Retailers target people at major life transitions, such as graduations, weddings, and the birth of a baby—especially the birth of a baby. They know that at these major life events, people tend to be irrational about their spending and it could potentially develop brand-loyalty for the rest of their lives. (Like when people spend $30k on a wedding!) This article from Forbes explains that Target’s marketing was so scarily effective that they automatically started sending maternity ads to a pregnant teen even before her father knew she was expecting!
As expecting parents ourselves, we have been well aware of the entire marketing world’s heavy artillery trained on the bull’s-eye on our foreheads for the past few months. The message we have been bombarded with has hit on the same, constant refrain:
You MUST spend money on your baby in order to be good parents!
This latest contraption will solve all your parenting dilemmas!
You’re worried about _______ with your baby? Buy this!
What aren’t you willing to spend in order to keep your baby safe/healthy/happy/comfortable/beautiful/dressing-just-like-Prince-George?
The marketing guilt trip occasionally even affects us Crumb Savers, since we are all too cognizant of our inexperience in the child-rearing business. So as we were putting together our baby registry a few weeks ago, we were forced to think through this thing outside the marketing “reality-distortion bubble” to get a grasp of just what we truly NEEDED vs. what are just discretionary things pawned on us by a consumerist society. Here’s a bit of our current thinking process as we navigate this treacherous minefield.
The Essentials for Survival
Something we’ve had to constantly remind ourselves (often out-loud to each other, in the shower, or in our sleep) is that humans have been having babies for millennia. In fact, ever since man has walked the face of the earth, MOST PARENTS did not have all the fancy-schmancy accouterments and paraphernalia that’s labeled as “ESSENTIAL” today. So, yes, even if we don’t buy that $30 baby wipes warmer—our baby will still live. Phew!
What this means is we had to do some research and use some common sense to determine what are actually the essentials. Though our online research mostly proved that seemingly no two parents agreed on anything, we did discover a couple things that they DID agree on:
- All babies eat, sleep, pee, and poop…and that’s about ALL they do!
- You need a car seat to bring the baby home from the hospital. (Even this is debatable, as the home-birth mommies will tell you!)
Using this as the starting point, we figured we’ve discovered where to focus most of our attention in ensuring the survival of our baby.
Newborns sleep something like 16-17 hours a day (just not straight through, I am told!), and so most of their days are spent conked out. Fortunately for them, their bones and joints aren’t as creaky as their parents’ so they don’t need expensive memory foam or sleep number beds to give them a good night’s sleep. They don’t even need a state-of-the-art crib! I’ve heard of parents taking a dresser drawer or an empty suitcase, lining it and using that as a bassinet of sorts. I have a feeling those kids never knew the difference.
We are planning on having the baby sleeping in our room for the first little while at least, and we plan on using a pack and play that can also have other functions later on as well. We were also given a very nice hand-me-down crib from some friends that we can use when we give the baby her own room.
With most newborns, eating involves exclusively breastfeeding. I’ve even heard one mother say that as long as she’s got functioning breasts, her baby will survive. Talk about minimalism! So for the first stage of our baby’s life, the only things related to feeding her that we focused on were things that help the breastfeeding process. Recognizing that these aren’t even all totally essential, we figured that it’s worth it to invest in mommy’s comfort, since keeping her happy will help keep everyone else happy too! So we wanted a comfortable chair, a breastfeeding pillow, a pump, bottles, and bottle cleaner. You know the most amazing thing? We have gotten just about EVERY SINGLE ONE of these things from friends! Apparently, they thought similarly about the importance of breastfeeding, and so we haven’t had to spend a penny on this category of stuff. Of course, if something unexpected happens and we’re not able to breastfeed our baby, there will be other needs, but we’ll deal with that if it happens.
Later on when the baby starts sitting up and eating solids we’ll need to invest in other things. So we’ll be looking at a high-chair/booster seat, basic utensils, bibs, freezer trays, etc. These are all items that are readily available second-hand at thrift stores, Craigslist, or as hand-me-down from friends. We don’t anticipate breaking the bank over these things.
Of all the things on this list, the peeing and the pooping are, without a doubt, the most exciting. (Though, certainly NOT the most pleasant!) I never knew there was such a vibrant world of diapering before embarking on this research. I never knew that poopy diapers could be such a hot business! Pretty much, it comes down to disposable diapering vs. cloth diapering. As with all parenting topics, opinions run hot on all sides, but what surprised me was that the economic benefits aren’t real clear for either side. But the one thing that became clear was that cloth diapering almost never results in a financial advantage until it’s used for a second child.
So we are planning to take an experimental approach with our baby’s diapering system. Since Deb is staying home with our kid, we have the luxury of experimenting with cloth diapering, but we’re going to start off with disposables as well so we can evaluate both sides. (The time/effort required, the effectiveness, the cleaning process, its affect on the baby, etc.) The good news is that there is a strong used-diaper market for cloth diapers so we should be able to recoup much of the upfront cost if we decided to go with disposables. Stay tuned on the results of our experiment; we’ll keep you updated on the progress.
