I recently found myself at a baby shower and watched as the mother-to-be opened scores of gifts. I've never seen so much useless loot in my life. I can tell you from personal experience that most baby gear — especially stuff for newborns — isn't necessary. In fact, after my second baby was born I managed to get by with just five items. Here's my list:
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1. Car Seat
There's no getting around it. You simply can't get by without a car seat. And unlike other items that you can buy used, safety experts recommend that you purchase a new one for your baby.
Even if you decide to co-sleep with your newborn, you'll eventually want him to snooze behind bars. Keep in mind that cribs are constantly getting recalled, so you'll want to stay on top of the latest news and buy one with fixed sides.
Strollers are a bit like cars. You can't really survive without one. But the good news is that you can spend as little or as much as you want on a set of wheels. My personal recommendation is to start off with a frame (which costs about $55) for the infant seat. Then buy something more substantial once your child reaches six months and you have a better handle on your needs.
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4. Bouncie Seat
There's no doubt a child can survive without a bouncie seat. But it sure is nice to have someplace to put your baby while you're mixing bottles or want to give your back a break.
5. Baby Bottles
Even if you breast feed, you may decide to give your child expressed milk in a baby bottle. But that doesn't mean you need to go out and buy ones that hold just two or four ounces. In just a couple of months your infant will start drinking six ounces and those petite bottles will become obsolete.
Of course, you'll also need clothing, formula and diapers. But I didn't include these on the list since I don't consider them baby gear.
What about other so-called necessities? You're probably thinking I forgot about the changing table. Nope. I ended up changing my daughter's diapers on a towel on the bed. Now that she's over six months, I decided to place a changing pad on top of a dresser.
I don't even think you need an infant tub. Your kitchen or bathroom sink is the perfect size for a little one's bath. And by the time he or she outgrows the basin, you can just transfer him or her into your regular bathtub.
I'll admit that when a baby reaches six months, you'll need a few other items. A high chair is useful. You'll also want some books and other developmentally appropriate toys. But, again, there's no reason to spend tons of money. If you ask around, you probably have friends with older kids who are just dying to give you their slightly used gear. This is how I scored a Baby Einstein exersaucer.
So what should you do with all the money you'll save not buying baby gear? The answer is simple: open a college savings account and start investing for your son or daughter's future.
Think my list is too extreme? What infant items can't you live without?
For more financial tips for babies, check out my book, The Wall Street Journal. Financial Guidebook for New Parents.