Posts filed under ‘baby’

Creating a Baby Registry: How to Get Friends and Family Members to Buy What You Want

Many expecting parents pour through websites and baby stores in search of perfect, must-have items for their registries. Mothers and fathers-to-be create long lists in the hopes that everyone will buy items they want, but many parents don’t receive the things they selected. I’ve watched many expecting parents receive a room full of gifts, most of which were not on the registry.

While every gift should certainly be appreciated there are a couple of things you can do to facilitate the gift giving process and ensure you receive more of the items you want and need.

First, register at two stores. One should be an online site, preferably Amazon. The other can be a major retailer like Target or a baby store. There are a number of reasons to choose two.  First, online sites like Amazon typically charge much less than the big name baby stores.

Before a baby shower attendee goes shopping, either online or in store, she will probably have a target price range in mind. The price will vary depending on how close the person is to the parents-to-be, how long they have known each other and how much they can afford. This isn’t always the case but most people pick a specific number before they start shopping. The common price points are $25, $50, $75 and $100.

Let’s start with an example; you want to register for a play yard/playpen/pack-n-play. At the baby store the item costs $115 which is just out of reach of the person who is willing to buy you a $100 gift. At Amazon the item costs $95 and includes shipping, which might make it the prefect present.

Think carefully about the price points of items on your registry. Think through the list of people you would like to invite to your shower and how much each might spend. Your favorite aunt might be willing to spend somewhere between $100 and $150, but the coworker you’ve known for two years might not want to spend more than $25. Make sure you include a number of items on your registry within each range.

When I registered, which was over two years ago, I found the biggest price differences on big ticket items like strollers, car seats, high chairs, bouncy seats and pack-and-plays. Brick and mortar stores were consistently higher and the price difference ranged from a few dollars more to nearly $40 for a few items. A few dollars here and there don’t sound like a lot, but it could be the difference between matching someone’s price point and going over.

Another reason to register at Amazon; most people who are buying big ticket items won’t need to see or touch these objects in person. They’ll be happy you registered online so they do not have to lift and drag it these large, cumbersome items through a store and into their car. You actually save them a whole lot of hassle by providing the means to have it shipped directly to their door. A lot of brick-and-mortar stores have websites, but not all of them offer free shipping. Many of Amazon’s larger baby items ship for free. 

So if Amazon prices are cheaper why register at brick-and-mortar stores at all? There are two main reasons. First, the baby shower attendee may want to go shopping. She may want to touch the soft baby blankets and look at the sweet, pint-sized baby clothes. Second, the world is made up of procrastinators. You would be amazed by the number of people that receive an invitation a month before an event and actually buy the gift only a day or two before attending.

If you register solely online you discourage the people who want to see and touch things in person from buying what’s on your list. You will also ensure that the procrastinators who put off shopping until the last minute will go rogue. They will quickly realize that the gifts they order will not arrive in time and will randomly buy something else for you.

Okay. So now you know you should register at two places, compare prices for all big ticket items and consider price points when registering. What else?

Try to put aside your urge to pick the cutest things. Prices for the same item in a different pattern or color can vary dramatically. Take the rock ‘n play sleeper as an example.

The SnugaMonkey version costs $75.99 SnugaMonkey

The Rain Forest version costs $44.99. Rain Forest

Now the person who was going to spend $75 for an item can easily buy the more expensive version, but by choosing the less expensive item you create a new option for someone willing to spend less than $50. One version might be slightly cuter than the other, but the truth is your baby is going to lay in the middle of this contraption so you won’t be able to see that snuggly monkey design anyway. Another piece of advice, if you know you are having a boy or girl, still consider gender neutral colors. When I registered I noticed a lot of items were cheaper in green and yellow.

Also, keep in mind the age range for certain items and the amount of time your child may spend using it. You may think you need the cutest, most expensive baby apparatus, but realize your child will only use it for a few months. I’m not suggesting that you always register for the least expensive item, but rather that you weigh the decision to choose pricier items. If you cannot live without the snugamonkey and it’s not in someone’s price range you will be forced to buy it yourself. Would you rather have a slightly less cute design or pay $75 out of pocket for something you find irresistible? I’d opt for choosing something less adorable if someone else was willing to pay for it. Maybe you wouldn’t. That’s fine, just think about your price points and what matters most when selecting.

