Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Money well wasted: what not to buy for baby

There is SO MUCH cute stuff to buy for baby. And if you're going to be any kind of a decent parent, you should buy all of it, right? And obviously only the most expensive, brand-name stuff - right? You've planned for this baby, you've waited for this baby, you've saved for this baby and this baby deserves only the very best - so you'd be a piss-poor excuse for a parent if you didn't buy him the best of the best of absolutely everything - right?

Wrong.

Babies don't actually need the fanciest of equipment. Nor do they need everything the baby shows, baby magazines, baby store catalogues and baby store registries tell you they need. In fact, they don't need most of that stuff.

In the nursery you need a matching crib, change table, dresser and nursing chair. You need a coordinated bedding set, draperies, area rug and maybe a throw. In a cute little theme - Tigger & Pooh? Zoo animals? Bumblebees? Right?

Wrong.

As tempting as it is to outfit the nursery in the fanciest baby bling you can find, in reality Baby will only be a baby for mere moments. In the blink of an eye Baby will be a little person with his own tastes. Baby may not like bumblebees - Baby may be into Mickey Mouse or Handy Manny or pirates. The linens you've coordinated to the drapes and accessories will be useless once he's outgrown his crib - and Baby will only be in that seven-hundred-dollar crib for a year before it's time to move to a big-boy bed (don't even get me started on what an absurd waste toddler beds are - they take six hours to put together and they outgrow them in six months at the most). Why not put him in a two-hundred-dollar crib and use that extra money toward the bed he'll be sleeping in for the next twenty years or so? Of course, the change table, dresser and nursing chair you shelled out all that money for won't match the new bed. The change table will just be taking up room in the garage after a couple of years. The dresser will drive you nuts because it will never look quite right with the bed. And the nursing chair will never get used again - and will look idiotic if you try to put it anywhere else in the house masquerading as real furniture. Why not buy Baby a low dresser that can double as a change table and will eventually match the big-boy bed? Realistically, ninety percent of the diaper changes will take place on the couch or the bed or the floor anyway. And how about picking out a comfy armchair you'd like in the living room and using it for nursing in the bedroom for that first year?

As far as seating goes, as hard as it may be to believe, you don't actually need a high chair, swing, exersaucer, jumparoo, rocker, bouncer, Bumbo and booster seat in addition to your infant carrier. A high chair for feeding, certainly - although it doesn't need to be a four-hundred-dollar, adjustable, padded one with cupholders that raises and lowers and reclines and is covered in a pink bunnies. We use the Ikea Antilop high chair - I believe it was thirty dollars for the chair and tray, which is removable and fits in the dishwasher. It's white and stainless steel, so it looks nice and unobtrusive in our kitchen. It's slim and low-profile and easy to assemble and disassemble. I have a fleece cover that pops over the back so it's nice and comfy, which slips off and goes in the washing machine. We love it. You need something in the living room - either a swing or a rocker or a bouncer will do. A backup item to keep things new and exciting for Baby - exersaucer or jumparoo will do. A dozen different seats scattered all over the house not only take up way more room than you would think a teeny-tiny little baby might need, but end up in a heap in the garage (with the crib, change table, and nursing chair) before you know it.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to buy every adorable baby product the industry can dream up and make us believe we have to have. Especially if you're a first-time parent. During those long nine months you're waiting for your precious, life-changing bundle of joy to arrive there's very little else you can do to prepare to be a parent other than reading every parenting article you can get your hands on and buying up every baby item you've been told you might need. Money is no object - you're going to be a wonderful parent, and the best way to ensure that before Baby actually arrives is to make sure Baby will have the best of everything. Right? And it only makes sense to buy all that stuff before Baby arrives, before you go on maternity leave and your income is reduced for a year - may as well get all the big expenses out of the way, right?

Wrong.

What new parents and first-time parents don't realize is that it's not babies that cost a lot of money - it's children. The average cost of raising a child in Canada is around two hundred and fifty thousand dollars - that's over thirteen thousand dollars per year, per kid. And these figures do not include saving or paying for their post-secondary education. It's not babies who are expensive - it's kids.

Baby clothes are not that expensive, and they don't need that much. Most of what you buy is for you - it's because you think it's cute. Children's clothes, however, cost quite a bit more - and you are buying them constantly. Jeans get torn in the knees within weeks. Shirts are washed and worn only a few times before their gangly arms and wrists are poking out the sleeves and your little angel looks like a homeless child. Shoes - how they hell do they go through shoes so fast? Shoes need to be replaced once a month, either because they've outgrown them or because they've worn the toes right through and their socks are poking out - two new pairs at a time, because they're required to have separate indoor shoes for school.

Baby toys are more for you, too - a couple of soft toys, a couple of books, some colour-and-texture-and-mirror-type toys and baby's all set. Just like the adorable clothes you're spending half your disposable income on, the baby toys are more about you than your baby - you want it for him because you think it's cute. Children's toys, however, can get very expensive - and children are a lot more specific about what they like. Birthday and Christmas wish lists for older kids include two hundred dollar Star Wars Lego sets and three hundred dollar video game systems.

And food? Don't even get me started about food. My six- and eight-year-old boys eat at least twice as much as I do at each meal, and have several meal-sized snacks in between. Our weekly grocery bill is between $250 and $300 each week - and this is not fancy eating we're doing. Chicken, rice and veggies. Roast beef, potatoes and salad. Spaghetti and meatballs. We're not talking steak and shrimp every night here.

Aside from the obvious costs of feeding, clothing, sheltering and caring for these children, there are all those little costs you don't even think of, the nickel-and-dime stuff that slips away before you even notice. The twenty or thirty dollars a week the school asks for - pizza lunches, agenda books, field trips, arts and science experts coming into the school. Twenty-five dollars a week for the birthday parties one or another of your kids are invited to every weekend. Extra-curricular activities. Sports fees you've probably planned and budgeted for, but then there's all that extra stuff - uniforms that aren't included in registration fees, tournament fees, extra cleats and shinguards and batting helmets and hockey helmets and gloves and skates and pads. It all adds up.

But splurging on a baby is different, right? You'll be back to work after only a year - once you're back to being a two-income family it won't be a problem, right?

Wrong.

Daycare is going to cost you a minimum of two hundred dollars a week, per kid. Every week. If you have more than one child pre-school aged, it hardly even makes sense to return to work at all.

The reality is that it costs an absolute fortune to raise a child. And we're happy and eager to spend it as parents. But it simply isn't necessary to spend such a big chunk of money on a newborn and all the adorable little gadgets and accessories available when in a few short months they will all be safely stowed away in storage or sitting at the curb. Plan it out, talk to an "experienced" parent, figure out what you actually need and sock that extra money away in an RESP for your precious little angel's education - you're going to need it.


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