The “only the best will do for my kids” attitude is especially prevalent among first-time parents, whose buying habits for the new family member can be overwhelming. They buy as if the baby will wear things out the way they do. And they consider used cribs, strollers, toys, and clothes unacceptable. They feel compelled to head down to the Baby Designer Store with their charge card flashing, to buy a fancy changing table, the hand-painted $925 sleigh/crib, a state-of-the-art stroller, and colorful designer baby clothes!
They forget that in the case of a crib, the baby just lies around in it—for about two years. She’s not going to wear it out, and she doesn’t care if it’s made of tight-grain antique mahogany. It’s just a crib. The clothes she wears will be outgrown in four months. Are they soft? Comfortable? That’s all she cares about—not that her new sleeper suit has a designer label and cost $35.
The fact is babies don’t need all the stuff we feel obligated to get them. And they certainly don’t need it all to be new. I know a family who has bestowed hundreds of toys on their young, firstborn child. The only one he cares about is a little red plastic guitar with three strings. He carries it around constantly and has composed his own “songs” that he loves to sing for visitors. He couldn’t care less about all the other stuff.
Practically speaking, the things we buy for our kids are used for a short period of time and sometimes not at all. Go look at all the toys your kids have, including the ones that have been around for years. I bet you will find that they look almost new. And even if they don’t, they still work fine. And where do these things end up? First you store them in the closet because you can’t bear the thought of throwing them away. And later, when the closet overflows, you throw them away or give them to charity.
Think back on your first four or five years of life. How many of your toys do you remember? How about the clothes you wore? Your crib? Was it these things that made you feel happy and loved? Would you have considered it emotionally devastating if your first rocking chair hadn’t been brand new? Is your well-being today based on the fact that you always had new clothes?
A newly-pregnant wife and her husband came to see me for financial planning. They were assessing their financial situation and formulating their goals. They listened to my recommendations about not having to buy everything new for their baby, and they took it to heart. They went to all their friends who had young children and collected all of their hand-me-downs—very nice ones, in fact! They saved hundreds of dollars by not buying new. And if they keep this up over the next five to seven years they will save many, many thousands of dollars.
Some people tell me they just couldn’t do that. They couldn’t call up a friend or co-worker to ask them about used stuff for their kids. They fear they will be looked upon as unsuitable parents who aren’t willing to buy the best and the newest for their kid. And they fear that it will tip the cards that they aren’t wealthy enough to buy these things new.
If you have something in your attic or basement that you don’t need or use, and a friend expresses an interest in it, are you going to look down on them because of it? Of course not! Nor will other people look down on you when you ask them. Most people are quite happy to part with these things—you are actually doing them a favor by taking it off their hands.
Now, there are certain times when buying new is the way to go. When my neighbor had her kids’ pictures taken recently, she wanted the job done by a professional. She wanted them to have new clothes, so she bought them. The decision was a conscious one, based on a specific situation. It was not the automatic response that since it was for her children, it had to be the best, and it had to be new.
The cost of automatic behavior can really add up. A middle- class family spends almost $275,000 on a child up to age eighteen. A more affluent family spends more than $358,000. The difference, $83,000 is largely attributable to the number of things bought for the child and a zeal to buy everything brand new every time. Just think what a difference $83,000 can make towards your retirement.
Remember that for children the bottom line is the love, acceptance, and attention you give them, not whether you buy them the best.