This doesn’t mean you should always register for the cheapest item. If you plan to jog with your baby or take long walks with him or her you will want a comfortable stroller. I registered and received a less expensive stroller at my baby shower and grew to hate it. In my case it turned out that the stroller handle was not high enough to fit my 6 foot stature. I kept that stroller for a year but absolutely hated it. I ultimately purchased a new one, but I disliked the fact that a close family member spent good money for one I disliked so much.

Think carefully when you select items and be extremely cognizant of prices. Unless you have wealthy friends and family members don’t register for a $50 sleep sack. No one wants to spend $50 for that. Register for a good quality, but less expensive brand and you might receive three or four. Your child is bound to spit up or pee on them and you’ll want to have a couple on hand for late night changes. Remember that items like this can be purchased at Marshalls, Ross and similar stores at a fraction of the price. Last week I spotted ten or twelve hanging from the clearance rack for four dollars. In fact, I suggest walking through non-baby stores to see what’s available and how much things cost.

Another key piece of advice. Do not register for clothing, wash cloths, bibs, burp cloths, hooded towels or baby blankets. I can pretty much guarantee that you will receive these anyway. Women love to buy soft, cutesy things like these and the expecting parents will inevitably receive a bunch of them. If you have friends or family members that knit you may also receive handmade booties, blankets, hats and even mittens. I have never been to shower where a mother-to-be didn’t receive at least a couple of these items.

Also keep in mind that some baby sized gear is cute, but certainly not necessary. Full sized towels work better than the hooded baby versions and extra soft wash cloths will work perfectly fine for a baby. In other words you can find work arounds for these types of items so it is not crucial that you receive them. They may not have baby motifs on them, but they will last long beyond the baby years.

Lastly, make certain people know where you are registered. If your friend or family member is hosting the shower ask them to include the details on the invitation. If people don’t know where you registered you are bound to get a whole lot of stuff you really don’t need or want.

Do you have any other advice for creating a baby registry? If so, please leave a comment below.

February 3, 2014 at 10:45 PM 1 comment

Reader Advice: Would You Lend Out Your Baby Stuff If You Intended to Have More Children?


I could use a little reader advice. Here is the scenario. I currently have a two year old son and would like to get pregnant again. It took nearly a year to get pregnant with my first child so I have little hopes that it will happen sooner for us this time around. I don’t really want to go around telling people that I am trying for another. If you’ve never suffered from infertility you might not relate to that sentiment, but if you have struggled month after month to conceive you probably understand where I’m coming from.

A member of the family recently announced that she is expecting her first child next year. As soon as the announcement was made another family member immediately offered up all of my baby clothes and baby equipment.

I was offended that someone offered up my stuff without asking me first, but overall I wasn’t too worried about lending things out. My first thought was ‘no problem,’ I’m not currently pregnant so I’d be happy to share many of the things my son used throughout his first two years. But when I mentioned this to a friend she said it was a horrible idea for the following reasons:

  • Babies ruin things. These days baby equipment is covered in cloth and materials that can easily become stained and damaged. I keep things very neat, clean and orderly and there is no way to know that the family member I am lending to would do the same. Also, since babies generally make a mess this may not be something the mother can control.
  • The family member is pregnant with her first which means someone will throw a shower for her and she’ll get all new stuff. If I give away my stuff and it gets ruined, broken or otherwise damaged odds are that I would be left holding the bill to replace things for my next child.
  • It’s generally difficult to ‘lend’ baby items, because moms can’t keep track of everything you gave them. If you hand over a pile of clothes, the mom receives clothes from other friends and family and buys additional items she won’t be able to keep track of everything.

She said it wouldn’t be considered lending, but rather giving and that if I gave her anything I shouldn’t expect to receive a single thing back.

I completely understand my friend’s point, but it seems awfully stingy to keep things stored in my attic when I don’t know if I’ll ever be graced with another child.

So what do you think? Would you lend out your baby clothes and items if you knew you wanted more children? If you lent them out what would you say to ensure that the items are returned?

December 4, 2013 at 2:06 PM 16 comments

For the Women Who Want Baby Girls


I know a lot of women who dream of having baby girls. I suppose the same is true in reverse. I’m sure there are a lot of men who want a baby boy, though it’s more unusual to hear them speak of it.

Unlike most American couples we decided not to find out my son’s gender before he was born. Shortly after I became pregnant I bought a journal with the word “BELIEVE” on the cover and in it I wrote “I want a baby.” I know it sounds absolutely crazy but I believe in telling the universe what you want in life. Writing it down seemed like an official declaration of my desire.

