One night, when I was about 20 weeks pregnant, my husband came home to find me in tears, selling off our clothes on eBay and looking for a second job. “We can’t afford this baby!” I cried. According to the various sources I’d consulted, caring for a baby required thousands of dollars worth of special equipment— everything from a gadget that warms wipes to a device that shrink-wraps your baby’s soiled diapers. “Our baby’s going to end up sleeping in a dresser drawer!” I sobbed.
My husband took one look at my lengthy list of must-haves, slashed it in half, and, with a few clicks of the mouse, found websites that sold said goods for a fraction of the price. “The baby may not sleep in a $2,000 crib,” he said, “But he’s not going to sleep in a dresser drawer, either.”
As a parent, you’ll want to offer your child the best of everything from the very start. But in this day and age—when Estée Lauder makes diaper cream, strollers cost $800, and there’s an accessory for every aspect of baby care—well, giving baby the best can seem a bit overwhelming. The good news is that the “best” doesn’t have to mean the priciest or newest or most popular. You can put together a nursery that not only looks and feels great, but that is also totally one-of-a-kind—without breaking the bank. So before you take out that second mortgage, check out these priceless tips from our team of penny-pinching bargain-hunters.
Ways to save
Only buy basics before the baby’s born. It might be tough, especially during your nesting craze, but try not to go overboard shopping ahead of time, because aside from the essentials, it’s hard to know what will really be useful. Kimberly Danger, author of 1000 Best Baby Bargains and founder of MommySavers.com, recommends buying things as you need them instead of everything in advance: “Expectant parents read the registry lists that the stores give them and assume they need everything on there, so they end up buying way more than they need.” Stick to the basics—crib and bedding, dresser, comfy feeding chair, and some lively décor—until baby’s arrival, when you’ll know for sure what things you just can’t live without.
Seek out second hand
For a brand-name nursery without brand- name prices, your best bet is seeking out second hand goods. “You can get tremendous deals on used baby stuff, especially clothing,” Danger says, “and the span of time babies use these things is so short, they never get worn out.” Poke around garage sales or resale baby stores, search websites like eBay, or Craigslist or post a wanted ad on local listservs or bartering boards like zwaggle.com to find treasures for virtually nothing— sometimes for actually nothing! You’ll even help the environment by recycling; just steer clear of second hand cribs and car seats, because there’s no way to make sure they meet current safety standards.
Hard as it may be to imagine, your tiny tadpole won’t be a baby forever and unless you consider your purchases carefully, you’ll soon end up tossing a ton of gear (and money) into the trash. Which is why Alan Shields, author of Baby Bargains, recommends investing in items that can grow with your family over the years. “You always want to keep an eye out for things can that can be converted over to another use,” he advises. Avoid nursery themes that are too babyish, or too gender-specific, and choose items that can do double duty— like a changing pad attached to a dresser top rather than a separate changing table.
Bank on creativity
When it comes to creating a fabulous nursery, money doesn’t go as far as creativity. Take it from Megana Hosein, San Jose, CA, mother of a 3- and 1-year-old, who put together a magical nursery on a shoestring budget that was inspired by a few vintage circus posters she found in her dad’s basement. “The theme proved to be really fun,” she says, “and it was like a game to hunt for things to add to the nursery.” All it took was a few coats of matching paint on used furniture, some accents of dots and triangles here and there, and for a real circus tent-like feeling, red organza draped across the ceiling. Voilà—an imaginative fantasy land that has personal meaning, too, all for under $700.
But remember that sticking to a budget doesn’t mean skimping or depriving your family of the finer things in life. It just means putting a little extra thought into how you’ll find those finer things. “If you really want something and it’s not in your budget, there are always ways to get it,” Danger advises. And your brand-new housemate won’t give a second thought to whether his layette is new or used, brand name or generic. The only thing he’ll really want in that nursery is you. Easy.