Photography · Saving Money

Best Portrait Cameras & Lenses For Beginners | What Gear is in My Bag?

This is totally not sponsored by anyone, I just sincerely love these brands. Most of these images are edited in Lightroom mobile, which I also love and am not sponsored by. Haha. (But it also means image quality is compressed a bit, since all of these came from my phone.)
Below are affiliate links, but feel free to shop around for the best price at various retailers if you choose to buy something! 95% of my camera equipment I personally DO buy on Amazon, though.

I have always been a pretty open book when it comes to photography, and have always been a little bit irked when other photographers are not. I remember doing the research for YEARS to find the things that I liked best, and being totally ignored often when I would reach out to other photographers for advice.

I mean, I get it. EVERYONE is a “photographer” now.

Does this make me a photographer yet?

But honestly, isn’t that kind of cool? We live in a digital world, and we live in a VISUAL world. And honestly, I am captivated by images.
So bring on the new photographers! I can’t promise you I will pay you to photograph my family, but I totally want you to take gorgeous photos of your babies. There’s shots you will get in your home that NO photographer will ever have the ability to be paid to take, and THAT is special.

And honestly, in the end, I think that every single photographer is different. There are hundreds of ways to use cameras, hundreds of opinions on what is best and what works, and hundreds of different editing styles.

So take my advice as you may, but this is the equipment that I know and love.


The most asked question that I get?

“I want to start taking photos of my kids, family, pets, travel, home, small business, food, makeup, ect… What camera should I start out with?”

It’s somewhat of a loaded question, because of course, not all cameras are created equal when it comes to what they are best made for, especially when you start talking about lenses. There will definitely be equipment that is better suited for landscapes vs. portraits, and vice versa.

That being said, I have experience with several brands over others, and I definitely have a strong opinion on which cameras will produce the best images with the littlest amount of effort (or knowledge.)

So, here are the pieces that I have in my camera bag, meaning they are the pieces that I have fallen in love with over the years. At the bottom, I’ll give you my recommendation for a great camera for beginners, especially those wanting to get started with portrait photography, which is what I know best.

Mirrored Cameras:

This is all of my “professional” equipment, so this is the equipment that I take when I am being paid by a client to take their portraits. I have shot with Canon for years, and am particularly glued to their 5d Mark line. I have owned the 5d Mark ii as well, and think it is a GREAT camera to start out with if you are looking to dive into the world of more professional portrait photography. Full frame cameras will definitely be more expensive, but when paired with a great lens, they are so worth it.

Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4
Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4

Canon Mark 5d iii

As stated, I adore the 5d line. Full frame, excellent resolution, and just really easy to use cameras. That being said, if you are looking for a starter camera on the more amateur end of the spectrum, I wouldn’t recommend this line. The 5d cameras do not have an “auto” feature, and you must know how to meter your images yourself in order to use them correctly. That being said again, they are GREAT for forcing you to learn how to correctly meter your images. Ha. I started out with the Canon Mark 5d iiwhich is a great price now that it is one of the oldest models. These cameras taught me how to do completely manual settings, and I actually even back-button or manual focus on them now too.

Mark 5d iii + 70-200 2.8


Canon 70-200 2.8

I can’t believe there are already 3 versions of this lens! I own the version linked above- the II. I personally don’t believe there is enough difference between versions for an amateur photographer for it to even matter. The only thing I would recommend is making SURE you buy an IS (image stabilization) equipped version. This lens is HEAVY, so the extra stabilization is absolutely crucial for creating tack-sharp images. This lens is perfect for kiddos in play, and is the lens I use most when I am shooting weddings, sports, or anything in fast motion. It has an excellent range, and when shooting around 135mm, the images are CRYSTAL clear. This one is my favorite to capture little ones who are on the go, without disrupting them by being super close up to them.

YEARS ago I also owned the Tamron version of this lens, and I remembered loving it so much. I upgraded to the L glass, image stabilized version only when I had saved up the money and was shooting weddings regularly.  I actually still miss the rich, warm coloring of that Tamron lens, and would love to play around with it again someday.
My Tamron retained its value, too- which is something that isn’t always true of lenses. If you’re looking for a more budget-friendly telephoto, it’s a great option.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 85mm 1.4, editing is lighter than I usually like, color is more rich in original

Canon 85mm 1.4

This is a beauty of a lens to own, and I will likely never sell it. The crystal clear images from it are phenomenal- take a minute to look up the hashtag on Insta if you don’t believe me.
I do not use it nearly as often as I imagined I would, though, and I think that is important to state. For the price, I probably should have gone ahead and just purchased the Sigma that I will talk about next, and pocketed the difference. If you are looking for an entry-level lens, I wouldn’t recommend this one. It is BEAUTIFUL for low light situations, and is absolutely my favorite to use with kiddos and with individual portraits, but if I were just taking photos of my kids, I wouldn’t be able to justify the price that I spent on it.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 85mm 1.4

Furthermore though, I have heard super mixed reviews on the non-L glass step down from the lens, which is the Canon 85mm 1.8Personally, I have never been totally in love with a Canon lens that wasn’t L-glass, so I would most likely be on the negative review side of this particular lens. But because I haven’t shot with it, I can’t say that for a fact. It would be a great option if you are looking to just get started, but not pay an outrageous price for a portrait lens.

Canon Mark 5d iii + 35mm 1.4

Sigma Art 35mm 1.4

This is my favorite lens for everyday use by miles. I have read on many sites that this lens struggles with the slightest little hint of focusing too close or too far. (I’m talking like, the camera focused on the ends of the eyelashes instead of on your eyes kind of deal.) I chose to purchase the lens still, because there are countless YouTube videos on how to recalibrate the lens to not do this… BUT, that being said, I have never noticed anything but SUPER sharp images from it.
I couldn’t even tell you the last time I took my 35mm off of my camera body, or the last time I used my 85mm. This Sigma lens is perfect if you are trying to take photos indoors, as it allows for very close up shooting without only photographing somebody’s nose or eyeballs. I absolutely love this Sigma for my kids, and actually use it for most of my client work now, too. After reading review upon review about Sigma’s Art line, I am actually convinced it stands up to Canon’s L glass, and it’s almost always several hundred dollars cheaper. Win-win.

Mark 5d iii + Sigma 35mm 1.4

Canon 50mm 1.4

This was one of the very first lenses I bought, and I purchased it when I wasn’t able to afford the L-glass step up of the 1.2. I have shot with a Nikon 1.2 lens, and it is a beautiful lens, but personally I don’t think it is worth the almost thousand dollar increase to jump up to L glass in this case. If you are looking for an excellent, VERY budget friendly portrait lens, this little gal will be a great lens to start with. I no longer own it, as I have replaced it with my Sigma & L-glass lenses of different focal lengths, but I did sell this lens to my sister, who I believe loves it too.

So for mirrored cameras, what do I recommend for a FIRST camera?

The Rebels have a great line if you are looking for a cropped sensor that will be way more budget friendly. I shot with Rebels all through high school when I was yearbook editor, and they are excellent cameras. They will also still have a built-in flash, as opposed to the 5d line, where you will have to buy an external flash if you are looking to photograph anything extremely dark. My low light lenses give me the ability to almost never need a flash, but if you are not able to afford one of said lenses, I would stick to something with an in-camera flash. Always buy a great diffuser for any flash you use, and you will have MUCH less harsh images.

But honestly, my overall recommendation?
Any Canon. 

From WAY back in the day. Mark 5d ii (old version) and a KIT LENS. (Gasp) Honestly I believe this is the 24-105mm from Canon. Whichever kit lens came with the Mark ii back then, haha. 

I’ve shot Nikon too, and it just doesn’t compare in my opinion. The rich colors I consistently get from Canon are to die for.

Sounds funny after I just reviewed two super specific bodies, right?

That’s because I believe the biggest way to create beautiful images lies in the LENS, and in knowing HOW to use your camera. If you are looking for a mirrored camera that would be great for portraiture, I suggest finding a body that fits well with your price range, then choosing one of the lenses I recommended above. The Sigma 35mm 1.4 will forever be my top pick, but my super budget-friendly starter lens would have to be the Canon 50mm 1.4. It was my first Canon lens, and served me well for several years before I upgraded.

