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.
1. Learn to differentiate between products that your baby really needs and those that are merely masquerading as necessities.
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!)
2. Hold off on shopping for baby for as long as you can.
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.
3. Train yourself to check your emotions at the baby store door.
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.
4. Beware of overzealous sales clerks who may not have your best interests at heart.
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.
5. Research each make and model carefully.
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.
6. Don't be afraid to negotiate on price.
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.
7. Remind yourself that it isn't necessary to buy everything new.
You can save yourself a small fortune by shopping secondhand for baby clothes, crib linens, and other baby-related items. Just make sure that you're shopping at a reputable secondhand store — one that will only accept products that comply with current safety standards — and that you've done your homework so that you know which products are and aren't worth purchasing secondhand. Note: Most safety experts advise that you avoid purchasing secondhand car seats because there's no way to know for sure whether or not they've been involved in an accident, and something as simple as a low-speed fender bender can twist a car seat's frame and make it unsafe for use.
8. Go light on the furniture.
A dresser is nice to have, but it certainly isn't a necessity. You can get away with using plastic storage containers if you're trying to keep your costs down. And as for buying a change table, this is yet another item you can definitely live without. All you really need to change a baby's bum is a waterproof change pad and a flat surface.
9. Think long-term.
Look for items that will grow with your baby — clothes with "grow cuffs" that can be rolled down as your baby's legs get longer, and change tables that can be converted into dressers or desks. The longer your child is able to use a particular item, the more bang you'll get for your buck.
10. Don't forget that you're about to hit the shower circuit.
Chances are you'll receive an extraordinary number of gifts — some from people you barely even know. The goal of your pre-baby shopping expeditions therefore should be to ensure that the bare necessities are covered — not to fill up your child's dresser and toy box in one fell swoop. And if the unthinkable happens and you don't end up being treated to baby shower after baby shower, relax: you or your partner can always pick up any baby items that you're missing later on. (Trust me: you'll be fighting for the chance to run a baby-free errand!)
Ann Douglas is the author of numerous books about pregnancy and parenting including the bestselling "The Mother of All Pregnancy Books." She regularly contributes to a number of print and online publications, is frequently quoted in the media on a range of parenting-related topics, and has appeared as a guest on a number of television and radio shows. Ann and her husband Neil live in Peterborough, Ontario. with the youngest of their four children. Learn more at her site, having-a-baby.com.
Copyright © Ann Douglas. Permission to republish granted to Pregnancy.org.