When I recently tried to prove my thriftiness by pointing out to my husband that I had no intention of buying a $899 stroller for walks in the park with our soon-to-be new arrival, he scoffed at me. I had to find the catalog and prove to him that such a thing existed.

Not only do they exist, but they're only a small part of the avalanche of marketing aimed at new parents. Add the color-coordinated bedding sets, the mahogany furniture suites, 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.

Babies are big business
It's a lucrative enough market that Crate & Barrel and Williams-Sonoma's (NYSE:WSM) Pottery Barn find it worthwhile to offer entire lines of infant furnishings, with bassinets, changing tables, and gliding rockers to coordinate with carefully chosen suburban decor. Baby products recently helped Target (NYSE:TGT) outpace its rivals and post impressive growth.

Alongside the mountains of stuff, there's also the rapidly growing market for collecting and storing stem cells harvested from the little one's umbilical cord. You'll find advertisements from ViaCell's (NASDAQ:VIAC) ViaCord in virtually every doctor's office in the land.

Maybe it's because baby stuff feels so soft and looks so cute, many of the products virtually sell themselves. I dare you to keep your hands off the tiny onesies at Gap's (NYSE:GPS) babyGap stores or at the Children's Place (NASDAQ:PLCE).

Foolish tips
For such small creatures, it seems that babies sure could come with a lot of stuff. Although I'm new at this effort to become a savvy parent-and-consumer, I've already learned a few things worth passing along.

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. Scour the garage sales that will be popping up this spring.

We've been handed down mountains of stuff, most of it in good order, since babies hardly wear out anything. 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.

Related Foolishness:

Having a child isn't the easiest thing in the world, especially when your finances are already tight. For help in trying to keep your financial life together with your new arrival, take a look at Motley Fool Green Light, the Fool's personal finance newsletter. You'll find specific tips for new families that are designed to save you money and get you on the road to financial prosperity. Try it out for free with our 30-day trial.

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback and any parenting advice you might want to pass along. She doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Gap is an Inside Value and Stock Advisor pick. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.