After awhile I changed my declaration and declared “I want a healthy baby.” This later changed to “I want a happy, healthy baby.”, and finally “Dear God please help me receive a happy, healthy baby.”

I kept that journal in my closet and wrote in it before every doctors visit and every sonogram. I never added a gender to that request. I never wrote “baby girl” or “baby boy.” My only hope and dream was that my child would be happy and healthy.

This post is not meant to sound judgmental. I certainly understand a woman’s desire to have a daughter. Just as I would understand a man’s desire for the same.

I was unbelievably curious about our baby’s gender, but I was not drawn to a specific gender. When I worked in daycare, many moons ago, my most beloved child was a three year old little boy. Every afternoon when I arrived he would climb into my lap and tell me stories like all three year old children do. I’m not sure why I connected to him, but I guess there doesn’t need to be a reason for bonding to occur.

Before my son was born a few friends and family members said, “I think you’ll have a girl.” They said it in a way that really meant, “I sure hope it’s a girl!” Other friends told me they would have been “devastated if they never had a girl.” This frustrated me beyond belief. Having a child growing inside of you is a miracle in and of itself and I did not want to think any less of this child because the gender was not what someone else wanted or expected it to be.

Whenever I heard these comments I replied “I will love it no matter what” and I meant that with all of my heart.

A few hours after my son was born a nurse came into the room. My husband was passed out on the couch after a 5:00 am deliver and I was snuggling with my newborn. She asked me what gender my child was and when I told her he was a boy she said, “Isn’t it funny. Once a baby shows up in this world you can’t imagine any other baby laying in his place.” In my life I have found few other statements to be so true. Before your child is born you may create mental snapshots of what color his hair or eyes might be. If you don’t know the gender you may think it’s going to be a girl or a boy, but once your child is laying in your arms you suddenly can’t remember that child you previously pictured.

I can’t speak for every mother out there, but I can tell you from the deepest region of my heart that I could not imagine loving a child any more than I love my son. Once you hold that baby in your arms you will completely forget that you dreamed of a different gender. At least I hope that will be the case for you.

September 26, 2013 at 2:23 PM 7 comments

The Excitement of a New Baby – A $700 Clothing Bill!


I am a sucker for children’s hats. I typically buy at least two or three for each season. That enables me to keep one in the car, one in the house and sometimes one in my diaper bag.

When my son’s favorite sun hat was stolen a few weeks ago I went shopping for end of summer hat sales and found a few for less than $5 at Gymboree. I wasn’t exactly sure what size my son would wear so I bought a couple in varying sizes and planned to return the ones that didn’t fit as soon as I returned from the beach.

I went to a Gymboree store in a very run down mall not too far from where my parent’s live. Most of the stores in the mall have closed, but the Gymboree store still appears quite profitable.

Every time I go there I end up behind someone who appears to be buying every available outfit in the store. Yesterday I stood behind a woman who was eight months pregnant with twin girls. She was buying matching outfits in every shade of pink and purple you could imagine. As the cashier rang up her purchase the woman kept asking the price of each item, but no matter what number the cashier said she answered “yes I’ll take that one too.”

In total she purchased over $700 worth of items and walked out with three large bags and an online order for all of the items that were not available in store.

The clothes ranged in size from 0 to 3 months, which means in a very short period of time those tiny babies will outgrow $700 worth of clothes! She paid for the bill using two credit cards and asked the cashier to split the total, which is probably not the sign of a healthy financial situation.

After the woman left I got into a conversation with the cashier. She mentioned that it was not unusual for a new mother or father to pay $500 or more on outfits for a newborn. In fact, she said that particular woman had been in the store with her husband a few days before.

During certain times of the year Gymboree offers Gymbucks to consumers when their spending threshold reaches $50. Spend $50 and you’ll receive $25 in Gymbucks. Spend $100 and you’ll receive $50, etc.  She said parents get hooked on the game of getting these coupons to spend on later purchases. Of course, the store wins, because they buy a ton of merchandise upfront and then return a month or so later to purchase more.

I tried to think back on the initial purchases for my son. We didn’t know his gender in advance so in that first month a lot of his clothes were green and yellow. We did need to buy some newborn clothes, because I thought for sure he would fit directly into size 0-3, but initially I only bought three or four tiny outfits.

