So you’re about to become a parent for the first time. Congratulations! Are you in sticker shock yet? According to the USDA, parents in the US spend over $12,000 on average per year on child-related costs for that precious little bundle of joy! (Use the calculator here for your own customized reality check.) And that’s not counting all the stuff you need to get before Baby even takes up residence! All of which may have you wondering how to save money on baby stuff.
We were totally unprepared for the financial ramifications of all that gearing-up-for-Baby. While we did use some of these strategies, others are things I only figured out later.
So if you or a friend find yourself in this boat, read on to learn
How To Save Money On Baby Stuff
1. Set up registries
Even if you don’t expect to have a baby shower, setting up as many online-only and store-based registries as you can often pays off. You don’t even have to go to the store; you can set everything up on your computer from your own home. But only put the things you really NEED on them. Extra stuff you don’t need will end up as clutter in your house if Great-Aunt Lola decides to send you a gift.
Think outside the box when setting up a registry. Will you need room-darkening curtains for Baby’s nursery? Don’t forget to register for the curtains, rods, and any hardware you’ll need to install them. Will Baby need an alarm clock to get up for school someday? Getting a digital clock now will help you track time during nursing or bedtime.
Why set up registries if you don’t plan to use them? Simple: Many places give out free gifts/samples when you set up a registry. And many others will send you a “registry completion coupon” a month after Baby’s due date, so you can get a discount on everything else you still need from your list.
What you’ll save: 10% or more with your “registry completion coupon”; 100% on gifts from your registry
Other considerations: Great way to get non-“baby”-specific gear you’ll need for your home. Everything will be brand new, so no safety concerns.
2. Skip the stuff you don’t really need
Do a quick online search for “baby stuff you don’t need.” You’ll find tons of advice from experienced mamas, product reviewers, and parenting magazines on what you can live without.
Most mamas I know would stick wipes warmers and bottle warmers in this category (though others swear by them, of course). If you’re really short on cash or space, add changing table and even crib to your “skip” list (more on gearing up for Baby in a small space here, including how to get by without these). And bumpers, blankets, pillows, and crib toys are unnecessary at best, and downright dangerous at worst.
But also consider the long game before deciding you need Baby-specific items. Suppose you plan to make baby food from scratch (which is another great way to save money, BTW). Do you really need a baby-food-making machine and separate baby-food-freezing containers? We managed fine with steaming food in our microwave, mashing it with a fork or puréeing with a blender, and freezing 2-tablespoon portions in ice-cube trays. These were all items we already owned, and continue to use long past baby-food-making days.
While we’re talking food, I’d argue that conventional high chairs are also a waste of money (not to mention space). For the amount of time you’ll use it, you’re better off getting a sturdy, compact booster that will serve Baby from first bite through a booster at the table. Or if you must have a fancy chair, get one that they can use at their homework desk down the line, and on into adulthood.
What you’ll save: 100% on things you skip outright, savings vary on things that serve multiple purposes over time
Other considerations: Ask your mama-friends what’s on their “waste of money” lists, and why, as you make your own list.
3. Look for sales and other discounts
With months to plan for Baby’s arrival, you’ve got time to price-watch. If Black Friday and Cyber Monday are coming up, see if any of your bigger-ticket items go on sale. Try to figure out when your favorite store changes its inventory, or your favorite brand releases its new lines. Watch for discontinued colors or patterns; that was how we got a steal on the highchair/booster seats that have grown with our girls.
Also put things in your online shopping cart but don’t buy, and wait to see if the price changes. This works for many chains, not just Amazon, so long as you’re a registered user and logged in when you add items to your cart. I regularly do this to save myself from impulse buys; often, within 24 hours I’ll get an email with a discount/coupon code to entice me to buy the item.
And as I’ve also noted before, it pays to look for “used” items on Amazon (or elsewhere) that you’d think would only be sold new. That “used” box of diapers is almost certainly not a partially-used box; it’s an Amazon Warehouse Deal. This means that the box itself got damaged, or was a customer return. This is a great way to regularly save 25% or more on stuff you would buy anyway!
What you’ll save: Varies widely, from 10-25% to 50% or more
Other considerations: Be careful with items that expire, like carseats, and ALWAYS check manufacture/expiration dates. That super-duper 5-100 lbs convertible seat is not such a good deal if it’s on clearance because it was manufactured 18 months ago, and you’re not due for another 6 months. It will expire long before your child is done using it!
4. Shop children’s consignment stores
I didn’t discover these until Kimmie was a year old. Children’s consignment stores sell new and gently-used baby and children’s clothing, gear, and accessories; they’re also a great way to upcycle kid stuff when you’re done with it.
