8 Ways Parents Can Cut Their Shopping Budget

You might be buying more than you should.

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It’s no secret that becoming a parent is an expensive endeavor. The Agriculture Department reports that a baby born to a middle-income family in 2008 will cost about $221,190 in food, housing, child care, and education costs over the first 18 years of its life. Shopping alone, a category that includes clothing and hobbies, costs married parents with children about $11,500 a year, compared to $8,900 for married couples without children, according to the money comparison site Bundle.com.

But parenting experts say that many of those expenditures may not be necessary, or even recommended. In fact, they say that many new parents buy way too much stuff – and that they and their children would be better off with less. Here are 8 tips for parents on how to spend less:

[See Budgeting with a Baby]

1) Don’t buy too much while you’re pregnant. “As new parents, you just don’t know what you’re getting into… (and) you don’t know what your kid will like or not like,” says Vinit Bharara, co-founder of the online retailer Diapers.com. That’s why he and partner Marc Lore and suggest waiting to collect lots of bulky items at home until you get some experience under your belt. “When I registered, I got a lot of products, and then had to return many of them,” adds Bharara. Lore says that many new parents, himself included, buy too many tiny newborn diapers and then find they only fit for a few weeks. (The need for returns is one reason why Diapers.com has such a liberal return policy, add Bharara and Lore.)

2) Look for products that can transform over time. Some highchairs transform from a baby’s first seat to a toddler chair and then, later, a child’s desk chair, explains Ali Wing, founder of the upscale baby product store Giggle. The same principle applies to changing tables, which often convert into dressers, as well as car seats and cribs, some of which can transform over time. Choosing products that meet needs at various ages is also better for the Earth, because you’re not going to throw them out and replace them with something new as quickly, adds Wing.

3) Do big-picture research before making a decision. Many people start making purchases before understanding the basics, says Wing. For example, without some basic knowledge about different stroller options and how they work with different lifestyles, how is a parent to know whether they prefer seven-inch or nine-inch wheels? “You might not even know what that means,” says Wing, author of the Giggle Guide to Baby Gear. If you live in the suburbs and spend a lot of time in the car, then you might want a snap-and-go carseat that can sit in a stroller frame. But if you don’t use the car much, you might be able to go with an infant car seat that can convert into a toddler seat later, and give up the snap-and-go option.

4) Incorporate special family items into the nursery. Decorating the baby’s room doesn’t need to mean buying everything new. In fact, Shannon Honeybloom, author of Making a Family Home, suggests incorporating handmade, vintage, and natural items into the décor. “Frame some of your old baby photos and grandma and grandpa's old baby pics too, and hang them in the room… A pretty piece of driftwood placed on a shelf makes a beautiful natural sculpture,” she says.

5) Skip the accessories. Honeybloom warns that many parents get carried away with their purchases of items that aren’t necessary, such as wipe warmers and bottle holders. Some parents even prefer to skip the changing station altogether, and instead keep a portable basket of diapers and wipes that can travel anywhere in the house, along with the changing pad.

6) Don’t copy your best friend’s purchases. Different parents need different kinds of items, advises Wing. While people often look to their friends and networks when making purchasing decisions, Wing recommends “thinking less about how close a friend is, and more about how similar her lifestyle is.” For example, Wing’s best friend is a stay-at-home mom living in a small town, while Wing is working mom living in a high-rise in the middle of New York City. “Our needs are totally different,” she says.

[See Parents Struggle with Retirement Savings]

7) Stay away from kid-furniture. “Don't purchase furniture that is too juvenile -- instead choose simple pieces that will last. A solid bed, a small table for a lamp. That's a good start. … And baskets are a lovely and inexpensive way to keep all the little toys organized and in place.” If you do buy child-centric pieces, then take Wing’s advice and make sure they can convert into different uses as the child grows.

8) Buying or borrowing used goods is efficient -- with some exceptions. While hand-me-down clothes, most toys, and even furniture can save new parents lots of money, there are some items, including car seats, cribs, and high chairs, that shouldn’t be passed down. “If they’re more than two years old, it’s not worth the risk. That’s how much the standards are changing,” explains Wing.