How to save money on baby items: expert tips for Chicago parents

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 shower

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 use once.

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, Fields says.

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

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