25 “must-haves” your baby DOESN’T actually need
For tiny people, babies sure need heaps of stuff—though maybe not quite as much as those official baby registry lists, pesky marketers, and endless virtual store shelves would have you think.
Some things are just a waste of money. You don’t need them, won’t use them, won’t miss them, or can find a way-cheaper substitute without any loss of safety, convenience, or cutes.
Like these 25 baby “basics” that you’ll be A-OK to pass up:
The dirty little secret of diapers is that blowouts bedevil all of them.
Better: If you’re picking disposables, then bulk generics or store brands—which cost 10 to 15 cents less per diaper—are up to the task of catching everyday wees and poos. And you’ll go through ever so many, like 3,000 in the first year.
You save: $300 to $450 in just the first year.
PRIVATE CORD-BLOOD BANKING
For the vast majority of parents whose kids are healthy, paying to store your baby’s cord blood might be the worst investment ever. The cost: $1,400 to $3,000 up front plus an annual $100 to $300 storage fee. The odds you’ll use it: under 4/100ths of 1 percent. Even if your child is in that small minority where cord blood might help, public banks often are more useful because a child’s own blood may not even work (such as for stem-cell transplants for genetic disorders like sickle-cell anemia or thalassemia).
Better: Donate your baby’s cord blood, free, to a public cord-blood bank, the option that every major medical group recommends. The chances of finding a donor match there, if ever needed, are as high as 97 percent.
You save: an average of $2,600 in the first year alone.
WEARABLE INFANT TRACKERS
Smart booties, onesies, and other sensor-enhanced wearables give you a lot of data—too bad it’s not info you need to know in the first place. (Heart rate? Respiration? Oxygen levels? Really?) Even if it sounds fascinating, beware the hidden cost: amped up anxiety.
Better: Just pay attention to your baby’s unquantified natural cues—crying, fussing, lip-smacking—and respond accordingly. Why let data get between you and your baby?
You save: hundreds of dollars—and gain priceless peace of mind.
Using them is like trying to stick socks on drumsticks—during a rock concert.
Better: For the first few months, use footed bottoms, sleep sacks, swaddling…or let your baby go bare when it’s warm. (Newborns don’t need shoes either, but you already know that.)
You save: $7 to 10.
It’s a race: Will it be stained, matted with spit-up, or outgrown first?
Better: Cashmere for mommies and daddies, please.
You save: $100 to $200+ (per sweater).
A MOSES BASKET
Truly adorbs. But they also a) are decked in soft bedding that’s a safety no-no, b) require lots of bending way over to pick up your baby, and c) are so tiny that they’ll be used as a toy basket or diaper basket soon after your postpartum checkup.
Better: A crib.
You save: $50 to $100+.
All baby formula sold in the U.S. is tightly regulated by the FDA. The familiar brands just spend way more on advertising and marketing, which is passed on to us as a higher cost per can.
Better: Generics and house brands sold at big-box retailers like Walmart and Costco match the brand-name stuff in terms of nutrition, safety, and meeting all manufacturing guidelines. In fact, the big-name manufacturers make most of the generics (same as they do with other food products). Whether generic or branded, the powdered kind is cheapest, and ready-to-pour is most convenient.
You save: $50/month—or $600 in the first year alone.
Crawling isn’t like riding a bike or playing football. Babies are perfectly safe doing it without any special protection. They’re born with all the equipment they need to do it.
Better: If you’re really cringing about scratches, put some pants on. No extra padding necessary. And don’t get us started on “infant safety hats”—a.k.a. helmets for beginning walkers.
You save: $10 to $20.
You’ll be desperate. You’ll want to try anything. Just don’t bother with gripe water, gas drops, colic tablets, aromatherapy essential oils, or homeopathic cures. There’s no cure for colic. If there were, your child’s kind doctor would surely tell you and put you all out of your misery. (If he or she suggests trying a different formula or bottle shape and it works, great—but then it wasn’t colic in the first place.)
Better: Drive aimlessly around the neighborhood in a bid to bring on sleep. Strap on a carrier and dance naked around your living room if the motion and music seem to help. If it’s free, try it. Anything to pass the time until colic miraculously lifts on its own around 3 months.
You save: $10 to $20.
VIDEO BABY MONITOR
Mesmerizing as your baby is, there’s no safety or developmental reason to watch him or her sleep. YOU should be sleeping yourself! Or doing laundry or having grown-up conversation or zoning out with your iPad.
Better: Truth is, you don’t need a monitor. Any monitor. You already own a built-in system: Your baby’s lungs are biologically programmed to cry at a decibel level and tone that parents’ ears and brains are wired to respond to. If your home is vast or your nerves are fragile, stick to an audio-only monitor.
You save: $100.
BABY FOOD MAKER
It purees! It steams! It chops! It blends! But, um, so do appliances-for-all-ages that you probably already have in your kitchen.
Better: Even if you don’t already own a food processor or a blender—or don’t want to invest in the clunky clutter of any large new appliances—you can still safely mix or mash baby food by hand. One helpful tool: an immersion blender, a wand-like blender that’s quick to use and easy to clean.
You save: $60 to $300
A SPECIAL NURSING PILLOW
Generations of womankind somehow managed to feed their babies without one.
