9 Money Tips for New & Expecting Parents

We are the parents to three lovely children and we wouldn't trade it for anything in the world.

There was a time when we were parents to just one goofy beagle named Tobey with one baby on the way.

I remember doing all this research about how to prepare for a baby and being amazed at how much marketing and product was out there. These are billion-dollar industries that will convince you that you need everything and anything if you want your baby to succeed.

Most of it is b.s.

They're designed to sell a product or service. Don't fall for the hype!

Here's what you need to know – from a real parent:

You Don't Need All That Crap

The “baby preparedness industry” will tell you that you need a dozen diaper bags (you actually need zero diaper bags, they're just big bags), the Mercedes-Benz of cribs, a changing table, two pack and plays, twelve diaper genies, and a whole load of other toys and accessories that all-around $15 each.

Amazon will ship you almost anything in 2-days. You probably live within 30 minutes of a Target.

You can buy almost anything you need when you need them.

There are only three things you need – a car seat, a crib, and diapers.

You will be tired. You will not be thinking straight. It will feel like your kid is unreasonable about what he or she likes or dislikes… because he or she IS unreasonable. There's no rhyme or reason to what they like or dislike at any moment because they're a baby.

Don't overspend in preparation. You'll need that money later. (you should, however, get these freebies for babies)

Borrow, Then Return

If you have friends or family who have slightly older kids, they will be eager to give you their old clothes. They don't want them anymore. Some items have resale and/or sentimental value, but they will keep those (or ask you to return them afterward).

Sadly, most baby stuff is worthless to someone whose kids have outgrown them.

They are priceless to those who have young kids. The clothes we sent away when our older kids outgrew them have returned now that we have a younger child. The companies that make that stuff aren't happy but everyone in our circle of friends is.

We received clothes from friends with older kids. We passed those clothes onto our friends and our family. Many of those clothes have now returned to us.

And the best part is that if there is a massive blowout (and there always are), we don't feel all that bad about throwing away some random Carter's onesie that has gone through six families already.

Buy Secondhand Whenever Possible

If you accept the premise that used baby stuff is far less valuable than new baby stuff, it stands to reason that you should be buying as much “used” as possible.

When your kids are young, and when you are likely to have the least amount of disposable income, they will rarely care if something is new. And even if they do, it's only new the first time they use it. Then it's old again.

What kids do care about is being able to ride their bikes with their friends and you can do that with an old or new bike. (but make sure the helmet is brand new, for safety reasons!)

In the hierarchy of kid happiness, being able to play but with something used is better than not being able to play. If you frame it in those terms for kids, they will almost always go with the used option. Plus then you won't feel bad when they beat it up, which is inevitable.

The only things you must buy new are:

  • A car seat – or borrow from a friends, but check the expiration date
  • And, well, wipes and diapers. πŸ™‚

The rest can be used. (And your kids will use them… hard)

Buy A Decent but Inexpensive Crib

You need a crib but it doesn't matter what kind of crib you get as long as it's safe. It needs to be a firm flat surface.

In a few years, you will no longer need it. What other furniture do you buy with the expectation you won't use fairly quickly? It's rare to look at furniture with such a short lifespan but when you do, you'd probably buy it from IKEA.

Do you know what you don't do with IKEA furniture? Overpay for it.

We bought our crib via Amazon and it looks nice but it's not expensive. This is good because when our kids started teething they would chew on the wood before we realized we needed a rail cover (we don't want them eating wood!). We would cover it with these soft wrapping things, which they would pull aside and then chew on the wood… but at least there was an extra step.

That crib is now 7+ years old and still going strong with its third resident.

Return All Non-Essential Gifts

You can decide what is non-essential, but if you get a gift, try to return it immediately if you don't feel like it's essential to life. Those gift cards can pay for things you know you'll want and it takes up way less space.

One thing you'll find is that children are all different. Some like chairs that vibrate, others like chairs that swing. Some like lights and sounds, some hate lights and sounds.

Our first kid loved the mat with lights and sounds. Loved the vibrating chair. Hated the swing.
Our second kid loved the mat with lights and sounds. Did not like the vibrating chair. Hated the swing.
Our third kid loved the mat with lights and sound. Tolerated the vibrating chair if it didn't vibrate. LOVES the swing.

Fortunately, except for the mat, we borrowed or all those things so we didn't waste money on something our kid hated. Plus we could then give it back to the owners when we were done.

(And for what it's worth, all kids love boxes, especially when they get older. They're like cats.)

