What Do Children Need?

by Katy on February 10, 2013 · 40 comments

An interesting thread recently started up on The Non-Consumer Advocate Facebook Group. It was prompted by from reader, Shameka:

I was speaking with a friend recently about the costs of having a child. We live in an area that has high paying jobs but also a high cost of living. Her family income is high by average US standards but said she could never afford to raise a child and began talking about all of the expensive items a new baby “needs.” The conversation made me think:

What are the items you wish you had NOT purchased/been gifted for your babies?

This is a very interesting question, as we all know that with gifts and hand me downs it is near to impossible to keep the baby clutter under control. I know that when I had my second child, (another boy, and only two and a half years after his brother was born) that I had a hard time coming up with anything that I needed. This annoyed everyone to no end, and although I realized that I needed another chest of drawers, I pretty much drew a blank. (A co-worker had an extra one in her garage that she just gave to me.)

It’s a clutter issue, but it’s also a money issue. I look back on all the millions of toys (Bionicles, stuffed animals, etc.) that I bought for my sons and wish I’d cut the number in at least in half and put the money into a savings account. Because it’s not just a baby issue, as buying and receiving too much doesn’t end at babyhood.

Now your turn:

What do you wish you have not purchased/been gifted for your children?

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.”

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{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

Mandy February 10, 2013 at 10:35 am

I have a 13 month old, so this is a timely question! Our baby ended up sleeping in our bed from day one, so I really wish we had skipped both the crib and the cosleeper we bought (along with the expensive organic mattresses and bedding for each!). Looking back, we should have upgraded to a king size bed for us instead — we would have still come out ahead!

I also regret all the things that were only good for a few months, like exersaucers and Bumbo seats. I sold all the clutter all and am much wiser now, so with the next baby I can be content knowing that it’s just a phase and I don’t need to purchase anything to get me through it! We do a pretty good job keeping clutter down now. So many gifts go right to Goodwill — at least someone should enjoy them!


Sheila Smith February 11, 2013 at 10:45 am

I loved my exersaucser. It was a safe place to put baby when I was trying to get stuff done.


Violet Quincy February 10, 2013 at 11:04 am

Here’s an interesting article regarding this topic:


Mama Minou February 10, 2013 at 12:00 pm

I agree with the too many toys. In our case, it was stuffed animals and Legos. Don’t get me wrong, Legos are creative and wonderful, but there was an escalation process at work as big sets were purchased for each Xmas/birthday gift. We have giant underbed bins that are rarely played with now.

I would never, however, say too many books!


Jenn February 10, 2013 at 1:24 pm

Stuffed animals! I have purchased exactly two for each of my girls. Two were from a birthday trip to Build-a-Bear and the other two were good quality ones they really wanted that were Christmas gifts. They actually own 10-15 each, most of which have needed repairs at least once because they’re cheap. People just cannot seem to resist the urge to buy stuffed animals. I personally never purchase stuffed animals for other people’s children. It’s games, books or consumables like art supplies for big kids and books or clothes for babies.

I completely understand dealing with people who are frustrated that you can’t come up with baby gift ideas. We have everything we need for our soon to arrive number three and a few people have seemed almost insulted by my lack of wishlist. I finally started suggesting freezer meals, which apparently isn’t good enough, though I love the idea of a freezer full of good food. It’s okay though, they’re sure to console themselves by buying the baby stuffed animals! 😉


Trisha February 11, 2013 at 8:12 am

Freezer meals are a great idea!


Becky February 11, 2013 at 12:09 pm

I agree – freezer meals are a GREAT gift idea! We got a ton of them with baby number one, but everyone must have thought that by baby number two I had everything figured out. Far from the truth – I could have used so many more freezer meals!


Courtney F. February 10, 2013 at 1:36 pm

Stuffed animals. Oh holy stinkin’ smoke, stuffed animals. My daughter is not even two, and I’ve already had to “cull the herd” and send some to the consignment shop, or to Goodwill. Unusual stuffed animals are one thing (for instance, someone gave her Bob and Larry from VeggieTales–not your average stuffed toys), but teddy bears and stuffed bunnies get pretty thick on the ground after you’ve been through the baby shower, first Easter, first Christmas, and first birthday.


Renee CA February 10, 2013 at 3:20 pm

So funny!!


Mindy February 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Funny, I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about the cost of kids. They’re wanting a second, but don’t think they can afford it.

We have three, one old enough to be in school, and I’ve stayed home with them since he was two. On paper, if we had waited until we could afford them, they never would have been born. I just don’t see what the big cost issue is. Unless maybe the money forked out increases as they get older.

