The very pretty Jess writes:
A good friend of mine recently found out she is pregnant and is now looking for good carseats and strollers (particularly travel systems) and a crib. How do you find a great deal on baby items? Is there a better time than others to buy? It’s been difficult to find great prices on these items online or in stores, and we both prefer a GREAT price over just a “good” markdown. She’s leery of buying carseats secondhand due to safety concerns.
Since you are so pretty and kind and all knowing (well…almost), do you have any ideas on how to make having as inexpensive as possible?
Thanks, Wonderful and Knowledgeable Mir!
Do you see all of that gratuitous flattery? Isn’t she pretty?
I haven’t done an advice question in a while, so I may be a bit rusty, but let’s see what we can do with this.
As is so often the case when folks write in, there’s actually two questions here, whether Jess realizes it or not. The first question is what do you need for a new baby? and the second is how can you get it for less?
So let’s talk about baby gear for a minute, shall we? I remember being pregnant with my first. I did all of my research on decided on the items I simply “had” to have and blah blah blah blah. Suffice it to say that by my second, my ideas were very different. Heh. And I’ll happily acknowledge that everyone is different, of course, but here’s the bottom line: Buy only a bare minimum of gear before baby arrives. There are a lot of good reasons for this. First, you may change your mind about what you want/need once the actual baby is there. Next—especially if this is your first—people will probably buy stuff for you. So resist the urge to fly into a buying frenzy.
(What you must have when baby comes home is a carseat, some diapers, and possibly some formula and bottles if you’re not nursing. Everything else can be figured out from there. I’m really not kidding. Sure, you’ll want to have some gowns and onesies and baby bath supplies and the like, but think about it—if you didn’t, you could send someone out to fetch them and the world wouldn’t end. I promise.)
A few quick specific points to share:
1) Your friend is absolutely right to be wary of used carseats. While I’m all about recycling and consignment, carseats should always be purchased new. You’re talking about a basic safety item here, so this is not a place to cut corners. (Plastic weakens over time, therefore older seats may actually be less safe. In addition, you have no way of knowing if a seat was in a crash and therefore weakened. Don’t chance it; buy new.)
2) I personally believe the “travel system” to be one of the largest hoaxes perpetrated against the New Mommy population. Unless you’re going to go to the highest of the high-end options (this one, perhaps), the strollers that are part of “travel systems” as almost always awful. They’re heavy and big—generally speaking, they have to be, to accommodate an infant carrier—and the advantage of not having to remove baby from the carseat is vastly outweighed by owning a 70-pound stroller that you will later replace because you hate it. Trust me. If what she’s wanting is a stroller that she can put an infant carrier into, I suggest picking up (or registering for) one of these instead, and then selection of a “primary stroller” (the one you’ll use until the kid is 4 or so) based on other factors.
3) Most people do not put a newborn to sleep in a crib right away. You’re likely to want to use a bassinet or a cradle or even a pack-n-play that you can put right in your room at the very beginning. I know it is antithetical to everything the baby product industry wants us to believe, but: You do not need to have a crib before the baby comes home. Is it nice to have your “nursery” all set up? Sure. Is it probably easier to assemble a crib when you’ve had a good night’s sleep? Absolutely. But of all the “baby” gear you’ll buy, the crib is one of the most expensive items and the one you need least at the beginning. So tell your friend to take her time.
4) Here’s the corollary to number 3: There’s nothing wrong with a used crib. Surf Craigslist and local consignment stores for a great deal on a ridiculously-price crib. Do buy baby a new mattress (I recommend foam, because it’s much lighter to wrangle for sheet changes and such, plus it’s cheaper than innerspring), but the crib frame itself doesn’t get a lot of wear and so is a great candidate for secondhand acquisition.
Okay. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk actual shopping.
I am not personally aware of a specific time of year when this stuff is cheaper. (That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, just that I don’t know when it is.) Clothes can always be bought on season-end clearance, but babies grow fast, so I’d caution against stocking up on clothes, anyway. As for gear, Target and Amazon are always going to be the first places I look, both because they have a wide selection and because they regularly do markdowns. I also like BabyCenter for higher-end offerings, though you have to catch the sales there to make it worth your while (and don’t forget that FREESHIP49 will give you free shipping there on orders of $49+).
If you live in a town with a Burlington Coat Factory, their Baby Depot section is a nice place to do some in-person shopping of good quality stuff at reasonable prices.
Here’s another thing to remember: Although you can often find amazing deals online, for something like baby gear you must try this stuff out in person before you buy. I would rather eat my own eyeballs than shop at a large baby superstore which shall remain nameless, but it’s a good place to go try 20 different strollers to see which one you like. Maybe you make a decision and then you go home and order it online, but at least this way you’ll know what you’re buying.
I hope this gives you both a place to start. Hey, if she just found out she’s pregnant, she’s got loads of time. The best advice I can give is be patient. There’s always a sale happening or about to happen. Don’t panic and you’ll end up picking up everything you need, in due time, at reasonable prices.
(P.S. This is probably as good a time as any to drop in a small plug for drool.icio.us, one of my other haunts. It’s a great place to read about all sorts of baby/kid products, from the ridiculous to the sublime. Also keep an eye on Cool Mom Picks and Parent Hacks for other recommendations and nifty suggestions.)