I’m not sure how much I spent on those first few sizes, (newborn, 0-3), but it wasn’t close to $700. In fact, I bet I didn’t spend $700 for the entire first and second year!

I certainly understand the excitement of your first child, or children as the case may be, but I wanted to tell this particular customer that children grow so quickly. That my son wore size 0-3 for such a short period of time and that $700 is a ridiculous amount of money.

Of course it’s not my place to say anything. So instead I congratulated her on her pregnancy and told her she was in for the most amazing ride of her life.

Do you remember how much you spent on your children’s clothes before they were born?

September 21, 2013 at 2:55 PM 8 comments

Doing the Best I Can

Sleeping Baby

My mother-in-law likes to tell me that she rocked her children to sleep every night and never laid them down crying. I cannot confess the same. At some point before my son’s first birthday I laid him down awake on his crib mattress and walked out of the room.

It may very well have been the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. After holding my son so closely for so long, after rocking and bouncing him to sleep for months on end, after never letting him cry or fuss at night or in the daytime, I laid him in his crib and shut the door behind me.

I sat on the couch with my husband and watched the baby monitor without blinking. I was anxious and fearful. Was I ruining my child? What if he cried for hours on end? What if he remembered this event for the rest of his life? What if I caused permanent psychological damage?

My son was never a rock in your arms type of baby. When he was small he nursed himself to sleep, but once he outgrew that stage it took quite a lot of work to convince him to close his eyes. My husband and I would bounce him ever so gently, we’d dance around the room with him, sing songs to him and turn on colorful nightlights for him. We tried everything and anything to get him to sleep. I once turned on the shower and sat beside the tub thinking the sound of the water and the steam might soothe him.

What worked one night rarely worked the next. And although our son laid in our arms he did not do so peacefully. He cried and whimpered on his way to dreamland. Eventually he would give in to sleep, but it was certainly not an easy process.

I exclusively nursed him for the first 20 months of his life. He took only one or two bottles very early on and then rejected those plastic nipples. I stayed home with him, and for the most part, didn’t mind being at his beckon call all hours of the day and night. I began to love waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning when the world is silent and dark and it felt like we were the only two people left in the world.

As I shut the door that night I remember thinking what if he rejects me? What if he hates me? What if he refuses to nurse again? But in the back of my mind I kept thinking that he really wasn’t happy. He wasn’t quietly drifting off to sleep in our arms, he often cried as we tried to soothe him.

My husband stood beside me every time we laid him down awake and crying. If it was not for his support and urging I would have rushed back in and scooped him up every evening.

Lucky for me he fussed for just a bit those first few nights and then quickly began to put himself to sleep without any problem. He didn’t scream in his crib for hours on end or throw up from the trauma of being left in there. In the beginning we went to check on him every few minutes and eventually he realized that he could put himself to sleep without us.

Once he learned to put himself to sleep my son stopped waking every few hours. He went to sleep in his crib all alone and woke only once or twice to nurse in the wee hours of the morning. Eventually he dropped his nighttime feed entirely on his own.

I sometimes miss those middle-of-the-night feedings. I certainly don’t wish to start them back up again, but it was in the silence of the night that I took note of how much I love him. I would slide my fingers along the side of his face, I would outline his cheeks and nose. I would rub circles across his little belly and drop kisses on his forehead. I would admire the miracle of having him in our lives and tell him over and over how much I loved him.

I cannot claim that I never put my child in his crib without crying. I can tell you that I love that child with every part of my being and hope above all else that he knows I always wanted the best for him and made every decision with that very thought in mind.

September 7, 2013 at 11:04 AM 4 comments

Spending Less on Kids Clothing

Every time I turn around it seems that my son has grown a little taller. He is no longer that tiny baby who can fit in the crook of my arm. I recognize his growth spurts by watching how far his legs dangle past the highchair or how high up the backseat his feet can now reach.

As he grows his clothes inevitably wind up in transport to the donation center, into a box waiting for consignment, (I have yet to drop this off anywhere), or placed into plastic bins labeled by size in my basement. His rapid growth is apparent in the stacked boxes labeled 0-3, 3-6, 6-9, 9-12, 12-18 and 18-24.

I have rules about how much clothing I’ll keep. The bins are relatively small and contain only items in the best possible shape. Anything with stains, worn out knees or that I don’t find super cute make their way out of the house. I’ve considered donating or selling everything at one time or another, but constantly convince myself to hold onto them a little longer.

