’t have room for a monster high chair.

    And we were seriously on the fence about a changing table before Finner was born. I am SO GLAD we got one. We found it used for $35 and added some nice baskets from Cost Plus. We use it all the time, and because of my height it helps save my back (which is getting progessively wrecked from parenting).

    Can’t wait to read more.

  7. You have an affecting view on this topic. I am happy you shared your thoughts and I find that I agree. I enjoy your clear writing and the effort you have put into this article. Thanks for the fine work and good luck with your blog, I greatly look forward to more updates.

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