Mrs. Money Mustache: What do newborn babies really need?

Eliminating Lady Temptations: Avoid the Urge to Buy for Baby
by Mrs. Money Mustache

Congratulations!  You’re having a baby!

Ah, babies… so small, so cute, so sweet, so…. expensive? Why is there a common misconception that having a baby costs a ton?  How much does it really cost? Answer: not much.

Yet, us ladies just love to shop for babies.  We must prepare.  We are nesting.  We’re not ready for the baby to come yet!  The room decals we ordered have not arrived, the special nursing glider is not assembled, the room hasn’t been painted with fancy pink stripes… what will the baby think? Why do we spend more time thinking about buying and decorating (supposedly for the baby) rather than the actual task at hand: preparing for labor?

For you second, third, or fourth+ time moms, stop reading right now.  You don’t need anything.  No arguments — nothing.

If this is your first baby, you’re mostly going to have to get mentally prepared.  That is the hard part. The actual objects you need for said baby are pretty minimal.

So, what did we do?  I am the type of person that researches everything, so naturally, I researched the matter.  What I found is that the Internet, my friends, and those scary things known as baby shower lists, grossly exaggerated what was needed.  First of all, it’s quite possible that you might have friends who have young children themselves. They might already have enough hand-me-downs to take you through the whole first year.  I’m sure it’s easy to spend $0 on your baby.  Perhaps it’s even possible to spend negative dollars!

Challenge Idea: if you do need to make a few purchases for an upcoming baby, try getting it from friends and from various used sources. And then sell some extra stuff you have lying around your house for the same amount of money.  Voila!  Zero dollar baby.

Here’s what your newborn baby needs:

1. Diapers

Sadly, babies are not born knowing how to use the toilet. So we choose between cloth or disposable diapers.  (Side Note: Look up Elimination Communication or check out http://www.diaperfreebaby.org/ if you’re really advanced).  For us, using cloth was a no-brainer.  I spent hours researching cloth diapers and it seemed confusing at first, but it is actually extremely easy.  People complain that it is complicated, that they have to wash them, that they leak, that it’s gross… get over it!  You’re going to get shit on your hands either way.  Once you find the right kind of diapers, it’s easy …

The Mrs. Recommends: Get a variety of cloth diapers for age 0-6 months. This helps you figure out what kind you like. Don’t get sucked up in the cuteness of cloth!  You can spend a ton. Keep it simple, be successful. I purchased: 10 prefold diapers, 6 “Kissaluvs” contour diapers, about 4 covers for all these, 1 “Fuzzi Bunz” pocket diaper, 1 all in one diaper, and a couple of others. TIP: Prefolds work great as burp cloths too.

When your baby hits 6 months, sell the newborn diapers and buy the kind you like for the next stage.  The MMM family used 14 Medium Sized Fuzzi Bunz diapers from 5 months until our son was potty trained at just over the age of 2. For overnight accident protection, we used cloth until nighttime toilet training was reached… no pull-ups required!

At that point, we sold the 14 Fuzzi Bunz for half their original price.  It was a great investment overall, saving over a thousand dollars in disposables! Look for used cloth diapers, if possible, and re-sell once you’re done with them.

2. A Place to Sleep

When I was born, I slept in a little pink bathtub. Cozy and just the right size. When our son was born, he slept in a fancy co-sleeper attached to our bed. Your baby can also sleep in your bed, as ours ended up doing on most nights. The key, in my opinion, is that the baby is close to you to make nighttime feedings easier and to allow you to get as much sleep as possible. Your newborn baby does not need their own room or a crib, since they are so small. Your baby does not need fancy bedding.

The Mrs. Recommends: If I had to do it over again, I would have skipped the co-sleeper and had the baby sleep in bed with us.  But, if that’s not an option for you, I would suggest using a Pack ‘N Play with Bassinet instead of the co-sleeper. After a quick search, the Graco Pack ‘N Play Playard and Bassinet seems to fit the bill. The secret here is that the “Playard” is not for playing — it’s a place for your toddler to sleep on the go, probably up to about age 2. Handy dandy. It’s simple and takes care of your baby’s sleeping needs for quite a long time. You easily can bring it to people’s houses and on trips. Plus, you can probably find one used.

3.  Clothing

There is absolutely NO need to buy new clothing for your baby. In all likelihood, you will get tons for free from friends that have already had babies. In our case, we literally received a Subaru Wagonful of clothing for ages 0-6 months. The parents were all too happy to get rid of it. It has since made the rounds to at least 10 other kids. If, for some reason, you don’t receive any free clothing, ask for it. If that doesn’t work, get some used from a consignment shop or buy bagfuls from craigslist. The point is, it is VERY easy to get used baby items. Our baby lived in footed PJs (he was born in January). I frankly saw no need for any other type of clothing, other than warmer stuff to throw on when we went outside. I’m not talking about a fancy baby winter coat here… I’m talking about blankets and body warmth. Your baby can fit inside your coat and would prefer to be there instead of in a stroller anyway.