Our youngest just turned one this month and ya know what we got her for her birthday? Nothing. I wrapped up some of the other two’s old toys that we had stashed away in the attic. Then she received a few things from family.

They don’t “need” anything other than loving parents, a roof over their heads, food in their bellies, clothes on their backs, and health insurance, depending on who you talk to. And if you’re lucky enough to live in Oregon, they can get that for free or a reduced rate.

Our kids certainly aren’t missing out by not having the latest gadget. And will probably be better for it as adults.

The amount of baby crap out there these days is out of control. We didn’t use half the stuff we were given with our first. Who uses 40 receiving blankets?! It’s all excessive, if you ask me.

Back to the cost, I suppose if you’re factoring in daycare or preschool, that’s super expensive. We never did either, so it wasn’t an issue. And for those who say they can’t afford to have one parent stay home, they should take a look at our annual income. You just make do and do without . 🙂


Kate@organizationforthetypeb February 10, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Oh man this post is good. I was young and stupid when I was pregnant and I went into Babies r us and pointed that wand scanner thing at everything in sight. What did I not need? Bottle sterilized, bottle warmer, diaper genie etc. So much plastic junk. If I ever do it again I will be much wiser this time around.


Sara February 12, 2013 at 8:29 am

It’s really interesting that you post this. When you go into Babies R Us, there is a definite pressure to scan EVERYTHING. They even give that list of all the “essentials” which, if I remember correctly, is size 8 font and 3 pages long. My husband at the time kept saying,
“Don’t scan that…we don’t need it.” and our list was very minimal. I was a bit upset about it at the time but once the baby arrived it was a godsend that we hadn’t overs-scanned and I was thankful for his resistance to peer pressure at Babies R Us.


Elaine in Ark February 12, 2013 at 11:29 am

Being frugal or thrifty is all about resisting peer pressure and advertising.

You done good!


Carla February 10, 2013 at 3:46 pm

We’ve had a minimalist streak since before we had kids, so we have bought very very few things for them. We relied, and still do, mostly on hand-me downs. And I am not above passing on things that I get handed down and I don’t like (like everything pink and/or with a princess, out it went). Mostly we bought things for me with a benefit for the babies: nursing bras (because a good fitting bra will make your day every day!), a pump so I could pump during business trips and back at work (since I went back to work at 7.5 months with the first one which is early here in Canada, where you can have a year) and a few nursing-opening shirts which were very helpful with kid 2 and 3 when I had be more on the go with the toddler.
Things I hated receiving:
-blankets – seriously, how many blankets does a child need? and why does each child need 2-3 hand-knit blankets each (lovely though they are) by the same person?
– stuffed animals, what do you do with them?
– newborn clothing, it lasts all of 2 weeks unless you do have a small baby.


Jennifer February 10, 2013 at 5:00 pm

I wish we had relied more on hand me downs for the short lived stuff. I would have requested gifts like zoo memberships and photography gift cards. We used cloth diapers for our third child and I regretted not using cloth for my first two. I felt I needed all this “stuff” to give my kids a great start. Don’t believe it!! Babies need mom, dad, diapers, a few toys, and a place to sleep:)


Rachel W. February 10, 2013 at 5:04 pm

– a baby bed. I did the whole co-sleeping thing with my daughter. Everybody I knew (except for my parents and my sister) told me it would make my daughter co-dependent and unable to sleep in her own bed when she was older. She stopped sleeping with me for any reason by age 4. Her choice. She’s never even crawled into bed with me because of a bad dream. (I was so the kid who crawled into bed with my parents when I had a bad dream.)
– a baby swing. She hated it.
– baby dolls. She had two favorite dolls and ignored the rest.
– pacifiers. She didn’t suck on them. I don’t believe in giving a child one to “pacify” them. Personal preference. I realize that philosophy varies from parent to parent.
– dolls. Bratz. Barbie. Polly Pocket. Not as a total thing but because she recieved SO MANY. It was ridiculous.

And now she is a minimalist by her own doing. God bless her simplicity-loving 14 year old self.


Alison February 10, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Pretty much everything I got for #1 was either hand me downs or gifts. I bought the diapers and plastic pants as everyone thought I was crazy.

After we had #2 it was the toys that bred during the night. Too many toys and the kids had no interest in any of them. Thank goodness we didn’t get into the stuff animal craze.

Didn’t need a baby swing. That was a waste of space. My kids costs money because both were hearing impaired and needed hearing aids but I rarely spent any money on clothes as I had hand me downs, gifts, and my Dad always gave back to school money for shoes. Preschool was free due to the kids being handicapped.