I’m not sure if we’ll have another child and if we do I have no idea if they will be the same size, born at the same time of year or even be the same gender, but if all those things do fall into line then it certainly won’t hurt to keep them in our basement a little bit longer.

Over the past year and a half I’ve learned quite a few things about spending less on toddler clothing.

  1. I accept all hand-me-downs I’m offered. I comb through the boxes and bags and pull out anything that is too damaged to keep. I also take out most pants that don’t slip on and off easily. (This is a personal preference, but I find that my son wants to dress himself, and the fewer buttons and zippers he has to deal with the easier it becomes.)
  2. The items that remain are sorted and placed into bins by size. By sorting in advance I can pull out the appropriate items as soon as my son reaches the next size. Then I can determine what items he might need.  For instance, I’ve received a ton of shorts and pants, but no shirts or sweatshirts. This helps me figure out what I need to buy.
  3. When my son reaches the next size I buy a limited amount of clothing at the start of the season. For example, when summer began my son primarily wore size 18-24. Clothes are always most expensive at the start of the season, so I aim to buy as little as I can at that time. I can walk into the same store in the middle of the summer and buy items for 50% less then I could in late spring. Prices are cheaper as the season wears on, but buying less also ensures that the clothes will actually fit my son. Children grow fast and what fits one week might not fit the next.
  4. When I do need to purchase clothing I head straight to the clearance section. Most of the time I find clothes that are just as cute as the ones currently selling for full price. If I shop at Gymboree I ask the cashier if they have any sale items in my son’s size. Sometimes they have additional merchandise stored away in their stock room and on more than one occasion I paid as little as $2 or $3 for brand new items. My local thrift store lists prices for $2 or $3 so I can buy new items for the same price as I would pay for used ones.
  5. I keep an eye out for anything my son wears year round. My son swims year round so I know he’ll need swim trunks and rashes and constantly keep an eye out for new ones in larger sizes. I scour the discount racks and buy one, two and even three sizes larger than he currently wears. This is a bit of a pain in terms of storage, but I feel the cost benefit is worth it. These items don’t take up a lot of room and buying swimsuits off season can be unbelievably expensive.
  6. Stained clothing isn’t discarded until it’s outgrown. My son loves to play outside and I am often amazed by just how dirty one little boy can get playing in the back yard. He is often covered in dirt, mud, grass and a whole host of other stains, so any clothes that are accidentally stained and damaged immediately become play clothes.
  7. I try to avoid feeling guilty for making my son adorable. I take a lot of pictures of my son and I must admit that I do like to dress him in adorable little clothes. Since I buy items at discounted prices or receive them as hand-me-downs I try not to feel guilty about spending money to buy them. Toddler clothing is quite cute, but in a few years the clothes really do become quite mundane. I’m willing to spend a little money to make my son adorable.
  8. I gauge the needs of my son’s wardrobe. I know how often we wash clothes, how often we play outside or complete crafts or anything else that gets messy, how often it might be hot outside (requiring sleeveless shirts) and how often we might have cool evenings. While none of this is set in stone it does allow us to have fewer items on hand. I don’t want to look back on my son’s wardrobe and find a bunch of unworn items hanging in his closet with the tags still attached.
  9. I rarely buy discounted items that my son doesn’t wear them year round. I haven’t actually figured out whether or not this is a wise technique. Items that are truly seasonal like shorts and pants can be difficult to size in advance. I never know exactly what size my son may wear, so I feel this is hit-or-miss and usually skip the bargain for fear that the money will be wasted. I can usually find discounted items when the need arises, so I try to avoid spending too much in advance.

How about you? Do you have any tricks for spending less on clothing for your kids?

July 11, 2013 at 2:54 PM 2 comments

Delaying Gratification – How My Son Eats His Marshmallows

My son typically eats lots of organic fruit and waffles or toast for breakfast. Some mornings he eats yogurt or cereal and on the mornings when he eats cereal he typically eats Cheerios. I usually fix him a tiny bowl with a few spoonfuls of milk and then fix a larger bowl for myself. Of course, he always prefers my cereal to his own, even when I show him that they came from the same box and the same carton of milk.

One morning I ran out of Cheerios and fixed myself a bowl of Lucky Charms. For the record Lucky Charms are my weakness. I eat them as a late afternoon snack or even for dinner if I haven’t prepared something else tasty and nutritious.

