What Do New Parents Really Need?

If you ask baby boomers how parenting has changed over the years, many can name a host of once-safe practices that have since been outlawed.

People from my mother’s generation talk about how, as babies, they rode in the front seat of their family car without a car seat. And my mother often jokes about shrouding us in thick, heavy blankets surrounded by stuffed animals when we slept as infants — a huge no-no in today’s world.

Infant safety has improved dramatically over the years, but at a cost. Where parents once winged it and took care of their babies as best they could, today’s parents must sort through a multitude of safety-themed and “necessary” baby items and contraptions to figure out what they really need. And while some baby gear has led to dramatic improvements in child safety or the ability to transport small children (e.g., car seats and strollers), other newfangled baby items appear to be of questionable value and utility (e.g., wipe warmers).

What do new parents really need? This list aims to shed some light on the subject:

Basic Baby Clothes

Shopping at Babies ‘R’ Us might lead you to believe your baby needs a bikini, a robe, 40 kinds of shoes, and their own formalwear. But newborns only need the basics.

Start with five to 10 long-sleeved onesies, five pairs of soft, cotton pants, some short-sleeved tops, baby socks, nightgowns or pajamas, and bibs. Once you figure out what your baby is most comfortable in, you can expand his or her wardrobe to include additional outfits.

And don’t make the mistake of buying everything in newborn size; buy at least a handful of items in 0-3 months or even 3-6 months. Most new parents drastically overestimate the time their babies will spend in newborn-size clothing. Some babies move up to 0-3 months almost immediately.

Diapers and Wipes

If you’re planning to use basic cloth diapers, you can buy them at your local baby or department store. One perk of going this route is the fact that cloth diapers have multiple uses and are easy to wash and reuse.

If you’re looking for something more modern, you can buy stylish cloth diapers of every shape, color, and size online at sites like Diapers.com or BumGenius.com. If you don’t mind buying used cloth diapers, check eBay or Craigslist for drastically reduced prices.

Parents who plan to use disposable diapers should think long and hard before they stock up ahead of time. Babies often outgrow the smaller sizes quickly, and parents find certain brands of diapers don’t work with their baby at all — or that they prefer a certain brand. Start with a pack of newborn diapers and a few packs of larger sizes before you invest in too many diapers.

Feeding Equipment

Whether you’re breastfeeding or feeding your baby formula, you will likely need at least a few pieces of gear.

For example, breastfeeding mothers might need to invest in a good breast pump and some bottles in order to let other people help with feeding duty. Meanwhile, families who give their babies formula will need bottles, nipples, a bottle cleaner, and perhaps a bottle sanitizer to get started.

Both breast- and bottle-feeding mothers will need a wide range of linens to stay on top of their hungry little newborns. Think burp cloths, bibs, and cotton cleaning cloths to start, then add linens as you find them necessary.

As your baby grows, you’ll also need some kind of highchair to keep him upright while he tries new foods. Some people opt for a free-standing model, while others choose the kind that attaches to a dining chair or table. Fortunately, highchairs are easy to find at secondhand or garage sales, and are usually simple to restore to like-new condition.

Basic Nursery and Linens

Contrary to popular belief, babies do not necessarily need their own bedroom when they are little. In fact, most newborns will end up in their parents’ room for a short amount of time anyway.

But babies do need a separate sleep area free from heavy bedding or stuffed animals. If a crib isn’t available, a Pack ‘n Play or bassinet will work fine at first. In addition to a place to sleep, babies also need a few sets of basic sheets, a swaddling cover or sleep blanket, receiving blankets, and perhaps waterproof sheets.

As much as we love hand-me-down and secondhand items, when it comes to a crib, just be careful: Make sure used cribs meet current safety standards. Older cribs may be coated in lead paint, feature a dangerous drop-side rail, or have slats spaced too far apart, for instance, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.


Babies do not need those ridiculous baby bedding sets that include a tiny, impractical comforter, crib bumpers, and matching wall hangings. Stick with the basics and you’ll save a ton of money in the process.

Cleaning and Basic Baby Care

Babies will need a good bath now and then. In order to keep your baby smelling fresh and clean, you’ll need a few larger pieces of gear and some odds and ends that can be purchased at a convenience or grocery store.

For example, you might consider buying a small bathtub that can fit easily into your regular tub. They make it easy to wash and rinse your baby using warm water from your bath, and with the convenience of your bathroom and its water-friendly surroundings.