Mirrorless Cameras:

Sony a6000

Wow, wow, wow. I can’t say enough nice things about this camera. After just reviewing my well over $2k camera body, I actually honestly almost prefer my Sony now. This camera is insane, and the movement towards mirrorless cameras is really exciting for me to watch. They are small, they are lightweight, and they are SO MUCH EASIER.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4 (it even shows my poor kid’s missed long hairs in the front… haha.)

I bought this camera originally to take with me on trips in Japan. My Canon equipment is beautiful and wonderful, but it just does not work well with crowded Japan trains, and I really don’t love carrying all of that money around on my back. I had read amazing reviews on the Sony a6000, knew it was small and compact for travel, and so I impulse bought it at our BX.

And wooooooooow am I glad I did.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

Personally, I would buy the camera body only, as linked above. The kit lens that comes with the camera is essentially useless to me personally, because I shoot often in the low light of my home, and want a pretty blurred background in my images. I shoot my kids inside our tiny rental house, and having a wider-angle lens like a 30mm is the only way that I am able to keep their entire bodies in the frame without only taking a photo of just their foreheads.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

So I want something that serves me well in low light, can fit my entire kid into the frame at a close range, and creates a pretty bokeh (blurred background.)
The kit lens that comes with this particular camera doesn’t serve any of those things, and I will sell mine now that I have received my new Sigma lens to replace it, because I have absolutely no use for it and honestly don’t like the images it produces.

If you are looking for a step up from this camera, or more of a professional grade mirrorless body, I recommend the Sony a6500. I hear raving review after raving review on this mirrorless body, and have a feeling it would be spectacular paired with a low-light, wide angle lens. I have not used them myself, but I hear that the 16mm and 24mm Sigma lenses paired with this body are a match made in heaven. The 6500 body is next on my “want” list, but I am being a responsible saver for now, so that will probably come a little bit down the road. (Drew, don’t read that, I’m not planning on ANY more camera equipment, just like I promised. Ha.)

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4

Sigma 30mm 1.4

I seriously can’t say enough good things about Sigma. I purchased my first Sigma lens about a year ago, and looking back- my images with that lens were actually better than the images I took with my L-glass Canon lenses at the same time. Sigma doesn’t mess around, and they know their stuff. If you are looking for a specific lens, but are struggling to dish out the funds, check out third party lens reviews. Often, Sigma lenses are cheaper, and have better reviews. I have fallen in love with this one in the two days that I have had it, and I actually find myself reaching for my mirrorless camera with this lens attached over both my Canon AND my phone.

Sony a6000 + Sigma 30mm 1.4, basically taken in the dark


So ultimately, what camera do you recommend for a beginner in portrait photography?


Well, again, loaded question. But if you are looking for an easy-to-use, relatively budget friendly, beginner level camera that will beautifully photograph your kids, a landscape, or the food you are eating, I really recommend the Sony a6000, paired with a low aperture lens. As mentioned, I own the 30 mm Sigma 1.4 with mine, and adore it.

Ultimately, I believe you really can’t go wrong with most choices, though- IF you take the time to research how to use them well. Avoid kit lenses (the lenses that automatically come with a camera, as manufactured.) Learn to use your camera, and watch all the YouTube videos you can on it. Take seminars, listen to podcasts, surf Pinterest. In the end, I believe wholeheartedly that you can make any camera’s shots look like they are professionally taken- it just takes some serious practice and knowledge. I know bloggers that shoot 100% with their iPhones, and you would never have any idea.

Most often, beautiful images come not only from talented hands, but from those who have taken the opportunity to LEARN their camera and lenses. It takes trial and error, and what works for you may not work for another photographer. Heck, I still totally mess up my settings on a weekly basis, and I am still having “OH CRAP, how did I not know this?” moments in regards to photography.
Take the time to read, research, and understand why reviews are posted the way they are, and what a review means coming from an individual. A travel photographer will review a lens differently than an indoor portrait photographer. You will find your niche, and the lines/brands that you love most. And in the end, I believe that probably more than 80% of beautiful photography lies in EDITING, and knowing how to do so without over-processing. I will share a post on that eventually, but feel free to message me on Insta with any questions you have about editing. Watch Youtube videos on editing styles, on streamlining editing, and on how you can make your images pop. It’s a surefire way to create beautiful images that are even better than the ones you pull straight off of your camera.

I hope this helps you get an idea of what you may want to start out with, but if not, feel free to shoot me a message on Instagram, asking me my thoughts on a specific body or lens! I actually respond to messages there, I promise. Haha.

Happy shopping, and happy shooting!


Saving Money

How We Saved 10k+ In Our First Year of Marriage



(Content contained in my post is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice or investment advice. I do not claim to be a financial advisor, and any advice I give is for entertainment purposes. Your use of this blog post is at your own risk, and upon clicking my referral links, you release me of responsibility for your financial decisions.)

Drew and I have always been pretty good at saving, and we have always been really good at living within our means. I don’t say that to brag, because honestly we just lucked out and had two really awesome sets of parents that taught us how to handle money well.
Because of it, financial tension has never been an issue in our marriage, and I am SO thankful for that. During the first year that we were married, at ages 20 & 21, we managed to save $10k following the rules that I will outline below. We actually saved quite a bit more than 10k during that first year, because we were both working a TON of overtime. We knew that kind of money wouldn’t be a forever thing, and honestly I would have never wanted it to be, because those were some brutal months. At the peak of our work lives, we likely only saw each other 2-3 hours/day between shifts, if we were both even awake at the same time. Retail jobs are no joke.
But for all intents and purposes, we will set the goal of this post at $10k in one year, meaning that saving approximately $400 into savings per every 2-week paycheck is the ideal amount to hit. This is geared much more to married couples financially, but many of these tips can also work for single-income families. After I chose to not return to work full time after the birth of Henry, we still continued to save with only one paycheck, and the occasional 8-10 hours/week that I picked up.
We by no means have three figure jobs, and we by no means live in a mansion. Actually, we currently drive a van that only starts once out of around 8 times that you crank the engine. But we feel that we are in a good place financially, even after paying $11k out of pocket for Henry’s birth. (Kids are expensive, and our insurance before Drew enlisted used to suck.)

I believe that every marriage deserves to live stress-free in the areas of finance, and I believe that there are ways to do so, no matter how much you make yearly.

So in a nutshell, here are my biggest two rules, followed by the other rules that we have followed for several years.

My two biggest rules for saving:

  1. Live on one income (or live on less than all of your income if you are a single-income family)
  2. When there is extra money in your checking account, move it to savings IMMEDIATELY

1. Live on ONE income

This was the single most important thing that we chose to do as newlyweds. Drew and I had recently both stepped into full time positions at our respective jobs, and we were making far more money than we had ever seen during our college years. During this time, we chose to live on ONE income, and simply store away the other paycheck without a second thought.
So often when I tell people this, they immediately counter with “well that’s not possible.”
Trust me, it is.
We even chose the smaller paycheck of our two, and we always made it work. We were frugal, we rarely ate out, and we didn’t even take a honeymoon until the Fall AFTER our wedding (which was in the Spring.) We lived paycheck to paycheck, stashing the other paycheck away, and it wasn’t necessarily always fun.
During the 8-ish months that we were both working full time before I stepped down from my position after my maternity leave, we stored several thousand dollars in savings simply by following this model. When we unexpectedly became pregnant with Henry, it was a LIFESAVER to have that extra cash readily available.
If you have two incomes, cut expenses so that you can make this work. Seriously. DO IT. This is the best way to save and to save FAST, plus it is a great way to be prepared if one income suddenly disappears due to something outside of your control.