I could see my son’s eyes light up at the colorful marshmallows in my bowl, so I dipped my spoon in and offered him a scoop of it. He gobbled it up, so I placed a few more scoops into his bowl and watched him eat.

He used a combination of his spoon and fingers to pull out every piece of cereal leaving all of the marshmallows for last. I thought it might be a fluke at first so I pulled out three or four pieces of cereal and one marshmallow and placed them on his plate. Sure enough he ate all of the cereal first, leaving the marshmallow as his very last bite. Every time I tried the experiment he ate it the exact same way.

This isn’t exactly the same as the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment, but I do wonder if it is the first of many insights into my son’s personality.  I am often able to delay short term gains in an effort to ensure longer term goals and I wonder if my son will have similar abilities. I am a saver by nature and I attribute a lot of my thrifty ways to my ability to delay gratification.

If the marshmallow is the tastiest part of the cereal wouldn’t most children eat it first and then ask for more? I’m not sure if my son’s behavior is atypical but I really would like to know if he will be the type of person who can wait to obtain the things in life he desires.

June 27, 2013 at 2:48 PM Leave a comment

Capturing the Moments As They Occur

I’ve taken thousands of photographs in the past year and a half. From the time my son was born until he turned one I pulled out the camera and photographed him every other day. My initial photos aren’t particularly good. My husband was the photographer in the family and until my son was born I felt little need to pick up a camera.

But once that little guy came into our lives I couldn’t seem to resist the urge to photograph him. There are pictures on blankets, propped up in chairs and sleeping peacefully in his crib. There are pictures holding stuffed animals, learning to lift his chin off the floor and stretching out his fingers for the very first time.

A few months ago I searched through thousands of photographs to create a book of my favorites. I quickly found that one book simply wouldn’t be enough to hold all of my favorite images. I ended up creating four books, breaking them down into four month periods. It’s amazing to watch the transformation of my son’s face over a year and a half. The wrinkles of his first days and the chubbiness that followed are a thing of the past. Every day he looks less and less like a baby and more and more like a little boy.

I love creating prints and placing them on the refrigerator. My son points to the images and I recite the names of the people we’ve photographed beside him.

Awhile back my husband went through a phase of printing images on canvas and our living room now has three or four colorful prints hung on the walls. I kind of forget about them until a new guest comes to our home and admires them.

I’d like to add a few more to our collection and decided to use Easy Canvas Prints to create the photo prints. I’ve used a number of printing places in the past, but I like their easy to use ordering process and the prints turn out exactly as you would expect.

Last year I surprised my husband with a canvas print of one of my favorite photographs. It’s a simple picture of a sailboat at sunset, but it reminds me of North Carolina, a place I dearly love.

sunset 1

front view

sunset 2

side view

Now I just need to pick out the photographs I want to print. With thousands of photos to choose from I’m having a hard time narrowing down my absolute favorites and as I take new pictures I find more and more photographs to love.

Do you take a lot of photographs? If so, do you keep them in digital format or do you print a few?

Note: I received a free canvas for blogging about Easy Canvas Prints but the opinions are my own.

June 7, 2013 at 2:21 PM 3 comments

A Child’s Interests Change Quickly: How to Save Money on Toys for Small Children

In the short time my son has been on this earth our home has been inundated with an overflowing number of toys. It is absolutely amazing how such a tiny little boy can attain so much. I’m a bit of a neat freak so I bought a storage unit to hold all of the toys in our living room, but that filled up quite quickly.

Book Shelves

While it was cold outside I moved a bunch of items into our  sun-room. It doesn’t have central heat so we rarely step foot in there in the wintertime. I began rotating his toys by moving a couple of things back onto the bookshelf and removing others so that he had new toys to play with every few days.

What I found is that my son’s interests change quickly. One week he is interested in blocks, the next he’d rather play with his toy kitchen or pretend to talk on the telephone. Some days he’ll pull out and complete all of the puzzles in the house and other days he won’t even look at them.

Even though he’s only eighteen months his interests are constantly changing. While I know children who play with the same toy day after day, my son becomes less interested the moment he masters one.

A few months after my son turned one I wrote about the financial lessons I learned from his first year. In that post I mentioned the importance of hand-me-downs. Six months later I now believe they are more valuable than ever. Ninety percent of the toys in our house were hand-me-downs, another 8% were gifts from friends and family and the remaining 2% were gifts from either my husband or myself.

