A baby costs $7,500 on average in the first year, but 'you can do it for less,' says expert


A lot of first-time parents assume they need expensive baby gear to take on parenthood. But buying everything new, especially if you think you need your stuff to be top-of-the line, will set you back quite a bit.

"We peg the first-year costs at $7,450 as the average cost of raising a baby up to age 1. This includes diapers, all of the gear, and food. But we certainly think you can do it for less than that," says Alan Fields, who coauthored the book "Baby Bargains" with his wife Denise.

Before going on a shopping spree, determine when it's worth investing in new gear and when it makes sense to get the essentials secondhand. Here's what Fields suggests shelling out for and where you can cut back.

1. Crib: Spend

Because cribs expire and federal safety regulations can change every few years, you'll want to purchase a new crib. Fields says you can buy a standard one that meets safety regulations for around $110, though designer models can go for over $1,000.

If you have a family member who wants to give you a crib they're done with, check the expiration date. Do some research to make sure it meets current safety standards, too, and that it hasn't been recalled. If the crib is already expired, you could accept the gift anyway and look into upcoming trade-ins: Stores like Target, Walmart, and Buy Buy Baby host trade-ins where you can swap old baby gear for discounts on newer items.

As for the rest of your nursery furniture, Fields says it's OK to accept hand-me-downs. "There's no federal law that requires all of your baby's furniture to match," he says. "Matching is pretty, but a dresser is a dresser."

There's no federal law that requires all of your baby's furniture to match.
Alan Fields
"Baby Bargains" author

2. Car Seat: Spend

Your car seat can save your child's life. You'll want to buy this one new. And choose carefully: Make sure your car seat has a JPMA stamp, which means it's been approved by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association.

Car seats, like cribs, expire and should be upgraded after a certain amount of time. Generally, they have a lifespan of about six to 10 years, according to Graco. Regulations require you to discard your car seat if it's been involved in any kind of accident, even a fender bender.

A car seat that's easy to clean is also key. Consider a convertible one that grows with your child if you want to get the most for your money.

3. Stroller: Depends

This is perhaps the single-most fraught baby-related purchase. Many parents spend weeks or months poring over online reviews for the latest and greatest models, but Fields says you really don't need the "Cadillac" of baby strollers.

"Most new parents feel like they need a tank to navigate life with a baby," says Fields. "Really, you don't want anything heavier than 20 pounds. Anything more is going to be uncomfortable for you to manage."

You don't want anything heavier than 20 pounds. Anything more is going to be uncomfortable.
Alan Fields
"Baby Bargains" author

The right stroller for you depends on where you live and how often you'll use it. If you live in a city where you do a lot of walking, like Manhattan or Boston, and you're dealing with rough winters, then you'll want to shell out a little more on a durable stroller with all-terrain wheels.

If you live in an area where you mostly get around by car, it's more important to get a lightweight stroller that can be folded to fit in your trunk. For convenience, you might want to pick a stroller with a compatible car seat.

If you do go with a high-end stroller, which is anything above $500, it will likely have some resale value if you want to earn some money back once the kids have outgrown it.

4. Clothes: Save

It's hard to resist splurging on adorable baby clothes, but you're better off putting your money towards diapers and formula than designer baby shoes. "Babies spend their first few months sleeping. Getting the sailor outfit or the princess outfit is cute for pictures, but not necessary," says Fields.

Babies outgrow their clothing fairly quickly during their first few years. You can expect your baby to double his or her birth weight by about age 5 months, according to Mayo Clinic. That means your little tyke may outgrow a clothing size in a month, even weeks.

Babies spend their first few months sleeping. Getting the sailor outfit or the princess outfit is cute for pictures, but not necessary.
Alan Fields
"Baby Bargains" author

Shoes, for instance, aren't really necessary until after your child starts walking, usually 11 to 14 months. In fact, it's better for their muscle development to go barefoot or wear socks, according to Baby Bargains.

Spending a little extra on a nice outfit for special occasions from places like The Wooden Soldier or Janie and Jack may be worth the splurge for photos that will last a lifetime. But when it comes to everyday use, Fields says you should stick to practical, affordable clothing from stores like Carter's, Old Navy, or Target, or consider getting outfits secondhand.

5. High Chair: Save

As long as you clean it well, there's no harm in purchasing a used high chair. Just make sure it complies with federal safety standards, which were just updated earlier this year. "Here's [a] second-time parent thing you kind of realize," Fields says. "Yes, you want things to be clean, but it's not a sterile world and your baby is not sterile either. Things should be clean, but not a semiconductor lab level of clean."

You won't need a high chair until your baby is able to sit up and starts eating solid foods at about six months, so don't rush to buy one. When it's time to get that high chair, buying secondhand can save you a bundle: For example, you can find an upscale Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair, which retails for $260, for as low as $105 in the greater New York City area on Facebook Marketplace.

"The good thing is that there are a lot of ways for parents to buy things secondhand because of different apps and social media," says Fields.

If you're feeling the urge to splurge, don't neglect your own needs, he adds. "Investing in a good quality pregnancy pillow, or baby carriers that provide great back support for mom, are worth spending on to provide comfort for her."

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