2. Reduce any debt that you have

Drew and I were lucky to graduate from college free of loans. Let me preface that statement with this though: We worked our butts off to do so. Drew worked three part-time jobs at one point in order to make payments in full each semester to the college after his scholarships paid for their part. I paid for 80-90% of my schooling with my scholarships, and the rest we paid in full with the money we made at our part-time gigs. We were lucky to not carry student debt into our marriage, but we also have never accumulated credit card debt. Because of this, at age 24, we still have never had a car payment, and have chosen to always pay for our vehicles in full. Avoiding payments of any sort for any reason is a great way to be able to save more easily. We plan to put at least 20-30% down on a home in the future if we return to the states, and hope to pay off a home loan before the set term.

3. That being said, stop buying the newest thing

Drew and I both drove cars from the late 90’s or early 2000’s until we wore those things OUT (or until we needed a bigger/safer car for our babies.) We had the same two couches that we bought on Craigslist until a year ago when we FINALLY bought a new sectional with the money we had saved specifically for it. Check out thrift stores. Check out Ebay. Check out Poshmark (use code JOYFULCREW when signing up.) Always buy used. Seriously, some of my VERY favorite pieces in our home came from the clearance section or from a thrift store, and I will forever be addicted to thrifting.

4. Do not spend your tax return

Can I scream this from the rooftops? DO NOT SPEND YOUR TAX RETURN. Don’t. Don’t do it. Don’t use it for vacation. Don’t use it for new furniture. Don’t buy a new wardrobe. Save. That. Money. (Or pay off debt!)

Unless you have a legitimate emergency around tax season, I seriously recommend saving it if at all possible. The only time Drew and I have spent our tax return was to avoid debt or avoid a necessary dipping into savings. (I.e. if we were purchasing something large, like a vehicle, that was 100% needed.) If you have debt, pay that off with your return!
Actually, there are even better ways that you can use the tax system to your advantage, dependent on how good you are with handling your extra money- but we still choose to receive a decent tax return by claiming the way we do. I won’t give tax advice, but do look into different ways of withholding online. Some prefer to keep more of the money that is usually taken out of their checks for taxes, and they store that away in savings throughout the year instead of receiving it in a return when they have overpaid.
We choose to overpay, mostly because I am self-employed and like to keep that extra in the tax system throughout the year to cover what I owe from my businesses. But when our return is direct deposited, we choose to have it placed directly into savings, and do not touch it after that. We have spent one return in the 7 or 8 years we have been filing separate from our parents, and that was simply because we bought vehicles in full with the money.

5. Budget for big expenses (& have an emergency fund)

I’ll be honest, Drew and I really have never worked with a strict budget for monthly bills. I get irritated easily with budgets, because gas prices change, electricity is never the same price, and we never use the same amount of water each month. I obsess over having a strict budget if I try, and it frustrates me when the electricity bill is $20 over what it was last month.
Those small fluctuations always made it almost impossible for me to make consistent categories I liked- so I never really did budget for regular monthly expenses. Instead, we used an “allowance” system for things outside of bills, and I always budgeted for big expenses. We considered this “big expenses” savings our emergency fund, which is something that everybody should have. Work on saving a decent sized emergency fund first, then work on your regular savings. For us, it works well to store both together in the same savings account- but some prefer to have separate savings accounts for these.

6. Call companies and ask them to lower your bills

Does that sound strange to you? It is, because so many people don’t do it. If you are buying things such as cable, internet, or cell phone service- especially if you have been with the company for a while, call them! Ask them if there is any way that they could lower your monthly rate, or ask them if they can give you better pricing options/better products for the price that you pay. Often prices are dropped for new customers, but since you were locked in at a higher rate, you are paying more than you need to be. If you see a new offer on TV, call and ask if they will match the rate that you saw.
We did this every 6 months or so with our internet, and ended up with internet that was $40 cheaper and 3x faster by the end of it. The worst thing that a customer service representative can do is tell you no, and if they do, call back to see if you can get another rep, just for kicks. Often what one representative can’t do, another can.
Sometimes customer service employees will throw bill credits at you simply for calling and asking. If they do offer you a credit, keep budgeting like your bills are the exact same, and take that saved money from your checking account straight to your savings! That’s an additional lump sum that you just saved monthly- and an amount that you won’t even miss.

7. Stop eating out

I am all for treating yourself on occasion, and Drew and I still take the kids to eat out a couple times a month. We don’t say no to eating out on trips, and we don’t say no to going out with friends occasionally.
It’s no secret that eating out can be EXPENSIVE. Not to mention, it is a fantastic way to put on extra weight with so little healthy options available usually. Let’s put it this way:

I’ll figure this up for a family of only 2. At the VERY least, you will be paying $12/meal if you order even just inexpensive $6 combos each. If you eat out for one meal 5x during a work week, that’s an additional $60/week that you didn’t need to spend- or $240 a month.

We found ourselves spending well over $200 if we regularly went to sit-down restaurants. With children added in, eating out can be EXPENSIVE. Any time we eat at a restaurant now, our meal will be at least $20-$30 including our kids.
Instead, a massive $12 bag of chicken and $3 worth of frozen veggies lasts us a solid week cooked different ways each night- and we have saved so many calories by eating at home. Meal prepping on weekends is wonderful for saving money during the work week, and only takes a couple hours to do.

8. Practice the art of saying “no”

I am so guilty of NOT doing this. I mean, $4 coffee bought at Starbucks just tastes so much better than the coffee you have at home, am I right? (Which isn’t true, but somehow the branding on that cup they hand you REALLY does make it feel that way.)
Giving up that coffee every day for me honestly did save us a solid $60/month. I’m a coffee snob, and MUST have mine every day, so it took a bit to break my habit and make my own at home. Now I actually prefer my vitamin B coffee over the espresso drinks that I used to consume.
If there is something you see yourself purchasing habitually that you KNOW you can make cheaper for yourself- Pinterest search for the recipe, and make that stuff for WAY cheaper.
Saying no to things, or waiting until they are genuinely within your budget is one of the best things that you can do to help you save.

9. Prioritize spending (emergency savings, debt reduction, savings)

Personally, I would recommend this order of saving:
First, create an emergency fund
Second, pay off any debt that you have as fast as you safely can
Third, begin to store money in a savings account regularly

We choose to pay all of our bills up front each month, and then take the excess and store it directly in savings. By cutting our bills as much as possible, we were able to have that “excess” be an entire paycheck.
Some do it differently in regards to how they prioritize the use of money, and many will swear by their method. Find out what best works for your family, but DO always have an emergency fund. That is pretty crucial, because life definitely happens, and your car ONLY breaks when you have no money set aside to fix it. Fact.

10. Take advantage of cash back credit cards (if you are good with credit)

I have a YouTube video on this from a year or so ago. If you are interested, you can watch it by clicking that link.
This is where Dave Ramsey and I definitely disagree. Personally, our family does incredibly well with credit cards, and we make a lot of money off of the credit card companies because of it. In order to make money with cash back credit cards, you have to follow one rule religiously, though:


We treat our cards like debit cards. There is NEVER a balance carried over to another month. If we don’t have the money in our checking account to buy what we are looking at, it will not go on our credit card. Because we pay them off each month, we do not pay a dime in interest, and we reap 1-10% cash back consistently. We place absolutely everything that we purchase on these cards, and I usually pay on them twice a month (paying off the full balance any time that I pay.)
I then take the accumulated cash back and store it directly in savings. We paid for our honeymoon in full from about a year and a half of those cash back savings, and I usually save the cash back for fun things such as vacations.
Listed below are my favorite two cash back cards that I have and use regularly. (If you sign up through my link, you may receive a cash back bonus. Incentives listed are current as of Feb. 2019.)

Discover It– 5% categories that rotate quarterly ($50 sign up bonus potential)

Great for a first credit card. This card carries high approval rates for those with little or lower credit, from what I have seen. We both got this card as our first credit card during college.

Chase Freedom Unlimited– 1.5% cash back on all purchases ($150 sign up bonus potential)

This card requires a bit higher credit in order to be approved, but this is the card that we place almost everything on. Chase has awesome customer service.

