Having a baby is a little like high-stakes entrepreneurialism.
You're basically starting a small business, but instead of homemade
potholders, you'll (hopefully) be producing a well-adjusted member
of society and a boatload of family memories.
And like any new business, there are start-up costs. Dr. Alan
Fields, author of "Baby Bargains" and the keynote speaker at a
Chicago event later this month, says the average cost of baby's
first year is more than $7,000.
Planning is the key to cutting out wasteful spending, and, like
any good business plan, the earlier the better. In advance of his
Chicago visit, we asked Dr. Fields for some of his best tips. You
can ask him yourself at "The Best of Bump Club and
Beyond," May 21 at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, or on the
Baby Bargains website.
Squeeze the most from your
Sometime between the sparkling juice toast and the
pin-the-diaper-on-the-baby, you reach for a present off your baby
shower present pile and open it to find the world's smallest
Chicago baseball hat. Everyone squeals.
When it comes to gifts, guests often choose cute gifts over
practical ones. "It's the 'aww factor,'" Fields says. "It's a gift
performance, and most people want to perform well."
To avoid getting 65 barrettes and no bassinet, Fields says it's
important to register. He recommends taking an experienced mom with
you when you do. And encourage friends or coworkers to go in on
bigger-ticket items like high chairs or cribs.
Test drive certain items
Remember, just because you like it, doesn't mean your baby will.
Consider baby carriers: Some babies love the Bjorn, and some scream
bloody murder the second you strap them in. Between hip carriers,
slings, backpacks and mei tais, there are dozens of carriers out
there, and finding one that suits your baby without giving you a
slipped disc can be a trial-and-error process. Fields recommends
borrowing items like carriers or bouncers from a friend or buying
used before dropping hundreds of dollars on something you may only
Things you should buy new, though, include cribs and car seats.
Continued recalls and changing safety regulations mean that a model
that's only a few years old could be unsafe.
Bang for your buck
When I'm out to dinner and looking to pick a bottle of wine off
the list, I usually find the least expensive and go and step or two
up. I feel it's a happy medium: I'm not the cheapest person in the
room, but I also don't get bamboozled into assuming that a bigger
price tag necessarily means better quality.
Fields says the same is roughly true of most big-ticket baby
items. He recommends a high chair that costs around $120 - not the
cheapest option, but far less than the $300 models out there. "With
most things, more money, up to a point, will get you more features,
better durability, some convenience," he says. "But after that,
it's about matching your lifestyle and tastes."
For strollers, he says, consider how you'll use it. "Living in
Chicago, you'll want a four-season stroller," he says. All those
sidewalk cracks and potholes can do a number on your wheels -
consider trading up for durability.
Old school savings
Modern convenience is great, but you'll pay for it. Expect to
spend about $500 in diapers during baby's first year - unless you
go cloth. Formula is another item that adds up quickly.
Breastfeeding through your baby's first six months - the minimum
time recommended by most pediatricians - can save about $700,
Not just the stuff
There's more to raising a baby than just the merchandise.
There's also health and life insurance, childcare and, no, Fields
says, it's never too early to start saving for college.
"The first thing you'll want to do is acquaint yourself with
that part of your company's employee handbook you probably never
looked at before," he says. Many companies offer financial perks
for parents, from flexible spending accounts to dependent care
accounts that let you use pretax dollars to pay for childcare, and
some companies even match your contributions.
Learn more from Dr. Fields at "The Best of Bump Club and
Beyond" at Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, May 21. Details
See more of Liz's stories here.
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