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Children don't need much

Being a parent of two means playing the part of occasional mentor to my soon-to-be-a-parent friends.  In fact, no less than 5 of my friends will have welcomed their first child into the world this year and each of them has come to me at some time with questions about how to prepare.

Most often, I’m asked a general question such as, “What’s it like?” or “Were you scared?”  Sometimes I’ll be asked something more useful like, “What brand of diapers do you prefer?”  But no one has asked me the most important question, “How can I make preparing for baby less expensive?” If one of them were finally ask me this, here’s what I’d tell them to avoid:

Burp Cloths

I was amazed at the things one of my friends put on her baby registry, but the one thing that really caught my eye was a set of 2 “designer” burp cloths for $14.  Seriously?  $7 for a 27 square inch piece of colored material on which your child will be depositing various bodily fluids?  That’s a big waste of money.

Instead of spending that much (or asking other people to by putting it on your registry), consider buying cloth diapers.  For $11, you can buy a pack of 12 cotton cloth diapers that will literally last you for years and serve a number of purposes. We bought 36 diapers before our first daughter was born and they’ve seen way more than $30 worth of use.  They’ve served as burp cloths, backup diapers, mild day nap blankets, bibs for messy meals, and so much more.  Just avoid single-purpose burp cloths altogether and save your money.

Diaper Genie

Diapers stink, but they’re not that bad.  You honestly get used to many of the smelly, messy substances your child creates very quickly because you have to.  Paying $40 for a glorified garbage pail and then $6 per “refill” of trash bags is quite literally throwing your money away.  Before the birth of our first child, we got a second-hand Diaper Champ at a garage sale for $5 and that uses regular kitchen-size trash bags. It doesn’t smell, it locks the diapers away safely, and it’s simple enough to use that my 2-year-old can throw her own diapers away.  And since the birth of our second child, we’ve been content to throw (non-stinky) diapers in the covered kitchen trash can rather than take up space in the diaper pail.  You just don’t need an expensive setup to dispose of your child’s disposables.

Baby Wipe Warmers

Baby wipe warmers are one of those things that clever marketers came up with to make parents think they’re doing something good for their child.  All it does is sit there and waste electricity keeping disposable wet wipes slightly warmer than room temperature until you whip one out to clean up your messy child. This one gets double negative points for wasting your money up-front and wasting electricity (and money) over time.  That wet wipe you’re holding is going to be in contact with your child’s skin on average no more than 5 seconds before it is thrown away in favor of a fresh, clean wipe.  Do you think it’s going to make a huge difference to your child if it’s 72 degrees or 95?

Name Brand Clothes

Have you ever heard of one infant commenting that her playmate’s clothes are “so last year” and “definitely not designer”?  Your kid won’t know the difference between a $2 white onesie and one that costs three times as much because of its “name brand” label – and neither will his playmates. There’s nothing wrong with looking good, but if you’re spending more on your child’s wardrobe than on their future education, you need to get your vanity in check.

Along that same line, you would also be smart to avoid buying new clothes whenever possible.  Most children will outgrow their clothes long before they wear them out and money that’s spent on an outfit that will get worn maybe 10 times should be spent wisely.  Goodwill and other thrift and consignment stores are a great place to find quality children’s clothes.  Your child is going to soil its clothes in every imaginable way – would you rather get a shopping bag full of good clothes for $10 or two brand new shirts for that same price?

Baby Shoes

They may look cute, but baby shoes are a waste.  At home, shoes aren’t needed (and should be avoided to aid in baby’s motor skills and development) and when going out, the baby won’t be walking anyway.  With the tremendous growth spurts your child will have over its first year, you’ll be lucky if they even scuff their shoes before they outgrow them.

As long as your child is still traveling by a carry-along car seat, they really don’t need shoes anyway.  Socks and a blanket should be sufficient for most situations.  If you must have shoes for an occasion, I recommend picking up some slip-on booties for under $10.  They come in many stylish designs, they are easy to get on the baby’s squirmy feet, and you won’t be broken-hearted (or broken-walleted) when your child invariably loses a shoe or outgrows them.

New Furniture

Your first instinct when setting up your child’s nursery might be to head to your nearest baby-centric store and scope out all the great baby furniture they have.  You could easily drop over $1,000 on a crib, changing table, and matching wardrobe or dresser if you were to buy there on the spot.  Instead of rushing out and gathering up all the newest and best furniture you can find, take your time and scour garage sales first. We got just about everything we needed to outfit our daughter’s nursery for $150 at a neighbor’s yard sale.  You’ll want to have a good eye for safety and double-check for recalled items, but you can easily get everything you need for a fraction of the baby store’s retail price.

That $40 Mobile

Just because a mobile is expensive and looks good to you doesn’t mean your child will like it.  We made that mistake with our first daughter.  We loved the musical animal mobile we bought her but she wasn’t interested in it.  Trying to learn from past mistakes, my wife purchased an new mobile for our second daughter using points she earned through a survey program, but we believe even it wouldn’t have been worth the $20 at retail.

If you’re feeling creative, you can save money and do something loving for your child by building your own baby mobile. That way you can easily and cheaply change it if your child becomes disinterested in the scenes you picked out.

Electronic Toys

Not only do your kids not need some flashy gizmo that talks to them as they play with it, you’ll quickly be searching for its off button to save yourself from its annoying chatter.  As soon as your child is able to grasp things, they’ll be more interested in making noises themselves by talking or shaking a rattle.  Your child needs to learn how to self-stimulate and not be dependent on artificial, electronic baby sitters. When they’re little, a rattle or two and a pacifier will be sufficient to entertain them.  As they grow, blocks, books, and your pots and pans will be their new toys.

Save Your Money for What Matters

There’s no denying that children are expensive, but many new and to-be parents make it way more expensive than it needs to be.  Keep things simple and look for bargains where you can.  Your children won’t suffer for lack of the “newest and best”.

What else do you think is a waste of money?  Do you think I missed something?  Am I wrong calling something a waste?  Tell me in the comments!