The birth of a child is one of the greatest joys in life for most people. For many people having their first baby, there is a tendency to buy a lot of new things and sometimes more than truly necessary. This is certainly understandable, as that little prince or princess deserves to have good things in life, which includes fun developmental toys and nice clothes.
As a parent of two kids, experience has taught me that while it often makes the parents very happy to buy all the best new outfits and gizmos for their kids, the kids themselves don’t care. After all, they wear diapers and don’t exactly analyze how their clothes will look and how clean they will be after a long day. Do they care if they’re wearing last year’s styles, or playing in a great looking but 2 year old pack and play? Of course not – but the parents sure do!
And why is that? Why, when it makes no difference to the child’s well being, development, or happiness, do many of us who are parents focus on getting everything brand new? Its emotional, irrational, and sometimes an attempt to “keep up with the Joneses”. Frankly, this is understandable to some degree, considering the deep love parents have for children. After all, not all purchase decisions need to logical – some can be emotionally driven and that’s ok. That said, if one does try to make the decision as logical as possible, it truly makes no sense to purchase only new items for a child when it makes no practical difference anyway.
With my first kid and second kid, generous shower gifts were a blessing and a nice help. Beyond that, everything for the first child was purchased new. For my second child, I used my experience and employed the following strategies:
1) Barter with friends. This has worked very well with clothes. I have a 6 year old girl, my friend has a 4 year old girl; I have an infant boy, my friend has a 1 year old boy. The informal system has worked like this: when my daughter outgrows her clothes, some are passed on to the friend’s daughter; when her son outgrows his clothes, they are passed on to my son. It works out well. Of course, only VERY clean and gently used clothes are passed on. For my daughter, given that she’s older, I’m not sure I would feel the same way about “hand me downs”, but for a baby it’s all good. At that age, they don’t know the difference. The same applies for toys, provided they are in good working order and are safe (no loose parts, no recalls on the product, etc),
2) Accept gently used items as “gifts”. In this case, instead of bartering, sometimes friends will just “give” you some nicely used items instead of a quid pro quo exchange. This works well, though I ALWAYS maintain that if you’re willing to take, you must be equally willing to give. This means that you are also willing to give as “gifts” to folks in just the same way. Much like networking, this approach only truly works in the long run if there isn’t scorekeeping.
3) Buy on Craigslist. I purchased a pack and play playpen (retail over $150) for $65. The catch is, it was a few years old and gently used. That said, I carefully inspected the item before purchasing it, asked all relevant questions, and made sure it was clean and safe before paying for it. In addition, I have purchased a light stroller, a “bouncy” seat, and an ExcerSaucer – all at similarly discounted prices. The results have been great – these have worked very well, just like new. One note: I have not purchased clothes this way, as I feel better about buying toys from strangers but not clothes – but others may feel more comfortable with it, that’s just a personal choice.
4) Shop Sales. Shopping opportunistically, you can periodically identify some great deals – particularly with clothes. Even if the outfits are too big for your baby, he or she will grow into them. For example: fight after my son was born, I saw a few 9-12 month outfits that were of good quality, originally $9.99 marked down to $1.99. I don’t necessarily advocate going out of one’s way to do this, as often times our time is much more valuable than saving a few dollars. But let’s say you are in a mall and happen to walk by a store with some great deals, its not costing you much time incrementally, so it could be worth it.
When it comes to cribs, car seats, etc – that’s a whole different topic. Some things you just have to be extra careful about when it comes to buying used, unless you trust the source. For my son’s crib, I trusted the source – as I had originally purchased the crib for my daughter, who has long outgrown it. Generally speaking, when it comes to health and safety, newer is better.
With baby clothes, toys, playpens, etc – gently used is a better option than new in my opinion, when factoring out the emotional component (which again, doesn’t always need to be factored out all the time). When taking this logical approach, you can afford that baby. One can look at it as analogous in some ways to buying a used vs. new car – you get much of the benefits, but the merchandise has depreciated in value. Except in this case, the clothes and toys have probably depreciated MUCH more! As I can attest to, doing things differently with my second child, it can easily save hundreds of dollars in the first few months alone. Considering all of the costs already associated with having a baby, this can be a big help for many people.
This article was featured in Festival of Frugality #278 at Live Real, Now