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4 tips for saving on baby costs

Kelly Dilworth

Soon after my husband and I found out we were expecting, I drew up a list of “must-have” baby items — ranging from a car seat and stroller to baby sunscreen. I wanted to get a sense of how much our son was going to cost us in his first year, and I was eager to stock up early, just in case he greeted us well before his due date.

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At the time, I thought I was being selective. I combed through dozens of newborn checklists that itemized “essential” baby gear and only wrote down the supplies that seemed absolutely necessary. I used Amazon.com to help me estimate the cost of every purchase and tried to stick to budget-friendly items. But when I added everything up, I was shocked: It would cost us nearly $2,000 to purchase the items on my list — and I hadn’t even included diapers and baby clothes, apart from a few basics.

There was no way we could afford to buy everything new. So, over the next several months, I began haunting nearby garage sales and religiously checked Craigslist for steals on gently used gear. We haven’t purchased everything yet since we’ve still got a few months to go, but we’re well on our way to cutting our original baby budget by more than half and have saved hundreds of dollars so far. Here’s just some of what we learned along the way:

1. Buy used.
The first time I visited a Babies”R”Us store, I became quickly overwhelmed. The aisles were packed with products and accessories I’d never heard of and the prices were steeper than I anticipated. When I tried mentally adding up how much a handful of items would cost, I started feeling dizzy.

If you only stick to big box stores like Babies”R”Us for your baby gear needs, you could wind up spending hundreds (and possibly even thousands) of dollars on stuff you may only use for a few months.

Instead, try checking Craigslist, consignment stores and nearby garage sales for deals on gently used items. You’d be surprised by what you find. For example, I scored a $25 bouncer for $5 through Craigslist and bought a $30 Bobby pillow at a garage sale for 50 cents. I also saw an advertisement for a perfectly good high chair for free. Since parents only use these items for a short period, they’re often in surprisingly good condition.

Friends and family may also have leftover gear their kids have long outgrown. My sister lent us her old stroller and bags of baby boy clothes, saving us hundreds of dollars on those items.

Tip: There are some things you will want to buy new, unless you know who used it first. For example, if you accept a car seat used, you run the risk that it’s been damaged in an accident. You’ll also want to check online to make sure the product hasn’t been recalled.

2. Be selective.
Ignore the “must-have” baby gear lists disseminated by retailers and try to be discerning when you read through other people’s registries. They are tons of baby items out there — such as $15 bottle warmers and $60 baby food makers — that experienced parents will insist you don’t need.

Ask around for advice on what’s really necessary for the first 12 months. You can also learn a lot just by reading reviews and discussion forums online.

Tip: Think ahead when you’re deciding whether or not to buy something. You may find that a costlier product is worth the extra cash if it saves you money or grief in the long run. For example, I obsessively researched baby-carrying products, such as wraps and soft-structured carriers, and came close to buying a $35 wrap because it seemed more affordable. But when I talked to other new moms, I learned that babies often quickly outgrow them. So instead I wound up paying a little over $100 for a carrier that’s designed to last from 0 to 48 months.

3. Take advantage of coupons and sales.
The great thing about being a new parent is that big box stores like Target really want your business and will do what they can to lure you in. That means there are tons of coupons, promotions and super sales to take advantage of if you keep your eyes open for them and don’t try to buy everything at once.

There are also websites, such as BargainChildrensClothing.com, that sell gear at a steep discount. Amazon.com is also a great resource since it routinely slashes prices.

Tip: Be aware that any time you give out your personal details in exchange for a coupon, that information will almost certainly be sold to marketers. For example, you may be offered free items, such as a nursing cover, in exchange for your information. But that’s because that kind of data lets marketers know you’re pregnant and is considered to be highly valuable.

4. Use your credit card rewards points.
The other night, my husband and I ordered hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards using credit card rewards points that were in danger of expiring.

We saved substantially more money by exchanging the points for gift cards rather than converting them into cash. And since we knew we would almost certainly use up the gift cards by the end of the year, it didn’t feel like a big risk.

Our plan is to use the cards to help pay for everything from diapers to discounted onesies. Then, once we’ve built up enough points, we’ll do it all over again.

Tip: If you can afford to repay your balance in full each month, buy everything with credit. That’s how we were able to amass so many rewards points. We pay for everything from our groceries to our electric bill using our cards and then repay the cards in full each month.

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  • Excellent article, Kelly! Thank you. As a new mom, now with a one-year old, everything you stated is 100% true! Another point is – find moms online, in life, or at a support group like La Leche League who are like-minded. If you are granola, there are certain items like cloth diapers you may prioritize. Or if you are a fashionista, there is a whole new realm of what is considered cool or stylish in the baby world! Another example would be if you are leaning toward attachment parenting, like me, there are a ton of “traditional” baby items that are somewhat taboo in that philosophy. So many “baby” items we didn’t end up using, to the tune of a crib with organic mattress, co-sleeper, baby bathtub, baby food making equipment, playpen, electric baby swing, $99 organic changing table pad…and those are just the big ones. I also got a stroller that was compatible with the car seat/carrier – big mistake – that stroller has been used twice, and I wear my baby so never used the car seat as a carrier. I should have bought the bigger, safer carseat and top notch running stroller I wanted, and eventually got once the common sense kicked in. Wish I bought way more cloth diapers too, in the beginning, which is a great way to save some green in every sense! Thanks again, Kelly – I wish I had read your article before I did my baby shopping.