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BRINGING UP BABY NEEDN'T BE TOO EXPENSIVE

Getting outfitted for a new baby can cost well over $6,000 the first year if you buy everything new.

But Alan and Denise Fields, authors of Baby Bargains (Windsor Peak Press, $11.95; 800-888-0385), offer these shopping tips for prospective parents:- CRIBS. Prices range from about $80 for metal cribs to $700 for Italian designer models.

You can get a solid-wood crib from Simmons or Child Craft starting at $150. Make sure the side railing is easy to release with one hand and the mattress is supported by springs, not vinyl straps.

- MATTRESSES. Foam mattresses are less expensive than coil ($25 to $60 vs. about $100 or more) and up to 15 pounds lighter - a plus when you're changing bedding in the middle of the night.

- CHANGING TABLES. Forget the fancy flip-top dresser variety.

For convenience, take a look at the vinyl-top model from the Right Start catalog for $99.95 plus $21.95 shipping and handling (800-548-8531).

- STROLLERS. For $80 to $130 you can get a model that reclines and has a reversible handle, seat padding, a sun-blocking canopy and a storage basket.

Check out superstores, such as Toys "R" Us and Baby Depot at Burlington Coat Factory.

- CAR SEATS. All states require them, but you can save money by taking advantage of public-service offers.

For example, Midas Muffler stores sell a basic $90 Century car seat for $42. With the car seat you get a certificate that can be redeemed for $42 worth of Midas service when you return the seat after your child has outgrown it.

- DIAPERS. Environmentally minded parents might like the idea of a diaper service, but at a cost of up to 19 cents per cloth diaper (including pickup and delivery, a hamper, liners and deodorizer), they're not less expensive than disposables.

Bought in bulk from wholesale clubs, name-brand disposables cost 15 cents to 17 cents each.

- BIRTHDAY PARTIES. At Chuck E. Cheese's, a party for 10 costs $74.90. At McDonald's you'd pay about $25 to $45.

You can produce a do-it-yourself version at home for $28 to $50 - but you'll have to clean up the mess.