The average American baby costs her parent about $12,000 before her first birthday, according to a 2010 USDA survey. Want to cut your baby-budget? Here’s my top ten list of the biggest scams, gimmicks, and rip-offs targeted towards new parents.
1) Crib Bedding: See this picture? What’s wrong? This crib bedding is not safe for your baby. Every year more than 2000 babies die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the United States. SIDS is largely preventable by putting babies to sleep on their backs in cribs without suffocation hazards. Nothing should go in your baby’s crib except the baby and a tight fitting crib sheet. No blanket, no bumper, no coordinated stuffed animals. If you buy that expensive coordinated blanket and bumper, you can’t use them safely in your infant’s crib. So don’t waste your money. For more information on safe sleeping and SIDS prevention, see my blog about the ABCs of Safe Sleep.
2) Baby music, gym, and swim classes: By the time your kids are in kindergarten you will be inundated with extra-curricular activities. Take a break while you can and enjoy time with your baby, not time driving them around to expensive activities that you can replicate in your own home. Sure, music is great for infant brain development, but your baby wants you to sing to her, not a music teacher. Play a Mozart CD in your kitchen, dust off your college guitar, and sing with your best vibrato. Your baby will love it. Climbing on play equipment is fun and helps develop motor control, but you don’t have to pay for specialized gym classes. Build a fort under your kitchen table and crawl in together. Swimming with your infant is great fun for both of you, but do you really need a teacher to help you play motor-boat with your six-month old? Many new moms sign up for infant classes to connect with other parents of babies and get out of the house. If you’re looking for a community of moms, try the free play groups through Parents as Teachers or your local hospital or religious community.
3) Pimp-My-Ride Strollers: Unless you’ve got triplets or more, you don’t need that $800+ stroller, no matter how much you may want it. Even if you splurge for the Mercedes-Benz of strollers with your first child, you may soon find that you need a double stroller when a second child arrives. Most airlines are no longer permitting “oversized” strollers to be gate-checked, so your fancy double jogger can’t help you get your growing family to the gate. Consider buying an economical umbrella stroller that is light enough to carry with one hand and fits easily in the trunk of your car. Try using a sling instead of a stroller [link to my blog about baby slings]. If you must have that dream stroller, consider buying a like-new one from a second-hand kids sale.
4) Infant/Child Life Insurance: Life insurance makes sense for parents, but why buy life insurance for your kids? If your child dies, what do you need money for? If you are worried about covering the cost of a funeral, why not start saving for a family emergency fund instead? Or, spend the money on your own life insurance policy so that your children’s needs are met if you die prematurely.
5) Name-brand and specialty formula: When babies are fussy and spitting up, most people blame the formula. Pediatricians know that most of the time switching an infant’s formula does little to improve their temperament or your sleep. Specialty and name-brand formulas cost up to three times the price of generic formula. So call your pediatrician before you switch formulas and give your wallet a break. Or better yet, breastfeed your baby for their first year and save between $1600-2000 on formula. I know, I know… breastfeeding is hard. Are you frustrated with breastfeeding? Read my blog “Breastfeeding Blues.”
6) Designer shoes: After four babies of my own, I have a gallon zip-lock bag full of adorable, useless infant shoes. And they are all in perfect condition, because my kids never got to any use out of them. Babies need shoes that can get scuffed on the toes while they crawl and have treads on the bottom while they learn to walk. It seems fun to dress them up with shiny shoes for family parties, but most infant shoes never even stay on their feet. Those shoes always ended up in my husband’s pockets before we even got the baby out of the car seat.
7) Expensive thermometers and first aid kits: An infant medical kit is often listed as a baby registry “essential,” but the truth is that they contain lots of stuff you may never use. You really do need a thermometer, but an inexpensive digital thermometer is more than adequate. You don’t need a pacifier thermometer or an expensive temporal thermometer. See my blog about choosing a thermometer to find the one that is best for your family. You won’t need fancy medication dosing devices; pharmacies give oral dosing syringes out for free with infant medications. Nail clippers are useful, but nail files generally don’t work on paper-thin infant fingernails. You will need a nasal bulb syringe for your baby’s first cold, but most hospitals will give you one when you deliver. Many hospitals will also give you a digital thermometer.
8) Video baby monitors: If you want to see and hear your baby while he sleeps, put him in a bedside bassinet. Even medical-grade infant monitors that track respirations and heart rate have do not prevent SIDS. Monitors do cause parents to wake up and worry more. It is reasonable to use a sound monitor if your baby is sleeping far from you, but skip the video and movement monitors. If your baby requires specialized medical monitoring, your pediatrician will let you know.
9) Hats and bibs: Most newborns own ten times more hats and bibs than they will ever use. Healthy newborns are able to maintain their own body temperatures in most indoor environments after the first few days of life, and don’t need to wear a hat unless they are going out into the cold. Hospitals provide hats for newborns, sometimes even hand-made super-cute hats. Just about every newborn layette includes a cute infant hat, yet somehow half of them are the wrong size. Bibs are not terribly useful until infants start baby foods, around 4-6 months. If you are formula feeding, just use a cloth diaper tucked under your baby’s chin instead of a bib. They are softer and more absorbant. When your baby does start foods, you will need a large, washable bib that you are not afraid to stain with regurgitated infant vegetables. Someone once gave me a velvet bib. What’s the point?
10) Stuff you can get in the hospital for free: New parents walk out of the hospital with one tiny baby and many bags of stuff. Chances are, your hospital will give you enough diaper rash ointment to last you the first year, and infant wash and lotions to last at least a few weeks. If you are breastfeeding, they often provide breast pumping supplies and bottles that retail $50-$60. A handful of lanolin packets for mom’s sore nipples is all that most breastfeeding mothers will need. Formula-fed babies usually get formula samples, and breastfed babies often go home with an insulated breast-milk carry bag with re-usable ice packs and breast milk storage bottles. And don’t forget the digital thermometer, nasal bulb syringe and hat. One time we were even sent home with a week’s worth of diapers. They’ll also give you plenty of reading material about infant care.
Now that your bank-account is healthy, stop worrying about finances and go snuggle with your baby!