A friend is expecting her first baby, and the conversation came around to the things that would be needed for the new baby. I am a firm believer that our society wastes a lot of money on unnecessary baby things (just like unnecessary pet things.) We have developed this culture where it is normal to spend hundreds or even thousands of dollars on specialized baby gear. I think it is madness.
In that vein, let's discuss some of the often purchased (new!) and not completely necessary items. I'm not saying that you can't or shouldn't buy them, but rather that you need to think critically about whether they are actually required.
1. Changing Table: I have very mixed feelings about designated changing tables. We've never purchased one, but we were loaned one. It was helpful for my mother-in-law to have something at her height to change the baby. My husband and I were more likely to throw down a changing mat and change the baby on the bed, the sofa, or the floor. For babies number two and three, we had an extra hand-me-down crib that could be set with the mattress ridiculously high. We used that as a changing station for the first few months, then returned to the "wherever" changing system. By the time we got to baby number four, we were in a teeny house with no room for a changing table but a large counter in the bathroom. We got one of those curved changing pad and put it on the counter. Perfect! (Note: Even though they are frivolous, I highly recommend the contoured changing page. It was just one little extra bit of protection against a rolling baby. And it made me feel spoiled.)
2. Wipes Warmers: I have never, ever been able to figure out the infatuation with a wipes warmer. Your wipes aren't likely to be significantly colder than the ambient room temperature; why would they need to be warmed? Plus, I am a little crazy about fire safety, and they just seem like a potential hazard to me, especially if you use an extension cord to get the wipes warmer in the right location.. We tended to use cloth wipes for the first few months, run under the kitchen sink and heat-tested against my face. If you are really so concerned about the wipes being too cold, warm them for 5 seconds in your hand before using them.
3. Seats/Swings/Bouncers/Spaceships: I'm not going to argue that it is great to have somewhere to park your baby so that you can go to the bathroom or cook dinner or fold laundry. However, I have seen families buy entire wardrobes of baby entertainment, before the baby was even born. Here's the thing: they don't get used very long, and you never know what your baby is going to like. I recommend that you first try to borrow these items, at least to see if your baby would use it. If you decide to buy your own, ask around to see if any friends would like to sell some things that are cluttering up their basement. Go to yard sales. Check out Craigs List. Buy new only as a last resort.
4. Diaper Pail: Again, I just don't understand. Why would you buy an expensive special trash can that only takes a certain expensive kind of trash bag, just for diapers? Especially when one of its design features is holding a lot of diapers so you don't have to take out the trash as often? For starters, most diapers don't smell bad. And if you are taking out your trash on a regular basis, your house is not going to start smelling. If you do get a particularly shocking diaper, tie it up in a small plastic bag before putting it in the trash.
5. Diaper Bag: Obviously, you need somewhere to put your baby's gear. And it might even be a bag designed for diapers. However, you don't need an expensive or elaborate diaper bag system. A simple tote bag or backpack will do the job just as well as any designer, two-in-one, super-sonic diaper bag. Save yourself the money and either re-use something that you already own, or get something that you like enough to continue using once the baby has grown out of diapers.
Babies don't need to be expensive, and the chief way to save money is to avoid the extravagant purchases that our consumer-driven economy makes seem essential. Stick to the basics, borrow, and buy used to keep costs down.