Newborn Essentials Checklist: Save money with just the baby basics

The pretty pregnant lady zapping a bazilion baby products with her barcode scanner was driving me batty. Four crib bedding sets, three baby monitors (one with video and a Wi-Fi remote), two highchairs, and one hundred too many pieces of newborn clothing all rounded out her insane baby registry at Babies’R’Us. (Don’t ask me to flip that ‘R’ backwards.)

baby sleeper

But backwards was this first time mom-to-be’s gift list. Being a new mom myself, I wanted to shake her silly and tell her what stuff I really used and needed during those first few months. Then I remembered — no new mom wants unsolicited parenting advice, and it’s not nice to shake pretty pregnant ladies.

newborn essentials checklist
Free Download: Newborn Essentials Checklist

I still wanted to yell: “YOU DON’T NEED FOUR DIAPER STACKERS! Where are your dang receiving blankets? Stop scanning $400 crib bedding sets! SAVE YOUR MONEY!”

But I bit my lip, watched in disbelief as she scanned crazy expensive stuff, and swore I’d create a Newborn Essentials Checklist to save my thrifty readers some big money before bringing home baby.

‘Cause despite some first time parents’ beliefs, a newborn baby only needs stuff relating to five basic human needs: sleeping, eating, keeping warm, getting clean, and love.

Your baby doesn’t care about designer brands, matching booties for every outfit, and whether your gear is new or used. Seriously. Your baby just wants to keep you awake all night long, eat on demand, and keep you awake all night long!

With this in mind, you might be surprised by how few baby items you really need during the first three months. So aim your barcode scanners in the right direction with my Baby Essentials Checklist, a guide for thrifty parents just interested in the baby basics.

Baby Clothes — The Layette

New parents tend to go ‘gaga’ over newborn clothing. I’ve seen teenie tiny dresses, brand name jeans, and dozens of designer sleepers in the shopping carts of many expectant parents — “Only the best for my baby,” seems to be the sentiment. The reality is those newborns grow fast, and stocking up on too much tiny newborn gear can spell disaster if your baby is born around the 8lb mark and the newborn clothing does not fit!

baby clothes list

Don’t believe me? I’ve sourced plenty of unused newborn clothing by finding well-intentioned parents who bought too much. Great for me. Bad for those new parents now scrambling to pay for 3-month sleepers after the first month. Here are a few tips on how to save money on newborn clothing:

How to save money on Baby Clothing:

baby boy clothes

1. Buy 20% new, source 80% used. Resist the urge to buy everything new, and stock up on USED baby essentials first. My rule of thumb is to find 80% used for daily use, and buy 20% new for special outings. There’s a huge market for used baby clothing — it’s been used only a few months after all! Join Facebook groups, check out Craigslist, and ask your parenting friends — chances are you’ll score BAGS of used newborn clothing for cheap. Many seasoned parents just want to get rid of their stuff, and might even part with it for free.

used baby clothes

2. Embrace baby clothing stains. Think your baby won’t stain their new sleepers? Think again. I gladly accepted any used sleeper with a spot or two to save serious money. My baby didn’t care. Launder. Barf. Save money. Repeat.

baby clothes used

3. Wait for the birth weight. Sure, go ahead and buy a few new pieces before your baby is born, but knowing your baby’s birth weight before you buy into a big shopping trip can help you choose sizes that will fit longer than a few days.

Baby Clothing Essentials:

Just the essentials, people.

baby girl clothes

  • 6-8 one-piece sleepers (zippers or snaps, your choice!)
  • 2 pairs of scratch mittens
  • 2 newborn hats
  • 6-8 onesies (a mix of short and long sleeves)
  • 2 pairs of stretchy pants
  • 2 hoodie jackets (love these)

baby clothes hoodie

  • 4 pairs of socks (keeps tiny toes warm)
  • 2 special dress-up outfits (for leaving hospital, visiting grandparents)
  • 1 large blanket
  • 8-12 receiving blankets (great for swaddling, and use as bibs or burp cloths)
  • Winter Babies: Snowsuit or bunting bag.
  • Summer Babies: Wide brimmed sun hat.

baby snowsuit

I’d also highly recommend switching to a scent-free, dye-free laundry detergent. I’ve been using (and loving) Nellie’s All Natural Laundry Soda for all my baby clothing and cloth diapers. Pick up a massive tub of the stuff for cheap at Costco.

Bath Time: Getting Baby Clean

Little babies can sure make big messes. Here’s what you need to get every chunky nook and chubby foot clean.

