by Ann Douglas
You've no doubt seen all the scary statistics on the costs of raising children — numbers that may very well have you second-guessing your decision to toss your birth control pills in the trash! Well, despite what some people would have you believe, starting a family doesn't have to lead to financial ruin. While it may be tempting to wear the numbers off your credit card as you merrily shop for the new arrival, there are plenty of practical steps you can take to minimize the impact on your family's budget. Here are a few ideas.
Not all baby products are created equal: some are absolute lifesavers; others are nothing more than expensive frills. Your mission as a first-time parent is to learn to tell the difference. The best way to get this type of insider advice is to talk to other new parents — parents who've made their way through the baby store jungle recently and who are willing to let you know which products were worth every penny and which ones your baby could definitely live without. (Think baby wipe warmers!)
The sooner you start hitting the baby stores, the more money you're going to spend. By the time you make your thirty-fifth trip to the local baby specialty store, you will have long since lost track of which items you've already got stashed away in your baby's room — something that will inevitably cause you to overbuy.
You'll spend a lot more money if you let your heart rather than your head guide your purchasing decisions. If you wake up one morning and find yourself positively oozing with maternal sentiment, it's probably a good day to give your credit card a rest. Otherwise, you could end up buying six of everything just because you're so darned happy to be having a baby.
Don't allow yourself to fall prey to nauseatingly attentive sales clerks who fuss and fawn over you while helping you to stuff as much baby paraphernalia in your shopping cart as possible. Keep in mind that you're a bit of a babe-in-the-woods when it comes to the business of equipping a nursery, something that leaves you more than a little vulnerable to the advice of well-meaning and not-so-well-meaning sales clerks.
Before you zero in on a particular make and model of baby equipment, make sure you're researched the product carefully. Something you might not think about upfront but that could prove very important down the road is the cost and availability of replacement parts. This is a particularly important point to research when you're shopping for a stroller: you might find that the bargain-basement stroller costs more money to keep on the road over time than its higher-priced counterpart — assuming, of course, that you can actually manage to get your hands on replacement parts.
Come up with creative strategies for negotiating the best possible price on baby equipment. Form a purchasing co-op with other parents from your prenatal class and approach local retailers to negotiate a special "bulk rate" on the big-ticket items of baby gear: car seats, cribs, strollers, and so on. And if you're planning to purchase most of your baby gear from a single baby store or department store, ask them to reward you for your loyalty by giving you a bit of a discount. If they won't, chances are somebody else will.