After becoming a mommy I was shocked (or maybe appalled is a better word), at the sheer number of things required to successfully grow a human being. Dual income household or not, it’s insane how much time, money, and space is required to raise a baby. How in the heck does a piece of blue plastic (which somehow constitutes as a tub) cost anything more than the $5 it took to make it? Why do cute, yet functional, strollers have to start at $249? And why do cribs cost like $400 when I could just section off a portion of my bed for free? (Kidding! Having your baby sleep in your bed is usually frowned upon).
Slap the letters B-A-B-Y onto anything and the price automatically jumps up. Why is that? I’ll tell you why. It’s because women are emotional creatures who make emotional buying decisions. Sure honey, I’ll buy you that $500 pint-sized electric Mercedes G-Wagon so that you can crash it into our garage door for the nine hundredth time. You don’t believe me? Who remembers Tickle Me Elmo from ‘96? Those little suckers sold at a several thousand dollar mark-up from the original price because kids "had to have them" and parents didn’t want to disappoint. Supply and demand is a beautiful thing isn't it?
So when does it get better? When do kids stop costing their parents a small fortune? Well, it never gets better. That’s the honest truth. Once they grow out of the expensive baby and toddler phases, your child will be old enough to start having wishes, desires…ideas and dreams of their own, packed full of all the wonderful things you can buy them.
This is why you have to be smarter! Instead of livin’la vida broka, you have to know when to save and when to splurge on all of your baby’s “survival” needs. When my son was born, daycare was expensive, money was scarce, and we lived in an 800 square foot apartment (no, we didn’t live in San Francisco, we lived in Lincoln, Nebraska. 800 square feet feels like eight square feet when you have two tired parents and a screaming baby, in case you were wondering). Thus, I learned how to budget...fast. I learned when to splurge and when to save. And I got pretty dang good at it.
Check out my advice for splurging vs. saving and stop “borrowing” money from your kiddo’s piggy bank.
Car Seats – The manufacture of these is highly regulated by the NHTSA. What you are ultimately paying for is comfort. Sure, the high end ones come in cute patterns, and features two cup-holders, in case your toddler is double fisting in the backseat. But more expensive does not mean safer. So, if you want to be fancy and pay extra for the patented Paparazzi Shield, go ahead. Just know that the Graco would have suited your infant just fine.
Pro Tip: Rather than buying two car seats for separate vehicles, buy one seat and two bases. This makes transporting back and forth quick and easy. If you choose to go the used route, be sure the seat has not passed it’s expiration date (plastic can degrade over time) and that it hasn’t been involved in any accidents (which may compromise it’s safety features).
Verdict: Avoid buying top of the line. Your infant won’t appreciate hand-stitched leather anyways. Save by picking something nice, but economically priced.
Crib Mattress – The manufacture of crib mattresses is not as highly regulated as it perhaps should be. Soft crib mattresses can be a suffocation hazard for babies. Look for a sleeping surface that can hold it’s shape. For crib mattresses, the firmer the better. Remember, not too long ago, your baby slept wadded in a tiny ball within the confines of your stomach... obviously they can sleep anywhere and won't mind the solid surface. The Colgate Classica I is an affordable mommy favorite (my son slept on this for nearly two years and it is still in amazing condition).
Verdict: Your child’s life is never worth the risk, skip the soft foam mattress. Be diligent on this one, splurge.
Baby Formula – I was a real trooper and breast fed for all of three days (please spare me the lecture, it just wasn’t my thing). So we started buying baby formula. Not a problem at first, but then he wanted to drink like 8 oz at a time, multiple times each day, and it started adding up real quick. With brand name formula you are paying largely for marketing and advertising spend (lucky you consumer Mom). Just know that the FDA highly regulates baby formula, so unless your baby has some super specific dietary needs, ignore the pretty product packaging and go the store brand route to save some cash.
