Welcome a baby without emptying your wallet

By Mir
October 1, 2007

The very pretty—erm, wait, I think maybe handsome—Nick writes:

Mir, You are very very pretty and your blog is the bomb dot com. I was wondering if you could help me out finding some deals on things for little ones, more specifically the very very little ones. My good friend and his wife just had their first baby, a little girl. I would like to get them a present, but don’t have a whole lot of coin these days. I almost ordered the little bear costume you posted the other day, but wasn’t sure if blue was appropriate for infant girls. Also, any advice on what new parents might need would be helpful, as I am only in my 20s and this is my first friend to have a little crumb snatcher. Thanks again my pretty friend.


This is a great question, because most of us reach an age where suddenly all of our friends are spawning, and the “what do we buy for a new baby?” question starts coming up a lot. Fortunately this issue a lot easier to deal with than you might think. Because it turns out that there is no shortage of stuff to buy for babies!

Assuming that there’s no baby registry to consult (and I have mixed feelings about baby registries, so I’m not even going to touch that issue), my rules for buying for a new baby are surprisingly simple.

Let’s start with what not to do. There are some items you simply should not buy for other people (says I) even if they’re useful things. The first class of items should be avoided because they are either too personal or they’re too specific. Sometimes they’re both! These items include things like bottles (they may be breastfeeding, and even if they aren’t, some babies are very nipple-specific), pacifiers (some people avoid them), diapers (although diapers are a needed item, maybe they like one specific brand, or maybe they’re using cloth), highly gender stereotyped clothing (slight caveat here—this is okay if you know the parents very well and you know they won’t mind, but I cannot tell you how many people gave me tip-to-toe pink outfits when I had my daughter and honestly, I just didn’t like pink very much), or any sort of “how to” baby manual unless it’s meant to be humorous.

The other things you should not buy, as a childless person, include any sort of “useful gadget.” Someone who’s never diapered a baby may think a wipes warmer sounds awesome and high-tech, whereas most of us who’ve had kids know that that’s a pretty useless object. The exception to this rule would be something that a parent recommends to you, I guess, but generally I’d say steer clear.

Okay. That’s what not to do. So what should you do?

1) Books. If you’ve read me for more than 5 minutes you know that I am a fool for books. You really can’t go wrong with books, both because they can be gotten cheaply and because they’re educational and one-size-fits-all. And most folks will gravitate towards the soft fabric books or chunky board books, but I’m here to tell you that books are for a lifetime. Buy a nice copy of Falling Up or a set of Frances books or whatever you loved as a kid; they’ll keep.

2) Toys. Again, it’s really pretty hard to go wrong with toys as there’s no fit involved. I like most Baby Lamaze toys for early infant/toddlers as a can’t-go-wrong option; any sort of classic wooden block set would be nice, too. It doesn’t have to be something she can use right this second. While I wouldn’t recommend the microscope science playset just yet, a set of Duplo wouldn’t be out of the question, either.

3) Necessary baby clothing. That would be things like onesies and baby gowns and footie sleepers and bibs. Boring but practical. Buy bigger than 0-3 months, though—chances are the parents got a ton of tiny stuff, already. Buy in the 3-6 or 6-9 month size.

4) Unnecessary baby clothing. This category includes things like t-shirts with goofy things written on them, Trumpette sock sets, and yes, things like that bear-hooded fleece I posted last week. Resist the urge to give an entire outfit unless you feel fairly fashion savvy and like you know what the parents like. On the other hand, a baby towel with some sort of animal hood? Classic. (Okay, that’s not technically clothing. So sue me.)

5) Dining accouterments. Again, the parents have likely received a ton of teeny baby things. Think ahead. Toddlers need little silverware and unbreakable bowls (there is no shortage of adorable dish sets for kids available, honestly, I mean just look at this), and sippy cups and entertaining place mats.

6) Parental respite. You can’t put a price on the offer to watch the baby for a night so the parents can go out to dinner. And if you don’t feel comfortable volunteering to babysit, you can still give them a dining certificate or a bottle of wine or something from Omaha Steaks or something else that is to pamper them. I know it’s traditional to give something to the baby, but it’s the parents who are doing all the work, after all!

The thing I would stress most of all, Nick, is that this is not about what you spend. Some of my very favorite baby gifts were the most inexpensive ones, ones that were clearly purchased with our family in mind and a desire to share in our happiness. You don’t have to spend a lot. You just have to give something you think they’ll enjoy. I hope that helps.


