Make your own list. Retailers such as Buy Buy Baby and Babies 'R Us create lists of "must-have" items to help guide parents-to-be. Instead of following their lead, make your own list after chatting with experienced friends and family members.
Pick the travel version. Instead of buying the deluxe version of bouncers that come with sounds, lights, and attached teething toys, Meeks suggests looking for the smaller, simpler travel versions.
Make the most of people's generosity. "You want to register for as many gifts as possible, or you'll get lots of pink or green outfits and baby shoes," says Roney. She suggests focusing on big, essential items, such as the car seat, stroller, and slings, while skipping clothes and toys, because you'll get plenty of those items anyway, and gift-givers often prefer to select their own. Also, be sure to register at a store with a generous return policy, in case you end up with multiple sets of the same thing.
Don't skip the boring stuff. Thinking about your budget and health insurance isn't exactly a fun activity, but Regina Leeds, author of One Year to an Organized Life with Baby, says it's an important one. "Once you start making purchases, you really have to make sure it's in your budget," she says, adding that doctors often offer pregnant women more tests than what might be covered under their insurance plan, and you want to be able to make an informed decision before racking up the bills.
Recycle and reuse. "Moms love to give their stuff away to other moms," says Leeds. To connect with parents who might be ready to pass on their goods, join local pregnancy groups or moms' circles, she suggests.
Meeks applied this strategy when she bought a used swing off of Craigslist for her six-week-old baby for $25. When her baby outgrew it a few months later, she sold it on Craigslist for $40. She also found a stroller, baby carrier, and bassinet on Craigslist. (When it comes to certain items—especially cribs and car seats—most experts recommend buying new to ensure they meet current safety standards.)
The bottom line: Parents can do a lot to trim some of their baby costs, and as with any big purchase, advance planning and saving can make for more enjoyable transition to this new life stage. A recent survey on USNews.com that asked readers to share their best money tip for new parents revealed one common response: Save. Readers suggested putting money away regularly even before birth to pay for daily needs such as food and clothing as well as longer-term costs such as college tuition, which respondents labeled their biggest source of money stress.
Parents, what baby costs surprised you the most? What's your best money advice for parents-to-be?
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