11. Place your money in a high APY savings account (and find an account SEPARATE from your checking)

We keep our savings account totally separate from our checking, that way it is NOT easy to dip into our savings account. One of my preferred savings accounts is from Discover Bank, currently (as of February 2019) yielding over a 2% APY. (Which is unheard of right now- most banks give far less than 0.5%.)
I get nothing for recommending this savings account to you and it’s not a referral link- I just sincerely think it’s the best savings account out there. No monthly fees, no minimum requirements on balances, great interest, and EASY to access/transfer money to and from.

12. Pay yourself allowance each month

This works so well for Drew and I. Every paycheck, we each get a lump sum that is our “allowance.” This lets us strictly save, but not absolutely hate our lives while doing it. It allows for some “fun” money.
We always get the same amount, and we never question each other on what we choose to spend this on. We may choose to spend that money on whatever we want, or save it over the months for a bigger purchase. We actually have totally separate checking accounts that this money goes into, and our debit cards are each hooked up to those accounts- that way when the money in that account is gone, it is gone, and purchases are denied if we try to overspend.
Drew bought his beer brewing supplies by saving his monthly allowance, and I bought my camera equipment. Even if he wanted to spend his lump sum each month on video games right down to the last penny, I will not question it, because that is HIS allowance. This is one of the best things we did marriage-wise in regards to money, and it has eliminated so many potential fights.


I hope these tips can help you begin down a road to saving. Above all else, I believe that you have to give it time to figure out what is best for YOU. Not all families will function the same financially, and not all families have the same financial needs. It is absolutely possible to begin evaluating where your money is going, and to carefully begin cutting away expenses and stashing away a savings. It takes time and effort, but it is SO worth it in the long run.

Best of luck, and happy saving!

(Content contained in my post is not intended to and does not constitute legal advice or investment advice. I do not claim to be a financial advisor, and any advice I give is for entertainment purposes. Your use of this blog post is at your own risk, and upon clicking my referral links, you release me of responsibility for your financial decisions.)
Parenting · Saving Money · Shop My Instagram

Registry Guide from a Second Time Mom

Whether you’re having your first baby or your seventh, baby registries are always both exciting and completely overwhelming.

We purchased so many things for Henry that we NEVER needed, and also missed out on some amazing baby products simply because we didn’t know about them. With our little lady arriving soon, I have been on the search for what we still need for baby #2. I feel like this time around we have a pretty solid grasp on what is necessary for babes, what is fun, and what is completely silly to purchase just because everyone will tell you it is a “must-have.” So, here are our real “must-haves,” from experiencing the baby-game firsthand.

I have split these into two categories, so you know which products I have owned and tested myself, and which I am registering for this time around! This is a pretty long post, mostly because I want you to know exactly WHY I am recommending each product.

I am a safety conscious mom, and am probably a bit more over-protective than most. We breastfeed exclusively, do not introduce solids until at least 6 months, and our babes sleep in our room (and sometimes subsequently our bed, even though we always say they won’t) for several months. Every mama is different, and everything will work differently for each family, so you should decide what works best for you! But in general, these are the items that were lifesavers for us.

This post may contain affiliate links in which I will receive a percentage of a sale if you purchase through my link. This is how I keep my blog running. I want to let you know when I choose to monetize my links. I choose to join affiliate programs based on the products I really, really love, and never join for a product I wouldn’t actually use myself. No company ever forces me to give a false opinion of a product- all opinions are entirely my own, and I only seek out and accept partnerships for companies that I personally want to promote.

Things I will register for again:


I will start with the basics just so we don’t miss anything, and will leave these off the main list as they don’t need much explaining. Whether it is your first or ninth baby, you will always need these:

  • Car seat- we only reuse a seat if it is in date, has been in no accidents, and is in good physical condition. Our favorite is Britax for ALL seats- feel free to message me if you want my recommendations on seats!
  • High chair- totally reusable from a first babe, but something that comes in handy if you do not have one already
  • Diapers- I typically stock up on around 1 box of newborns, and 2 boxes of subsequent sizes. I hate having leftover diapers at the end of a size, so we always buy as we go
  • Diaper rash cream
  • Wipes
  • Baby Wash
  • Baby Lotion
  • Pacifiers- totally a personal choice on whether you use them or not, but they are always a great thing to register for as they go missing rather easily
  • Infant Tylenol and Motrin for later on
  • Safety Q-tips (these are the best invention ever)
  • And if you are nursing:
  • Breast pads
  • Milk storage bags (tip: check with insurance, these are occasionally covered!)
  • Nipple cream

1. Owlet Baby Monitor $299.99

Monitors accurate oxygen levels and heart rate while your baby sleeps, FSA/HSA approved 

I have not found a discount directly for Owlet, but have found a sort of “loophole” discount. If you register at Target you receive a 15% off coupon to use on any remaining items on your registry. Typically they make this coupon available to you around 40-60 days before your baby’s arrival date- plenty of time to have the Owlet shipped to you!
Owlet is not excluded from this coupon at this current time. Thus, all you would have to do is create a Target registry and add the items you would like, including the Owlet monitor. You will be mailed/emailed two coupons- one for an online purchase, and one for an in-store purchase, both one time use only.

Super money-saving tip: you can add ANYTHING to your registry. Like, anything. Trust me on this one, you WANT to do this.
So on the day you go to use your coupon, pick the items you would like to purchase from your registry, but also add your groceries to your registry as you go! We added things like toilet paper, milk, cleaning supplies etc, because there is no rule on what can or can’t be added, and we received 15% off our entire transaction that one day. We bought EVERYTHING we needed for our house, and all the groceries we needed for that month, and especially stocked up on any nonperishables that had a gift card deal on them! You can do this both online and in store, and totally snag some great deals in the process. Be sure to watch Target’s gift card promotions too, because they often offer cash back on the Owlet.
If using this coupon, it brings the cost of a monitor down to $254.99.

You can also stack the 5% off RedCard discount on top of all this. If you’re not big into credit cards, they also over a debit card that draws immediately upon purchase from your bank account, just like if you paid with cash or check. We have the debit card and love it. You will get 5% off everything every single time you shop at Target- both online and in store. You can click the link on my side banner to the right to apply.


You can view your baby’s vitals directly from your smartphone, but you do not need a smartphone for the base station to alert you to any problems with your baby.

There is a reason this product is mentioned first on my list, and there is a reason that I recommend Owlet over the Snuza or Angel Care monitors. We purchased our Owlet a few days after Henry was born, because my postpartum anxiety was through the ROOF in regards to SIDS. I could talk all day long about Owlet, but I will save most of this for a separate post at some point as to not spam you with my opinions on just one product here. Please message me if you have any questions about the device- I am more than happy to answer them! I do not belong to their affiliate program, and this review is totally not connected to them at all- I just sincerely love their product.

Let me start by saying the difference between my sleep before and after receiving our device was startling. Though Owlet declares that it is not a machine intended for use in the prevention of SIDS, it can absolutely prevent things such as asphyxiation and strangulation, and may alert you to underlying birth defects or unknown heart/lung conditions your babe could have, which in turn could result in a SIDS case. It gave me a TON of peace when our Henry was sick or stuffy, and made for better sleep for everyone.

For me, knowing that problems in Henry’s heart rate or oxygen levels would be detected was enough to give me the peace of mind to sleep while he slept. I chose Owlet because they use the same technology that all hospitals and NICUs use for monitoring heart rate and oxygen levels. Their sensor uses pulse oximetry, not just a movement tracker like Snuza or Angel Care, and their systems have been internationally approved for accuracy. I tested this myself one day when I took Henry in for a checkup. The Owlet read exactly the same as the hospital’s pulse oximeter readings of Henry.

Though I love the company, I know there are several common concerns that I hear often from skeptical potential buyers. The most common one being: Won’t it only produce false alarms and cause me more stress in my life?
My answer? Absolutely not, if you follow the instructions. The device is made to function correctly, and false alarms absolutely should not happen. We did ample research on how to CORRECTLY use the sock, how to interpret your babe’s readings, and how to know when there is a problem. We only had a few false alarms at the beginning due to using the wrong size sock to begin with, but once we figured out our smart sock settings for Henry, we never had a false alarm again. The alarms for a baby’s vitals being in dangerous levels are completely different than the alarm for the sock falling off his/her foot. Your sock should NEVER have false alarms. If you do, you are not using the correct sock size, or are not placing the monitor on the foot correctly.

