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July 20, 2018

Our Ultimate Guide to Baby Gear

Some of our friends are about to have their first child and they asked for baby registry advice on Facebook. Since we're experts on frugal parenting, I decided to write a post with our best advice on baby gear.

Editor's Note:  This post should be considered a rough draft. I wanted to get it out as fast as possible. It will likely be edited and amended in the future.

As with everything in life, I try to minimize expenses on baby gear. Even when they're going on a registry, I try to pick reasonably priced items. I may be crazy, but I don't feel comfortable asking our friends and family to buy things I wouldn't buy myself. Therefore, here's some advice on buying baby gear.

Hand Me Downs
Get as much baby stuff as you can from friends and family. There's nothing better than free stuff, especially when you know where it's been.

Buy Used
Buy used baby gear when possible. As I've mentioned before, when I'm shopping for pretty much anything over $100, I try to buy used. Used baby gear is great because kids outgrow things so fast, much of it has barely been used.

Buying used can complicate your registry, but it doesn't have to. Buy the big ticket items used, and leave them off your registry. You will probably save the grandparents a lot of money. Make a very focused registry with stuff you really need, and make everyone's lives easier

The Things You Need
There are a lot of baby products out there. Here's our advice on what you need.

Car Seat
Get a good infant seat that easily clicks into and out of a base that stays in the car. It's also handy if it easily attaches to a stroller. We received the Chicco Bravo Travel System (car seat +base + stroller), which worked well, however, read the "Stroller" section below before you commit to anything.
We highly recommend keeping a base in each car, along with a seat protector.
You'll be shocked how quickly your kid outgrows the infant seat. When they need a bigger one, just make sure it has a cup holders, and remember to look for used ones; there's a ton of them out there. We recently found two for free on Craigslist!
Last, but not least, we've discovered some car seats have miserable clips that hold them down. If yours has these, buy this strap and make your life easier.

Standard strollers (like the Chicco mentioned above) are fine and dandy, but we recommend getting a jogging stroller, even if you don't jog. We bought a used BOB stroller after moving to Paso, but I wish we had it from day one. It's simply more pleasant to use than our standard stroller. The larger wheels, pneumatic tires, and quality bearings roll much, much easier over just about everything. They also avoid the miserable clatter of hard plastic wheels on most surfaces.

There are some very famous/popular carriers out there, but we were pretty skeptical of their price tags and their ergonomics (mostly the baby's hip position), so we got a "hip seat" carrier. They're apparently popular in Asia, and ours was great.

Crib + Mattress
We recommend buying used. Cribs can be outrageously expensive and there are lots of used ones out there in great condition. I am personally skeptical of cribs that convert into full beds, because who wants a full bed?
Used crib mattresses are probably fine too. Unlike normal mattresses, crib mattresses are almost always plastic, so it's not really possible for them to get really nasty. They are also rarely used for very long, so it's unlikely they're worn out.

Update:  Our second born had an incredibly scary incident shortly after we moved her to her crib. She rolled over and slept with her face straight down against the mattress and nearly smothered herself. We immediately bought a breathable Newton mattress and we recommend everyone do the same. It's painfully expensive, but you can't put a price on your baby's life. If you're lucky you will find one used.
A couple of our friends bought the Newton on our recommendation and have sent us pictures of their little ones sleeping face down. Don't even think about getting anything else. Buy a Newton, or similar breathable mattress.

Crib bedding is pretty simple. There's no need to spend a lot, but we have a couple tips. The first one is a life-saver in the middle of the night--get at least two waterproof liners and sheets and stack them on the mattress. That way when there's an accident, you just have to strip off the wet layers and you have a fresh set waiting below.
Also, get some fuzzy sheets for colder months. Frugal Babe loves them.

We bought a used Halo bassinet which was very nice, but the price is pretty high if you're buying new, and Frugal Babe outgrew it very quickly. After that we just took the front panel off her crib and pushed it up against Chrissy's side of our bed, which worked great. We probably didn't need the bassinet at all, although I will admit the vibration and light built into the Halo did come in handy a couple times.