Better: Any pillow can help support your baby during feedings—and depending on how you’re holding your baby, the chair you’re in, and your baby’s size, it’s nice to be able to mash pillows into any supportive shape you need. After nine months of pregnancy, we know you have plenty of them lying around.
You save: $40 to 50.
The word alone is a tip-off that these gorgeous classic carriages are a Victorian holdover. The main disadvantages: These buggies take up a lot of room (in your house and out in public) and don’t have a long shelf life—even if you can afford a Mary Poppins to go with it.
Better: Get a travel-system pram or a basic stroller that converts from bed to sitting-up, plus a light foldable umbrella stroller to use once your baby can sit up.
You save: $1,500.
You only need to sterilize feeding equipment once, after buying new bottles. After that, the dishwasher is plenty fine (and easier). This thing just hogs space.
Better: Boil new bottles in a pot on the stove.
You save: $20 to $70+.
This is one of those decorative finishing touches to the nursery that seems like a cute, good idea while you’re waiting for your baby to arrive. Then your baby gets here, with its 10 changes a day, and the stacker becomes an unnecessary bit of busywork, with no reusable purpose after toilet training.
Better: Instead of constantly refilling the thing, just yank a fresh diaper out of the package it comes in.
You save: $20.
They set up an association babies don’t need. There’s no nutritional advantage to a warm bottle either. Meanwhile, your baby gets hungrier and madder while you’re all waiting for the milk to de-chill.
Better: Serve at room temp or cool, no extra equipment necessary.
You save: $25 to $50.
ALL new car seats protect babies in a crash—at any price point—because they’re all required to meet federal safety standards. So you don’t get more safety by paying more. The key difference safety-wise is whether a seat is installed correctly (some 80 percent aren’t!). The extra money just goes to pricier fabrics and extras, like no-rethread harnesses.
Better: Whatever you buy, make sure the type of seat works with your car (it varies), you feel comfortable using it, and especially that you know how to get it in there right. Doubts? Get it checked by a pro. Also see this guide from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Just don’t buy or borrow a used seat, since you can’t be 100 percent sure it hasn’t been in a crash and therefore altered.
You save: $100+.
TEMPERATURE DUCK (WHALE, MALLARD, OCTOPUS, WHATEVER)
Yeah, it’s a small thing…but it’s the principle of the thing. You already have a special device to tell you if your baby’s bath is too hot: It’s called the inside of your wrist.
Better: We have nothing against rubber duckies but would never outsource the common sense of our own quick hand check to a piece of equipment floating around in the tub. (PS: It also helps to set your home’s water-heater thermostat below 118 to 120 degrees F.)
You save: $3.
Let’s face it: Unwarmed wipes aren’t that cold. And even if it’s chilly in the house, your baby’s hiney isn’t going to be flash-frozen or anything.
Better: Save space and time by going straight-from-the-box. They won’t get dried out or moldy either.
You save: $20 to $25.
FEEDING BOWLS WITH SUCTION
The idea is that they’ll stick to the table. Your baby says, “Bwahahahaha!” Splat!
Better: Any cute bowl will do—or put the food right on the tray until bowl management skills advance.
You save: $5 to $20.STROLLER ACCESSORIES
Guess what happens when you kit out a stroller with mirrors, snack trays, pillows, activity bars, insect netting, cup holders, organizers, footmuffs (?!). Your baby will hardly notice! And your stroller just got harder to clean and fold and get a baby in and out of. File under Nice But…Not Necessary.
Better: Attach a few toys to your stroller with stroller links. Rotate different toys to keep things novel and interesting. Bonus: Skipping the food trays and cup holders means your baby won’t start thinking of the stroller as yet another constant feeding op.
You save: $50 or more.
BABY BEDDING SETS
Once upon a time, these were the most fun part of nursery planning. You still see them adorifying dreamy cribs on designer websites. But: SIDS. None of this stuff—the bumpers, the quilts, the matching pillow—is supposed to go in an infant crib.
Better: Have fun picking out lots of sweet fitted sheets (a half dozen or so, more than you think you’ll need) and some sleep sacks.
You save: $70 to $100.
CHOKING HAZARD CHECKER
We can’t crack a joke about the seriousness of not having small bits around that a baby can choke on. Babies mouth everything to learn about it. (That’s why saying “no” is useless.) But you don’t need a special device to alert you to the dangers your eyes can plainly see.
Better: When in doubt, use a toilet-paper roll. (We know you have one handy.) If an object can pass through, it’s too small for your baby.
You save: $10.
SIPPY CUPS WITH STRAWS
They do they job—but they get chewed on and get gross faster than other kinds.
Better: Sippy cups with spouts. Even better (but so messy we don’t have the patience or heart to push it): Start early training your child to just sip from an unlidded cup. Yes, even a toddler can do it.
You save: $7 every time you don’t have to replace one.
We all love her, but there’s nothing developmentally magic about her. And you’ll get ten of them as gifts.
Better: Just wait. An amazing thing happens in a house with a baby: Toys will magically multiply faster than the dust bunnies under the beds.
You save: $25.
Your total savings: At least $6,000, in the first year alone.