  • 1 plastic infant tub — buy used. (Or stick a large bowl in your sink. Also, you can bathe together with baby)
  • 1 hooded towel
  • 15 washcloths (Great for baths and wiping up spit-up)
  • Baby wash (can be used for hair and body)

Diapering

I crunched the nappy numbers and did the diaper math. Turns out cloth diapers could save your family $1,799 with one child. Check out Price Check: Are cloth diapers worth it? for the science (’cause I like science).

Price Check: Are cloth diapers worth it?

Babies & Kids

Price Check: Are cloth diapers worth it?

Bet your bottom dollar – choosing cloth diapers over disposables could save your family $1,799 with one child.

Read More »

I also shared how you can build a cloth diaper stash on a tight budget with many different cloth diapering systems.

How to build a cloth diaper stash on any budget

Babies & Kids

How to build a cloth diaper stash on any budget

What type of cloth diapers should you buy? I share the winners and losers based on price, convenience, and a little experience.

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Cloth Diapers Checklist

Yep, I’m an advocate of cloth nappies. πŸ™‚ Here’s all you need:

Total cost is around $155 — far less than disposables.

Disposable Diapers Checklist

  • 2 boxes of newborn diapers (Don’t stock up on newborn sizes — your little one might grow fast)
  • 1 diaper pail
  • Baby ointment or diaper rash cream
  • Disposable wipes

Optional Diapering Accessories:

diaper bag

  • Change table (I used my Pack ‘N Play or the top of a dresser)
  • Diaper bag
  • 1 diaper change pad

Feeding

Since we adopted our baby girl, we used bottles and formula. I asked my breastfeeding friends what they needed to feed their babies.

baby bottle

Bottle and formula feeding:

I found the best value by buying a bottle starter kit which included the bottle warmer, bottle sterilizer, and bottle brush in the deal. Buy everything separate and you may pay a lot more.

  • 6-8 four-ounce bottles with nipples
  • 6 eight-ounce bottles with nipples
  • Bottle brush
  • 2-4 bibs

Breastfeeding essentials:

  • Nursing pillow (nice to have)
  • Breast pads (reusable or disposable)
  • A few moms loved their breast pump and milk storage containers.
  • 2-4 bibs

Sleeping

Choosing a sleeping arrangement these days seems akin to prescribing to a parenting style. Attachment parenting types advocate co-sleeping, while others prefer bassinets, cribs, or Pack ‘N Plays. The choices are mind-blogging for something as seemingly simple as putting your baby to bed.

We used this Pack ‘N Play (with bassinet and changer) for the first 4.5 months, and loved it. For under $170 you’ll have several needs (sleep, play, diapering, storage) covered by one piece of gear. Later, just remove the basinet and changer and take the play area to the grandparents. I don’t regret the purchase.

But essentially, you’ll need to choose from the following:

I’ll be writing about my crib-buying experience in an upcoming post.

Health and Safety Essentials

I can’t let you skip out on these heath and safety items.

infant car seat

ear thermometer

  • Infant car seat (buy new)
  • Ear thermometer (check temperature while baby sleeps)
  • Nail emery board (easier than using scissors)

A few final nice-to-haves

Got a friend with this baby gear on hand? Go ahead and ask to borrow these items before committing to buy. All kids are different, and yours may hate the stroller but love the baby carrier.

beco baby carrier

Better to know before plunking down your cash for something your baby won’t use. Since many parents own the gear on this list, it’s pretty darn easy to buy it all used. I did. Well, I bought the pacifers and teething toys new. πŸ˜‰

binky

  • Sling or baby carrier (buy used)
  • Stroller (buy used)
  • Vibrating chair (buy used)
  • Swing (buy used)
  • Activity center (buy used)
  • Books for baby
  • Teething toy (Sophie the Giraffe is a very popular choice).
  • Stroller or car seat toy
  • 2 Pacifiers

That’s my baby essentials list. What did I miss?

Love,
Kerry

Your two cents:

  1. Carol Johnson December 20th, 2013

    I love this article and I have also seen new moms go crazy at babies’R’Us. I understand that it is exciting and everything look so inviting and too cute but you are right that you only need a few thing the first 3 months. They grow so fast and they will out grow the cloths before they can have a chance to wear them if you but a lot. Great checklist to go buy especially for new moms who don’t have a clue.

