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I'm expecting my third child, and as I sat in the doctor's office this morning, I thumbed through pregnancy and parenting magazines. I got a good laugh (as an experienced mom and personal finance writer) at the nursery necessities, diaper bag must-haves and ultimate registry guide I found on the pages of those magazines.
A $20 diaper purse to hold diapers within a diaper bag. A $48 sleep sack for baby. A $99 changing pad. A $450 toy storage unit for the baby's room. A $1,500 crib. There was even a six-page spread in one of the magazines with tips on organizing every room in the house (including closet and mudroom) to prepare for baby's arrival and what you need to buy to do so.
As crazy as the prices (and some of the products) may seem, it can be so tempting for first-time parents to purchase all the cute baby things they see in magazines or stores. But the last thing new moms and dads should do is rack up debt buying stuff their baby really doesn't need. Instead, parents should focus on buying things they really need, such as life insurance, and funding a college-savings plan for their child. See also: What New Parents Really Need and Smart Ways to Save for College.
So what items are a waste of money? It is a matter of opinion (and, trust me, people have strong opinions about this — as I discovered the last time I wrote about this topic). But here's a list I came up with based on my experience and the advice of many other parents I know.
1. A designer nursery. By this, I mean a room full of high-priced furnishings and décor. Your baby will not care whether his monogram is on everything, if the crib came from Target or Pottery Barn, or if the lamp, curtains and area rug coordinate. And visitors won't even notice the nursery theme when they see the main attraction of the room: your adorable baby.
Read on for more things new parents don't need.
2. Bedding. As cute as they may be, bedding sets can cost $200 and up. Plus, bumpers and matching quilts are suffocation hazards. And crib skirts just collect dust. All the baby's crib really needs is a tight-fitting sheet — and I'd stick with inexpensive ones so you don't lament the stains left on expensive sheets by leaky diapers. If you're worried that babies arms and legs might get caught between the wooden slats of the crib, opt for a safe but inexpensive mesh bumper (about $30).
3. A changing table. These one-purpose items run $150 and up. It makes more financial sense to use an existing dresser (or purchase one) and put a contoured changing pad (which you can get at Target for $17.99 — rather than the $99 one I saw in a magazine) on top. Retailers have caught on to this idea because they're marketing dresser and changing table combos. But you pay a premium just to get a wooden box that comes attached to the dresser.
4. Bassinet. Rather than spend $100 or more on a bassinet that you'll be able to use only for a few months, use that money instead to buy a portable crib, also known as a pack 'n play or play yard. The baby can sleep in it at home, at grandma's or when you travel. Plus, if you have one of these, you don't need to buy a play mat (which can only be used for a few months) or an Exersaucer. Toss a few toys into the pack 'n play, and the baby will be entertained and confined while you make dinner.
5. Expensive newborn clothing. One big reason not to buy pricey clothes: Your baby will outgrow them quickly. For the first few months, stick with inexpensive onesies and sleepers.
6. Video monitor. You're going to be tired. Do you really want to lie awake all night and watch your baby on a monitor? Instead of spending $100 to $300 on a video monitor, get a basic (sound-only) monitor for $30 or less.
7. A high chair. You certainly don't need one the first six months of baby's life. Once the baby is sitting and eating solid foods, a $30 booster seat with a tray is a much more convenient and affordable option than a $100 to $200 high chair. The booster chair can attach to your kitchen table chair or be transported anywhere you go with baby. Plus, it's easier to clean than a high chair.
8. A wipe warmer. When I was discussing this list of items parents don't need with my husband and mentioned a wipe warmer, he said, "A what? I never knew there was such a thing." Clearly, we didn't pay $26 for a contraption to warm baby wipes, and my two girls survived just fine. Some people swear by them because they say warm wipes prevent their baby from crying during diaper changes. But neither one of my kids cried when I wiped them with room-temperature wipes (maybe I just have tough kids).
9. A lot of anything. If you purchased the number of duplicate items the registry guides said you needed, you'd end up with enough swaddling blankets, bottles and pacifiers for 20 babies. Start with just a few of each item because you may find that you won't use some things at all. For example, neither of my girls liked to be swaddled. Only one used a pacifier -- but she never even touched a bottle.
10. Diaper Genie. I saved the most contentious item for last. There seems to be an equal number of people who say this is the biggest waste of money and who say it's the best invention ever. This $40 diaper pail requires special bags that are a lot more pricey than run-of-the-mill garbage bags that can be used in other systems, such as the Diaper Champ. A set of three refill bags costs $19.99 (but each can hold 180 diapers). According to the refill description, it has a "seven layer film with odor barrier technology that locks in odor for the ultimate protection." Come on folks — diapers aren't that toxic. As one dad I know said, "Just buy a trashcan with a lid and be done with it."
There are plenty of other things new parents don't need to buy. I've just tried to tackle some of the main ones here. So please share your thoughts on what baby items are a waste of money in the comments box below.
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