Both kids learned my frugal skills and are now young adults living within their means.


Kimberly February 10, 2013 at 6:04 pm

I wish I had stuck to my insistence that my kids only needed wooden blocks, a few books, and other creativity enhancing toys.


Lilypad February 10, 2013 at 6:18 pm

I don’t think I necessarily overbought for my happily-one-and-only kid, but I do regret buying 99% of his stuff new. I did the same thing mentioned by Kate above: I went to Babies R Us and created a list of stuff which we either received as gifts or bought on our own. I thought it was exciting to get all this new stuff but golly, I sure could have saved a lot by buying it gently used. Luckily, I wised up and SOLD most of the stuff as he grew bigger (and donated a lot too). I do wish that I had not bought a special “changing table” because as he grew, it became ridiculous to have that thing in his room instead of just a dresser. And I usually changed him on the bed or floor anyway, so there was no point in that thing. I was able to sell it to someone as ignorant as I had been 😉 so that worked out. By time he outgrew his crib (although I swear as a colicky baby, he slept mostly in my arms for the first 1.5 years) I was smart enough to get his next bed 2nd hand.
I agree with everyone about the stuffed animals. We have way too many. My son also went through a brief but intense “Webkinz” phase and he has about 12 that he bought with his OWN money. It was a good lesson in budgeting, consumerism, and buyer’s remorse, because once he came to his senses, he realized how much had been wasted on them and how Webkinz constantly encouraged kids to buy more, more MORE! He hasn’t gotten sucked into anything like that in the last 3 years, so I think he learned his lesson.


Melissa February 10, 2013 at 6:34 pm

I wish I hadn’t tried to re-live my childhood through my kids by buying vintage Fisher Price toys that I had had and loved. Or buying a bunch of Playmobil sets that I never had, but wished I did. Unfortunately, my boys were just much more interested in trains and cars, and not so much into the cool little bakery set with actual little plastic bread loaves and a miniature hand truck for bread delivery. Also, when they finally outgrew the exersaucer I was so joyous.


Katy February 10, 2013 at 7:29 pm

My sons got the most enormous amount of play value out of their dress ups. Animal costumes, knights, super heroes.



Sweta February 10, 2013 at 7:42 pm

Mr Money Mustache, an early retirement blogger, addressed this exact question on his blog some time back: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/09/09/mrs-money-mustache-what-do-newborn-babies-really-need/


Adrienne February 11, 2013 at 4:32 am

I think the only big necessary costs are childcare (or loss of 1 income) and healthcare. While I’m a big proponent of waiting until you can afford buying something in the case of having children I think that reasoning is off. In almost every situation there are families making it on less than you have. Sacrificies are part of being a parent (and I don’t just mean the monetary ones) and though it’s a huge adjustment you get used to it.

Though we don’t buy much stuff for our kids we get gifts by the truckloads it seems. I wish I was better at quickly donating stuff. For a new baby I love the idea of giving a family photo session.


Sarah February 11, 2013 at 6:39 am

I’m sure other babies may be different but we didn’t need a swing. My daughter (who is now eight months) never liked it so it was just a hassle and a space-taker. But it was given to us, so at least we didn’t waste any money on it.
Also I think changing tables are a waste. A low dresser with a changing pad on it serves exactly the same purpose and can be used indefinitely by the child later.
I’m really glad we didn’t buy certain things like Jumperoos, or Bumbos. We got them on loan, and while they were a cute novelty, my daughter would have been absolutely content without them.


kelsey February 11, 2013 at 9:03 am

we’re due with our first child in April and we’ve received so much junk already. I’ve literally had family tell me that they don’t care we’d rather receive hand-me-downs or just the essentials b/c this isn’t ‘about us’ … the consumerism makes me cringe. we buy most of our clothes and household goods from thrift stores and happily re-finish free furniture when pieces come our way. I’ve been criticized repeatedly for not having ‘enough’ on our baby registry… why is it so frowned up on to just want/need the basics, the essentials?


Bethany@OurSoCalledLife February 11, 2013 at 9:39 am

Ok, baby TOYS in general. All my daughter wanted to do was sit on the couch and play with us!


Coco February 11, 2013 at 10:19 am

I agree with everyone talking about healthcare. The only thing going through my head when I think about kids are not toys or clothes. It’s healthcare and tuitions. Me and my dad are both really nearsighted so there is high chances that my kids will be too. They could need orthodontia (for health reasons) or have any other health problem that I’m not thinking about. About tuitions, I have no idea what it will be in 20 years so it worries me a little.