  1. If you go to a discount store like Marshall’s or TJ Maxx, you can usually find a good selection of inexpensive toys and clothes. I recommend practical clothes in a larger size (parents may be swamped with size 0-3 and 3-6, but they’ll really appreciate the next sizes up (6 or even 12 months). My personal criteria for “practical” are: one piece outfits with legs that have snaps up the and around the legs, or two piece outfits with a shirt that snaps. Not dresses (if it’s a girl they’ll have gotten plenty already), and not with feet (because if baby has long legs they’ll grow out of the outfit more quickly). And nothing too pink/girly, I agree, unless you know the parents love it. I was always extra happy to get baby clothes that *weren’t* pink for my girl.

    I’ll also second the idea of books, board or otherwise.

  2. I have to agree with the “buy ahead” advice–we’ve had lots of friends have babies this year, and they all appreciated the fact that we bought one or two seasons ahead. (And the bonus? Everything for one or two seasons ahead is on clearance right now!)

    BUT–make sure that when you’re buying ahead, you’re buying seasonally appropriate outfits. That 3-6 months snowsuit might be adorable and reasonably priced…but not if the baby was born in February…then they’ll be 3-6 months May-July! Be SMART about what you buy! (A lot of our friends have mourned about this to us, as well–beautiful clothes that have to go unused because they’re seasonally inappropriate!)

  3. Hi. Mom of one here, with one on the way.

    If they do have a registry, USE IT. Or buy them a gift certificate from the place that they’re registered so that they can buy whatever’s essential that they didn’t receive.

    I appreciated the sentiment behind all my cutesy teensy baby outfits from unknown sources (that are therefore unreturnable even though I had WAY too many), but goodness, what most people need when they have a baby is THE EQUIPMENT, not the cute stuff. Help them by buying something they’ve listed– or give money/gcards to help with the stroller, the crib, the breast pump (sorry if that’s tmi), the diapers, and the doctor’s bills. Unless they’re fabulously wealthy, that’s what they most need.

    (Hope that’s helpful and not just sounding really grumpy…)

  4. Our absolutely favorite gift — two weeks of catered dinners. They were delivered every two days – one ready-to-heat and one frozen. It came in so handy and took the edge off the major stress of those first two weeks of baby at home. And I could argue that it WAS for the baby, because it helped us retain a bit more sanity!

  5. I love gifting books, hooded towels, and those newborn “sacks” to friends and family. They are all unisex gifts if you pick a green or yellow. If you write the date and to/from inside the book, it makes it all the more special to the family. I second the TJMaxx idea, but really look over the books (sometimes they are really beat up).

  6. It’s funny because you advise to stay away from diapers and one of the best gifts I received was a great supply of diapers. They didn’t end up being a brand I would buy myself, but hey, they were a supply of diapers! They certainly weren’t a gift that got tons of ooo’s and ahh’s from the crowd at my baby shower, but they were the most used items I got.

  7. Extremely unglamorous, yes, but when the little crumb snatcher wakes up in the middle of the night all stuffy, a cool mist humidifier is one of those gifts that will make the parents extoll your virtues long after the baby shower.

    I also like to buy a laundry basket and fill it with practical items – a bottle of liquid Ivory Snow, an assortment of the smallest (1-2 oz) Rubbermaid or Tupperware containers you can find, a box of rice cereal w/spoons, bowls, etc., a box of Cheerios or Zwieback, some practical (read – not frilly!) bibs, socks, washclothes, etc., a splat mat, perfume-free, alcohol-free wipes, a few board books, etc. Stuff you’ll wake up needing suddenly one day, and at least you won’t have to go to the store to get!

    One gift that is lovely but does take a little planning was one my best friend’s sister gave me. It was either a bib or little outfit for each holiday (Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas/New Years) along with a little board book about the holiday. It was obviously done in advance (she also recommends TJMaxx or Marshalls for these things!), and I thought it was just adorable! Bibs are esp. a good idea – one size fits all!!

    And one thing – if you’re more than an acquaintance, don’t be afraid to ask for exactly what they need. When I was pregnant with my second, I kept thinking I wanted a new infant car seat – I HATED the one I had. But being the practical person I am, I wouldn’t buy a new one – after all, it wasn’t broken, I just really didn’t like it. When my best friend said she knew I had everything I needed, but she wanted to buy me something I really wanted – I cried, and told her, and we went out that day and bought one. OK, maybe that was hormones, but I was so thrilled to be asked, and then to get, exactly what I needed!

