Babies are big business. Add up the $900 strollers, the color-coordinated bedding sets, the mahogany furniture suites, and the complicated activity centers promising to boost a baby's I.Q., and it's amazing parents keep any money in their wallets to pay for diapers.

It's a lucrative enough market that many retailers find it worthwhile to offer entire lines of infant furnishings, with bassinets, changing tables, and gliding rockers to coordinate with carefully chosen suburban decor.

For such small creatures, it seems that babies sure could come with a lot of stuff. But you can be a savvy parent and a responsible consumer. Here are a few ways to fight back against the avalanche of marketing aimed at new parents:

Find the free stuff: Babies start small, but they sure do grow fast. That means most parents have piles of clothes just waiting to be passed down. They probably also have swings, bouncing seats, toys, and mountains of other stuff they'd be happy to get out of their basements and attics.

You can find a lot of free stuff just by looking in the right places. Internet sites like Freecycle and any email networks in your neighborhood or town can be great resources. Ask parents in your area whether they're electronically connected, through parenting or babysitting listservs.

Since babies hardly ever wear things out, hand-me-downs are a blessing. A little scrubbing, and much of it is as good as new.

Buy essentials: You'd definitely be prepared if you bought everything in every catalog that arrives at your door, but do you really need a 25-CD set of baby-friendly lullabies? Instead of hauling everything in the store into your home, ask other parents what items they couldn't live without. They'll be happy to tell you that and more. Brace yourself for stories of diaper-changing strategies and a too-detailed accounting of the night that Junior couldn't stop throwing up -- all to prove the point that having some Pedialyte around to prevent dehydration sure came in handy.

For health and feeding issues, ask your pediatrician what you should have around. They have their own experience, not to mention the feedback of hundreds of parents, to draw upon.

Resist the coordinated sets: If everything in your nursery absolutely must match, you can skip this section and jump to the end. For everyone else, take a very close look before you buy a coordinated set of anything, whether it's bath products or bedding. You'll probably find one or two items, if not more, in that packaged set that you don't need and don't need to buy. Besides, you might get tired of constantly looking at Winnie the Pooh if he's embossed on every single item before your eyes.

Check safety: For both new and used items, make safety your top concern. Many baby product manufacturers will list recalls on their websites, but you can also check the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission for information.

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This article, written by Mary Dalrymple, was originally published in one of our newsletter services. It has been updated by Dayana Yochim. The Fool has a disclosure policy.