Pro Tip: As kiddos grow up, continue to buy store brand foods when you can. This will require some trial and error, as all store brands are definitely not created equal. Store brand peanut butter crackers, yes. Store brand cereal, ok. Store brand fruit snacks, not so much. Store brand parmesan cheese, bleh. Happy taste testing.
Clothes – Ahh my favorite category. No matter how much you paid for that super cute Baby Gap sweater, no one cares about it as much as you do (i.e. unless it’s picture day, leave it at home!) Kids get dirty. The world of clothing consignment has come a long way from where it used to be. These places are actually super picky about what they accept. I can’t even count the number of brand new clothes I have found there. Consignment shopping is not for the faint of heart, however. You must know your brands (well) to be able to get the best deals, and you have to frequent these places often.
Pro Tip: Only consignment shop on days when your patience is running high; it requires time and effort. Consignment stores are also great places to buy seasonal things that do not get as much wear and tear as everyday clothes, like Halloween costumes, coats, and snow boots. You can also find great deals on baby jumpers, large toys, and books.
Verdict: Splurge on outfits for special occasions, holidays, family pictures, etc.(i.e. times where you can provide some type of regulation as to how dirty your child can get). Buy play clothes at consignment shops and stop stressing over torn up knees and marker stains; save whenever you can.
Nursery & Bedroom Furniture – Baby furniture. The 'B' word. Those four little letters make store owners see dollar signs. A baby is a huge reason to celebrate… right? And when people celebrate, they tend to spend money much more freely than they would regularly. And it isn’t hard to convince a mommy that she needs “only the best” for said baby. If you are shopping at a baby boutique, take note of the furniture prices. You can probably find a very similar piece elsewhere, for a lot less. Scour garage sales, estate sales, or Craig’s List postings (only recommended if you live in areas where you won’t be robbed or taken hostage for trying to sell a coffee table). I bought an end table for my son’s room at an antique shop, his used dresser from a rent-to-own store, and his bunk bed from a storage locker auction (yea, just like the ones you see on A&E).
Verdict: Don’t fall victim to this trap. Save.
Birthday Parties – Birthday parties seem to follow the same trajectory as college tuition. The amount of money spent on them has increased like ninety fold in the past few years. For whatever reason, parents like to compete to see who can put on the best production for their three-year-old. Stop it! There is no need. Kids like to play and they like to have fun. Host a birthday party at a park. Invite friends, bring your own snacks and decorations, and set up camp at a cabana-style picnic table. You can bring sports equipment, build an obstacle course, do a scavenger hunt…the possibilities are endless.
Pro Tip: Keep the cake simple. In fact, skip the cake all together and go the cupcake route (it's easier). And save the Maple Bacon Sugar flavor for another time. Vanilla will do just fine for these picky eaters.
Verdict: Running, skipping, and jumping is free. Save.
Electronics – These can be tricky because the market is so broad. If you are on the market for a handheld device, like an iPad, I say splurge on the real deal. Apps are usually cheap, or better yet, FREE. And there are gazillions to choose from. Kid-focused tablets, like the Leap Pad (which we also own), require expensive game cartridges. And if your child is used to the sensitivity of an iPad’s touch screen, these devices will test their patience. Buy headphones so you can mute out the sound when necessary (and I’m not talking ear buds; buy the ear muff kind). Oh, and buy a super durable case while you're at it.
Pro Tip: Goodwill is actually way more hip than it used to be. They are surprisingly modern with their electronic inventory. I went there looking for a yellow plaid skirt and a Zach Morris brick phone (another story for another time) and was completely blown away by what they had in stock. They don’t even accept tube TV’s anymore; flat screens only. Who knew Goodwill was so selective.
Verdict: Splurge on an iPad. It will change your life for the better (think: future road trips, nail salon visits, restaurant outings, for use as leverage against your little one). If you just need a TV for your kiddo’s room, go to Goodwill and save.
You don’t need to have a big bank account to treat yourself and your little mischief maker to the finer things in life. You just need to know how to survive on a budget and what things are worth splurging for versus saving for.
Mommies! What did I miss? What are your favorite splurge versus save items?