New parents face what is, on the surface, a simple decision when it comes to “stuff” for their kids–to buy new or buy used. Buying used is a frequently cited means of dampening the cost of kids, both because prices for used items are much lower and because the secondhand market for children’s gear is saturated and comprehensive. In other words, you can find just about anything you want and it’s going to be cheap.
The reason the decision is rarely simple is because most parents, and especially new parents like us, treat their children like the most important thing in the universe, and not only want the best for them, but are usually overly cautious about things that can hurt them. Done in excess, this can be both expensive and damaging to a child’s development, but I’ll focus on the financial issues today.
How exactly do we balance these two extremes–getting the most for our money and protecting our kids from the potentially harmful effects of a bad purchase? There are essentially two criteria that we used when evaluating what to do when our son was born. They were:
- #1: Safety: First, is there any chance that a damaged or tainted version of this product would endanger my child? (In most cases, the answer is yes). More importantly, what are the realistic chances that this product is damaged and that such damage would not be apparent? Furthermore, what are the chances that even if the product is damaged, it would have an effect? And finally, if the product is damaged and something happens, what is the worst-case scenario in terms of negative consequences?
- #2: Age: Would the age of this product have an impact on its performance? Do newer versions of this product have significant advances over older models? Do the benefits of these new features outweigh the savings of buying used? Are there any new features that improve the safety of the product?
With nearly all of the major things we bought, this is exactly what went through my mind. There were plenty of things that could have been bought used that we decided to buy new anyway, but we were doing it consciously and with the understanding that we were paying a premium.
With that in mind, here are some of the major baby expenses new parents are likely to face and my thoughts on the new/used decision process.
- Cribs. It’s fairly easy to check cribs for recalls, so the chance that a used crib could cause harm is low. However, many older cribs have features that have been recalled or even made illegal, so newer models definitely have the edge here. All things considered, a crib is not much more than a bed, and if a recent model can be found for less, I would go for it. Verdict: Used.
- Car Seats. An older car seat or one that has previously been in an accident is definitely a risk, and such damage would not always be apparent, like wear and tear on the belts or aging of the material, or internal damage or breaks from an accident. In the case of a new accident, it could fail to protect the child in a way that an undamaged car seat would, resulting in serious injury or death. Verdict: New.
- Strollers. Like cribs, strollers are the target of frequent recalls, but this can easily be checked before purchase. While the folding mechanisms and parent accessories (like cup holders) might be better on newer models, stroller “technology” hasn’t really changed. One important exception is if you plan to buy a stroller-infant seat combo, which I would highly recommend. Verdict: New or Used, depending on needs.
- Clothing. The only real issue with buying used clothes is how badly they’ve been worn (with most infant clothing, wear is minimal), and if they are somehow “tainted” (for example, by being from a high-smoking household). The only benefit of buying newer clothing over older clothing is style, though most “old” clothing will be just as recent as the new stuff. Clothes are cycled through so quickly in the first year of life, that friends and neighbors who hear of your new baby are likely to make a large donation of near-new clothing anyway. Verdict: Used.
- Feeding supplies. There are many, from bottles and nipples to formula and breast pumps, to plates and forks. Buying anything used here can be tricky, since what your baby ingests will directly affect their well-being and any mistakes can potentially be fatal. Other product features, like plastic items that contain harmful off-products may not have immediate effects but can still have long-term consequences. With those things in mind, we chose to err on the side of caution when it comes to anything in our son’s food supply chain and control the product from the point of purchase. Verdict: New.
- Toys. Such a broad category includes everything from books to cars, swing chairs to bouncers, and all kinds of other activity equipment. Nearly anything can be successfully recycled from child to child, and our only real concern was whether we agreed with the type of toy in the first place (we considered some to be risky or age-inappropriate), and if there were any outstanding recalls for things like lead poisoning or potentially harmful uses. Verdict: Used.
- Nursery furniture. Besides the baby’s crib, many parents choose to outfit their nursery with a glider (rocking chair) and a changing table. Some parents desire a well-coordinated nursery, so their only used option is a single-source or a lot of work trying to find complimentary pieces. If you can tolerate a bit of mis-matching, there are very few things about any of those pieces that could be potentially harmful, since your children will always be with you when using them. Verdict: Used.
There are a few other things I would only buy new, including first aid equipment and toiletries, but plenty more I would definitely buy used, including bathtime accessories, baby monitors, slings, diaper bags, childproofing supplies, high chairs, and pack & plays.
As you can see, there are common threads for many of the typical baby purchases when it comes to deciding between new or used:
- Always double-check for any outstanding recalls.
- Adapt to your specific needs and situation.
- Be realistic when assessing the potential dangers to your kids.
- It’s okay to splurge a little here and there.
- Don’t chance it on things where your baby will spend a lot of time (sleeping, driving, etc.)
- Evaluate the source (trust things from family, friends, and strangers in that descending order).
With a little effort and a smart approach, there’s a lot of money to be saved on your children. Good luck!