Owlet alerted me once when Henry’s oxygen levels dropped substantially one night around three months old, and I woke in the middle of the night to find him holding his breath. I immediately scooped him up, waking him from his deep sleep, and the levels returned to normal. I can’t say for sure that Owlet saved his life, but I can say that I would rather 100000x been woke up that night to make sure he was breathing than risk the alternative.

We used our sock until Henry was well past the SIDS risk zone- furthermore we actually used it until he outgrew it at 15 months. Most babies are able to use their socks until 18 months, we simply have a kid with massive feet.

On top of all of this, you can view all the readings of your baby from your smart phone via the Android or iPhone apps. So when I returned to work very early mornings part time when Henry was still at home sleeping with my husband, I was able to check my phone frequently and still know he was asleep and breathing just fine, even though I was 20 miles from home. This same concept applies if you have a nanny or a babysitter- when your babe is asleep, you can always check on their vitals from your phone.

Honestly, I would pay double the price for an Owlet monitor this time around if they were so priced that way, and we are absolutely registering for the Smart Sock 2 Owlet for our little lady coming in a few months. I will have no hesitation buying this monitor again.

Side note: I do recommend buying as close to your due date as possible (if we were stateside, with shipping times we would buy maybe one week before our little girl is due) because the Owlet warranty runs for one year from the date of receipt. Our base station started acting up when Henry was around nine months old, and Owlet sent us a brand new unit after about a 15 minute customer service call, no questions asked.

2. Swaddle Sacks– various prices, typically $20-$40

Keeps babies swaddled safely, allowing for safer sleep habits and better sleep for parents

Click the link above for a code for 10% off all Ollie World orders. (Expires July 22, 2018)

We LOVED our swaddle sacks. Originally, we only had one that we took home with us from the hospital accidentally (oops,) but quickly realized that they are lifesavers for parents who wish to swaddle their newborns but still want to keep the crib clear of obstructions to breathing.

Drew and I never figured out how to properly swaddle a baby with a muslin blanket, and since Henry was always SO wiggly and would squirm his way out of blankets easily, I hated to place any blankets in the crib with him at all, for any reason. He was a very early roller, and we always tried to follow the ABC’s of safe sleep, so we did not allow blankets or stuffed animals until he was much older. He LOVED having his belly and one arm swaddled though, so our swaddle sacks were the best investment. (Plus, they are way faster than swaddling with muslin/swaddle blankets.)

My favorite brand of swaddle comes from The Ollie World, as linked above- I think they’re the best quality of the ones we have owned, they wash the best, and are the easiest to use.
We are also fan of Embe Baby Swaddles ($30). We have this one in mint and love it.
And if you are looking for a more inexpensive option (these tend to be outgrown first from my experience, but are still a great option) Ziggy Baby Swaddles ($20 for 3).

3. DockATot– $175- $200 (Deluxe)

Discount- Use code 10OFF at the link above for $10 off any order (expiration unknown)

Multi-functioning lounger, cosleeper, and transition sleeper for your babe
“DockATot Deluxe and DockATot Grand are designed to be comfy and ultra-reliable lounging docks for little ones ages 0-36 months.”


The most common question I get about our docks is: What in the world is it used for? The official use of a dock is detailed on the DockaTot website, and I think it best describes what a dock is purchased for:
“You can use DockATot for co-sleeping, supervised tummy time, play time, snuggle time, supervised naps, as a changing station, or really just any time you need to put baby down in a comforting spot. The Grand is a cozy spot for toddlers to sleep in overnight and is ideal for easing the crib to bed transition.”
For me, our dock eliminated the need for a Boppy, bouncer/lounging chair, changing pad, and cosleeper- and placed all these items I would have purchased separately into one compact lounger.

I recently sought out a collaboration with DockATot to see if they were really as amazing as I hoped, and I will be posting a very detailed review on both the Deluxe and Grand models as soon as our baby girl arrives and I am able to test both. We have received a Deluxe and Grand model complimentary, and have since tested the Grand model for our 23 month old Henry. I was somewhat skeptical about how much the Grand model would actually be needed, but we have been blown away by how much we love Henry’s dock so far.


Henry has been taking his naps every day in his Grand dock, which we are using to help him transition from his crib to a big boy bed before sister arrives. The sides help him feel snug and cuddled in his bigger bed, and somehow magically make him less likely to climb out of bed and wander. And while I used to laugh at people who said this, I swear that dock just has magic dust on it that makes him sleep so much more soundly. He stopped fighting me at bedtime, and asks to take the dock into the living room to sit/lounge in during the day. At night, he is a roller, and often tangles himself in blankets during nap time to the point of us being concerned about suffocation due to how tightly he used to wind himself into them. I have noticed that he has slept much more soundly, and has tossed and turned much less since we introduced the dock into his nap times, making me feel much better about leaving him with his light blankets at night. (The Grand model is okay for use with blankets, the Deluxe is not. Babies under 9 months old should not typically be left with a blanket overnight.)

If you travel often at all, you need this product. I would purchase a Deluxe model 100% simply for how easy it makes hotel visits with babies. Not having to lug around a pack-n-play, which is MUCH heavier and bulkier than a dock, is so worth the money in my opinion, and I know for a fact that Henry sleeps WAY better in his dock than he ever would in a PackNPlay. DockATot is completely safe to use as a cosleeper, provided you follow all guidelines found on their website. We never thought we would cosleep with Henry, and were actually pretty heavily against the idea when he was born, but fell into the habit as he slept better near us and nursed often. I fell into some unsafe sleep habits when he was 6-9ish months old, and I wish I would have had a Deluxe dock during those months to make his sleep safer than it was. God is good, and he was kept safe through the months, but looking back I will definitely be using our dock to help keep our baby girl safe. We nursed until Henry was 17 months old, and the dock would have been a lifesaver. I am so excited to use it for our baby girl.

The dock cover is easily washed and also helps prevent excessive sweating (Henry has benefited from this SO much, and has slept so much more comfortably than he did on just a regular non-breathable mattress.) I tested the breathability of the sides, and was extremely impressed with how breathable they are. I feel comfortable using the Deluxe model as a cosleeper overnight with our little lady, for sure.

I’ll be honest, if you do not have the funds to purchase both a Deluxe and a Grand model, I would recommend purchasing/registering for the Grand only. Babies are able to transition to a Grand model around 9 months old- sometimes sooner depending on how big your baby is- and the help that it has provided us for transitioning Henry to his big boy bed has been SO worth it. You’ll likely get more use out of a Grand in the long run, as babies don’t outgrow them as quickly. That being said, after testing, we would purchase both a Deluxe and a Grand for our little lady if we did not already have them. I am impressed with the quality, and am definitely impressed with how magically it has seemed to make Henry sleep well so far. I can’t wait to put our newborn in her Deluxe. Stay tuned for another review once little lady is here.

4. Baby Carrier (My favorite is LilleBaby) approximately $120-$160

I’ll just say this straight up. You need a baby carrier. If you think you won’t wear your baby, totally reconsider, because you are seriously missing out.
Grocery shopping, hiking, exploring new cities, and even family events are a MILLION times easier with a carrier.
Any baby carrier is worth it, but in my opinion, LilleBaby was the best choice simply due to the transition ability between the newborn to toddler stages, while still keeping your babe’s legs and pelvis safe and sound.
The guides within the packaging tell you exactly how to fold your carrier’s snaps in order for your baby to be correctly carried at each age. There are certain ways you may wear them at each age, and I found LilleBaby to be by FAR the most versatile in regards to this.
They offer a variety of carrier sizes, made for different needs. Each family will be different. We personally chose an all-seasons carrier that allowed Henry to be worn from the day he was born (without a newborn insert) all the way up to the present at almost two years old in these photos. We took him on a trip recently where my husband wore him for several miles each day, and never once complained about it. When you live in a crowded and compressed country like Japan, this made things SO much easier than a stroller.

