How We Got Ready for a Newborn for Under $350

How We Got Ready for a Newborn for Under $350

What Does Getting Ready for a Baby Really Cost?

According to one popular baby website, you can currently expect to spend about $2,000 on everything you “need” for your nursery furnishings. The most reasonable article I could find featuring photographic proof that their nursery wasn’t totally depressing came in around $400 for nursery furnishings (this was on a budget/frugality site).  These nursery set-ups did not include what was spent on clothing, blankets, baby-feeding supplies, diapers, wipes, baby monitors, etc.

It would seem (from the limited internet research I managed to slog through) that we as a country spend $20 billion or more on baby products every year.  We as individuals can apparently expect to spend $3,000 – $8,000 just getting things ready for our little angel before they arrive, and $12,000 on them for the first year after their arrival.

Thinking Outside the Baby Industry Box

When we knew we were going to have a baby around, I set out to prove to myself – and everyone else – that it is very possible to have fun with ‘nesting’ and to set up an adorable and functional environment for a new munchkin for very little money and without acquiring a bunch of pointless clutter.

It’s relevant to note here that we never had a baby shower or any sort of party for our baby’s arrival (so we never had a registry) nor did we have any baby stuff stored from previous babies. All the things I list here as getting for free were literally just free (second-hand) from people who no longer wanted them. The items were mostly found by me on social media in local parenting groups. I’ve heard great things about Buy Nothing groups too.

So before you strike out to buy anything new, get on your local Craigslist page and social media pages and ask for what you want. Offer to pick things up at the owner’s convenience, and send a nice thank-you note or text message for any big-ticket stuff you get for free. You’ll be amazed how many people have decent stuff that they just want out of their way. Also please make sure you share the love and re-donate those items when you are done with them.

We did get some little gifts here and there (thanks, Grandmas – we love you!), and I’m sure you will too, but gifts should not be expected or necessary for your baby-prep plan.

Newborn baby in cradle with blanket and stuffed toy cheetah
Every item in this picture was free.

The So-Called “Must-Haves” for a New Baby

Here is a list of so-called “must-haves” for your new baby, which I compiled from internet searches. Turns out many of the online lists are similar. I have added my notes so you can see what we did to get ready for J, versus what the internet told us we should have done.

8 onesies <- Yes. You can cover all your infant clothing needs with less than ten onesies. Get some with feet and some with hand covers. Get a variety of thickness/warmth of material. Baby can sleep in the same onesies plus the swaddle. We got all our baby clothes for free.
8 undershirts <- I don’t even know what an infant undershirt is, so… No.
8 one-piece pajamas <- No. Get some swaddles (muslin blankets or a velcro swaddle). Max of 2-3, max cost $30 brand new. We swaddled J with the hospital blankets for months.
2 blanket sleepers for winter <- No. See above.
3 sweaters and/or jackets <- You need one puffy onesie (with hand and foot covers) if you live where it gets cold. That is all. Ours was Arctix brand, less than $40 brand-new.

Baby in winter puffy onesie
Puffy onesie with built-in covers for hands and feet, less than $40 new.

3 dress-up outfits <- No. You can get a onesie that has a tie or skirt on it.
7 pairs of socks and/or booties <- Socks and booties are pointless. Your baby will lose them or try to eat them. Get onesies with feet on them.
3 hats (broad-brimmed for a summer baby, soft cap that covers ears for a winter baby) <- We had one hat with a brim (free). If it was cold enough for a winter hat, baby went in his puffy onesie.
No-scratch mittens <- Maybe. We never used these. You can get onesies with hand covers.
Fleece suit for winter <- No. Puffy onesie for the win.

Crib, cradle, or bassinet <- We got a solid wood crib on craigslist for $40 which we didn’t use until 6 months in because J was addicted to his “Rock n Play” (free from a friend). One of my best friends just used a Pack n Play, and her kids slept in that from birth until they were ready for twin-size beds.

Baby in crib.
J not caring that his crib was second-hand.

Firm, flat mattress that fit snugly in crib <- We did buy this new for about $50.
Rocking or arm chair <- Not necessary. Get it for free if you want one.
Baby monitor <- We got the sound-only kind (shocking in this world of video, right?). $30.
Nightlight <- Nope.
Dresser <- Got an old one free. Sanded and painted it ourselves with paint we had. Also got a bunch of plastic storage drawers/organizers free.
Toy basket <- No. You already own storage containers that are full of junk you should have thrown out years ago. Use one of those.
Baby bedding <- I’m not ever sure what this is, but it’s always listed separately from mattress covers and sheets. You don’t need it.
Nursery decor <- Free from other parents! You can also ask your artsy friends to paint or draw you some cool stuff.
Baby books <- Free. Or borrow them from the library.

ABC artwork
Gorgeous artwork – handmade by a friend – for the nursery wall.

3 washable crib mattress pads <- Why three? We have one. $20 or less brand new.
4 fitted crib sheets <- You need one, maybe two crib sheets. $10 or less total.
6 receiving blankets <- You can get these for free. All parents of toddlers have receiving blankets that they don’t need or want any more. These were what we used for swaddling for months.
2 heavier blankets (for colder climates) <- We have one heavy blanket, and it was free. Your infant should not have loose blankets around when they are sleeping anyway. We use it in the carseat. J just chews on the tag and doesn’t keep the blanket on him.

Diapers <- We still use disposable (and buy in bulk), but cloth diapers are cheaper. Get whatever diapers you will use in bulk. $30 for a one-month+ supply.