This is how consignment stores work: Consignors bring in stuff they want to sell. The store staff selects the best items (those that are newest/most current, from the best brands, in the best shape, aren’t missing pieces, are most likely to sell, and haven’t been recalled). The store then sets a price, and displays items for sale. When someone buys something, the store keeps a percentage of the sale price and gives the rest to the consignor.
Consignment stores are a great place to stock up on clothing/shoes at bargain prices. They’re also super for scoring big-ticket items at a fraction of retail. Quality is generally top-notch, because stores know that customers expect this in a boutique setting. And because the store cannot legally sell recalled/expired items, they won’t let those items hit the sales floor – meaning you can trust the safety of whatever you buy.
What you’ll save: Roughly 30-50% or more off larger gear. 50-60% off clothing and smaller items (up to 90% or more if something’s on clearance)
Other considerations: Consignment stores follow the same seasons as the retail world; back-to-school and fall items will appear starting in mid-summer, and summer items will show up in spring. Quantity and range of selection varies widely from store to store, and day to day; space limitations are the biggest factor. Sign up for store email lists for email coupons and sale alerts; follow local stores on social media, since some will use social media to post new arrivals each day.
5. Shop at children’s resale events (aka consignment sales)
Consignment pop-up sales (sometimes called “children’s resale events” by those in the industry) are like a children’s consignment store on steroids. The ones in which I participate several times each spring and fall have 500-700 consignors selling hundreds of thousands of items over the course of a few days.
Many consignment sales take place twice a year, spring and fall. (Check the Consignment Mommies online directory to find an event near you. Then double-check the event’s own website to confirm times/dates the sale is open to the public.) While the limited timeframe (usually 1-4 days) for these pop-up events means you can’t just stop in whenever you want, the largest ones have one huge advantage over consignment stores: more floor space for more inventory. This means you might have a choice among twenty or more baby swings. play yards, double strollers, booster seats, or whatever larger-gear-item you’re seeking.
This huge selection applies to everything, not just gear. I personally can’t shop for clothing first thing during an event, because the enormous selection that’s out at the beginning of the sale (often for as little as $1-$4 per item) is simply too overwhelming! The amazing selection and outstanding value make children’s resale events my favorite way to save money on baby stuff and kid stuff.
What you’ll save: At least 25-50% or more on larger gear; 50-90% or more on clothing, toys, books, and smaller items. And not everything at these events is “gently used”; there are usually plenty of brand-new items to choose from in every category.
Other considerations: Quality will vary some from one sale to the next. The larger sales usually get that way in part because they have stricter quality standards, making them more popular with shoppers. And like consignment stores, sale owners are legally liable for selling recalled/expired items, so you shouldn’t see these out for sale.
6. Check with coworkers and neighbors
Many communities have local online networks, and many workplaces have electronic classified/bulletin boards where people post goods for sale. If you monitor them, you may score some great deals. Once the girls outgrew their infant carseats, we got a pair of high-end used convertible carseats from a colleague in my husband’s department (only used for 18 months each!) for a fraction of what ONE would have cost new. We also got our double stroller this way.
Also check local mommies’ groups for classifieds listings/electronic sale listings. Our local Mommies’ Meetup group has an online bulletin board where members can buy and sell baby gear. And my friend Keisha’s city has an active mommies’ network online, where she’s offloaded lots of outgrown baby/kid stuff.
What you’ll save: Varies widely; usually at least 25-50% on larger gear, 50-90% or more on clothing, toys, books, and smaller items.
Other considerations: Again, quality varies widely – but in my experience, most parents will be upfront and honest about an item’s flaws, if it has any. The fact that you’re often buying directly from someone you know is a real plus. If you’re buying lots of stuff from one person, they may throw in other items for free; this has happened to us on more than one occasion.
7. Shop at thrift stores
Thrift stores are another great place to find used stuff for Baby. However, because their staff is less knowledgeable about everything Baby, many stores avoid liability by refusing donations of certain broad categories of items (carseats, strollers, etc).
But for toys, clothing, books, and basic accessories, you can’t beat thrift-store prices. Also, some thrift stores have partnerships with discount department stores to take their damaged stock and closeouts. Our local Goodwill frequently sells Target surplus like dented-corner boxes of diapers, missing-one-pair packages of children’s underwear, or infant “5-piece” outfit sets without the bib or hat.
In addition, if you shop thrift stores regularly, you may occasionally find larger-ticket items, like a changing table or bed frame, at rock-bottom prices. Why do you need a bed frame for Baby? Well, you don’t – but see above about thinking long-term. Knowing that we wanted two children, we saved hundreds of dollars on a crib by buying a standard crib, NOT one that converted into a bed, when expecting Kimmie. We already had two twin mattress sets, and got two twin bed frames for bargain prices at yard sales. Thus we could move the crib out of Kimmie’s room when Essie was born, and put Kimmie right in her “big-girl bed” (with a bedrail.) Kimmie was already used to the bed because it had lived in her room for as long as she had, and I’d nursed her to sleep there every night for her first year.