Pack n Play
We use our pack n' play or playard pretty often, but only as a portable crib when we're traveling. We bought one of the cheapest ones we could find, without any attachments like a bassinet or changing table, and we haven't missed those things.
Also get a soft, quilted "sheet" for the "mattress." It makes a big difference.

Sound Machine
We've found that a sound machine really helped Frugal Babe sleep. We originally got one with a knob and it barely works now.

Swaddles & Sleep Sacks
Like most babies, Frugal Babe loved to be swaddled, so get some equipment that makes that easier. We got some lightweight swaddles, as well as a heavier fleece one for colder weather.
When Frugal Babe got older, we bought her some quilted sleep sacks that are really nice. They not only keep her warm on cold nights, they also help immobilize her, which is surprisingly handy. We like the Slumbersafe ones because they offer different levels of insulation, so you can match jammies with the seasons. We opted to get ones with long sleeves, because who wants cold arms?

Baby Monitor
Get a video monitor. Audio works, but it's very, very nice to see what your baby is up to. I did a painful amount of research on baby monitors and we ended up with the Levana Ayden and we're pretty happy with it, although it seems like the range could be a little better. The biggest feature of the Levana monitors is their battery life. Ours is rated for 48 hours in the low power mode, and I'm not sure I've seen any other monitor rated at more than 10 hours. In our experience, the battery life is as good as promised, however, if you fully cycle the battery pretty often, it will degrade. We had to buy a new $20 battery after a year. We plug it in more often now, and the battery health seems fine.
We chose the Ayden in particular because it seemed to have the best combination of price and features at the time. The features we were originally most concerned with were long battery life, "night vision," and screen size. Those have proven to be very important, but another feature we have grown to love is the temperature monitoring.
We didn't feel the need to get a pan/tilt camera because once it's pointed at the crib, you don't need to move it.
There are a lot of fancy new monitors that transmit to your cell phone, but I'm not sold on that concept. I want a dedicated device for this very important task, and I don't want my phone's battery to be demolished.

Update:  We bought a Wyze Cam that we use in addition to the Levana baby monitor. The dedicated baby monitor is better for passive monitoring, but the Wyze Cam has much better video quality so it's easier to see exactly what's going on. We actually have five Wyze Cams, and they are incredible devices, for shockingly little money. Best of all, they have no monthly fee for their cloud service, unlike most internet connected security cameras.

We use cloth diapers and are pretty pleased with them. We used disposables for the first few days because there are some really nasty poops in that period and they were easier to keep off of the cord/belly button, then we switched to tiny newborn cloth diapers. When Frugal babe got a little bigger, we switched to adjustable "one-size" diapers, which she's been wearing for 2+ years now. We do use disposable diapers at night because the cloth ones weren't absorbent enough once Frugal Babe got a little bigger. We buy the generic disposable diapers at Walmart. They seem to be the cheapest.
We also got cloth wipes, which have worked well. To go with those wipes we got this bum spray. It's pretty expensive, but we dilute it a lot.
If/when your baby gets diaper rash, we've found the best solution is petroleum jelly (a.k.a. Vaseline). We tried lots of more "natural" options, but none were nearly as effective. Petroleum jelly was also the most effective thing on Frugal Babe's eczema.

Diaper Pail
We got a Dekor Classic diaper pail. It's pretty nice, but we did manage to break the little button that latches the lid closed. Fortunately, it still works fine. They make a larger "Plus" version, but we're happy with the "classic" size. You might not even want a bigger one because by the time ours fills up, things are getting pretty ripe and ready to be taken out.
The best part about the Dekor system is the reusable cloth liners you can get. They manage to be pretty water/stink-proof without being plasticy.

Changing Pad
You'll definitely need a changing pad. We registered for and received a pretty fancy one because it looked a lot nicer and more secure than the standard ones. You'll also want some liners to help keep the pad clean.

Get a good thermometer. There's nothing worse than frantically trying to determine if your baby has a fever.

