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My budget-buster: first-kid spending splurges

Kelly Dilworth

After arguing with my spouse over whether or not we could afford to set aside more money for retirement, I recently completed an overdue audit of my spending. As I scrolled through the list of impulsive transactions, I realized I could save a lot more money by not overspending on my kid.

Since becoming a first-time parent, I’ve had a hard time reining in my spending. During my pregnancy, I prided myself on being frugal and buying as little as possible. I scoffed at brand-new baby items and scoured Craigslist for gently used gear. I haunted garage sales. I gladly accepted hand-me-downs from my sisters. I even wrote a column detailing how I managed to save more than $1,000 on our baby budget – mostly by forgoing extras and buying nearly everything secondhand.

But once the baby arrived, all that scrimping and planning ahead went out the window. I no longer had time to visit consignment stores and hunt for bargains. I was lucky if I had enough energy to price compare online.

As my son finally started to sleep through the night and I felt less physically drained, I started shopping around and looking for deals more often. But unlike before, I still found myself spending a surprising amount on extras – including brand-new books and toys, new snacks I thought my son might like to try and extra clothes he didn’t really need. As the expenses added up, I kept finding excuses for why they were necessary.

Thrilled my newly walking toddler was finally showing an interest in being read to, I started taking him to Barnes & Noble and splurging on interactive board books. I should have just borrowed more books from our local library. “But they don’t have the ‘Sing along with me’ series!” I’d reason. He loves bringing me his favorite books.

Struggling to find a safe place for him to toddle and explore outside our cramped apartment, I also plunked down more than $100 on an annual pass to a children’s museum. “I’ll be able to take him any time now,” I told my husband as I rationalized the purchase. “The pretend city displays will be great for his developing imagination … ”

I could rationalize anything when it came to overspending on my toddler – especially if those purchases promised to be educational or enriching. With just 16 months of parenting under my belt, I’ve found it’s surprisingly hard to avoid spoiling your kid.

According to a survey released March 29 by T. Rowe Price, I’m not the only parent getting tripped up by nonessential purchases. Among the 1,086 parents the investment company polled, 46 percent admitted to going into debt to buy toys or other items their kids requested. Meanwhile, more than half of parents confessed to overspending on their children.

After tallying up how much I overspent in recent weeks, I resolved to rein things in. But it’s been tough so far to stay on budget.

A few days after my spending audit, my son and I happened upon a neighborhood toy store we’d never visited. As we wandered the aisles, ogling the high-quality toys, a shop employee approached us and pointed to a self-powered farm truck that made realistic animal noises. “It’s a bestseller,” he crowed. “Kids love it.”

I eyed the truck suspiciously as the employee pointed out its features, then glanced at my son, sitting contentedly in his stroller. “There are a lot of buttons on it,” I thought to myself, trying out the horn. He’d love that.

“OK, I’m sold,” I blurted out, forgetting my resolution. “How much is it?” Less than a week after vowing to cut my spending, I’d already busted my new budget.

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