How I saved $1,000 over 3 years on the stuff I bought for my kid

One parent shares how she bought used items for her child and saved $1,000 over three years.

Brooke Frizzell's daughter wearing snow pants purchased for $5 and snow boots purchased for $10.
Photo by Brooke Frizzell

Any parent will tell you that kids are expensive. In the U.S., parents can expect to spend over $12,000 on their child's first year alone, according to a USDA report published in February 2020. 

As someone who is often thinking about how I can reduce waste, unless I need an item immediately, I generally look for a secondhand option first. That's a philosophy that I implemented when it came to purchases for my daughter, too. 

Since she was born, I've been able to buy a range of items secondhand, including necessities like clothes and stroller accessories and toys like hand puppets and a play kitchen. That's helped my family save $1,000 over the course of three years. 

Even small savings put into a 529 or other investment account that can compound over time, for example, can help cover your child's expenses in the years to come. 

Here are the four strategies that have helped me buy used and save. 

Reach out to your community 

One of my best pieces of advice when looking for great used items is to utilize your community on social media. My area has some active Facebook groups devoted to buying and selling kid-related items where I have found everything from infant pajamas and cloth diapers to a toddler craft table. 

Even if your area does not have groups like these, Facebook Marketplace, Craigslist, OfferUp, Buy Nothing groups, and other online forums are all platforms that I have used. Before my daughter was born, I found seven pairs of pajamas for just $10 from a Facebook seller.

You can find some great items at thrift stores or kid-specific retail shops, but I've found that it's always worth asking your friends or posting on social media if you are looking for specific items, as you may be surprised who has something great hiding in a box in their basement. 

You may be surprised who has something great hiding in a box in their basement.

Figure out what big ticket item will go furthest for you 

Last year, we bought a $90 brand-new coat that was both warm and car-seat-safe for our daughter, very necessary for our Wisconsin winters. I was a bit concerned that she wouldn't use it enough to justify the purchase, but it's an investment that has paid off since she wore it every day for months and it will be a staple in her wardrobe this year too. 

To offset that cost, I found a $10 pair of excellent-condition Sorel boots that would have cost me $60 to buy new, and $15 for a pair of excellent condition Kamik boots that retail new for $47, both from Facebook sellers. Buying used snow boots and snow pants lets us keep one set at home and one at day care so we don't have to schlep a bunch of gear home each weekend.

Rethink what special-occasion items should cost 

Even before I had a kid, I admired my friends' holiday cards with their tiny babies dressed up in adorable dresses and preppy sweaters. What I did not know is that some baby finery can cost as much as I would ordinarily spend on a nice dress. 

I quickly learned that dress clothes are a great item to purchase used, because most children, especially babies, only wear these items a few times. I have purchased two special occasion dresses for $5 each, including a Janie & Jack frock that would have cost nearly $90 from the store.

Explain money to your kids with this video

Video by Euralis Weekes

Look for things that inspire joy 

A Fisher Price Jumperoo – which I found to be invaluable for entertaining my daughter while cooking dinner – will run you about $100 brand new, but I found one for $40 at a resale shop. My daughter's first birthday present was a $70 used IKEA play kitchen that I found in a local buy/sell group from someone moving out of the country. The kitchen, which costs $89 new, came fully assembled and with $50-$60 worth of accessories. 

My absolute best find was a Pottery Barn Kids table with four chairs. This set would have cost me somewhere between $300 and $400 from the store. I got it for $50. It was not as pristine as a brand new table but I also feel no worries when my daughter decides to color directly on the table.

She still gets hours of enjoyment out of it, and I was able to put that $300 I saved towards resources that she may need in the future.

Remember: Safety first 

The last thing you want is to shell out for something you need only to have it be dangerous or unusable. With items like cribs, car seats, and strollers, you need to be extra careful. Resources like The Car Seat Lady's guide to buying and selling used car seats and the Consumer Product Safety Commission's safe sleep standards and recall list can steer you right and help allay any concerns. 

The pandemic adds some complications, too, but experts say buying secondhand can still be done safely. Let shipped items sit for a few days, wash clothes and toys, and sanitize any furniture or appliances. If you can't get an item sent to you, see if contactless pickup is an option. And as always, if you're meeting someone in person, wear a mask and implement social distancing. Your local public health department may also have additional guidance.

Brooke Frizzell is a Milwaukee-based lawyer who writes about food and parenting. Follow her on Instagram for repurposed leftovers (and cat pictures) @brookeintheheights.

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