We've spent maybe a couple of hundred dollars directly on the baby since he was born, and much of that wasn't necessary. Of course, we were lucky to have a lot of gifts from friends and family, but hand-me-downs are pretty easy to find. Even if you don't have friends with older babies, there are tons of listings on Craigslist for baby clothes for a couple of dollars a bag -- or cribs and carseats for less than half retail price. Everyone wants new -- so if used is good enough, it's easy to save a ton.
This isn't, however, a post on how to save money with a baby. Even if you're being frugal, babies do have costs -- like the upgrade from insurance for a couple to a family plan, or the out-of-pocket costs at the hospital. Not $9,000, but there are expenses.
I'm talking about stuff babies don't need at all. Stuff that you might want to say no to, even if it's offered for free.
Infant carseat: You know how you always see moms lugging around those gigantic bucket seats with babies in them? It's our culture's image of how you carry a baby. But those aren't necessary. I have never had one, and though getting the baby in and out of his carseat at every stop can be a pain, it's forced me to actually hold my child. This means that when we're out and about, he's able to look around and interact with his environment (something he loves to do), stay warm in someone's arms, and strengthen his body. Plus, no chance of developing positional plagiocephaly, or flat head, like many "carseat babies" do.
Swing: These have always struck me as just one more way to ignore your baby. Yes, babies love movement. But allowing them to zone out in a swaying seat for hours while they stare at the wall -- it just doesn't strike me as necessary. Most babies would far and away prefer a little holding, perhaps in a cloth carrier. And when swings are used for naps, you're left in a bind when they get too big for the swing but can't sleep without motion. For those few very needy babies that you just can't seem to hold as much as they want, you can always buy a swing after the baby's born. Otherwise, it's likely to be just one more place to put a baby that would rather be with you.
A ton of clothes: When Marko was a newborn, I had a hard time making sure he even wore all his clothes at least once! Now that he's growing out of his 6-9 month clothes, he has hardly anything that fits -- perhaps four or five day outfits and three sets of footie pajamas. And yet, with our tiny washer, that actually turns out to be about right. Also, a baby doesn't need to be wrapped in a million blankets either. As a rule of thumb, if you're wearing shorts, the baby can be wearing something equivalent. If you need a sweater, put him in a sweater or long sleeves. If his cheeks are flushed, he's wearing too much; if his hands are blue, purple, or mottled, he needs more. It's okay for babies to be barefoot. I get scolded almost daily about my kid's bare feet, but he doesn't want to wear socks -- they get in the way of his cruising and crawling. Unless we're outside on a cold day, I leave his feet bare (except for footie pajamas at night).
Shoes: I've just been reading up on how much better kids' feet develop without shoes. In fact, we'd all do better to go barefoot a bit more often: fewer corns, hammertoes, and cases of athlete's foot. Unless the ground is very cold or covered with sharp objects, we don't really need to be wearing shoes or put them on our kids. Obviously non-walking babies don't need shoes at all! It might be handy to have one pair for dressy events and cold days, but other than that, you don't need baby shoes.
Changing table: I have always changed Marko on the floor. As he gets older and more squirmy, I sure am glad I do. Because he would have pitched to the floor a half-dozen times if he were on a table. They're just not very safe. I find it quite comfortable to kneel down and change him, but you can also change a baby on the bed if you'd rather (though you need a plastic pad underneath the baby .... believe me).
Plates, bowls, sippy cups, utensils: Personally, I think the existence of special baby dishes must be a marketing ploy. Marko's never had the slightest patience for a sippy cup. And it's just as well, because they're not as good for developing teeth! He drinks out of my cup and eats with his hands off his clean high chair tray. No flinging of bowls or spoons that way. (Spoon-feeding a baby at all isn't necessary -- just wait till the baby's ready to feed himself with his hands, and give him small soft bits!)
Baby bath tub: It's hard to hold a wet, floppy baby at arms length in a tub. Much better to hold him on your lap in the big tub with you. It's what I do. Now that he can sit up, he sometimes gets baths by himself, but I generally get in with him because it's my only chance to get clean on a busy day!
So what do babies need? It depends. We got ours a crib (Craigslist, $40) because he preferred to sleep in his own space, but many babies sleep much better in mom and dad's bed. Expensive cribs can end up being a $300 storage space for stuffed animals. To be legal to go places, we needed a carseat, but we have a convertible one that switches to forward-facing when the baby's old enough. It will last him till he's out of carseats altogether. A high chair was handy ($15 at Goodwill) so he had someplace to eat, as well as get a good view of things while I was cooking. We did end up buying one "baby-minder," a bouncy seat, because Marko loved being upright so much. He had a lot of floor time as a tiny baby, but his favorite thing in the world was to look around. And we got a Moby Wrap ($40 new) to carry him around in. That thing has been worth its weight in gold, and I've made two more carriers too. (He's sleeping right now in the mei tai. Just wouldn't nap no matter what I did, so I popped him in there -- out in five minutes.)
Other than that, a couple dozen cloth diapers, some clothes (mostly gifts and hand-me-downs), bites of whatever food we happen to be eating, and a lot of toys -- most of which were never meant as toys, like my whisk that he seems to have appropriated -- fulfill his needs pretty well. The main thing he needs is two loving parents, which he has. I shy away from anything that tries to replace those.