You want the best for your baby, but you don’t have to spend a bundle on gear to get it. Here are three budget cuts you can easily make that won’t compromise your baby’s safety, which should always be your top concern.
1. Crib mattresses—nix the convertible option. If you're planning to convert your baby's crib to a toddler bed, "dual firmness" convertible mattresses are available at the top end (in the range of $220 for conventional mattresses, and $400 for natural mattresses). These mattresses are extra firm for infants on one side, and cushier, with standard foam or springy, "viscoelastic" memory foam on the other for toddlers. (You can flip the mattress after your baby's first birthday, when the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, decreases.)
But you can put the added memory foam feature in the "not necessary" category. Your baby will still be happy with a firm mattress when he becomes a toddler.
2. Shopping cart covers—feel free to skip this purchase entirely. It’s not a must-have. In fact, using one may be more trouble than it’s worth. Keep in mind that the covers themselves can harbor harmful germs—from blood as well as from mucus and feces on the cart seat or handle—longer than a bare cart handle because the germs can get embedded in the fabric. That’s why it’s important to wash a shopping cart cover in hot water and a bleach-based disinfectant and dry it completely after every time you use it.
Another reason we put shopping cart covers in the “optional” category: These days, many supermarkets supply sanitizing wipes for cleaning the cart handle and seat when you walk in, and the wipes can do a good job of reducing the germ load. If the store doesn’t provide them, keep a small supply of disinfecting wipes in your purse or diaper bag. Even after wiping, keep your baby from gnawing on the handle by bringing his favorite teething toy.
3. Disposable diapers—go with the store brand. Although our tests show that the name brands are the top-rated disposable diapers, because overall they tend to be more absorbent and fit better, you may find store brands more than adequate—and a cost cutter. In our informal research, we calculated a savings of 3 cents per diaper when we compared the cost of size 1 Parent’s Choice, Wal-Mart’s store-brand diapers, with size 1 Pampers from the same store. Saving pennies per diaper may not seem like much, but with 10 or so changes per day (which is reasonable with an infant), you’ll bank about $9 per month and $108 per year using the size 1 store brand diapers. Want to save even more? Consider reusable diapers and launder them yourself. For more information, see Saving money on diapers.