I can’t imagine how much money we saved by accepting gently used items from friends and family. Many of the toys would’ve cost well over $20 to $25 new. It’s tough to buy a toy for that much money and than realize that your child will only play for it for a short period of time. At this age you never know what might interest a child. My son has played with toys for weeks that I never would have imagined he’d be interested in and ignored toys that I was sure he would love.

With hand-me-downs you don’t have to pay any money. (A win.) You don’t add any more trash to the landfill. (A win.) And if your child gets bored of a toy easily you simply pass it on to another child without feeling guilty. (A win.)

If you do have someone in your life willing to hand down toys make sure you profusely thank them for their generosity. Send pictures of your child playing with the toys and if they provide you with a lot of stuff make sure consider giving them a small gift to show your appreciation.

Of course, not everyone is fortunate enough to have friends and family members with toys to pass on. If this isn’t an option for you try visiting local consignment shops, online auctions and co-ops for good deals. Remember that at this age your child doesn’t know that a toy isn’t shiny and new.

If you have friends and family who want to buy your child gifts tell them to consider buying used too. Remind them that children outgrow toys quickly at this age and that you’d rather have them save the money. Of course, if you can convince them to avoid toys and provide a monetary gift towards your child’s education or savings all the better.

If they do want to buy a gift try to encourage them to buy something other than stuffed animals. Unlike plastic toys that can be wiped down and disinfected stuffed animals are often difficult to launder. Once your child outgrows these it is difficult to pass them on to another child. This doesn’t mean children shouldn’t have any stuffed animals, but rather that you might want to keep the amount to a reasonable number. Once my son filled a small box I began asking close friends and family members not to buy him anymore.

Lastly remember that kids don’t always need or want to play with toys. Children often make toys and games out of the items around them. There are lots of every day items that can amuse them. My son has just as much fun with real pots and pans, toilet paper rolls and cups filled with water then he does with the mechanical toys that eventually bore him.

April 19, 2013 at 10:00 PM 6 comments

10 Financial Lessons I Learned During My Son’s First Year

Before my son was born I asked just about every parent I knew for advice. While I received a lot of great suggestions and recommendations I also learned quite a bit on my own in that first year. Here are my top ten lessons:

