I've heard "babies are expensive," my entire life, but what I didn't realize is how much of that expense was optional. Shortly after I found out I was pregnant, my shop went out of business, making my financial situation truly panic worthy. I like every other new mom had my head filled with the "must haves" of the baby world and overspent when I really couldn't afford too. I'm a little older, and wiser now, so I'd like to share how buy for baby, on the cheap.
Unless you have an extra room in your home, don't worry about a nursery. Your baby will be sleeping in a crib for almost eighteen months, and you can set that up anywhere. If money is really tight, don't worry about the crib, invest in a pack and play. Pack and plays sell for under a hundred dollars, have a bassinet attachment, can function as a crib, include a changing table, and storage for diapers and wipes. It's an entire nursery and it's portable! Even that is optional if you choose to co-sleep. If you must have a crib, watch the sales for a four-in-one convertible crib so you can keep the same bed until your kid goes off to college.
Virtually every piece of furniture in the nursery sell on sites like craigslist. Pack and plays, swings, boxes of baby clothes for either gender. You name it, it's on there. I was even able to find an entire lot of themed items for sale for under a hundred dollars. A pack and play, swing, high chair, stroller, umbrella stroller, car seat, bouncer, toys, and bedding. Of course this was after I'd bought every item new. My loss, your gain.
One thing you never want to buy with the intention of using is a used is a car seat. Car seats have to be replaced after they've been involved in an accident, and they expire every five to seven years depending on what type of car seat it is. Due to the frequent recalls, I would also avoid purchasing a crib used. Always check any baby gear or toys sold used for a recall prior to purchase.
For car seats, go for a stroller car seat combo. If you can afford to splurge I would actually suggest the Chico Key Fit infant car seat and stroller combo. It's so easy to get the base in and out of your car its ridiculous. Instead of using those awful metal hooks to hook to your latch system, it has buckles. It also has easy to reach buttons to adjust to your babies strap size. If you can splurge on anything, splurge on that.
Here's how you get your stroller combo cheap:
Watch craigslist or free cycle for the stroller combo you have your heart set on. I've seen them appear on there for as low as $10.00. Now you have a stroller! Chances are at some point in your pregnancy, or very soon after, Toys R Us will be having the great trade in event. Take the used car seat and remove the cover so you have a spare, and trade it in to get twenty-five percent off a new car seat. You can combine that store offer with a manufacturers coupon (not a toys r us coupon), a sale price, and the $10 gift cards toys r us will be sending you once every other month for baby gear. You can do this with your high chair, stroller, pack and play, and crib. Just stock up on car seats from craigslist (use car seats because they shouldn't be sold used anyway, so this way you are not taking away from anyone in need), remove the covers, and trade them in for any item you don't want used.
For diapers, cloth is cheapest, but I don't recommend it until your child is at least three months old. Your child will use so many diapers in the first few months that it will kill any savings and take up all your time. You may burn out and decide to stop cloth diapering for the rest of your babies time in diapers.
In the meantime use amazon.com's subscribe and save program to get fifteen percent off. Join amazon moms for an extra fifteen percent off, and use the coupon you can receive monthly in parent magazine for an extra ten percent off. College students get amazon prime free, so that's free shipping if you still have an active .edu email address. You can also get wipes, laundry detergent, toilet paper, and more.
Do NOT buy diapers until after your child is born. Newborns can come out anywhere from a premie size to size one. In the meantime buy yourself a twenty dollar amazon gift card every month until you have the baby. If you can afford it, buy a one size cloth diaper (I recommend fuzzi bunz) every month for when your child begins to slow down on diapers. You can also find cloth diaper gear used on craigslist.
Breast feeding is free, but your circumstances require you to use formula it is also part of amazons subscribe and save program. Buy a few packs of sleepers with attached gloves and feet and you're good on clothes for months. Save the receipt in case your child is born larger than expected. Your child will be wrapped in blankets until it can crawl and if your friends and family buy you anything, it will be cute baby clothes. Plus you won't have to buy socks (which they will only kick off) or gloves to prevent them from scratching themselves.
Don't bother with bibs. That's another friend and family favorite, and in my experience largely unnecessary for at least six months. The same goes for blankets, some toys, and stuffed animals. They can't use the blankets or the stuffed animals for months, and they won't care about most toys until they are over three months old. Toys you CAN buy include a tummy time mat (or you can use one of the many blankets you will get during the shower) and a car seat bar with dangle toys.
Register for everything. Even if you don't have a lot of family and friends who can afford to buy items from your registry, most stores give you a "complete your registry discount," allowing you to purchase all of your baby items for a discounted price. It also provides a guideline for how much money you need to save before the baby arrives.
Money is tight for everyone right now, so don't fall into the new mom trap. Babies don't require the newest, latest greatest, obscene amounts of nursery gear the toy stores try to tell us we can't live without. When you get caught up in the hype of all the shiny new baby merchandise, remember that the only things babies really need are love, food, and shelter.