As soon as you are ready to sleep-train, you’ll want Huggies OverNites with liners so your munchkin can do 10-12 hours without you having to worry about a leaky diaper.

Changing table or cushioned changing pad, with safety strap or railing <- Nope. We used a travel changing pad (got two free) or a towel for the first 6 months of J’s life. You can change your baby on a couch or bed or on the floor or even outdoors (whaaaat?). Please don’t be that person who complains every time there’s not a changing table available.

Diaper pail and liners <- Nope. Diapers go in the regular (covered) kitchen trash can.
Diaper bag <- We use a backpack.
Diaper cream <- Yes. $5.
Baby wipes <- Yes. You can get a whole mess of these for cheap when you buy in bulk. $20 for a 1-month+ supply.
Soft washcloths <- This seems to imply you need wash cloths for diaper changes. I haven’t found that to be the case. If it is, you already own wash cloths. Your kid will not care whether they have fun animals on them or not.

Baby bathtub <- No. You have a sink. If you really need a baby tub, get a used one for free or cheap.
Baby soap <- Yes. You can get soap/shampoo combined. Max $10 for a bottle that will last months.
Baby shampoo <- See above.
4 soft towels or hooded baby towels <- You have towels already.
Baby hairbrush <- If you want. We haven’t used one yet and we’re 8 months in.
Soft washcloths <- Why does this show up multiple times in the same baby lists? You have washcloths. Don’t buy more.
Gentle laundry detergent <- Sure, if you want. We used regular detergent. White vinegar works great for things that get soiled to the point of being stinky, and it’s crazy cheap.

I never breastfed, so none of the following three things applied to us, although it would have been a helluva lot cheaper than formula feeding in the long run:
Milk storage bags
Nursing pillow

16 bottles and nipples, 4oz and 8oz sizes <- We got most of our bottles for free. The few we bought later as J got bigger were less than $2 each. The most we’ve ever had at our house at one time was 8, and he was exclusively bottle-fed from birth. I have no idea what one would do with 16 baby bottles.
Bottle brush <- Yes. $3
Dishwasher basket for small items <- Nope. We hand wash anything that can’t go straight into the dishwasher.
8 bibs <- Nope. We’re 8 months in and we’ve never really used bibs. You certainly don’t need them in the first few months.
Burp cloths <- Nope. Just use the receiving blankets discussed above.
4 pacifiers <- Try to skip these, and count yourself lucky if you can. Breaking pacifier habits is a beast.
Formula (if not nursing) <- Yep.  A 34oz container of fancy brand-name, GMO-free formula powder is $40-ish when bought in bulk.

Baby nail clippers or blunt scissors <- Same clippers we use for ourselves.
Baby thermometer <- Same thermometer we use for ourselves.
Petroleum jelly and sterile gauze (for circumcision care) <- Sure, if you don’t already have these in your first aid kit. $10 max.
First aid kit <- You should already have this, because you’re an adult.

Infant or convertible car seat <- Free.
Stroller <- Free.
Infant carrier <- Free. We loved this one even for long walks and hikes. Used it for almost a year before we needed something sturdier and graduated to a used Kelty Backcountry carrier.
Baby swing or bouncer <- Not necessary. We got a bouncer for free and a swing for cheap when J was in the 4-6 month range. His first play mat (the kind with hanging toys over it and things that light up and make music, which we bought around 2-3 months) was $5 from Goodwill in perfect condition.
High chair <- Free.

Baby in carseat
Safety and cuteness in a free carseat.

Birth announcements <- Free because social media and email exist.
Newborn photographer <- We might be terrible parents, but we almost never do professional photos with our kids. We only did it once with C, and he had a fever and was miserable (but looked great – many thanks to Justin Capp Photography). That photo is framed on our wall. It will likely stay there and be our only professional photo until J is old enough to notice that he’s not in it.

The Summary of What We Spent

So there you have it. The grand total we spent to get ready for J and through the first few weeks of his life was $344.

Numbers document of expenses
What we spent getting ready for J.

Add a few more canisters of formula and few more diapers and wipes, and you have what we spent on the first few months.

Recommended Reading

You need to stay well away from the baby-related fear-mongering and mommy wars on the internet. In my opinion, every parent should read the following books (get them used or from your library) for both instruction and inspiration:

Bringing Up Bébé

On Becoming Baby Wise

Secrets of the Baby Whisperer

Little Heathens

Keeping the Right Mindset

Remember that this is not about being cheap or denying yourself or your kids a good life. This about figuring out what you really need instead of letting advertisers tell you what you need. This is about putting your money where it matters in an effort to reduce debt, irresponsible consumerism, and waste. And this is about teaching your older kids that fun seasons in life (births, graduations, moving, job promotions, weddings, etc.) do not have to be celebrated by lighting money on fire and requesting that everyone you know buys you presents.

Important note: This article assumes that since you are reading a blog geared toward modern-day professionals, you already have your ducks in a row regarding proper insurance for you and your dependents. If you do not, please please please go do that, preferably before you have a kid.

This is, of course, all about the cost of baby stuff. There will probably be mommy-care stuff you will want as well, which would be a great discussion for another time.

And if you are reading this because you are expecting a little one: CONGRATULATIONS!  I hope you find great joy in this new adventure!

(March 2023 update: if you adjust that $350 for inflation, it is about $420 in today’s dollars.) 

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