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Tips for saving when a baby's on the way

I just delivered my first baby. That marked the end of nine months of receiving advice from everyone under the sun. I think the tummy bump is so public that people feel a subliminal call to advise. For instance, a woman in the grocery store told me to eat apples if I want a girl and bananas if I want a boy. Another woman told me to drink a glass of wine each night because then my baby will be small and easy to deliver.

During my nine months, I learned to pick out the good advice and ignore the rest. So now, as my stomach shrinks back to its normal shape, I move into the ranks of people who give advice to expectant mothers. Here is some of the best advice I received:

Skimp on a crib and splurge on a car seat. Recently, I found out that my parents put me in a drawer for the first three months of my life. After my initial shock, my mom assured me that the drawer was not closed. Rather it sat on top of a table and served as a low-budget bassinet. My mom said she got the idea from her mom, who did the same thing.

When I went shopping for a bassinet I was struck by: 1. the price of a bassinet and 2. the similarity between the bassinet and a dresser drawer.

So I went with the drawer.

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The car seat, on the other hand, is about life and death. You need one that is meant for a newborn, and you need one that is fresh from the store, so that you have a manual; there's no point in putting your kid in a car seat if it's rigged up incorrectly. Follow the directions. Remember that you need a car seat to take your baby home from the hospital.

Digital cameras and breast-feeding save money in the long run. During this first week, we've taken pictures of the first day home, the first bath, the first grandparent visit ... the list is endless. And we're not even camera-toting types. So we're grateful for the digital camera we bought because unlike film, we do not have to pay to print all the shots we took when the baby started crying as soon as the flash went off. And we don't have to pay to make prints for the family because we can send pictures digitally via e-mail. The camera was more expensive than we would have liked, and the list of available options made us dizzy. But a neighbor told me that if you can get through choosing a digital camera, then you are prepared for choosing a preschool.

Breast-feeding is like buying a digital camera -- initially a painful experience, but the results are delightful. Anyone who thinks breast-feeding is easy has probably never done it. Breast-feeding is painful, but think of the cost-savings: You can buy $300 worth of formula every month, or you can feed your baby for free. Besides, studies show that the breast milk is better for a baby's development than formula -- maybe the only time in your child's life when you can be certain that cheaper is better.

Buy life insurance. My husband and I were planning to buy insurance after the baby was born, but a friend pointed out that a parent could die during the pregnancy so you need insurance from day one. The phone call to the insurance broker not only protects your child from financial disaster, but also serves to acclimate you to the seriousness of having a child. So make the call early -- you'll need to adjust emotionally.

Exchange all gifts labeled "0-3 months." Most babies will outgrow the "0-3 month" clothes before three months. And frankly, in the summer, babies do not need clothes anyway; they are not going to work; they are not going to prom. They are eating and sleeping. The other problem with the 0-3 month clothes is that they are the cutest: they look like doll clothes so everyone likes to buy them as gifts. You will get too many. So exchange these clothes for a few outfits in the 12-month to 16-month range. The only people who will be buying your kid presents this time next year are the grandparents. The stash of larger clothes will be a money saver later.

Start saving for college. How many times have you said to yourself that you wished you started saving for retirement earlier because an earlier start makes such a big difference? Now is your time to repent: start saving for college on day one. If you start the day the baby is born, you need to put aside about $500 a month until the child goes to college. If you start later, you have to save more. If you start a lot later, you have to save a lot more.

Resist redundant toys. (This is not advice I received. It's advice I wish I had received.) We have two mobiles because we saw one we liked in December and one we liked better in April. My husband rotates the mobiles so that we don't feel like we wasted money buying two. We also have too many rattles. In fact, in our excited anticipation we had purchased too many rattles even before we started receiving too many rattles as gifts. And stuffed animals. They were so cute in the store but so domineering in our overstuffed toy chest.

As we sit in our living room surrounded by our absurd toy purchases, my husband points out that we're better off making these mistakes now, when the kid is a baby because buying two Xboxes or two 10-speed bikes would be a more costly learning experience.

My mom sits in a corner with a smirk and says that we should stop fretting over rattles. She says, "It's nice to stick to a budget, but the most costly parenting mistakes have nothing to do with money."

-- Updated: Aug. 1, 2003

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See Also
Don't overspend for snobby baby stuff
A lesson in educational savings accounts
Financial advice glossary
More advice stories

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