Emotional spending costly

September 16, 2007|By Gregory Karp | Gregory Karp,The Morning Call

The old joke says parents carry pictures of their children in their wallets - where their money used to be.

Babies are expensive. But many parents spend far more than they need to. The reason is easy to guess - having a baby is an emotional event in life. It's common for couples, especially first-time parents, to develop the attitude, "Only the best for my baby." Where emotion is involved, poor spending choices often follow.

"Marketers take advantage of that," said Kimberly Danger, author of 1,000 Best Baby Bargains.

"There's a little gadget for everything. Things like baby wipe warmers and bottle warmers. About 90 percent of that stuff you don't need."

The average husband and wife with a child younger than 2 in 2006 spent from $7,600 to $15,800 a year, depending on household income, says a report by the federal Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.

To cut costs, the biggest tip is to spend lightly before the baby arrives. If you find you need something later, you can always buy it. And new parents should quash the urge to spend a lot on a larger vehicle or a larger home.

Here are tips on baby spending:

Food

Most new mothers have thought about breast-feeding versus bottle-feeding with formula, and they will make a personal choice about that. From a money standpoint, breast-feeding is free, as opposed to formula, which can cost about $1,000 a year. And some studies show babies might be healthier with breast-feeding, which could mean fewer doctor bills.

If you opt for infant formula part time or full time, don't be afraid to buy inexpensive store brands. All baby formula is regulated for safety and nutrition by the Food and Drug Administration.

Once your child is on solid food, consider making your own, Danger said. Organic baby food can be expensive, and you can make similar baby food at home.

Boil or steam peeled fruits or vegetables to soften them. Use a blender to puree the concoction to the right consistency and texture. Pour the food as individual servings into ice cube trays and freeze them. And you have individual baby-food cubes.

Diapers

Almost as heated a debate as breast versus bottle is cloth versus disposable diapers. Try store-brand disposables from Wal-Mart or Target, which are good quality and can save you about $30 a month over name brands.

If you opt for name brands, try warehouse clubs and such online sites as Amazon.com and Diapers4Less.com, where you can receive free shipping, and the bulky boxes are delivered to your doorstep. High-value coupons from the newspaper, online coupon sites and manufacturer Web sites are worth using.

Cloth diapers can be more comfortable for the baby and cheaper in the long run, even if you use a diaper-washing service, after the initial outlay for the diapers. It can save about $25 per month over disposables. Some cloth diapers come with flushable linings.

A hybrid approach is using cloth at home and disposables when you're on the go or when the child is at day care.

Crib

Baby cribs are regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It dictates such design requirements as how far apart slats and spindles can be, so babies cannot be trapped and strangled between openings. You shouldn't be able to fit a soda can between slats.

Used items

Clothes, strollers, bouncers and other baby paraphernalia are best purchased used. Many items are likely to be lightly used and low-priced, because sellers are eager to get rid of large baby items that take storage space.

"Garage sales are a treasure trove for clothes," Danger said. "You can get outfits for 25 cents and can easily wardrobe your child for under $50."

Toys

This is one area to consider skimping on because you'll care more about the toys than your baby will. "Kids are happy going through your Tupperware drawer and just looking at you and spending time with you," Danger said.

For more information, check out Danger's book, or the book Baby Bargains by Denise Fields, as well as reviews of baby products by Consumer Reports and ConsumerSearch.com.

yourmoney@tribune.com

Gregory Karp writes for The Morning Call in Allentown, Pa.

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