In addition to a basic baby bath, you’ll also need some hygiene items. Here is a short list you might want to buy:

  • Baby washcloths
  • Cotton balls
  • Soft baby brush
  • Baby thermometer
  • Infant Q-tips
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Baby wash
  • Baby shampoo
  • Baby nail clipper
  • Petroleum jelly
  • Hooded baby towels

These items and others will help you keep your baby clean and in optimal health. Just make sure to buy soaps and shampoos that are specifically designed for babies. The extra-mild soap they contain will help keep your baby’s skin from breaking out or getting irritated.

Transportation Gear

While babies used to hit the road on their mothers’ laps, they are now required to travel in the comfort and safety of a rear-facing car seat. Parents who plan to transport their kids frequently may also need a heavy-duty stroller with room for storage, a diaper bag, and sun shields for their car’s windows.

Since the larger items often come with a hefty price tag, many people try to find used strollers and car seats on sites like Craigslist or borrow from friends or family. That will help you save money, but it’s important to check the expiration date of any car seat you’re considering. They are generally only considered safe for five to seven years, and are never safe to use after being involved in an accident. Do your due diligence before buying a used car seat from someone you don’t know.

Other Baby Gear

It’s hard to know what kind of gear your baby will enjoy before he or she makes their appearance. For example, some babies love swinging and can sway back and forth for hours without a peep. But others hate swinging, and many babies don’t like bouncy seats either.

Some babies love activity chairs like an Exersaucer, while others dislike being confined or left alone. Until your baby is here, it’s hard to know what kind of personality he or she will have.

Unfortunately, it’s also hard to find out what your baby likes without trying it first. Many people find this out the hard way when they drop some serious cash on a big piece of baby gear only to find their baby refuses to use it.

One way to experiment with your baby’s temperament is to buy used swings and seats or borrow them from family or friends. That way you can try them out without spending a lot.

Meanwhile, you can often resell your baby gear for close to what you paid if you bought it used in the first place.

Baby Toys

Baby toys are often adorable. Entirely unnecessary, but adorable. The fact is, your newborn is much more likely to stare at the ceiling fan for a few hours than play with the trinket you bought her.

But as babies grow, they’ll want and need toys that can help them investigate and explore. None of it needs to be expensive, and you can often score nice baby items for pennies on the dollar at garage sales, consignment shops, and online resale stores.

In addition to small toys, many parents have gotten on the baby video bandwagon, purchasing Baby Einstein or other DVDs that are supposed to stimulate little minds with music, movement, and bright colors. Just like with toys, you can often get these videos on the cheap at yard sales or online.


It’s true that your baby will need almost everything on this list, but it’s also true that the most important thing they will receive from you is love.

Being held, cuddled, and cared for is something babies crave from the moment they’re born. Skin-to-skin contact, loving care, and hugs can’t be bought or sold, nor can they be made up for later in life if not given freely.

Your baby will forgive you if you don’t get a swing right away, or if you don’t buy them a 20-piece matching nursery set, but they will remember if they don’t get the love and companionship they deserve. Remember that, and you’re well on your way to giving your baby everything he or she needs … and more.

Finding Creative Ways to Save on Baby

Becoming a parent often means a wide range of new expenses, including everything from higher health insurance premiums to diapers to formula, and more.

The good news is you don’t have to run out and buy the biggest and best everything for your baby to be happy. There are a ton of ways to save if you’re willing to be creative and consider all of your options… and your baby will never know the difference.

For example, since baby items are generally only used for short spurts of time, resale is a huge and booming industry. All kinds of websites offer peer-to-peer baby gear on the cheap, and garage sales are usually brimming with baby outfits, toys, and gear. If you’re expecting, you could probably find nearly everything you need at a fraction of the price if you’re willing to buy secondhand.

Having a baby isn’t always cheap, but it’s always worth it. Just make sure you’re not overspending on items your baby won’t want and doesn’t need. Because babies grow into children, and children grow into young adults. And no matter how young your baby is, college is just around the corner.

What do you think new parents need? What are some of the most wasteful items you’ve seen new parents buy?

Holly Johnson

Contributing Writer

Holly Johnson is a frugality expert and award-winning writer who is obsessed with personal finance and getting the most out of life. A lifelong resident of Indiana, she enjoys gardening, reading, and traveling the world with her husband and two children. In addition to The Simple Dollar, Holly writes for well-known publications such as U.S. News & World Report Travel, PolicyGenius, Travel Pulse, and Frugal Travel Guy. Holly also owns Club Thrifty.