Can I Afford a Baby?

Your complete guide to planning for the expenses of a new family member.

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Even something as basic as a changing table is optional, says Vicki Iovine, author of The Girlfriends' Guide to Baby Gear. "You don't need a changing table until your back starts to hurt from changing them on the bed or the floor or the sofa, which is usually when they start moving a lot and get heavier," she says.

Buying a giant stroller. "Parents sometimes buy a giant, SUV-type stroller, thinking they need all the bells and whistles. It's a classic first-time parent mistake," says Fields. The problem is that tricked-out strollers can weigh upwards of 30 pounds empty, which makes it hard to move them in and out of the car trunk, especially if you're holding the baby in your other arm. Instead, Fields recommends lighter-weight strollers (under 20 pounds) that can be folded and unfolded with one hand.

Copying the layout of a store's nursery. The plush cribs filled with soft bumpers and blankets look appealing, but according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, they pose a suffocation risk. That government body recommends against placing anything soft in the crib with babies, yet catalogues and stores often feature these items in displays. Many parents buy these products only to discover that not only are they unnecessary, they pose a safety hazard.

Likewise, the government recommends against the use of sleep positioners, but they are still sold online and elsewhere. "Parents often think that because a product is on a shelf at a store, it is therefore safe to use and it passed some sort of government safety standard. That's not true," says Fields.

Feeling overwhelmed by all the new products. Just because you can buy a device to keep infant socks on or a bathtub that continuously expels dirty water doesn't mean you need those items. Some people will love them, while others will find them utterly unnecessary. "There are a lot of 'mompreneurs' out there, and as a result, there's all this new stuff, which is both good and bad," says Fields. On one hand, more products for working moms, such as car adapters for breast pumps, can make life easier. But on the other, parents can easily feel bombarded by all the choices. "Do you need wipes warmers? No. These are convenience items," says Fields.

Recommended strategies:

Consider your parenting style. Cribs versus co-sleepers, slings versus strollers, breastfeeding versus formula—many purchasing choices relate to what kind of parent you want to be. Carley Roney, editor of TheBump.com, says parenting styles often follow your own lifestyle choices, so consider whether you tend toward more of a Type A outlook, in which case you might prefer video monitors and other extra safety precautions, or more of a relaxed approach, in which you might skip the crib purchase altogether and plan on extended bed-sharing. "Type As are the ones who tend to buy everything in advance and will probably end up spending more overall and the souped-up versions of things," says Roney, adding that other parents take a wait-and-see approach and delay most of their purchases.

Wait to stock up. Even a personal shopper can't always select the perfect items before the baby arrives, says Wing. That's because babies' mouths differ, so they prefer different bottles, or their bodies differ in shape enough to make different styles of onesies more comfortable. "You can make an educated decision, but don't stock up on extras until you meet your baby," she says.

"People buy too many clothes, especially for baby girls," says Meeks. One week's worth of clothes is plenty, she adds. Also, you might be able to skip some gear altogether. If you have a kitchen sink, perhaps you don't need a baby bath tub. If you have a quilt, you may not need to buy a special play mat, she says.

[See How to Plan an Affordable Babymoon.]

Make your own list. Retailers such as Buy Buy Baby and Babies 'R Us create lists of "must-have" items to help guide parents-to-be. Instead of following their lead, make your own list after chatting with experienced friends and family members.