The Mrs. Recommends: get all clothing used or from friends. There is no reason to buy a single stitch of new clothing for your baby.

4. A Carseat

If you drive, then it is required that you have a carseat. Most hospitals will check to make sure you have one before they discharge you. Many people will tell you that you need to get a new carseat, and I will not dispute this, as I understand their reasoning. However, we got a free carseat from a reliable  friend who told us it had never been in an accident. We used it sparingly for one year and passed it on to another friend. If you’re lucky enough to have your baby at home, or you can walk home from the hospital, you probably won’t need a carseat at all. We planned to walk home from the hospital, but an unplanned c-section foiled these glorious plans. Have I mentioned that I hate hospitals?

The Mrs. Recommends: get a reliable used carseat from a friend or if you can’t find one, buy a basic newborn carseat. Try not to drive around with your baby in the car very much. That’s the safest thing you can do for your baby.

5. Breastmilk or Formula

Breastmilk is free – hooray!! If things had turned out like I wanted, I would have breastfed my baby for 2 years. But, alas, due to our circumstances, we had to supplement with formula, so we bought formula and bottles. But, we only bought these things after our baby was born, as we originally didn’t expect to need them.

The Mrs. Recommends: Breastfeed your child, but be prepared for some potential struggles. Have resources set up BEFORE you have your baby. A reliable and friendly lactation consultant or contact information for La Leche is a great idea. If there are any problems early on, get help right away.

6. YOU!

Your baby needs you more than anything. If you can swing having at least 1 parent stay at home during the first 6 months of your child’s life (preferably longer), you not only save on daycare costs, but you give your child the greatest gift of all.

The Mrs. Recommends: have one (or both!) parents stay at home and save money on all the childcare expenses. Your baby gets YOU and you save money!  Win-win.

As a final summary, here’s what the MMM family used for our little one from 0-6 months.

  • mini co-sleeper (bought new) — this later made the rounds to 10+ kids — baby spent a lot of time in bed with us, so this was not really needed.
    • Cost: $130
  • little baby clothes, socks, blankets, assorted small toys (received free second hand from awesome friends) — these also made the rounds — again, we received a lot of clothing and only used a very small amount.
    • Cost: FREE
  • car seat (received free from friend) — given to a friend — we did drive occasionally, so this was needed.
    • Cost: FREE
  • maya wrap for carrying little one (bought used on craigslist) — sold on craigslist for $30 — we used this until our son was about 2 for walks, hikes, and around the house.
    • Cost: $40, Sold for $30, Net Cost: $10
  • about 20 cloth diapers, mostly new — sold for almost same price purchased.
    • Cost: $150, Sold for $150, Net Cost: $0
  • boppy pillow (received as gift) — re-gifted — we used this for breastfeeding as well as for lying down and sitting up
    • Cost: GIFT
  • bouncy chair (received free from friend) — given to a friend — our baby liked it a lot
    • Cost: FREE
  • baby bathtub (received as gift), although you use a small sink or simply bathe with your baby instead
    • Cost: GIFT

Total Cost: $320 – $180 sold = $140.

To be fair, we did end up renting a pump from the hospital and buying formula and a few bottles, but as I mentioned earlier, these were unexpected costs. We also had to pay for the actual birth of the baby, as insurance did not cover all costs. However, since we all have a unique situation and I’m hopeful that your birth and breastfeeding experience is better than mine, it is easier not to factor all of this in. In total, the cost was still minimal compared to what the average family spends. Anything else can be purchased (preferably used) on an as needed basis.

Bonus Challenge: Try and use less than we did.  It should be pretty easy.

Next time, we’ll chat about what babies don’t need. Months from now (as my articles are currently fairly sporadic), we might cover cloth diapers in more detail, the ridiculous tradition known as a “baby shower”, as well as what the 6 mo to 1 year old crew needs (again, not much).

Happy baby-making!

  • Just sayin April 3, 2015, 6:40 pm

    There were no mentions of wipes. These cost at least $0.01 (with some very savvy shopping) and you very frugally will use one per change and up to 5 on a poopy mess. We changed diapers on average 3.5 times a day. Yes it’s less than $10 a year but was also over 10% of our 1st year expenses. (I know some people make their own and reuse them and whatnot but that wasn’t the most economical use of my time.)