5. Swing $49-$200

Of course, swings are a lifesaver! I don’t have much to say about this considering they are pretty self-explanatory, and because I think SO many models are great, but my best advice- absolutely get a swing that PLUGS IN. You may think that a swing with battery powered capabilities makes it so much more portable, and that should trump everything, but let me just say this: You likely won’t take that swing with you anywhere, and C&D batteries cost a LOT of money when your baby loves to swing.
Here are a few of my favorites right now on Amazon. We have always gone with Graco swings simply due to the price point, but I know of tons of brands that are excellent.

Graco Simple Sway Baby Swing
Graco DuetSoothe Swing and Rocker

6. Baby Cage (Ha, just kidding… Sort of.) $68.99

A safe, contained environment for your kiddo to lounge and play.

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My mom bought us this for Henry when he was around 8 months old. He began taking his first steps at 7 months, and by the end of month 8 he walked like he had been doing it his whole life. (Cool to see your baby hit milestones early, but MAN it is terrifying having a baby that tiny able to walk anywhere he wants.)
Henry started getting into things he wasn’t supposed to, and often climbed things that weren’t necessarily safe for him, as he was still VERY little. He didn’t understand direction from us yet, and during those super tired mom moments, this thing was absolutely amazing.

My mom bought us this playard, and it was an absolute lifesaver. Made even the small tasks like getting a load of dishes done that much easier. We saved it for our little lady, and I have a feeling it will become even more useful when I am trying to separate a crazy toddler from a fragile infant who is learning to crawl. 😉
We also used this play pen for when we grilled, had parties, or just wanted to sit outdoors. Henry wasn’t big on grass, so this kept him safe from the “creepy” ground and kept bugs and spiders off of him, but still allowed him some fresh air and sunshine!

I linked the one that we used, but if you search “play pen” or “playard” on Amazon, you will see hundreds of different options.

7. Pack N Play $40-$170

Personally, I would not even purchase a crib this time around if we didn’t already have Henry’s that we will transition little lady to- not at first anyway. If you are tight on funds, I would recommend that you DON’T BOTHER until they are older! I say this mainly because it was our choice to have our babies sleep in our bedroom for the first six months of life anyway, and it is highly recommended that you do this for at least the first three, as it reduces your babe’s risk for SIDS.

That being said, we used our Pack N Play for safe sleep until we transitioned Henry into his own bed. We personally try not to co-sleep (and often fail, since we do anyway) due mainly to the fact that Drew wakes up for nothing in the world, and we wanted to follow all guidelines for preventing SIDS. So we set up our Pack N Play to keep Henry at arms reach, but still give him his own flat, safe sleeping space.

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We purchased the “fancier” model, as models like these actually have the newborn bassinet attachment in them. If you are looking for a great deal, this PackNPlay is only right around $45.
I would also recommend registering for sheets like these for whatever model you have, and this time around we registered for this little quilt too.

8. Sippy Cups and Snack Containers, around $3-$5

Once toddlerhood hits and you are in major snacking phases, these snack and drink cups are lifesavers. I have used several different brands, but I will forever swear by all things Munchkin, due to the fact that every product I have used by them has been dishwasher safe, easy to clean, and 100% kid friendly. These are the three main products we used daily when Henry was an infant. He still uses all three today as a toddler.

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These sippies are great for the smaller kids, and teach how to use a straw early. No matter what angle they hold the cup at (and I mean ANY angle) the straw will follow and allow them to drink.

These also come apart incredibly easy opposed to some other cups that do not clean well.

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These are our transition cup, and helped Henry learn to drink from a big boy cup easily. Plus they are orthodontically approved.
These snack cups are a must-have if you don’t what Cheerios crammed in ever crevice of every item of your house. (Ha, just kidding. It’s unavoidable, I swear.)

They’re especially awesome for the car, when you don’t want your kid to spill every bit of their snack, considering you can’t reach back while driving.

9. SOUND MACHINE! $18.99

Drowns out sounds and plays soothing sounds for your babe as they sleep.


I would recommend this for ALL new parents. We will buy a second sound machine for our little lady’s room, as Henry still sleeps with his at almost two.

White noise mimics the sound that babies hear in the womb, meaning they are comforted by the sound due to the fact that that’s what they have heard for the last 9 months. That being said, the best thing that we EVER did with Henry was to teach him to fall asleep in a loud room. But no matter what, when he is sleeping, he has some sort of noise going on in the room. Keeping a babe in a silent and quiet room often trains them to wake at the slightest sound, and when you finally feel like having friends over again, this can be a nightmare.

We had Christmas parties, went to movies, and still have friends over almost every weekend to play cards now. We just put Henry down, turn up his sound machine, and he very rarely wakes from any noises we make.

We have used the machine linked above one for two years and love it. Henry loves the white noise, rain, crickets, and thunder sounds. We switch it up occasionally and he sleeps soundly with all the options.

10. Diaper Pail (Diaper Genie) $37.49

Maybe we are lazy, but our diaper pail is one of my top 4 best baby buys ever.

Some moms will claim this is unnecessary- and to some families it totally is. Call us gross, but it’s true- we are just not a take-your-trash-out-every-day kind of family, so for us, this is a lifesaver. The small little bags keep diapers contained in an airtight container, and we are able to fit multiple stink bombs in there before needing to take out the trash. It wipes down and disinfects easy, so I see no real cons to having one! We have one in our kitchen, and one in our baby’s room, that way no trash cans in our house ever have to smell like baby poop.

We couldn’t care less about brand names with these- considering you are just throwing poop in them anyway, so we have always bought these Target brand bags as refills.

11. Wipes, wipes, & then more wipes, various prices

Discount: Target almost ALWAYS has Up&Up wipes on Cartwheel, and often runs gift card promos on bigger boxes of wipes! Buy in bulk, and you definitely save money.

I add this to the main list even though it is obvious, because personally, we use baby wipes for everything. I could receive 10 cases of wipes at a shower and be 100% content in feeling like we will use them all. Some parents are not this way, and prefer to use them ONLY for diapering. We use them to clean up spills, snot, hands, walls, tables, and of course baby bums. Because we use them for so much, we go through boxes and boxes. I personally do not bother buying fancier wipes, and always go with the off brand. Most of the time, even the store brands like Target’s Up&Up offer sensitive wipes too if your baby has allergies. I have never noticed a difference in quality, and to be honest, the off brand from Target especially always come out of the package WAY easier than the brand name wipes.

Our favorites are the cucumber melon scent, or the fresh scent from Up&Up. Typically they are on Cartwheel, too!

For this babe, we will register for at least 2-3 giant boxes, because we KNOW we will use them.

Must-Haves for Breastfeeding Mamas:

1. Nursing Cover, typically $20-$30

Even if you think you will never nurse in public, at some point, I am almost certain in saying this: you will- and this is a LIFESAVER. 

I have absolutely nothing against breastfeeding openly in public, and would never shame a mama for doing so, but it just simply isn’t for me as I just don’t feel comfortable doing it. I prefer to be in the comfort of a private room when I nurse my babes. But when that isn’t possible, or when your only option is a bathroom (yuck) I choose to cover with a nursing cover. Multi-use covers are my FAVORITE, and in my opinion are way above the bar compared to the regular sheet-or-apron-like nursing covers. Most multi-use covers are 3-in-1, meaning you can use them for nursing, your infant carseat, and your shopping cart. Some even double as a scarf for you so you can wear them all day until you need them!
My favorite brands are CoveredGoods and MilkSnob, but you can also find some absolutely adorable prints on Etsy for slightly cheaper at times. I personally own a CoveredGoods cover, and I can attest to how easily it is for babies to breathe underneath, as well as how well it held up for the year and a half we used it. I just washed it last week and placed it in little lady’s room to use this time around, too. I would recommend getting at least one, if you can remember to keep it in your purse and wash it (which I can’t)- but this time I will register for 2-3 so I can throw them in my various bags and rotate them out with our laundry schedule. I will link a few of my favorites from various vendors in my Highlights on Insta this week!

