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Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I'm expecting a baby! It's my first so everything is new for me. I'm feeling overwhelmed with the whole thing. I can't ask my mom for advice (long story) so I'm really on my own. There seems to be a million things that I need to buy. I want the best for my baby but if I buy everything they say I'll need my husband will kill me. What should I do?
It's not surprising that you're excited and a bit overwhelmed. First babies will do that. It's their job. Your job is to grow into the role of parent. That means taking care of you and the baby physically. And preparing for the beginning of a new life in your home.
It's a shame that your mother can't help. Mothers have been imparting wisdom to their pregnant daughters for eons. Typically it's some of the best advice you can get.
In your case you'd be wise to find a substitute. Look for someone from your mother's generation that you respect. Someone with grown children. Ask them to spend some time with you during the pregnancy sharing their stories and advice. They'll have a perspective that only years can bring. Some of the things that we do with our babies will have an affect years later. Good and bad. Find someone who can share that wisdom with you.
Look, too, for a friend who has had a baby recently. They'll be attuned to the latest trends and resources. Things that weren't available when your mom's generation was expecting. Many of the tools are a big help. Your friend can help you find the best ones.
One thing that they will tell you is that when you're expecting it's very easy to overspend. As you say, you want the best for your baby. You think that your baby deserves the best. But, the truth is that your baby will do very well without the best of everything.
In fact, if you get the best of everything you could actually be hurting your baby. Worrying about how you'll pay all those credit card bills is stressful. And mom being stressed isn't healthy for baby either before or after delivery.
There are four things that newborns really need: a good home, good food, clothing and parental love. The first three cost money. The last one is priceless.
Begin with your home. Yes, it's great if you can afford a completely decorated nursery for your baby. But, it's more for the adults than the baby. What your baby really needs is a place to sleep, not Disney characters on the walls.
Changing tables, dressers and other baby furniture are nice, but not necessary. Some of those items do make parenting easier. For instance many parents credit the baby swing with saving their sanity. But, if all you can afford is a crib in the corner of mom and dad's room then that will work fine.
Obviously that precious bundle will need nourishment. Breastfeeding baby can save you $1,000 or more in the first year. You can find plenty of info on breastfeeding with a simple search.
If you use formula look for coupons. You'll find them everywhere. Consider making your own baby food. It's surprisingly easy and can save a lot.
Also, if you're struggling financially, find out about WIC. It's a government program to support mothers and children.
Next, that little one will need clothes and diapers. Don't spend a lot on fancy outfits. Chances are that you'll get a few as gifts and that's all you need. You won't have your baby dressed nicely often.
What you will need is lots of every day clothes that can handle spit-ups. Those don't need to be bought new. Check out craigslist and thrift stores for used clothes and friends for hand-me-downs. Think functional. In the first year babies can be hard on clothes.
Remember, too, that babies grow quickly in their first year. It's common for moms to have '6 month' outfits that were never worn before the baby outgrew them.
As to diapers, you'll find some moms wouldn't dream of giving up the convenience of disposables. If you're one of those you will spend more on diapering. You can reduce the cost somewhat by looking for diapers on craigslist and other used goods sites. Many parents end up with unused diapers that are too small for their baby.
Test out some store brand diapers. They work fine if you can find one that's a good fit for your little one. Also, become a coupon clipper. Coupons are a great friend to new moms.
Cloth diapers can reduce the cost by half or more. They do take more work, but aren't nearly as bad as you might think. Also, cloth diapers don't end up in landfills if that's a concern for you. Some moms are using cloth at home and disposables when baby is away from home. A bit of the best of both strategies.
Be prepared to resell things when you're through with them. Online marketplaces make it much easier to buy and sell things. Some moms aren't storing cribs and clothing for the next baby. They're selling the items now and buying used when they're expecting again. Often they can buy something, use it and then sell it for nearly what they paid for it.
For first time moms, what you don't know can hurt you. At least financially. You're the perfect target for marketers. Naturally you want to be the best mom you can be. And, without experience, so many things can seem critical to getting your baby off to a fine start. That's why it's important to talk with more experienced moms and grandmoms before you pull our your purse.
If you spend too much now you could actually be creating an unhealthy, stressful environment. That could make it difficult for you and dad to provide the love that's really essential for that precious little person!
Gary Foreman is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who currently edits The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters. He's been featured in MSN Money, Yahoo Finance, Fox Business, The Nightly Business Report and he's a regular contributor to US News Money and CreditCards.com. You can follow Gary on Twitter or visit Gary Foreman on Google+.
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