    Also, if you’re pumping milk for yourself, no sense in buying special milk bags, ziplock types (bpa free of course) are much cheaper and effective.

    As for showers, I was grateful for mine. I know there’s some mustachian philosophy of anti-gift giving but I disagree. Gift giving is a major “love language” for some people and it is truly a heartfelt gesture that is meant to make the gifter and the receiver feel good. Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty of gifting out of obligation and show-offy-ness but I think it’s always good to be gracious and assume the best. That said, gifts don’t have to be earth depleting resources or hunks of plastic. I had two showers and since they were hosted by people who “know” me they were great. The one was a “casserole” shower where everyone brought me a meal that was easily frozen, I had delicious home cooked meals for weeks after the baby was born without lifting a finger…the other was “book & diaper” shower and the attendees were invited to bring a small pack of diapers and/or their favorite kids’ book.

    • Erica November 20, 2016, 8:31 pm

      I use cloth wipes! Because we’re cloth diapering it’s easier to begin with, but cloth wipes clean better. I made my own with scrap flannel my mom picked up at the craft store and it’s so soft. She received several yards of odd cuts for just a couple bucks and I’ve used it to make wipes and drool bibs.

      As for pumping, my mom and partner found a great storage system with recyclable pouches. You pump directly into the pouch and feed from the pouch. It minimizes contamination.

  • Emily August 17, 2015, 11:25 am

    Hi MMM and Mrs. MMM,

    I recently discovered your blog when looking for articles/ information about deciding to have only one child. My son is 16 months old, and I have been seriously considering the idea. However, it’s proving to be a difficult decision as I’m hoping not to trade in short-term gains for long-term regret ( which is totally personal–I read that you are not prone to regret–Hooray! I wish my personality was similar).

    One of the reasons I find the blog so inspiring is that a major impetus for early retirement/ financial independence was in preparation for child-rearing. I’m a stay-at-home mom and really value this approach, though it’s amazing that it’s one many people assume is not possible. I was talking to a working-mom friend the other day. She was discussing daycare, and I mentioned that full-time daycare would be fully 1/2 of my take-home pay ( I”m a social worker in my other life). She said, “oh yes, it is fully 1/2 my pay “( she’s a teacher), “but we need the money. ” Then she went on to say that she and her husband treat themselves to a date night once per week and enjoy restaurants, concerts, etc. My point is not to bash this woman’s choices, but rather to highlight that I now have a ” Mustachian” lens through which to view these types of statements, and, quite frankly, it’s very comforting!

    Keep up the great work. Really, really enjoy the blog.

    Oh, and great post about newborns. Only wish I had read it before kiddo was born instead of reading reviews of bibs on Amazon for 2 hours….Sheesh!


  • Alexandra Suhner Isenberg August 27, 2015, 1:20 am

    I discovered minimalism when I had my second child (first was 18 months old) and I became very stressed out about the amount of stuff we had. However, despite the huge amount fo plastic crap for kids we owned, that stuff never stressed me out because it is completely transient and if you are organized, costs you next to nothing. That weird baby toy/holder/car whatever that may only entertain tehm for 2 weeks might seem like a waste of money to some, but to me, it was two weeks of having a few minutes of freedom a day while baby was entertained. I bought the toy off a used buy and sell, used it for the 2 weeks/months/years I needed it for, and then sold it again, usually at a very similar price that I bought it at. All that transient stuff kids need may not be useful for all, but if it saves you some sanity, and you are essentialyl “renting” it from a local buy and sell Facebook page of Craigs list, then what is the harm? This was the only accumulation of stuff that never really stressed me out as I knew it was only going to be around for a short time and it was not costing me any money ot have.

  • Sara May 9, 2016, 6:04 am

    This is an old post, but as a soon-to-be-mommy with an extremely frugal bent I’d like to chime in.

    I picked up close to two dozen 100% cotton shirts at a yard sale for $5, which I plan on turning into flat diapers with a few snips of my cloth scissors. I’ll just have to buy diaper covers, which are fairly inexpensive. At that same yard sale, I picked up close to 30 onesies to cover through to two years old – although the child will probably want to wear something other than a onesie by that time. Those were also a total of $5.

    Babies don’t have to be expensive. Really the only expensive thing is daycare, which is $900 a month around here if you do it full-time. Thus, we live very close to lots of family while in school and our work schedules are not allowed to overlap. We’ll avoid that expense.

    • Dave C May 9, 2016, 9:44 am


      I’d like you to give some seminars to some of my new parent friends ;)

      Luckily, the age-old tradition of hand-me-downs is still alive and well in my peer group – but this kind of ingenuity is exceptional!

