We all know babies are expensive. Ranging from medical expenses, to carseats and strollers, to swings and high chairs, to clothes and shoes, to cribs and changing tables, to diapers and wipes…. The list goes on. Costs can soar. It’s overwhelming, and I had many meltdowns before my daughter was born because of how much stuff such a small person “needed.” It’s even more overwhelming when you’re on a tight budget AND have a desire to live ethically. This is where used baby gear comes into play. Borrowing, thrifting, sharing – all are great ways to recycle (thereby reducing the demand for new items, and saving energy in the process), and they’re cheap!
Read on to discover my tried-and-true ways to get great used baby gear.
Borrow the bigger things.
Of course, borrowing only really works if you know someone with similarly-aged kids, but it’s one of the cheapest and most ethical things you can do. This is an option for non-apparel things like car seats, high chairs, swings, and the like. It’s also really smart to borrow something like a winter coat (especially if you’re just visiting a colder climate) or an outfit for a special occasion.
Swap gear with a mom friend.
Swapping or sharing is a cool idea if you have a mom friend whose children’s ages are staggered with yours. Maybe she has a 3-year-old girl and a 1-year-old boy, and you have a 2-year-old boy and a baby girl on the way. See if you can swap some clothes with her – her 1-year-old will fit into those clothes your 2-year-old has grown out of, and your baby girl can borrow some clothes that her 3-year-old used to wear. This way neither of you has to buy a ton of new stuff, and you both benefit!
See if you can get hand-me-downs.
While borrowing or sharing is ethical and free, hand-me-downs may be simpler. In the first two cases, the other mom will eventually want her stuff back, and it may be difficult to remember who lent what in a few months, especially if you’re borrowing from multiple families. But if you can manage to get hand-me-downs from a friend, sibling, or cousin that’s finished having kids, bonus points for you. Whatever they give you can get mixed in with the rest of your stuff, and you won’t feel bad if something spills on it. (Because let’s be honest, something probably will spill on it.)
Thrift shop for the future.
When you can’t get used baby gear from a friend, thrift shopping is the next best thing. Most items of clothing are $0.99, and they’re usually in great condition. A lot of things I find almost look brand new. I know that thrifting can be overwhelming, but the section of baby clothes generally isn’t too big. If you head straight there, you could be in and out with a bag full of great baby gear in 15 minutes. And my favorite part? You never have to wait in line for the fitting room!
When I thrift for my daughter (which is almost always what I choose to do when I have a couple hours to myself), I start looking at clothes for the size she’s in now and go through the racks for sizes she’ll be in through the next six months (or until my arms get tired). This is a quick process because I always try to have a mental inventory of what she already has and what she could still use. Then I just flip through the clothes, only stopping if something catches my eye. Before heading to the cash register, I check for stains or holes and to make sure any zippers work. I also limit myself to only buying a few items at a time, or else we would end up with a closet full of clothes she won’t ever wear.
I try not to buy things more than a half year in advance, because seasons change pretty drastically where I live, and I really just don’t know what size she’ll be in several months from now. However, if you find a really good deal on something – say, a winter coat or a pair of shoes – it might be worth it to take the risk. I got a pair of used snow pants for $1.74 during a Black Friday sale at my local thrift store; hopefully they’ll fit my daughter next winter, but if they don’t, I’ll save them for a future child.
Find a local ministry or organization that can help you get what you need.
If you’re really strapped for cash, there are organizations around to help you find the used baby gear you need. A group of churches in my community hosts a breakfast once a month, during which pregnant women and mothers of babies can shop for used clothes, shoes, books, toys, and blankets that have been donated. They also have packages of diapers and wipes. Sometimes there are even bigger items available, like a stroller. There’s a limit on how much can be taken each time, but it really is helpful. And, it’s a great place for families to donate their baby gear when they’re finished using it.
Last words of advice:
You really don’t need as much stuff as everyone says you do. Every baby is different, and every family is different. This is why it’s great to borrow and buy used baby gear, or you may end up having spent a lot of money on things your baby doesn’t even like. One of my baby registry-induced meltdowns resulted in us getting three different types of pacifiers – and the only pacifier we ended up using was one we got for free from a store where we registered.
I’ll leave you with my very favorite tip: buy neutral things as much as you can. Car seat covers, cloth diapers, toys, even some clothes and shoes – the more things you buy neutral, the more chance you have of being able to use those things again in the future.