  1. Keep tags on toys and clothes and file receipts for everything you buy or receive . It’s amazing how quickly children outgrow toys and clothing. Keep tags on clothes until just before your child will need to wear them. You’ll feel driven to wash everything the minute you receive it, but don’t. You never know what size your child will be as he or she grows. My son was given a lot of clothes that he never wore or only wore once before outgrowing them. If you keep the tags and receipts you can return or exchange items for larger sizes. The same rule applies to toys. Children outgrow infant toys rather quickly. You probably won’t need a room full of teething rings and rattles so you might as well exchange them for more useful items.
  2. Speaking of toys… you may not need many of them. I am constantly amazed by the things my son chooses to play with on a daily basis. If I give him a box full of stuffed animals, he’ll often dump out of the toys and play with the box itself. He’ll lift it over his head, sit in it and flip it over and stand on top. He once spent over an hour and a half playing with a plastic bucket. He banged on it like a drum, yelled into it to hear his echo and dropped toys inside to listen to the noise they made when they hit the bottom. We can spend hours chasing each other around the house or playing peek-a-boo behind the furniture. When we was old enough to walk, (around 10 months), he learned to spend time just walking around the yard pointing out flowers and leaves. Avoid buying interesting gadgets and toys that promise to make your child a genius. Let your child invent his or her own enjoyment.
  3. Accept hand-me-downs from anyone willing to offer them and remember to thank them profusely. While you can save a ton of money on clothes and toys by purchasing them on sale or second hand, you’ll save even more if you have friends or family members who are willing to give them away for free. You would be amazed by the number of people who have boxes full of baby related items hiding in their basements. Most of these people are more than happy to grant their children’s toys and clothes a second life. If you receive hand-me-downs don’t forget to send thank you cards or even better yet email photos of your child playing with the toys or wearing the clothing you received. It shows the receiver you appreciated the gift and that your child is using it. (Sending them a small gift card to say thanks wouldn’t hurt either.)
  4. Accept the fact that you will unexpectedly order take out and delivery. I prepared all sorts of meals before my son was born. With a stocked freezer I was pretty certain that I wouldn’t have to order take out for a very long time, but the truth is when you are sleep deprived and hungry take-out and delivery often sound tastier than that frozen chicken pot pie waiting in the fridge. As my son got older I thought it would be easier to prepare meals at home. I remember saying, “I’ll cook during his naps or I’ll prepare a bunch of meals on the weekend.” Despite the best intentions that didn’t happen as often as I would have preferred. I quickly came to terms with the fact that we’d eat greasy take out more often than I did in my pre-baby days. On the plus side with an infant in tow you’ll probably go out to eat less often.
  5. Test drive a stroller before buying or registering for one. I scoured the Internet for the best stroller reviews before adding one to my registry. I tried a similar model in the store, but I only pushed it around for a minute or two. On the very first day I took my son for a walk I realized the stroller was much too short for me. I’m 6’1” so I need a stroller that is either tall or comes with an extended handle. After hunching over on walks with my son for over a year I finally decided to throw in the towel and ordered a new one. The stroller I currently have is not only too short, but it is also heavy and comes with an awkward open and close mechanism. When you test drive a stroller don’t just push it around, also lift it up as high as you would need to get into the trunk and try opening and closing it to make sure it’s easy to do so. Oh and also get your partner or spouse to test drive it with you.
  6. Do NOT stock up on diapers before your child’s arrival. Through a combination of sales and coupons I bought 15 packs of Huggies in varying sizes before my son arrived. I was pregnant, but feeling good, so driving around town in search of cheap bargains seemed to make sense at the time. Most of the diapers cost less than $3 a pack, which seemed like a really good bargain considering the retail price is typically over $10. The problem is my son leaked in every Huggies diaper we tried. No matter the age, size or type he wet through the diaper and ended up with soaked clothes. It’s not easy to change a wiggly infant and having to change his diaper and his clothes was definitely not fun. Lesson learned: next time try one brand of diapers at a time and only stock up once you know what brand works for your child.
  7. Despite the best intentions couponing is more difficult with children. Three drug stores and a grocery store are located within less than a mile from my home. Before my son was born I would often carve out time on Sunday morning to shop at each store. I carried my coupon binder to the stores and often popped in for no more than two or three items in each store. I’d pick up free toothpaste at my first stop and free deodorant at my second. I could shop at four different stores and unload all the items I bought within thirty to forty five minutes. These days it’s much more difficult to drag my son back and forth to a bunch of stores when I’m only buying a handful of items at each location. It simply doesn’t seem worth it to strap him in, drive a few blocks, pull him out and hold him on my hip while I walk through the store and wait in line to checkout. While I still stock up from time to time I certainly don’t hit the drug stores every weekend.
  8. Try to postpone late night, sleep deprived shopping. While some babies may sleep for ten hours a night my son was not one of them. For the first few months I slept for no more than two to three hours at a time and spent most of my days in a blurry haze. I breastfed exclusively and was forced to wake up every time my son was hungry. Every once in awhile I found myself searching the Internet in search of cute baby clothes and helpful gadgets. More often then not I regretted my new purchase and ended up returning it the minute the shipment reached my front door. I suggest locking up your credit card at night or avoiding online shopping sites when you are sleep deprived.
  9. It’s okay to spend money in ways you might not have expected. In the past year I have taken thousands of photos of my son. In the beginning I took pictures every other day, as he got older I moved to twice a week, then weekly and now at least three or four times a month. My husband bought a new SLR camera and an expensive video camera. Before my son arrived we used our iPhones to shoot video and used an older SLR model. These certainly would’ve worked moving forward, but I wanted high quality equipment to capture the memories that I hope will last forever.
  10. Accept the fact that your net worth may stay flat or even decline. Before my son was born my husband and I set aside the money we earned each year from raises and bonuses. Over the years our net worth steadily increased as we paid down our mortgages and saved in our 401(k)s. Shortly before my son was born I was laid off from my job and ultimately turned down a new offer in favor of becoming a stay-at-home mom. With that decision came the loss of a six figure salary and solid employee benefits. To be perfectly honest it still feels strange not to earn a paycheck, but I know in my heart that I want to spend this time with my son. Even if you don’t choose to stay home you may still find yourself missing more work then you expected. As a contractor my husband is only paid when he works. Despite that fact he is always willing to skip work in exchange for taking my son to his scheduled doctor’s appointments. He’s held my son for every series of shots and never thought twice about missing work for it. Remember that you have thirty years to earn more money, but only a short time to relish in your child’s infant and toddler stages.

Do you have any other key lessons to add to the list? If so, please leave a comment below.

January 10, 2013 at 8:00 PM 1 comment

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