2. Breast Pump

Discount: Check with your insurance before you EVER purchase a pump! Most cover a hospital grade pump 100%. Some even cover accessories and replacement tubing/pieces. As mentioned above, some insurance companies will even reimburse you for the cost of your milk storage bags!

We personally chose the Spectra S2, and I highly recommend it. I used a Medela in the hospital, and I really was not impressed with the output personally, but I know so many moms who swear by them. That being said, absolutely every woman is different, and every breast pump is going to work with your body differently. The biggest thing to remember is to get a hospital grade pump if possible, and to use the correct size phalanges. If you do this, any pump will work!

My favorite pump a little later on became a simple and cheap hand pump from Lansinoh. It was easy to throw into my purse and take anywhere, I didn’t have to worry about packing batteries or a cord, and it always drew out just as much milk as an electric pump.

This is the hand pump I bought for $29.99. Had I not had insurance that covered an electric pump, I absolutely could have made this work for my entire nursing months.

3. Nipple Shield, $7.35

Makes the first 2-4 weeks of breastfeeding SO much less painful

Discount: Always ask your hospital first if they have a shield you may use. They often will send you home with several totally free!

You’re probably reading this thinking, “what in God’s name is a nipple shield!?” I said the same thing too the first time I heard it. A nipple shield is a small piece of silicone which goes directly onto the breast you are nursing from. It allows your milk to pool a bit in the end of the shield, making it easier for very tiny babies to latch on.
My sister introduced me of this product, and without it we honestly either wouldn’t have made it through the first week of nursing, or we would have turned to exclusive pumping- neither of which are the worst things in the world- just not what our original plan was. If you are super committed to breastfeeding your babe, this is a must-have on my list unless your baby is just a mega-rockstar in the latching world from the very beginning (and most babies aren’t.) Our son had a slight lip tie, though it was not big enough to revise. He had issues latching for the first week while his little mouth was too small, and this tiny contraption saved the day every time we nursed.
In addition, it makes those first few miserable weeks a LOT easier to ease into. Your nipples will be sore, they will likely crack, and honestly mine even bled. When wearing this, it was SO much less painful to nurse, and allowed my body to get used to the changes more slowly. Once Henry figured out how to latch properly, we stopped using the shield one day, and never looked back.
My hospital never once mentioned this as an option, but as soon as we got home and tried it, I was convinced every new mama who plans on breastfeeding exclusively needs one.

Things I am registering for this time:


1. BinxyBaby Shopping Cart Sling $49.95

Allows your baby to rest comfortably directly in the hammock, or safely secures your carseat in a cart while shopping.

Discount: Click the link above for 10% off your entire order at BinxyBaby.
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Image from Binxy Baby’s website. This is the color we have for our little lady, but so many different patterns and colors are available!

Oh my goodness, had I known about this brilliance when we had Henry, life would have been so much easier. Binxy Baby Shopping Cart Slings clip safely onto your shopping cart, giving your babe a hammock-like place to sleep while you shop. They also safely secure carseats- something that is always a struggle in shopping carts. (Trust me, there are VERY few ways to safely use a carseat in a shopping cart, and when you do use them safely, they take up your entire cart.)

We received our hammock this time around for our little lady, and would be registering for one if we did not.

Plus, their prints are too cute for words.

2. NoseFrida $15.99

Sucks the snot from your baby’s nose

Never in a million years did I think I would be registering for this lovely little device. Especially since we breastfed Henry exclusively, as a new (clearly unexperienced) mom, I was under the impression that he would never really get sick. Unfortunately, while breastfeeding is amazing for their immunities- whether you breast or formula feed your baby, they will still inevitably catch SOMETHING. And when they do, you will still be sitting there staring at your snotty, gasping baby with nothing more than the little blue bulb they give you in the hospital.
I have never used a NoseFrida personally, but I have SO many friends who swear by it. I 100% am trying it out this time around, because some of the worst nights of having an infant involved him sputtering and struggling to deal with the snot in his little nose that I just couldn’t fully suction with that bulb.

And to answer the big question: no, the snot doesn’t go in your mouth when you suck it out. The snot sucker comes with filters that keep any nasties you suck from their nose from EVER coming near the straw portion. In addition, their website states they have clinically proven that their filters also prevent any sickness-causing germs/bacteria from transferring up the tube as well. To me, that’s a win-win. Clear nose, no gasping baby, and nothing comes near your mouth.

You can also buy additional hygiene filters here for $3.99.

3. Baby Bath Cushion ($6.39) or a Blooming Bath ($39.99)

Bath products that don’t involve a tub of water

When we had Henry, we registered for the run-of-the-mill tiny little baby bath. We ended up getting a bath seat as well, and we really hated both. In the end, I ended up bathing him by laying a towel in the bottom of the tub, doubling it up for some cushion, and running about an inch of water in the tub, or after he began rolling, simply pouring the water on him in an otherwise empty tub as he bathed. In hindsight, I never felt comfortable bathing my infant in more than an inch or so of water. Of course, we never ever ever for ANY reason left Henry unattended in a bath- not even for a second- but those little boogers are still so slippery! I always feared Henry slipping under the water or slipping off his bath seat when we filled the tub with more than just an inch or so.

With little lady, we will register for either a bath mat/sponge or a blooming bath. Anything that allows you to use two hands while bathing your baby is 100% worth it, because in both a tub and a bath seat, I always felt the need to keep one hand on Henry’s belly. That sucks for your back as you are bending over that tub, and it makes bath time so much longer.

We personally will likely register for a blooming bath, because our sinks in this house are finally big enough to place one in, and by using a sink we completely eliminate the awkward angles that kill your back during bath times in a tub.

If you go with the bath mat, I would personally purchase one like I linked above. I always worry about mildew and mold with items that are consistently wet, so I would purchase an inexpensive version like the one listed above. That way I would not feel uncomfortable replacing it after a few months of use.

4. Video Monitor, $59.99

I always somewhat laughed at parents who needed to see their children during the night, but then I found myself walking to and from Henry’s room 15-20 times/ night after we moved him to his own room. We were able to check his vitals from our phone, but there is something about physically seeing your baby asleep that gives so much peace too. We are transitioning Henry to his big boy bed, and a video monitor is now crucial to us to watch him and make sure he is staying inside his bed all night.

We just purchased this model, which is actually primarily intended to be used in home security settings. It can alert to movement, and the 1080p picture allows for zooming and incredibly clear images. We have been watching Henry on our monitor tonight, and have been amazed at how well I can see him even with the night vision.

For Henry, we are able to talk to him through the camera, and can tell him to get his little booty back into bed if he gets out. The app allows you to connect multiple cameras, so we will be registering for an extra camera for the little lady’s room as well. Heck, with how cool these things are, we might even get one for several rooms to use as home security too. Easy to pull up on our iPad or phone, and quickly check both of our kids to see if they are still asleep and where they are supposed to be.

5. More baby socks than you could ever possibly need

I swear, dryers eat all socks to a certain degree, but they are a black hole for baby socks. Those things are SO tiny, that you will forever be searching for clean socks. I recommend purchasing ALL the same color and brand, simply for ease of matching. If you purchase all black socks, you don’t ever have to spend hours in the morning trying to find the match for the pink floral socks, the ones with the correct monster, or the polka dotted or striped ones. We like pajamas without the feet sewn on, so socks were a must for us!

What I wish we DIDN’T buy:


1. Baby Detergents

Let me preface this. NOT ALL BABIES ARE THE SAME. I always recommend purchasing a baby detergent to begin with while your baby is only a few weeks old, because all babies will have different reactions to products. That being said, we tested Henry out on a regular detergent pretty soon after birth, and when he had absolutely no reactions to such, we switched back to our regular detergent. Free and clear detergents are typically much more expensive, and usually don’t make me feel like the clothes actually smell clean. We personally decided that Henry didn’t need them at all. On top of that, Henry was notorious for blowouts and breast milk spills, and I was notorious for dropping pieces of food on him while I ate and he nursed (you judge, but just wait.) So instead of a free and clear detergent, we always preferred stain-fighting types of detergents. Cheaper, less hassle than washing separate loads, and kept his clothes much cleaner.