    Could you tell I love babies??? 😉 Enjoy Nick!

  8. That’s funny about the pink stuff. A classmate of my husband’s is pregnant and she registered for baby clothes in addition to the other stuff. She’s having a girl and EVERY SINGLE outfit or piece of clothing she registered for is PINK!! Each to his own, I guess, lol. She was also bemoaning to my husband that everyone is buying her summer clothes for her baby that is due in November (we live in Las Vegas, but it does get cold here in the winter). So hubby buys her the bear outfit. Ok, very cute and I guess practical? The very next day he buys her an LL Bean sunsuit size 0-3 months. ????? Thanks for listening to my rambling.BTW, what’s the “code” on here for hubby? Is it DH?

  9. Frames! I don’t know a new parent who doesn’t take photos of their baby…and a simple frame is always useful. I’d try to gear it more towards the style of the house and not the baby’s room (nothing too cutesy) and perhaps fill it temporarily with a letter of well wishes for the baby and parents. You can find inexpensive, but good looking, frames at TJMaxx, Marshall’s or Target.

  10. ACK yes, picture frames. Dunno how I forgot those. Great suggestion, Mary!

  11. Crista, yes, it’s “DH.” 🙂

    I like the idea of meals for the new parents. Although food is certainly expensive (what isn’t these days?) and you’re on a budget, Nick, even one casserole or pot of spaghetti & some garlic bread might really help them out! (IF you cook, that is.) I know that would mean A LOT to me as a new mom!

  12. of course the most important thing to remember when buying clothes for baby’s is never, EVER believe the size tag. sure, it SAY’S 3-6 months but really only fits for the first two months.

    i try to buy clothes in the 12-18 months size to fit a 6-10 month old.

  13. I think you could kill two birds with one stone by buying off season clothes in bigger sizes. For example, buying summer clothes now in size 6-9 or 9-12 months. You’ll save money (they’re all on sale now) and the parents will appreciate not having another tiny winter outfit they may not get a chance to put on the baby.

    This is a personal favorite of mine, but what about a gift certificate to a picture place? I could never resist getting my kids pictures taken. You could also tell them its for a “family” photo. It may be over your price range but Picture People has a photo club that you can join for them where they get free sittings for a year, 3 free photo sheets (depending on the photo size it can be an 8 x 10 or more smaller pics) and $10 off their order three times plus coupons, etc. I think its about $45.

    My last suggestion is things that there are just NEVER too many of – bibs, face cloths, cloth diapers (for burb cloths), toiletries, onesies, a stain stick.

  14. Definitely, the plan-ahead sizes. I really appreciated those with both kids, especially my fast-growing son.

  15. One person here said: “I try to buy clothes in the 12-18 months size to fit a 6-10 month old.”

    I think it must depend on the baby. My kids were nearly 9 lbs. at birth, and I remember the 0-3 month size ocassionally being too BIG on them as newborns… because I wondered what on earth smaller babies wore?!

    My kids pretty much fit into the correct “months” for their age.

    Gotta be careful buying baby clothes, I guess!

  16. another idea that is always a hit when I’ve given them is burp cloths. I buy a 12 pack of the prefolded cloth diapers, then I sew a strip of baby/kid design ribbon along both of the short ends. you can do gender specific or just dots and stripes if you don’t know the sex! who wouldn’t want a cute burp cloth for going out!

  17. Over the years, and three children, the best baby gift we received was a gift certificate to the Olive Garden. My husband is not a big fan of the restaurant, but we sure did enjoy the night out.

    Yes, out of all the gifts we have received, the only one I remember with fondness is the gift certificate for food.

  18. I think it’s neat and thoughtful when the gifter gives something for the kiddo (a book is awesome because they will think of you 7,987,324 times while being asked to read it, and little hats are always ridiculously cute) AND sneaks in a little parent-oriented treat.

    The catered food is an amazing (if pricey) idea! I might have to mention that if my inlaws ask what we want this time around… Making freezer food can be pretty cost-efficient and will DEFinitely be appreciated. Or a big basket of snacky things and nice teas for late-night munchies. Another fun thing is a gift certificate for a video rental place or some DVDs you think they might like.

    If they aren’t members of some kind of community where this might happen already, I’m sure they would love you forever for arranging for their friends & family to cook meals for them every other day for a few weeks. My church does this using Evites, and it works out really well.