  • Erica November 20, 2016, 8:17 pm

    Well that was fun…

    For carseats, both my babies are in (or will be in, 3.5 weeks until #2) convertible seats that will last them through the legal requirement of our state. They cost less than $100 each when purchased carefully with sales and they are highly rated. They will both be at the end of their life when the girls grow out of them, but they’ll have made the initial investment worthwhile.

    Last time I used a crib converted to sidecar to help with cosleeping, but my unplanned cesarean made that a very uncomfortable set up. This time I opted for a very basic bassinet that I can gently roll up to or away from the bed. My first used a floor bed when she decided hanging out with mommy wasn’t cool anymore, and now she’s moved to a hand me down full sized bed from my SIL.

    I have the crib set up in their room, although whether or not I use it I think will depend on her. Either way it was a gift the first time, and it will happily passed down to my brother or SIL when needed.

    I, too, use cloth diapers. I have about 18 pockets, a dozen organic hemp flats and prefolds. I am thinking about switching fully to flats and prefolds with some wool covers but I haven’t made the plunge.

    I used a ton of “stuff” I saved from last time and satisfied my nesting urges by fixing up some old things and reorganizing the room. I updated my mother’s childhood dresser, set up their shelf unit with a rainbow-themed display (we practice Montessori at home), hung up the cloth triangle banner I made, and bought new blackout curtains in a fun bright color. I repurposed a lot of what I already had around the house, and it does make me happy admittedly to see it.

    The one expensive thing that was purchased for us by a very generous family member was a swanky double stroller. It’s lightweight, compact and the seats are fully adjustable and able to be popped off. It can also be a shopping cart/stroller which is very useful right now as the natural grocer is less than .25 miles and my pregnant ass has a hard enough time walking to the potty with my toddler much less the store.

  • Wes December 31, 2016, 12:26 pm

    I just wanted to say Thank You! for this article, it really helped my wife and I with Perspective while preparing for our own newborn baby boy.

  • FMaz January 12, 2017, 5:15 am

    “I would have skipped the co-sleeper and had the baby sleep in bed with us.”

    Danger! Danger! Danger!

    While Co-Sleeping is OK, bed sharing is not… Especially with new borns who can suffocate on long hair, or be crushed if ever you’d sleep a little too deep and change position.


  • Chris January 12, 2017, 11:42 am

    This is an old post, but in my opinion, I would never have a baby sleep in my bed night after night. My wife and I always had our daughters sleep in their own rooms from the get-go. Not coincidentally, we never put up with the bedtime negotiations and other nonsense that happens too often. And bedtime has always been smooth for us. I have a friend with a 7 year old that still sleeps with him and his wife every night. Insane and ridiculous.

    • Andy January 12, 2017, 1:42 pm

      Always good to read old posts. My wife and I are quite laid back with this and seem to be raising a boy who is happy to sleep anywhere. He has slept on the bed with my wife and I, in our room and in his own room. When poorly he will always have a space on our bed. Everyone is different and has different views, but its always seemed odd that when you have a baby the normal thing is to get them to be on their own and sleep on their own before they are even capable of understanding why. We kind of feel that if they don’t want to be on their own, maybe there is a reason they just can’t communicate yet. Co-sleeping in my opinion is fine if on a ‘suitable bed’ when neither adult is overly tired or had alcohol etc. Never should be on any sofa etc. Im in the UK so advice may be different to US.

  • Andy UK January 12, 2017, 1:53 pm

    Regarding the breast feeding, best thing we ever did this early on was get an appointment for a specialist to asses and cut a tongue tie making it hard for him to feed. Before this he lost a lot of weight in the first two weeks to the point he was nearly hospitalised, after this his weight shot up dramatically. He was born at 75th percentile, dropped to 50th in two weeks, and was back at 75th percentile two weeks after getting tongue tie cut.

    Best thing we ever did for him in the first year.

  • Tinian Crawford September 29, 2017, 9:02 am

    Yep, no surer way to get people fired up than by taking on their preferred method of child-rearing. When my first kid was born we got a MOUNTAIN of stuff given to us by relatives and friends, almost all of it brand-new. We didn’t ask for any of it, they just couldn’t help themselves. It was really kind and helpful, and we greatly appreciated it. We were not mustachian then, although my wife has always had that tendency, but if we were to have another (which would be number three, but there’s no way in hell I’m doing that again! I love my kids but damn, the first few years can be really tough!) we would definitely be able to do so without spending any extra money. I appreciate the Mrs throwing her expertise in here, and I’m enjoying working my way through the articles.


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