8 Meaningful New Baby Gifts That Cost Less Than a Blanket

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine had a new baby. On the way to visit her, my husband and I stopped at Marshall’s to grab a gift for the bundle of joy. We picked out the cutest little socks and hat, and a baby blanket with elephants on it. Precious!

When my friend unwrapped the gift, she was gracious — but I saw it in her eyes. She didn’t like it. She played it off, saying how adorable it was, but I could tell she wasn’t in love. When I turned the corner into the child’s bedroom, I realized why — it was stocked floor to ceiling with blankets, stuffed animals, and other cute furnishings. She already had more blankets than she knew what to do with.

Years later, I find myself in the same predicament.

I have loved the baby blankets I have received — especially the ones that have come from the heart, quilted or knitted by a friend or friend’s mother (I actually put those in a different category — heritage blankets, if you will — than the ones I myself once gave to others purchased from the store). I also recognize the thoughtfulness of all of our gifts, whether or not we actually like them. Knowing that so many people care about our daughter fills my heart.

But as a new parent, I have to say that I have also discovered a world of other things — things that don’t cost a lot of money, but make all the difference in the world — that new moms and dads cherish. Things that allow them to give their baby what he or she needs the most — their time.

So if you were ever in the same position as me, wondering what to get a friend who just added a new member of the family, consider one of these.

Here are 8 amazing gifts that new parents will love. And each one of them should cost you less than 20 bucks.

1. A clean house.

Photo by Nathan Fertig on Unsplash

Of course, every person is different here (if you invited yourself over to my grandma’s house to clean it she would be a wreck thinking about how meticulously organized — read: cluttered like a maniac — she is), but if someone were to come volunteer themselves to clean my house I would do a happy dance. Even if it’s just doing some dishes and mopping.

Cost: Free. ~$10 if you add a nice-smelling candle to make your gift tangible.

Higher budget alternative: Order a one-time house cleaner through Groupon, TaskRabbit or Handy.

2. ½ lasagna, fresh. ½ lasagna, frozen.

The half/half ratio is key. A lasagna is a hearty meal and can serve up at a solid four meals for two people. Keep some of it fresh so they can eat it that week. The great thing about lasagna is that it freezes well, so throw the rest of it in a few serving-size plastic containers and they can heat it up in a couple weeks when they’re craving it again.

Cost: About $20 all in, depending on if your lasagna includes meat or not, plus Tupperware. $25 if you throw in some frozen garlic bread.

Higher budget alternative: Meal delivery through The Foodery and Freshly

3. Breakfast for a week.

Photo by Tadas Mikuckis on Unsplash

Grab your favorite coffee, a dozen bagels, and some cream cheese, and you’ve got an easy breakfast to take your friends through the hardest week of their lives as a family — the first one. Bonus if you live nearby and can come over to brew the coffee yourself. Don’t forget cream and sugar.

Cost: $20–25 for a bag of coffee and a dozen bagels.

Higher budget alternative: Order delivery from Panera.

4. A date night.

Photo by Guillermo Nolasco on Unsplash

If it was a hard labor and Mom is still recovering, consider offering a date night “in”, where the couple can have some alone time to watch Netflix and order takeout (or sleep) and you take the baby to your house for a few hours. Or, if they’d rather go out, hang at their place on a Friday or Saturday night.

Cost: Free. $15 If you add a bottle of wine.

5. A coupon for one super-inconvenient, last-minute babysitting session.

I’ve gotten many offers from friends who are willing to babysit, and that’s been amazing — but there’s always that one time when you need someone at the last minute and you feel awful inconveniencing anyone. That’s where a coupon for a super inconvenient, last-minute babysitting session comes into play. Yes. That’s when you, as the gift-giver, willfully volunteer to be inconvenienced in an extreme way to help your friend out. Maybe you have to leave work early, or cancel on going to a party, or get up at the butt-crack of dawn. But you do it, because you signed up for it, and you know that for all the hardship you’re facing, your friends have to make decisions like that everyday.

Cost: Free, though there may be opportunity costs associated with this one.

6. A set of mixtapes.

Or whatever the current lingo is. A playlist, or a mix CD, or whatever medium your friends are listening to. Get your favorite Rockabye Baby! albums and put them together for something that parents and baby can enjoy together. Or, if you’re an experienced parent, make a mix of all of your favorite songs that your kids listen to (ie the ones that don’t drive you crazy after the fifth time in a row). Your friends’ ears will thank you for them.

Cost: $0–20, depending on if you already own the music or if you’re purchasing individual tracks.

7. A garden.

For spring and summer babies — one of the most wonderful gifts I received after giving birth was the start of a beautiful garden. A friend of mine noticed that I had a large and unused plot of land next to my house and asked if I wanted to grow any vegetables this year. During my pregnancy, she bought a bunch of seed packets and got to work. A few weeks after Nora was born, she presented me with dozens of beautiful seedlings — tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, even strawberries and mint. I thought it was the coolest gift ever, and now I am enjoying the fruits of her labor.

Cost: $10-$20 for seeds, potting soil and starter pots.

Update: My gardening friends have spoken and told me that in no way can you do all of this for $20. I still choose to believe that you can find all the things you need and more at the Dollar Tree to get started on a small garden, but I am often wrong on most things. If you don’t have a Dollar Tree nearby and/or want to grow a pretty substantial garden for your friend you will likely be looking at an investment of $50 or so.

The other alternative is to focus on maybe one or two plants — growing a tomato plant, or some strawberries — to keep the costs down with the same effect.

8. Put up holiday decorations.

Photo by Erwan Hesry on Unsplash

Do you have a friend who gave birth during the holidays? I assure you, the last thing on a new parent’s mind is putting up that Christmas tree. So get your work clothes on, come over one day and take yourself down to their basement to schlep their decorations up. Buy an ornament for the new baby for a personal touch. But don’t forget — if you put the decorations up, you should take on the responsibility of putting them back when the holidays are over, too.

Cost: Free or ~$10 if you add in an ornament.

How to actually do these things

Oftentimes, the tricky part in offering a service is that the new mom or dad won’t take you up on it. Let’s face it: they’re busy. They probably will forget your offer is on the table. Or they might feel awkward asking you. That’s why you need to do a few things:

1. Make it very specific.

Instead of saying “I will clean your house sometime” say “I will clean your house on one Saturday morning.”

2. Set an expiration.

Say “I will clean your house on one Saturday morning. And you have to let me do it in the next two months.”

3. Or even better: set a date right then and there.

Say “can I come by to clean your house this Saturday?” Or say “The next three Saturdays work — what works best for you?” You can always reschedule later but at least you have something specific to look at.

4. Follow up.

If you don’t hear from them and you’re getting close to that “expiration” date, follow up. Having an expiration gives you a natural opportunity to check in without feeling like you’re nagging. And you don’t have to actually follow the expiration date, by the way — it just makes it easier to actually get something nailed down.

If you haven’t noticed, there’s a general theme going on here: rather than buying more baby stuff that your friends don’t need, consider doing things to make their lives easier so that they can spend as much quality time as possible with their new one (and have the satisfaction of a clean, fresh-smelling house to boot — I’m telling you, it makes all the difference in the world to me). Every parent knows it truly does take a village to raise a child. Now here’s your chance to join that village.