I remember the excitement of planning my wedding. There were so many choices to make, so many options to consider, so much money to spend . . . or, rather, so much money not to spend.

But with every wedding website I visited, every magazine I dreamily perused and every bridal shop I visited, the pressure mounted: I needed to have the most beautiful, over-the-top wedding I could possibly dream up . . . didn’t I?

I really shouldn’t have been surprised to face the same pressures to spend when we found out we were pregnant with our first baby. But there it was, staring straight back at me from every uber-cute baby website and magazine. Adorably sweet designer onesies! Teeny-tiny baby shoes that cost as much as my entire grocery budget for a week! And diaper bags so cool they put to shame all other diaper bags in existence! I got sucked right in to the vortex known as Shopping For My First Baby.

The "must-haves"

I quickly found that the new-baby media experts were constantly telling me I "needed" this or that for my precious bundle. And it was easy to believe them. Yes, my baby is precious, and I want the best for her. But, "the best for my baby" oftentimes translated into "the most expensive things for my baby."

The start-up costs of having a baby – in other words, buying all those first-time baby items like a crib, car seat, stroller, etc. – are significant, but there are ways to conserve money.

  • Budget and prioritize. When my husband and I sat down to budget for our new baby, we didn’t have a lot of money to work with. So, we did some research to figure out which items were essential, which were helpful (but not necessarily must-haves) and which were luxury items.

  • Ask other parents. We talked to other parents to see which items they would and wouldn’t recommend. Oftentimes they could even point us to a particular store or product for the best finds. We also asked about practical costs, such as how many boxes of diapers, on average, they typically went through in a month. Some parents had even tried cloth diapers and were able to give us insight into that option.
  • Scope out other sources of aid. Another important part of our budgeting research included looking at the tax credits, parental leave benefits and other sources of government aid or income we might be eligible for. This helped shape our budget early on and allowed us to allocate certain funds to certain expenses coming our way.

Splurging, saving and borrowing

After budgeting and researching our options, we decided we could splurge (relatively speaking) on one or two major purchases that were important to us, but we had to be willing to cut corners when it came to other expenses.

To save money, we bought many items used or borrowed from friends. I became a regular shopper at a local swap meet, finding used baby items for affordable prices. And as a result of seeking so much advice from other parents, many of our friends offered to loan us their baby items. For example, we spent zero dollars on a bouncy seat, baby glider, sling and lots of hand-me-down or on-loan clothing. I even ended up borrowing most of my maternity clothes.

We not only saved money by borrowing so many items, we also discovered how non-essential some items truly were. For example, our daughter simply did not like certain items (such as the Jolly Jumper and Bumbo seat), and if we had bought these items instead of trying them out on an on-loan basis, we would have wasted money right off the bat.

When we couldn’t borrow an item or pick it up at a local swap meet or garage sale, we searched online for good deals. Lots of parents sell their baby items online (e.g. Craigslist, eBay, etc.), and sometimes these items are practically new, for a great price.

By searching online, we also came across great deals at local stores. For example, we signed up to receive regular emails from our grocery store. They would tell us which items were on sale, and if it was our favourite brand of diapers, we would invest in a box (or five!) in the next size up. Keeping tabs on our favourite baby store websites also clued us in to their weekly or monthly sale items.

Take-away tips

Here are some additional ideas that might help you plan for your bundle of joy – a gift from God that is worth every penny, saved or spent!

  • Remember to account for new expenses when budgeting, such as increased utility and water bills (since you’ll likely be home more often, doing the laundry more often, etc.). But, remember, you might also save money in certain other areas, such as eating out, entertainment and travel.

  • Do research before purchasing items. Read up on product reviews, talk to other parents and comparison shop (both online and in actual stores).

  • Recover some of your costs by reselling or consigning items once you’re finished with them.

  • Buy gender-neutral basics, so you don’t have to replace items if your next child is the opposite sex.

  • Repurpose or refurbish older pieces of furniture to use in your nursery. For example, use an older bureau as a change table – simply repaint, secure a changing pad on top and use the top drawers for diapers and supplies. An old rocking chair or glider can also be repainted and padded with new or homemade cushions.

  • Consider making your own baby food once your child starts solids.

  • Scour your local area for consignment and thrift stores. Some are more expensive than others, so be sure to comparison shop.

  • Be cautious if you’re considering borrowing or buying a used car seat. Car seats should never be used if they’ve ever been in an accident, and unless yours is coming from a very trusted friend or relative, you can’t be sure of its history. It’s also important to keep in mind that car seat safety standards are regularly updated, so make sure your seat has a CSA (Canadian Standards Association) sticker, clearly indicates its date of manufacture (car seats typically expire after five years) and meets the Canadian standard weight/height restrictions.

  • There are some items you might want to avoid buying second-hand. For example: breast pumps (sanitization reasons), children’s shoes (since the padding in the shoes has already been conformed to the previous child’s foot), crib mattresses (sometimes difficult to adequately clean), play yards (safety standards commonly change) and older toys that might not meet today’s safety standards. Similarly, if you plan to buy a used crib or stroller, thoroughly research it first to make sure it’s never been involved in a safety recall. See Health Canada’s list of recent consumer product recalls.

* Referrals to websites not produced by Focus on the Family Canada are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the sites' content.

© 2011 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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