Diaper Bag
We highly recommend getting a backpack diaper bag. They're not as cute as some of the messenger bag ones, but they are more practical because they stay put when you're wearing them and keep both hands free to deal with your baby. We originally got two diaper bags; one for mom and one for dad, but that wasn't necessary. We only use one, and it just stays with the baby.

We got a humidifier when Frugal Babe got her first cold after moving to Paso Robles. The air is very dry here, and the humidifier seemed to help her sleep.

Snot Sucker
This is a little gross, but you almost certainly need a snot sucker. You should probably get some saline drops too.

Burp Cloths/Blankies
Get a bunch of burp cloths and blankies. You will need to wipe up all sorts of fluids, and having a bunch of these around is very handy.

Play Pen
play pen proved very handy with Frugal Babe. We didn't use it to contain her so much, but to contain her toys. It was nice to have a defined space in the living room for baby stuff.
If you have hard floors, you should get a soft play mat. This is probably more for you than the baby.

We were surprised how few toys Frugal Babe seemed to care about. You'll probably end up with a ton of toys, like we did, but there aren't many we can recommend. The ones we remember being well liked were a sit-to-stand walker and some funky textured balls.

We inherited several contraptions that are supposed to entertain/calm babies, but Frugal Babe didn't really care for them. She much preferred being held or played with. The one thing that was somewhat effective was an ExerSaucer.

High Chair
Get a solid highchair. We recommend one that doesn't have little compartments/cup holders molded into the tray. Those things are nothing but trouble, and make the tray much more annoying to wash.
We also recommend getting a hook-on chair for traveling.

Get some quality bibs with a pocket for catching food. I cheaped out and got some that work, but could be better.

Get a bunch of baby forks and spoons. You'll be amazed how quickly you go through them, so get plenty. You don't want to be constantly washing them.

Bath Tub
A baby bath tub is nice to keep your baby more contained as well as reducing water use. We got a super simple tub and pad for Frugal Babe, and for a long time she didn't like baths. For our next baby, we're planning to get a nicer bath support.

Get a few hooded towels.They are super cute and Frugal Babe loves them.

Nursing Gear
Frugal Babe was exclusively breast fed, so we don't have any advice on bottles, but we do have some recommendations on nursing gear:
Nipple Cream - Chrissy swore by Lansinoh. There seems to be a little concern with the lanolin, but it was much more effective than anything else.
Nipple Protection - Medela nipple shields and shells can help when things get a bit sore. Soothies were also a life/nipple saver.
Nursing Pillow - Chrissy used the My Brest Friend pillow and loved it.
Breast Pump - You may or may not need this. Our insurance gave us one for free, so you may want to look into that.

Parenting Books
We didn't read a ton of books on parenting, but there are a couple we recommend. Bringing Up Bebe was a pretty fun read and had some good advice. Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child was also really helpful.

Random Stuff
There are a few things you will definitely want, but we won't try to make specific recommendations on. Just get these things, preferably used:
  • Clothes that fit your baby. Don't spend a lot. They will get filthy.
  • Comfy Chair/Rocker/Glider for baby's room
  • Changing table/dresser
  • Bookshelf full of books
  • Toy box where you can toss lots of random toys
  • Blackout curtains/shades

Did we miss anything? Let us know about your favorite baby gear in the comments.

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  1. The biggest waste of money I felt were clothes. My daughter lives in onesies, sleepers and full piece outfit that button in the bottom. Pants were just a waste of time because they needed to be taken off then onesie unbuttoned....waste of time so I never put pants on her. I do use baby legs because they keep her legs warm but I have access to the diaper.

    My Moby carrier and my ergo carrier

    A swing- I liked the fisher price because it plugged in rather than eat up batteries. We have the ocean wonders one.

    Funny thing is that the stroller is hardly used since I carry the baby in the moby or ergo most of the time.

    We live in a 3 story house so a pack and play to keep in the floor that I mostly at during the day was essential. I always had her int he same room as me.