Gearing Up for Baby

It's been estimated that North American parents spend about $7.1 billion a year on their Mini-me's.

Babies are soooo cute. And they're soooo expensive, particularly the first one. By the time you get to number two or three, you're so used to hearing the patter of little feet, it no longer matters whether they're shod in the finest of shoes. But that first baby can make a real dent in your family cash flow. Everything about the world of babies is new to you. And all that so-cool baby gear is too appealing for most of us to resist. You just have to have it all.

Baby stuff is big business. It's been estimated that new moms and dads spend $6,200 outfitting their baby in the first year. Take a stroll through the baby department of any department store, or worse, a baby boutique, and you'll be blown away by the sheer number of products that exist, from cribs to change-tables, playpens to baby swings. Trying to choose a stroller is like shopping for a new car: Will that be four-wheel drive or convertible? Or do you want the one with rubber baby buggy bumpers?

Perhaps the biggest mistake new moms and dads make is that they over-buy. Your nursery doesn't have to be stacked to the rafters with furniture. You'll need a crib, a chest of drawers and a rocking chair. You'll need a car seat or you won't even get the baby home. And you'll need a stroller, carriage or pram of some kind so you can take baby out for showoffs. A stroller that converts to keep up with baby's changing needs would make way more sense than a single-purpose carriage that looks pretty, but becomes a storage nightmare within just a few months. (Invest in a baby swing. It's worth its weight in gold!)

When it comes to clothes, new moms (and, yes, you too grandma) go nuts. Reality is, most babies need one or two nice dress-ups for when people visit. The rest of the time they're in sleepers (sleeping, eating, crying and pooping is all they do for the first little while) or a T-shirt and diaper, depending on the season.

There's lots of stuff you don't need: a specifically designed and branded diaper bag, a special garbage can for your diapers, or a baby-wipe warmer. Anything that makes you say, "Gee whiz, look what they make now!" is likely more of a gimmick than an essential.

The absolute best thing to do is to sit down with friends of family who have recently been blessed and find out what worked for them. A quilted pad that stops baby's head from flopping sideways when he's in the car seat will soon be identified as an essential, as will plastic chains for attaching toys, and an orange-oil based spray for getting rid of the otherwise ever-present stinky-diaper smell. They'll also be able to tell you those brands that work best: one ointment may be hard to spread, while another glides on easily.

Whatever you do, don't start shopping too early. Friends and relatives will often offer to lend stuff they're just keeping in storage till their next little bundle comes along. Remember, too, that you'll likely be showered in gifts for your first baby. And besides, the more time you give yourself, the more you'll spend. But don't leave it too late either. Waiting until you're the size of a hippopotamus won't help you enjoy the experience one little bit.

I played a game when I was pregnant: I shopped for diapers. I knew I'd be using disposables and I was determined to get the best price. So each time diapers went on sale, I bought a bunch. Ditto wipes. By the time Alexandra came along, I had her first seven month's supply of diapers stacked under her crib, in the cupboard, up the wall (yes, I bought a variety of sizes). And I never paid full retail! It satisfied my need to buy, and it kept me from spending money on things I didn't need.

A final world of warning: when it comes to things like Exersausers and Jolly Jumpers, test drive before you buy. Babies have preferences, even at a very young age, and your idea of fun might not jive with theirs. Find someone with the gadget you're thinking of acquiring, and take it for a run to see how you, and baby, like it. If it's a loser, you'll know soon enough, and you'll be pretty happy you didn't waste your money.

My best piece of advice when it comes to acquiring for your little one: shop second-hand. Ah, but that's another story.

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