When you're preparing for the arrival of your bundle of joy, you may feel inclined to read up on every new baby gadget on the market and add it to your registry.
That's natural. For a lot of first-time parents, the difference between which items you really need and which ones you can do without isn't always clear. Parents want what's best for their child, and because of that it's easy to get carried away when you're shopping or putting together your registry.
Some purchases are less useful than others, though. "There are these shower gifts called 'Aww ...' gifts, where the mom opens up the gift and everyone goes 'Aww ...,' but they aren't actually necessary," says Alan Fields, who coauthored the book "Baby Bargains" with his wife Denise.
The U.S. government estimates that middle-income parents of an infant born today will spend at least $233,610 to raise that child to age 18 — not including college tuition. That's a lot. And you'll save over the long term if you're discerning about your purchases from day one.
Here are a few "Aww ..." gifts, and other items, you might want to cross off your registry.
To make sure that you're protecting your baby from any harmful bacteria that can form on a dirty bottle, experts recommend sterilizing bottles before the first use. But you don't need a special gadget, says Fields.
The price tag for a high-end bottle sterilizer is about $99.99 on Amazon. Instead of making that purchase, Fields suggests boiling the bottles before you use them for the first time and every time after, using the dishwasher while running the hot-water cycle and heated drying cycle.
"Obviously, things should be clean, but it doesn't have to be like you're-going-into-an-operating-room clean," says Fields.
At the high end, you can pay hundreds of dollars for a designer baby outfit. And while the $390 Burberry snowsuit might look adorable in your winter photos, your baby will probably outgrow it within a few weeks, spit up on it, or both.
"Fancy outfits are kind of a joke. Most babies spend their first few months sleeping, so it's not very exciting as a gift," says Fields.
He suggests springing for plain Gerber bodysuits that come in packs of up to 15 and don't turn a simple diaper change into an obstacle course. For example, a five-pack of basic white bodysuits starts at $9.99 at Target.
Fields says you don't really need to invest in special detergent for washing your baby's clothes, either: "Regular laundry detergent is just fine. Maybe just go with dye-free or perfume-free, but you don't have to buy special baby detergent."
Dreft Stage 1: Newborn Liquid Laundry Detergent costs $13.99 for a 75-ounce bottle at Target. You can also get a hypoallergenic detergent there, like the Arm & Hammer Sensitive Skin Free & Clear Liquid Laundry Detergent, which is dye- and perfume-free, for only $7.99 for 160.5 ounce bottle. That's over double the amount of detergent for a little more than half the price.
For the first couple of months of your baby's life, their eyesight is still developing, and they're experiencing the world largely through their other senses. Even once they're a little older, your kid may still enjoy the box a toy comes in more than the toy itself.
And though you may feel like you need to shell out even more for what's on trend, don't bother. "Babies just want to be comfortable. It's not so much about the sustainable, handcrafted baby toys made by Swedish monks," says Fields. "Reading to your kid is more important than any expensive toy you buy them."
Some more lavish baby items seem like they'd be nice to have, like the Hiccapop Wipe Warmer, which is sold on Amazon for $34.92. But Fields says you can save yourself the money and just warm the wipes in your hand. Room temperature will usually do.
Some babies are very particular about what you put on their bare bottoms, so if your little one is sensitive, try running the wipe under warm water. Then you can put that extra $35 toward diapers or other necessities.
Opting to make your own baby food doesn't require any special machinery, says Fields: "If you want to make your own baby food rather than purchasing commercially prepared baby food, you can puree food in a regular kitchen food processor. You don't need a specialized $200-$300 baby food processor. We recommend you just get a KitchenAid."
A 4-ounce serving of carrot puree at Walmart or Target costs about $1-$1.50, depending on the brand and ingredients. You could cut down on the cost of feeding your little one by making your own purees at home. A 1-pound bag of carrots costs less than a dollar, and will surely last you a lot longer, though it's worth mentioning that what you save in money, you'll pay for with your time.
In general, Fields says, you can avoid the spending spiral by turning to the parents in your network for advice: "One good idea would be to take an experienced mom out for coffee and ask them what they really used. Usually a mom that has one or two kids could really tell you."
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