Don't spend a bundle on Baby

All parents want what’s best for their kids, and we feel guilty when we skimp on them, even if money’s tight. 

But new parents are especially vulnerable. They’re stressed out, sleep-deprived, bubbling with hormones, and they’re pretty sure they’re making lots of mistakes. 

Who could blame them for spending big on the deluxe crib-sheet package? (And, by the way, they ask, is there a set with a built-in heart-rate monitor?) 

In truth, you need very few things to raise a healthy baby, and pediatricians say, in most cases, simpler is better. A plain sheet is safer than a crib set with bumpers, which carry a risk of suffocation. An ordinary Duplo block or spatula can be more interactive than a blinking, beeping, button-imbued toy. And cold wipes clean baby-soft bottoms just as well as warmed ones.

Yet in 2013, U.S. consumers spent at least $23 billion dollars on baby products, including toys, formula, diapers and durable goods such as cribs and strollers. 

What’s a conscientious new parent to do? Here are 10 smart (guilt-free) ways to save on baby products.

Hold out for a bit. You know, the baby store does things to a person. You go in for diapers, and you walk out with a knobby-tire jogging stroller with shocks. If you find yourself contemplating a swing, baby gym or something else you didn’t know you needed, put that purchase on pause. Go home and do some research. See if you can borrow or test the product to find out if your baby even likes it — he might not. If you then decide you really need the item, you’ll be back at the baby store soon enough. (You’ll be seeing that place in your sleep.)

Buy used. Most baby gear is hardly used before a baby outgrows it, and your little slobberpie won’t care if someone else wore that cute dress a couple times before her. Craigslist can be a good place to find free or inexpensive, gently used items for babies. Kidizen is an app specifically designed for buying and selling “pre-loved kidstuff.” The Freecycle Network (freecycle.org) helps people give away things they no longer need (or get the things they need now). Just be sure the items haven’t been part of a recall. Meanwhile, kids consignment sales such as Just Between Friends and Munchkin Markets are held multiple times a year, including many sales in the fall.

Connect with baby brands online. I know: Who needs more spam? But it can be worth your while to sign up for emails from brands you regularly buy, because they often send coupons and other deals. Most brands also offer contests, specials and giveaways on social media, so like your absolute favorites on Facebook and follow them on Twitter and Pinterest, too.

Accept hand-me-downs from friends and family. Sure, you’d rather pick out the exact print you want for onesies. But, honestly, those early days go by fast, and he’ll outgrow those outfits before you know it — no matter what you pay for them.

Buy off brands. Sporting designer labels won’t improve quality of life for you or your babe. 

Join member-based sale sites for parents. For those who just have to have high-end, on-trend items, websites like Zulily and Gilt offer daily deals on clothes for babies, kids and parents, as well as toys, bedding, strollers and other gear. Many items are deeply discounted, but beware — these are risky waters for impulse buyers.

Join bargain sites for parents. Sites like Baby Cheapskate, MommySavers, and MomAdvice collect deals and coupons from around the Internet. They also offer reviews, best-of lists, advice columns and other useful resources.

Get real parent reviews. How many changing table reviews can you read before you want to poke out your eyes? Save time and make smarter purchases by getting streamlined parent reviews from weeSpring, a one-stop web platform for shopping advice and opinions for parents, by parents.

Be wary of mommy bloggers. Real parent advice is often best, but don’t believe everything you read. Baby brands love to give mommy bloggers free products so they’ll write about them, and many moms feel obligated to say good things in return. 

Skip educational apps for now. Infants can’t learn the alphabet no matter what you read in the app store, so don’t waste money on apps that claim to teach it. In fact, these apps may be doing more harm than good if your baby spends more time smudging a touch screen than she does interacting with three-dimensional toys — and with you. Reading and talking with kids is how they learn language.

Most of all, trust your instincts. If you’re not sure you need it, you probably don’t.