New parents' guide to new, used and hand-me-down items

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New parents' guide to new, used and hand-me-down items

Expectant moms and dads can get tempted into overspending on their new bundle of joy, since you want your son or daughter to have the newest clothes (sometimes designer label), the shiniest toys, and only the best essentials like cribs, strollers and car seats.

It certainly accounts for the fact that the average two-parent family will spend at least $12,000 on your baby in his or her first year, according to a recent USDA study. Spending on baby products reached $23 billion three years ago, and by 2017, the worldwide baby care product sales total is expected to near a whopping $67 billion.

And it’s not just a case of splurging on a firstborn and looking to save on your second child; faced with some of these expenses, all soon-to-be parents on a budget have a big question to ask themselves as they await baby’s big arrival into the world:

Should you buy new, used, or go with hand-me-downs?

Each one has their own pros, cons, benefits, and drawbacks, and they all depend on a number of factors, like cost, safety, and how much use your baby will get out of them. One thing we can suggest is that going for new and handed-down stuff is the best combo to save money and care for your child.

We’ll get to what, exactly, you should buy and what is safe to get handed down in a minute, but first, 4 tips on planning for your baby:

Planning in advance

The good news about shopping around for new or used baby items, or incorporating hand-me-downs into the mix, is that you’ve got nine months to plan. Keep some of these tips in mind:

  1. Look for sales, discounts and deals. If you’re buying online, sign up for Amazon Family or search for coupon codes for baby stores and outlets.

  2. Safety first, cost second. The price may be right on one of the used pieces of baby gear we mentioned above (especially if it’s a free, used gift), but don’t hesitate to make the investment and pay more for new items that are up to safety standards.

  3. Specify on baby registries. If you’ve announced the birth of a new one and have a registry set up for your upcoming baby shower, be specific on the types of items you’re desiring. Always obtain a gift receipt to exchange for something that better suits your baby’s needs.

  4. Work on a baby-by-baby basis. One size doesn’t fit all when it comes to hand-me-downs. If you have one son with another on the way, you may find that none of your first born’s old clothes fit his body type, or his tastes may prefer a set of different toys. While hand-me-downs are cost effective, what your child dresses in and plays with should tailor his or her comfort level – and that alone is worth the cost.

What to buy new

Not all baby items are created equal when it comes to what you should buy new and what you can afford to buy used or, for even thriftier parents, borrow or reuse. Health and hygiene should be your two top considerations for buying new baby gear over previously used ones.

Car seats, strollers, and other baby seats

A high-end car seat can cost a small fortune, but it’s one of the top products worth buying new, since there are too many drawbacks to going used that can jeopardize your child’s safety and well-being. Firstly, a car seat can’t be reused or resold if it’s been involved in a car crash and doesn’t pass certain minimum safety requirements; going for a used seat to save money could compromise the crash protection the seat provides. Car seats also have a 6-year expiration date.

If you do decide to go used, buy or accept a hand-me-down from someone you trust. You should also check with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to see if the seat you’ve got in mind has ever been recalled for safety reasons.

The same protocol goes for strollers, high chairs and cribs, too. A used car seat may have loose seatbelt buckles or harnesses, and a stroller’s wheels and rolling mechanism might be misaligned or worn. A high chair’s wheels need to lock, not roll, crotch posts must be fixed, and seat restraints and harnesses must also meet standards, so you could be taking a gamble going for a used one. Used playpens with tears, holes or other damage, especially to the mesh lining, can risk injury to your baby. And used changing pads can simply be too used up and dirty. When it comes to these products, have peace of mind and buy new.

Older, drop-side rail cribs manufactured before June 2011 are also a risky choice, since they’re not endorsed by the Consumer Product Safety Commission, after millions of recalls and more than three dozen infant deaths took them off the market. Even if you’ve got an older crib up for grabs for free, buying new ensures that its hardware and construction meets safety codes and testing, and keeps your baby safe.

A new crib mattress also promises more life than a worn, old one, and safety, too - a study by BMJ correlated used mattresses with an increase in sudden infant death syndrome.

Nursing products and toys

Nursing products like personal breast pumps, pacifiers, bottle nipples and even some toys are best to buy new, since bacteria can remain on them after several uses, and plastic may wear down. One study found that a used open system breast pump may contain breast milk particles that have come into contact with other parts of the pump that can’t be completely sterilized, risking exposure to viruses or other health problems if your baby ingests it. Your best bet? Buy new – you might qualify for insurance reimbursement on the purchase of a breast pump, or a discount if renting one.

As for Mr. Rubber Ducky? Like anything in the bathroom, bath toys build up mold and mildew that can be hard to clean, and germ-ridden if it goes in your baby’s mouth. New ones are relatively inexpensive.

The same with some stuffed animals – if it’s a spot-clean-only toy, there’s a greater chance that bacteria may remain on a second-hand toy if it hasn’t been machine washed.

When to go used or hand-me-down

Clothing

Babies get messy. They get dirty. They’ll grow out of their clothes and shoes in the blink of an eye. They generally don’t care what they’re wearing, either, so opting for used and handed down baby clothes and apparel can be the most cost effective option.

Gently worn and used clothes in good, wearable condition may also be safer for babies, since multiple washings makes fabric softer over time, and free of any potentially harsh manufacturing chemicals found in new clothes on the rack. Look for secondhand baby clothes anywhere from friends to thrift shops and online shops to garage sales.

You might hit Babies R Us or Gap Kids for a few pieces here and there when it comes time for family photos or dressing up for holidays. But be mindful that even if you decide to splurge on your baby at that couture baby store and splurge on a Versace onesie for your daughter (or a designer diaper bag, for that matter) don’t expect it to stay free of baby stains, drool and wear and tear just because of its price tag!

When buying used baby clothes or having a second-born inherit their older brother or sister’s garments, use your own discretion and think about your child’s needs:

  • Are the clothes in good, wearable condition?
  • Will they be too hard to clean if they get dirty?
  • Is it something that they can wear for a couple of seasons before growing up to a new size?
  • Do you need clothes for all four seasons, or, as blogger Andrea Dekker puts it, "hot" and "hotter"?

Take safety into consideration, even with secondhand clothing. Clothing previously worn may have buttons, snaps or other decorative embellishments that can become loose and risk a choking hazard. Sweater knitting that’s become loosely unraveled can also snag a baby’s fingers and toes. And like with baby gear, look for other unsafe features that may go unnoticed, like outerwear drawstrings that might cause a strangulation risk for kids; too-tight elastic bands on sleeves, legs, or waists that can restrict baby’s circulation; or sleepwear that isn’t flame resistant.

Check labels on used baby clothing, since years-old garments – even in good condition – may not be manufactured up to modern safety standards.

Use your best judgement

As long as they meet safety standards, used baby room furniture, like rocking chairs, bouncy seats and changing tables, are also great hand-me-downs to have, since they’re mostly stationary, have fewer moving parts, and used less frequently than a crib or playpen. Used/handed down baby bathtubs are also acceptable if they’re clean of mildew; little ones also quickly outgrow them, too.