    You sound like a stellar friend to have- congrats on the honorary uncle-hood.

  19. The shoeszoo ebay store is a phenomenal place to buy a cheap, cute and practical baby gift. This seller has the Canadian version of Robeez, brand new, at rock-bottom prices (search ebay for shoeszoo). The most you can pay for these shoes are $12 (compare with $25-30 for Robeez at the store) and you can often get cute ones for less. If you buy multiple pairs she will only charge you once for shipping. I forget the shipping price, but it is really reasonable. She has even thrown in a free pair for me on occasion when I have bought a lot at once. I buy them in bulk for gifts in the 6-12 month size (bigger than the standard newborn gift size but small enough to ensure that the baby isn’t a serious walker when he/she will fit into them) and I always get tons of compliments. They are even good for second and third and fourth children in the same family, because shoes aren’t the best thing to hand down. I bought them for my own second baby and I can attest that they held up as well or better than the name-brand Robeez I bought my oldest daughter before I knew better.

  20. This post is great. Thank you, Mir.

  21. I agree with everything but the Trumpette socks. I LOVED my box of socks! I actually got two boxes from family members. They’re $25 for 6 pairs, and definitely fit into the category of expensive if I’m buying them for myself, but so adorable that I was very glad to get them as a gift. You can get them cheaper on Ebay, too.

    I also appreciated a few baby accessories like cute winter hats from Gymboree — $12 or so, something that I’d hesitate over buying myself since I’d be putting into a cart with lots of other clothes, but that would be an inexpensive gift that would definitely be used over and over. Put it in a $2 gift bag with a piece of tissue paper and you have a great baby gift for about $15.

    Another idea: Starbucks cards for moms and dads. Caffeine is definitely mommy’s little helper, and it was great to be able to meet another mom for coffee and even pay. No fumbling for change, etc. Restaurant gift cards can be tricky but everyone drinks hot stuff in winter!

    Look for award-winning books online and try to buy from the “nearly new” used sellers on amazon or whereever. Read the NYT backlist of kids’ books to see who’s good. I love the Gaspard and Lisa books, and also the “Mommy Loves” and “Daddy Hugs” books by the same author/illustrator — small and sweet with vibrant but nostalgic illustrations. I think there are 4 of these.

  22. If you’re going to go with a bib, I’d suggest a large, waterproof one with a pocket on the front. We accumulated a huge box-full of unused little cotton bibs that thoughtful people gave us. Unfortunately, they didn’t do much to protect our sons’ clothes. Personally, Bumkins are my favorites. Invaluable when babies & toddlers learn to eat at the table.

  23. i would have given anything to just have someone come over and clean the house and cook meals for me when i had my daughter. or if you don’t feel comfortable doing that, i second a gift certificate so parents can run out and grab diapers or formula or nursing pads or whatever! or Give clothes that are in larger sizes….seriously, i had TONS AND TONS AND TONS of tiny clothing…..what i need now is 12 month stuff! and i’m having to buy it in season!

    i would avoid the smaller clothes, burp cloths, bibs, ..parents already have enough of that stuff.

  24. Thanks for all of the help and suggestions. I really appreciate it. I’m going to look like the baby expert now.

  25. For years, our default “new baby” gift was a basket of first aid gear, including an ear thermometer, baby nail file, bulb syringe for stuffy noses, and the like. We also like to give a nice big photo album.

  26. ANother great thing is a GC to have the babys pictures taken! I’m a photographer and I gets lots of people that buy GC for new parents.

  27. My most favorite baby gift is bath stuff…a nice thick hooded towel, washcloths, and baby wash. Out of all the presents I got for my kids, the towels were used the longest (3+ years)

  28. What about soft plastic bibs? We used them for both my grandchildren, often with a cloth bib on top. The cloth bib could wipe a messy face, and then go in the wash, but the plastic bib just needed a wipe and it was ready to go again. And you just can’t beat that turned-up bottom edge to catch all the stuff that usually ends up on the baby’s legs or on the floor.

  29. The BEST present given to us for my son, was a box of the Trumpette socks where each pair had a day of the week written on them. That was the only way as new exhausted parents that we even KNEW what day of the week it was!

  30. My standard baby gift is personalized thank you cards. As soon as the baby is born and I know the name, I order the cards and about a week later they arrive. There are a number of websites that offer personalized cards, but my favorite is amyadele.com. The cards are super cute and she has a very quick turn around. Throw in a book of stamps and it one less thing the parents have to remember to pick up.

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