Many of the conveniences in life run the risk of making your life harder. That baby wipes warmer may turn your kid into a monster because he or she will get used to warm wipes and every change outside of the house will be a battle. (we did not have a baby wipe warmer but the idea of it scares me)

That white noise machine… awesome until you forget it. Plus, you can have your phone to play raindrops when you're away from home and need to drown out real noise.

Now, if your kid won't sleep and you're trying to find ways to get them to sleep – you might want to try a white noise machine. But until you get to that point, don't introduce “conveniences” that may inconvenience you later on.

Buy things to solve problems, don't pre-solve them because you'll just create habits you need to support into the future.

Get Systems In Place NOW

You'll be tired, your will-power will be useless, so put your systems in place now.

Simplify and then automate as much of your finances as possible. Set up bill pay, automatic transfers for savings, and all the other systems you'll need so your money is on auto-pilot for the essentials.

This is to help you avoid long-lasting errors like missing a credit card payment. That will sink your credit score, which has knock-on effects that will make life harder.

You'll still need to check-in periodically, so set reminders in your calendar, but for the most part, you're just looking to survive the next 6-12 months once the baby arrives.

Understand Your Health Benefits

Along those same lines, study your health insurance benefits closely. You will experience a qualifying life event when the baby is born. If you want to, it means you can change aspects of your insurance if you so choose.

Your health insurance can have a huge impact on how much you pay. When we had our first child, it was by C-section and a five day stay in the hospital. The total cost to us was negligible because we had good health insurance through the state of Maryland.

When we had our second child, which was not a C-section and a shorter stay, we paid more because our insurance was through the exchange.

With our third, non-C-section again, we were back on health insurance through the state of Maryland and it was nearly fully covered.

If you will need to pay out of pocket, it's best to start saving up that money now rather than playing catch up later.

Instead of Budgeting, Save First and Spend Second

To that end, you'll still want to save even after the baby comes. It's another person in your household and your emergency fund will need to cope with a whole new set of “emergencies.”

If you're not a diligent budgeter, now's not the time to start. You won't be able to care for your first child AND build a habit of budgeting. One of the best ways to budget without budgeting is to save first and then start spending.

That means making sure you transfer funds to the necessary places before you start spending on the things you may want. It's a kind of envelope budgeting but it requires less paperwork.

Take time for yourself… and your partner

You will feel like you're constantly tired. Your partner will feel tired all the time.

You will be cranky. Your partner will be cranky.

Remember that you're a couple and take time to acknowledge and care for one another.

If you don't, bad things will happen. I promise you. πŸ™‚

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About Jim Wang

Jim Wang is a forty-something father of four who is a frequent contributor to Forbes and Vanguard's Blog. He has also been fortunate to have appeared in the New York Times, Baltimore Sun, Entrepreneur, and Marketplace Money.

Jim has a B.S. in Computer Science and Economics from Carnegie Mellon University, an M.S. in Information Technology - Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University, as well as a Masters in Business Administration from Johns Hopkins University. His approach to personal finance is that of an engineer, breaking down complex subjects into bite-sized easily understood concepts that you can use in your daily life.

One of his favorite tools (here's my treasure chest of tools,, everything I use) is Empower Personal Dashboard, which enables him to manage his finances in just 15-minutes each month. They also offer financial planning, such as a Retirement Planning Tool that can tell you if you're on track to retire when you want. It's free.

>> Read more articles by Jim

Opinions expressed here are the author's alone, not those of any bank or financial institution. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Brand new parent here! Definitely agree trying to get used clothes/toys is the best. We’re lucky in some ways we had our kid later so a lot of our friends already had their kids and were able to pass on stuff to us. I was a little irked when my wife wanted our kid to be in NEW clothes when he was a newborn, but I think she’s a little over it now after all the blowouts and spitup. πŸ˜› We did splurge on a new car seat though, but you can bet I hacked my way through a good… Read more »

Cathleen Cooks Stuff
4 years ago

Soon to be 2nd time parent (ack!), and pretty much everything you said, yes. You dont need all that crap. My cousin has bought her kid so much damn toys, they are taking over the house. all the trendiest stuff. She’s 4 (the kid, not my cousin). Takes her to chuckee cheeses, goes to the mall when she’s bored and shops. My kid wont stand for that crap (except chuckee cheeses…he mildly enjoyed the rides at my cousin’s kid’s 3 year old b day party). That being said, I’d like to argue that you CAN use used diapers- cloth ones… Read more »

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