Dawn February 11, 2013 at 10:54 am

I have two sons 18 months and 9 months old respectively. I agree that when babies some along people go nuts wanting to buy you so much stuff. I think the thought is lovely but misguided. I actually had one friend’s mother give me a hard time because I had registered for diapers. She said, “Diapers are NOT a gift!” I disagree strongly. It is a gift to give someone something useful that they need and save them the trouble and expense of shopping for it themselves. Fortunately, my parents and in-laws (let’s face it, they are the main gift-givers in most baby’s lives) have gradually come around to asking me what the boys need or would like. I made an Amazon wish list for them just as an idea so anyone wanting to buy them a gift can know our values (no toys from China, no battery opeated toys, prefer open-ended toys, books, blocks and vehicles.) Of course, I also let them know about new-to-them places to get used things like thredup.com for clothes. Fortunately, both my mother and MIL (and I) volunteer for local charity thrift shops in our respective towns so they have the same mindset regarding second-hand things.


Rachel February 11, 2013 at 3:01 pm

Even before seriously practicing frugal living (or at least giving it my best shot), I never found it necessary to have all that baby “stuff”. I was kindly bullied into getting a few items like a baby swing, which was a big waste of money, and a highchair, which was only ever useful for the second baby when I would park both kids at the table while I brought out the food. No crib for the first baby, either – a futon mattress in a baby safe room worked great. Kid two got a crib to keep him safe from kid one. An infant carseat – I never got, why when you can have a convertible seat that works for years? Stroller too was unnecessary, I carried my kids in slings, then got a 15 dollar umbrella stroller for the tired toddler stage. A coworker who had a baby similar in age to mine explained she “needed” a matching suite of wooden nursery furniture, a crib, a cosleeper, a moses basket, a pack n play, because people expected her to have it and she was worried about what they’d think when they came over. Another friend was just too excited about accessorizing a nursery, even though they had a one bedroom apartment and their baby stuff took over the living room. I encourage anyone who wants to try out baby “stuff” to buy it at garage sales or consignment shops. It is only useful for a year or two, if at all – why pay full price for such temporary trappings? And just examine your motivation for getting all that stuff – is it because you think you should, or because you know you will really use it a lot? Start small, you can always pick up a used piece later if you really need it.


Carolyn February 11, 2013 at 5:09 pm

Oh this topic makes me crazy! My son is 6 months old, so this is pretty fresh in my mind. We were lucky enough to receive lots of hand-me-downs from a friend – clothes, a baby swing, a baby bathtub, and a baby activity center. None of which I would have bought new (or at all in the case of everything except the clothes). Friends and family kept asking what we needed, so we registered for cloth diapers, baby bottles, a car seat, and some other odds and ends (no clothing!). Unfortunately, most of what we were given were things not on the list. We received a ton of newborn clothing (most of which was never worn), stuffed animals, and baby blankets (only a few of which ever get used). I feel guilty getting annoyed about this, but it’s stuff we don’t need and it just clutters up our house. Our son actually uses/needs a very small percentage of all the baby stuff we’ve ended up with.


Jennifer February 11, 2013 at 5:17 pm

Diaper Genie and jarred baby food.


Carole February 11, 2013 at 5:32 pm

Most people say they didn’t use a changing table. I really liked mine. It saved my back and kept all the diaper cleanup stuff in one place.


Starr @ The Kiefer Cottage February 11, 2013 at 7:34 pm

Our biggest problem has been dollar store junky toys as well as things given out of obligation (Relative feels the need to give 10 gifts per kid, for instance, leading to weird filler gifts that aren’t great). But we’ve put most of them into the charity pile within hours of receiving them. We’ve done our best to graciously steer these well-meaning folks toward other types of gifts (time, 529s, memberships) but for the most part, our efforts have failed.


FrancesVettergreenVisualArtist February 11, 2013 at 9:08 pm

I think I’m bucking the trend here but we LOVED our baby swing (we bought ourselves, new, and later sold) and our high chair (gift) and the exersaucers we had on each floor (one we bought on sale, one we borrowed – sold and returned). We also loved and used every penny’s worth of our admittedly expensive stroller/carseat combination, but we were considering both my sleep-deprived frustration level with closing the thing and my tall husband’s back. We were given a crib but bought a new mattress…small boy slept in it until he was 3 & now uses the mattress as a jumping pad, so I’d say we got our money’s worth there. I used an antique library table as a changing station. It’s my desk again now, and later small boy can do his homework on it. No diaper genie, but I did like the gasket on the diaper pail we had. No smell. I think we gave it away.