That being said again, I also highly recommend classic Shout for breast milk and poop stains, and Shout Set-In Stain Remover for people like me who can’t remember to treat clothes immediately. That stuff is cheap, and it is magic.

2. Changing Table

Let’s be real. You have your first baby, and for the first three weeks you change them on that cute little pad with all your diapers below, and you are so happy you bought your changing table. But after about a month, you start stashing diapers throughout the house for ease of access, and your favorite place to change your babe becomes the couch, the bed, the kitchen table, etc. (Again, judge me- you just wait.)

In hindsight, we bought a changing table that matched our crib, and I really wish we would have ONLY bought the changing pad. Instead, I would have purchased a decent dresser for Henry, possibly a solid wood one that could grow with him as he gets older. I would then place his changing pad on top of the dresser, that way the dresser could be used long after he potty trained.
For little lady, we are definitely NOT buying a changing table, and are even getting rid of the one we still have from Henry. Once they are done with diapers, they are pretty useless otherwise. We would rather invest in something that holds her zillion onesies, anyway!

And finally, just a few more sneaky little buying tips from a second-time mom who made mistakes the first time around, and who also realized what makes life a zillion times easier.

  1. Don’t buy footie sleepers, especially not for the first 6 months! They outgrow these SO much faster. If you choose to purchase footless onesies, your babe will be able to wear them MUCH longer. In addition, if you have an Owlet, footless sleepers are so much easier to access your Owlet if there is simply a sock slid over it.
  2. Buy newborn onesies/sleepers that have the mittens built in! Henry would NEVER keep his scratchy-no-more-mittens on (and thankfully wasn’t much of a face scratcher anyway) but we made the mistake of not just buying the onesies with sleeves that fold over their talon-like little hands. Those onesies just make life easier.
  3. Only buy ZIPPERED pjs and clothes! While so many clothes have the tiny little snaps, let me very straightforward- THOSE. SUCK. AT. 3 AM.

Hopefully these products give you an idea of a few things to register for, and at least give your registry a kickstart! If you’re looking for small, fun things, I will include a few photos and links in my Insta Highlights to some not “necessary” items, but ones that we loved for Henry or are registering for for our little girl!

Feel free to message me on Instagram (@joyfulcrew) with any questions, and happy shopping mamas!

Saving Money


If you know me personally, you know that I am a deal-seeker. You know that I hate the unethical and illegal side of extreme couponing, but I love me some good legal deals. You know that I will spend my afternoon on the phone with customer service just to save a few bucks if I forgot to enter a promo code at checkout. You know that I shop at thrift stores (and find some pretty nice stuff there, like my recent Patagonia pullover for 75 cents-what whaaaaat?!) What you may not know (but probably do because I like to talk about it on Facebook) is that I love cashing in rebates, and I love transferring that money to a savings account.

I’m all about saving money, so I’m all about Ibotta.

Ibotta is a rebate app for everyday grocery items, as well as tons of other retail stores. It has a plethora of stores on it, and almost certainly has a grocery or convenience store that you shop at regularly. Oh, and did I mention you can ALWAYS use it with manufacturer and store coupons?! Stack that on top of weekly sales, and you can score some sick deals. Often I find that my paper coupons match up perfectly with the items on the app, making things only a few cents or totally FREE after redeeming a rebate post-grocery trip.

Unlike other apps, this app will allow you to cash out your earnings directly to PayPal or Venmo, both apps that connect directly with your bank account. No buying third party gift cards that you don’t even really want to use- the money you earn on your grocery items is totally yours.

Want to know how it works?

Here are the main steps:

1. Create an account with Ibotta

Ibotta is available on both Android and Apple platforms. If you use my code ” fdxhqik ” you get an additional $10 of cash, deposited into your account balance as soon as you redeem your first branded rebate. (Literally that’s $10, completely free to you!)

I’ve also provided my referral link for easier access, make sure you click my link if you want the bonus cash.

*you must redeem one rebate before the bonus will be added to your account. This excludes the “any brand” or “any item” rebates.

2. Select your favorite stores

Ibotta has a HUGE selection of available stores where rebates are offered. They even have a wide selection of cash back at convenience stores and at military installation shops. Seriously, if you shop somewhere, search it, and chances are Ibotta will have some sort of rebate for you there. They even have tons of rebates on beer and liquor! (Hello, holiday party savings!)

3. Unlock your rebates

Many companies ask for a 1 question survey, ask you to watch a video, or ask you to view a recipe to unlock the rebate. Most take less than 10 seconds. I unlock anything I think I might POSSIBLY buy just to read the fine print before my shopping trip, though you can still unlock rebates after your shopping trip, too. Once a rebate is unlocked, you will see it in your “list” and it will appear with a green arrow below it.

4. Shop!


Go grocery shopping in no different way than your regular routine- then check the app to see if you bought anything with rebates (what I typically do.)

Or plan ahead and intentionally purchase the items in the app that you would like a rebate for (what I do when I know I have coupons to stack, or the rebate equates to a high percentage off an item.)

5. Scan in your receipt and select the rebates that you would like to redeem

The submission process is super simple, and super easy to follow with the instructions Ibotta gives. Follow the directions, and you’re golden. Once you submit your receipt, your rebates will be reviewed, and the funds will be added to your account shortly!

Check your app often for new rebates, as they are cycled through almost daily, and some rebates are only offered for a few days at a time.


Okay y’all, now here are my favorite secrets that I will share.

How to find INSANE rebates on the app

Ibotta has tons of rebates that are “tricky.” The companies that use Ibotta for their marketing and advertising campaigns know how to get you to buy their products. For example, Anheuser Busch recently offered a rebate with a photo of one of their IPA beers alongside a generic raw meat, listed at $4.00 off.

When you look at the photo, you would assume this was a “buy beer AND meat, and get the rebate” kind of deal. In reality, the rebate was $4.00 off any meat, seasoning, or sauce purchase of $4.01 or more. Literally, you could buy $4.01 of meat, submit for the rebate, and get your purchase for a penny. Basically FREE. And I did. Four times. And have it in my saved offers to use again tomorrow.

You can typically only claim an offer once per receipt, and the offer does usually disappear shortly after it is redeemed (make sure you read the fine print on offers before going crazy with buying items!) But if you’re lucky and check the app often, rebates like this sometimes cycle back into your account after you have redeemed them already, and when they do, TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE. I have $16.00 of completely free ground beef, chicken, and steak in my freezer/fridge right now, compliments of a beer company that knows how to advertise, and a me that knows how to not fall for it.

Ibotta days / online retail offers

Ibotta days happen every once in a while, where certain online retailers will offer anywhere from 2-25% cash back on any online purchase made through the Ibotta app. I shop at both Kohl’s and Target frequently, and caught them both at a 20% cash back offer the other day. I simply made sure to check out through Ibotta, and got an additional cash back on top of my discounts I already had applied to my items at each store.

I took an extra 25 seconds to check out through the IBotta app, and got back $9.08 for those purchases. So. Easy.

Pay attention to bonuses

Occasionally, if a brand offers several rebates on similar items they will often offer a bonus rebate if you redeem all the rebates they offer. For instance, Pantene is currently offering 3 rebates in my region, off a shampoo, conditioner, and styler. If you redeem all three by a certain date, you get an extra couple bucks added to your account as a bonus. Easy.
Sometimes these bonuses are only a dollar more, but sometimes they are so high value that they make the items almost free. Watch your bonuses, because when combined with store or manufacturer coupons, they can be HUGE.

The bottom line is, if you are willing to take a few extra minutes out of your day and scroll through these rebates, you’re going to pocket some money you would have otherwise spent. I’ve made $60 back since I signed up a month and a half ago, and it’s money I will transfer directly into my savings account, since it’s money I had already budgeted for grocery bills anyway. Win-win? Duh.

Can we just talk about how hilarious it is to grocery shop when you can’t read any of the packaging?!

Remember to sign up with my link or code , or you’ll miss out on a $10 bonus. Happy (legal) couponing, and happy shopping!