The other equally important aspects of the peeing and pooping are the wipes: disposable or reusable? We’re going to take a similar approach in experimenting with reusable cloth wipes while also using disposables as a backup. My guess is that we may take a split approach where we use reusable wipes for liquids and disposables for solids. We’ll see what happens!
The law requires a car seat if we are to transport our baby anywhere, so we figured this was pretty important. Fortunately for us, we didn’t just get one, not just two, but THREE hand-me-down infant car seats from friends. (I couldn’t help but get the feeling that they were just all too happy to get rid of them. 🙂 ) But since the baby was going to outgrow an infant car seat before long, we knew we would need a convertible one too. So we put a convertible car seat on our gift registry for the eventuality of our daughter growing into it.
We know that we will be traveling with our baby a fair bit so, besides the car seat, we realized we need some other transportation gear too. It pretty much came down to the baby carrier and the stroller. We talked with mothers on all sides of the opinion aisle. Some said the carrier is all we need. Others said the stroller is all we need. Others said that we need both. But all agreed that it was ultimately up to us and our child. So while we recognize that our baby may have a unique temperament that affects what we choose to use with her, we’re keeping our eyes open for good deals on carriers and strollers but are not rushing to buy one yet.
One area where we may be investing more than our typical style is in the area of the pack and play. Because we anticipate doing a fair bit of travel in the next few years, we want a portable pack and play that can easily travel with us. But rather than having one for home and one for the road, we plan on just buying one that we can use for both. If it also functions as the baby’s bed for the first few months of her life, we think it’ll be well worth the investment. It’s not cheap, but this is the best one that we’ve seen so far: Lotus Travel Crib and Portable Playard.
The Discretionary Stuff
Of course the list above doesn’t cover every little thing that we’ll eventually get for the baby, but it covers all of the major bases and we’ll fill in the needs around them.
However, in our research, we also perused some other people’s registries to get an idea of what other parents were buying. Some of them seem to be logical and sensible things for the baby, but in the end we decided that they weren’t that essential:
- Baby room decorations. Call us weird, but we’ve never had a desire to give our baby’s room an interior design makeover. What’s exactly the point of a total redesign of the nursery? It’s certainly not because the baby needs it. Many parents we spoke with said that their kid ended up sleeping with them, so they were never in that room anyway. Moreover, if there are more kids on the way do we need to redesign the room if it’s a baby of the opposite gender? We’re organizing our baby’s room for efficiency and safety, but keeping the décor neutral so it’ll be ready for the next baby or to be turned back into a guest room.
- Toys. Babies don’t need toys. They just eat, sleep, pee, and poop, remember? Besides, toys in the crib can be a suffocation hazard. Toys will come into the picture when the kid is a little older, and we believe that even then we don’t need to spend much on them.
- Books. As much as I imagine my daughter as being a genius who will someday discover the cure for cancer, I’m not sure books are essential to purchase for an infant. Besides, what are libraries for? In fact, we were recently introduced to a neat program called Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library where children between ages 0-6 are sent an age-appropriate free book each month to help foster a love of reading. It’s available for most counties in the US and also is expanding into Canada, Australia, and the UK.
- Clothes. Ah, baby’s got to be clothed, right? So how could this be listed as discretionary? While it’s true that babies need clothing too, what’s NOT true is that the parents need to be concerned about buying all the clothes! Many parents with older kids probably have an attic overflowing with kids’ clothes that they’re all too happy to offload. Thrift stores always have kids clothes that probably have only been worn once or twice. And don’t forget that grandparents, aunties, and friends from church probably won’t be able to resist the siren song of the adorably cute baby outfits for your kid either. Baby clothes is on the discretionary list because, as we’re already beginning to find out, the problem isn’t not having enough but rather having too much!
One Surprise Luxury
Now we must confess that there IS one thing that we added to our registry that is firmly a discretionary item: A webcam baby monitor. We went back and forth on this for a while, because we didn’t know whether we truly needed a video monitor for the baby’s room. We’ve witnessed a few of them in action with our friends’ kids and were impressed with how they worked. And with my propensity toward electronic gadgets as well as our intent for our baby to sleep in her own room someday, we decided this was something worth considering. We figured that even if it doesn’t work out with the baby, at least we’ll have a nice video surveillance system for our house. (See? Even Crumb Savers succumb to rationalization sometimes!)
Of course, as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, this is just our current thinking of the matter. It is entirely conceivable that things will get completely turned on its head once the baby arrives, but hopefully we’ve done enough homework so at least we know the options of how to adjust without being pressured and panicked into making rash, overpriced decisions.
So how about you? What do YOU consider essential purchases for your kids? Share your advice with us in the comments below!