Mistakes: way too much wooden train stuff (most of it second-hand, hubby can’t resist) and too many dollar store toys from my MIL. She’s getting better about this. Not so much hubby: he’s moved on to Lego. The mind boggles. But we may be the only family in the world to NOT have too many stuffies. We have one doll cradle (made by my grandpa when I was a kid) full of favourites, and that’s it. Very very glad I do not have to fight that particular battle.


Mr. Everyday Dollar February 12, 2013 at 7:18 am

Some really great comments here. I recently blogged about how much it takes to raise a child (to age 18), based on data from the USDA. While their figures ranged from $212,370 to a whopping $490,830, I recalculated them based on a more frugal lifestyle and came up with these totals:

Food $31,050
Clothing $11,130
Healthcare at $14,070
Child Care and Education $23,640
Miscellaneous $5,370

The Miscellaneous category is where a lot of the needless clutter we end up with resides. All said and done this totals $85,260, therefore I think it reasonable to assume a child can be raised for less than six figures. If interested the post is at http://mreverydaydollar.com/being-a-parent-a-financial-decision/.


kris February 12, 2013 at 10:29 am

Stuffed animals should be outlawed! lol Dust collectors – Ick!

When I had baby #4 which was a surprise, 7 yrs after my youngest so I had nothing to hand down to him. There also was not a lot of money coming in at the time so I had to be very choosy about what was a need and what was a want or convience. Since I’d already had a gaggle of kids I knew the difference and went with just the needs. All those toys that go into the baby crib? IMO, huge waste of money, baby wipe warmers (really?) , diaper genies, breastfeeding pillows, special swadling blankets…while all nice & convient, not a necessity. When he was in his crib and nap was over, I went & got him (so he had no need to just lay in there & play); I had a bag that held plastic bags by his changing table so I used up my plastic bags, held them while I nursed, if I needed a pillow, I propped up a couch pillow under my arm and my husband was the best swaddler on earth! They always looked like a little burrito! lol


Christy February 12, 2013 at 11:26 am

So MANY toys! Also, they had/have too many clothes. I am trying to winnow the clothing stash and pass the extras on to other families. We have quite the hand-me-down chain going!


Erica February 13, 2013 at 10:41 pm

I have the best non-consumer baby item story to tell you today! I have a 20 month old son for whom I bought a $5 top of the line only a couple years old car seat. I found it at a yard sale late morning when the sellers were almost done for the day and was stoked to get such an awesome deal. When he outgrew the seat I took it to a baby consignment store where the owner sold it for $85 (it still looked brand new). I got half the profit. I would have held on to it for our next baby but I wasn’t sure when that would happen and have zero storage space, so off it went for someone else to enjoy. It’s about a year later now and I am expecting our second child in July! Well today I stopped by Goodwill on the way to Costco and lo and behold there was the car seat!!! I kid you not I was able to identify it by certain marks on the underside and it had just been dropped off. I found the manager who sold it to me for $6.99. Yes, I paid for it again but since I had made a profit off of it, it was still an amazing deal. -$5 +42.50 -$6.99 = Carseat (with an original retail price of around $200) + $30.51. Extra smackeroos!!!
As for the rest of the baby items I think I pretty much had it all. But bought it all used for amazing prices. $3.50 for swing, $3.00 stroller, $20 for bumbo with tray, another stroller + extra car seat were free (another end of yard sale deal), $50.00 for rocker & ottoman, $3.00 for jumpy exerciser thing. So I didn’t feel bad at all if my son didn’t like something (the jumpy thing was the only one he didn’t get much use out of). I just consigned it and actually made money off of it or passed it along to Goodwill. My biggest splurge was $160 for a used crib and changing table + an organic cotton and wool mattress. The crib was my least used item (used it for a few naps, to keep our box fan away from our baby, and for clean laundry). That is until I re-purposed the sides to make a handsome baby gate for the end of our porch. Also I passed the mattress on to a friend who hadn’t had a crib but got a toddler bed that fit a crib sized mattress. She loves it! I plan on doing the same with items for our second child and skipping the crib in favor of another full size mattress to lay alongside our first one on the floor. We are a co-sleeping family and I love it! =)
P.S. I highly recommend cloth diapers! You save sooo much money and it gives you something to ask for when friends/relatives want to buy you a gift.


Katy February 14, 2013 at 7:12 am

Okay, that is the best story! I always try to pay much less than an item is worth, so it can later be sold at a profit when I no longer need it/tire of it; but I’ve never later bought it back again!

You are my kind of gal!



Coco February 16, 2013 at 6:42 am

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