What you’ll save: At least 25-50% on brand-new items; 50-90% or more on clothing, toys, books, and other used items.
Other considerations: Quality will vary widely. Toys, clothes, etc. may be missing pieces. Items may be dirty (missed stains on clothing, dirt stains from falling onto the floor, etc.) Selection will be more limited and hit-or-miss than at pop-up resale event.
8. Shop at garage/yard/tag/church basement sales
First off, tag sales aren’t known for quality; having a “quality control” filter on items for sale is rare. When I’ve volunteered at my own church’s tag sales, about half the kids’ clothing donations are visibly stained, torn, or otherwise “unacceptable” by even thrift-store standards. However, the lack of quality filters is a double-edged sword. You can score amazing deals on more expensive items like snowsuits and winter boots, as well as strollers and other larger equipment – if you don’t mind a little stain-removal effort at home.
It helps to know what you’re looking for, and to test everything out thoroughly before you buy. Parents running their own yard sales probably have their kids with them, so won’t be in a position to answer many questions. And unless the church sale has a young parent volunteering, cashiers and floor staff will be clueless about the donated items they’re selling.
The fact that they’re clueless means they probably also have no idea what’s been recalled and what has not. So keep your phone’s web browser open to recalls.gov while you shop. This is where you can look up any item by name to see if any models have been recalled, why, and what remedy the manufacturer has made available to consumers. Then you can decide whether you want to buy the item anyway, and install the repair kit (or return it to the manufacturer for a brand-new replacement item!).
Even better, find someone to watch the kids, and take an experienced mama shopping with you. She’ll help you spot hidden flaws, figure out whether things work, and tell you if something’s really a good deal or not.
What you’ll save: Varies widely; generally at least 50-90%
Other considerations: Check everything super-carefully for defects, since you won’t be able to return it. Don’t expect things to be pristine (or even clean). If you’re willing to clean things up, this is an amazing way to score incredible deals. Several top-earning consignors I know at my seasonal sale events scour tag sales in between sales, scoop up bargains, clean them up, and resell them for a profit.
9. Try Craigslist and Freecycle
Craigslist and Freecycle are wonderful for keeping things out of landfills. You can score some incredible deals on stuff in the Baby section of your local Craigslist, assuming your local board is active. Also check Freecycle and the “free” section of your local Craigslist for free items.
If you DON’T like kiddo clothes-shopping and just want to get it done, “lots” of clothing by size are a huge bargain. People will sell their entire wardrobe of a given gender/size – stains and all – for $10-$30, depending on whether it’s a small lot or a large lot. I’ve seen similar deals for children’s books.
I got the girls’ Superyard XTs and sandbox through Craigslist, paying a fraction of the new price for each. I also bought a stroller off Craigslist once. And I’ve seen everything from baby equipment to unopened boxes of diapers on Freecycle. But I’ve also never heard back from people when I’ve replied to ads, and had potential sellers no-show for our meet-ups. So sometimes you can find great deals; other times, it’s a huge time-suck.
What you’ll save: Varies widely, but usually anywhere from 50%-100%.
Other considerations: Quality varies, though it’s often better than tag sales. (If people are selling online, they expect more money because it’s often a higher-priced item in better shape.) Shopping this way can be time-consuming and hit-or-miss, though.
10. Check with relatives and neighbors, or find/set up a swap
Don’t overlook relatives, close friends, and neighbors when it comes to gearing up for Baby. They may have what you need in their basement and are just waiting to offload it, whether for free or for a fair price. We got the girls’ playhouse for free from neighbors who wanted it out of their basement (their kids were teenagers!). We bought a bookcase and a toy storage organizer with bins from the same neighbors for $25 each.
I borrowed a lot of maternity clothing from a colleague of my husband, who also lent us her daughter’s infant wardrobe. When Kimmie was done wearing it all, we sent it back to his colleague, who passed the items on to her nieces. If my own niece lived closer to us, we would definitely pass down more clothing and gear to her.
I can’t swap much kid stuff with my dear friend Keisha, whose has two boys, each a year younger than my girls. (Among other things, her boys aren’t interested in wearing girls’ clothing). But since Keisha and I wear similar sizes and were pregnant back-to-back, we swapped our maternity wardrobes back and forth over several years, saving each of us a ton.
What you’ll save: Often 100%.
Other considerations: If you’re swapping and want the items back, make sure you label them; it’s easy to mix things up, especially when you’re borrowing from and lending to several people. When someone gifts you a hand-me-down, clarify upfront whether they want the item back. I also found it helpful to keep a list of what I’d borrowed from whom, so it was easier to return everything that the lenders wanted back.
What’s your favorite hack to save money on baby stuff? Let us know in the comments!
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