  2. Alexis Mascitti February 25th, 2014

    Great advice, but why are you assuming that those of use who are using disposables would necessarily be using disposable wipes as well? We use disposable diapers and washcloths for wiping! (the stuff they put in those wipes is brutal on baby bums, as a pediatrician, I support either cloth or disposable diapers, but I counsel all parents to stay away from pre-wetted disposable wipes)

  3. Karen February 26th, 2014

    Good point. My children are all grown (20’s). I saved a reusable container that had wipes I received at a baby shower and filled it with wet baby facecloths. I would put the dirty ones in plastic bag along with the soiled diapers and washed them together. I had rubber pants for over the cloth diapers (not so many leaks ) Do they still make those?

  4. Cor March 21st, 2014

    I am sooooo envious of the Finns! πŸ™‚

    KT – thanks so much for this list. I’m expecting in 3 months and have never been a maternal/baby person so all this is new and slightly surreal to me. Plus my partner & I have just bought a farm in Tasmania, and that is where all our energy and time is going, no time for much research and reading about baby stuff (that said, he’s reading ‘The Dream Baby Guide’ recommended by friends for when the bub is 6months on). And definitely no money to splurge on new stuff. Whatever we can get for free/secondhand, is what the baby will get πŸ™‚

    A no nonsense, budget approach to baby essentials is THE ESSENTIAL!

    Your explanation on the different washable nappies is greatly appreciated too! I have a cousin giving me a lot of her washable nappy stuff, of various makes, and it helps to understand what the heck I am looking at.

    Cheers

  5. Amanda March 31st, 2014

    If you want to save on wipes, but don’t want to wash fabric ones, there are several “recipes” online for making your own wipes out of paper towels. They are super easy to make and just as easy to use and traditional disposable wipes.

  6. Jennifer May 2nd, 2014

    Excellent list! Thank you so much for putting this together. I’m pregnant with my third child but it’s been 6 years since my last baby and I pretty much forgot everything there is to know about babies. This list will be a huge help to me.

  7. Sasha May 20th, 2014

    @Alexis: Disposable diapers are filled with carcinogens and other toxins, including those linked with TSS. Disposable wipes are not the only thing you should be warning parents about. How can any person, much less a pediatrician, honestly think these are safe to put on a baby’s bum?

  8. Karen May 31st, 2014

    I have never heard of any child having TSS from diapers in my 30 plus years as a parent, even with tampons you have to use them for extraordinary length of time,using an absorbency that is to high for flow. I would hope no one leaves their child’s diaper on that long. Any substance on earth is toxic if ingested in large amounts including everyday foods. Don’t be scared by everything as a parent. Parenting is hard enough as it is. I read and hear so many alarming facts these days ,I wonder where commonsense has gone. All three of my first children used some disposible diapers and some cloth diapers.My last (a set of twins ,now 16) wore only Pampers. (My oldest is 33 yrs). I also have 3 grandchildren who wore only disposibles. None have cancer or Tss. All my children were potty trained by 2.5 yrs. The youngest at 18 months(her choice) her diapers were dry and she kept removing them and took training pants out of her own dresser and put them on. Smart little bug. There are MUCH bigger things to worry about as you move through your parenting years. Do not feel guilty if you use disposible diapers or cannot breastfeed. A relaxed happy mom is better for baby.

  9. sophie June 12th, 2014

    My girlfriends put in together and brought me a Baby Setup box, it was the ultimate baby checklist in the one box. All the little bits and pieces I needed.

    Best gift ever, saved me time running around and money and I was ready for my baby. I used everything in the box and didn’t need buy anything extra for hospital or the nursery.

    I totally recommend it to all my pregnant girlfriends and always suggest it as a Baby Shower gift because I appreciated it so much.

    The best bit is it’s about a 15kg box delivered to your door and it costs about the same amount as rrp. (it was a life saver for me) The website is http://www.babysetup.com.au

  10. alicia June 16th, 2014

    Thanks so much for the list! We’re on little boo #2, but between a five-year age gap, a different gender baby, a couple of moves, the ceiling falling in (literally), and vandalism while workers fixed the aforementioned ceilings we have lost A LOT of our usable baby stuff from the first time around. So yeah. Definitely needed a good baby basics list. Again, thank you!!!

    I haven’t read all the comments, so someone might have mentioned this already, but you didn’t mention a baby monitor on your list, which, in most average-sized living spaces, is a must-have. Especially, if your place is larger or has two or more levels. We have a long hallway between our living space and little girl’s bedroom. When the TV is on, it can be very difficult to hear her, even with the volume down. Not so big a deal with a 5-yr-old, but you definitely want to KNOW when your newborn is calling, even if your parenting style bids you to pause a moment to see if they will settle.

    Thanks again.

