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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.