  11. Brailey August 15th, 2014

    I would add Vaseline if you are having a boy and plan to have him circumsized. Also on the receiving blankets, I would start with one or two or just the hospitals ones to see if your baby even likes being swaddled, and if so skip the cheaper ones and buy the more expensive ones bc you will be able to use them for much longer! I bought the $30 pack of 4 and used with my son till he was about 9 months or so, he is almost two now and although I don’t swaddle him anymore he still sleeps with one every night, thy are now a security item. When he was little he had very bad colic so swaddling was a life saver and the small receiving blankets always came undone, and when you have a colicky baby that’s the last thing you want once you get them to sleep!! 35 weeks with my 3rd and I have gotten rid of all the receiving blankets and will only use the swaddling ones, the others just took up space. And I think a changing table is a waste of money, we have a really nice one, had it for almost 5 years now and I think we used it for about 3 diaper changes, it is so much easier to change them on the bed or on a blanket on the floor. And if breast feeding I would wait to buy bottles, neither of my kids ever took a bottle and we wasted a bunch of money on them! Of course if you will not be a SAHM you will need some, but just buy one or two and get different kinds bc you never know what kind they will like. Thankfully my sister in law and I have had all boys and we have passed everything back and forth, the infant carseat was used for 5 kids and had lasted till it expired, and we have only bought one outfit for boy #3 and its his coming home outfit. Do the same if you have family or close friends with kids, so worth it!!

  12. Raymond November 19th, 2014

    New born baby clothes

  13. Vicki January 1st, 2015

    My daughter is expecting her second child, this time a boy. What I find amazing is that my grandmother had 6 children, all at home births, no electricity or running water, and raised them with little more than a few outfits apiece. One of my aunts told me that she used a dresser drawer for her daughter (one of my cousins) as a bassinet. What today’s parents should realize is that all these “things” are really not important. It’s the love you can give your child and, by saving money when your children are young, you might be able to give them money when they are getting ready to go out on their own and/or pay for their college education. Both of my children were clothed from thrift stores until their teen years and everyone always commented how great they always looked not knowing their outfits were thrift store purchases. We were able to pay for both of their college educations and give each a down payment for each of their homes. Those “things” meant more to them than anything we could have bought for them when they were young and, believe me, they lacked for nothing!

  14. Valeria March 21st, 2015

    Thank you!!! Loved this list! Im 3 1/2 months pregnant with my first baby and have gotten overwhelmed thinking about registries and all the baby items out there now! But I completely agree that its not logically or financially reasonable to go crazy and buy so many things when the first 6 months all the baby is going to do is sleep, eat and poop! I figure to start off with your suggested items and then once the baby turns One then get some more of the cute and fun stuff!

  15. Dorcas May 20th, 2015

    Good advice Kerry. But where do I get some of these used clothes and all that i will need. Please help this is my first time.

  16. Mike May 24th, 2015

    I love your baby checklist and find it as a great bare-minimum guideline. I do have a question about cloth diapers. Do they really save you money, time, and stress? If I stuck with the recommended list of necessities for cloth diapers I would have to wash them every 2 days. That seems like something I wouldn’t want to make time to do. Also, my partner is against using cloth diapers but I’m all for them IF are savers. What is your take how much water is used, the time it takes to clean them, and the added stress of having to clean them every two days? I would love to hear your opinion and more about your experience! I hope your girl is doing well!

  17. Chelsealynn July 6th, 2015

    Hi!
    Thank you for making this list. Any advice for a newbie with cloth diapering???

  18. Rae August 3rd, 2015

    Cloth diapers–no matter how many you buy you Need to wash every 3 days or sooner. I bought 24. 8 a day for 3 days then wash. It comes to one medium sized load. If you wait longer than 3 days they get nasty in the pail. Also I used a dry pail…just buy a kitchen size trash can. Get a reusable vinyl pail bag from like diaper junction online. Put the bag in the trash can and after you change the baby just scrape or fling poop into the toilet. They make plastic sticks to scrape with…gdiapers makes scrapers. You can also get a sprayer to rinse poop into the toilet. Then toss diapers into pail. Launder every 2 to 3 days on hot cycle and tumble dry low. Easy.

  19. Maria March 1st, 2016

    Great list Kerry! (We even own the same two hoodies you have pictured) We really really enjoyed borrowing the newborn clothing and other bigger items (bumbo, play mat, swing…) because we were able to just give it back when we were finished! Nothing taking up precious storage that way

  20. Dee April 10th, 2016

    Love this list. Mom of 5 here and let me say freecycle.com, friends with older children and consignment shops will save you a ton. Save your money for the car seat and a few special items(coming home or holiday outfits). You “need” very little to keep a newborn healthy and happy.

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