ALBERT HERTER

‘EIGHT WAYS TO SAVE ON BABY CARE, ‘ from Smart Money at fidelity.com.

In Uncategorized on August 13, 2009 at 22:25

Babies have no sympathy for a challenging economic environment.

Even as inflation remains largely static because of the recession, the cost of raising a child is growing rapidly.

Parents can expect to spend an average $291,570 (accounting for inflation) over the first 17 years in the life of a child born this year, according to the latest figures from the Department of Agriculture, released in early August. (In comparison, parents of a child born in 2000, could expect to pay a little more than $165,000.)

Annual expenses increase as your child ages, but parents of a newborn can still expect to shell out roughly $12,000 during the first year. That covers the baby’s share of housing, utilities and transportation, as well as child-specific costs like clothing, food and babysitters.

“Having a baby has really opened my eyes to how we normally shop,” says Sok Verdery, a new dad and the chief executive of deal site CouponShack.com. “Luckily, there are tons of baby-related deals.”

Use these eight tactics to cut the costs of raising your baby without cutting corners:

Ignore registry advice

“Store registries are really the baby product industry marketing itself,” says Dr. Shelly Flais, a Chicago pediatrician and mother of four. “Babies only need a few things.” Once you have a crib, car seat, diapers and either breast milk or formula, everything else is more about making your parenting experience easier. Flais advises talking to other mothers about the items they found most and least helpful.

Try secondhand goods

Don’t pass up hand-me-downs from family and friends with older kids, or secondhand baby paraphernalia from yard sales and thrift stores. Kids grow so quickly that odds are good the items were barely used, which makes them a valuable deal for cost-conscious parents. For example, a 12-piece set of baby girl clothes sold for $3.99 on eBay (EBAY

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). Give items a thorough cleaning first, and check the Consumer Product Safety Commission site to make sure none were included in a safety recall.

One notable exception to the used rule: car seats, which the American Academy of Pediatrics advises always purchasing new. It’s not always easy to tell if the seat has been compromised, either from an accident or years of use.

Skimp on toys

Save the spoiling of your kids until they’re old enough to appreciate (and truly benefit from) an array of toys, says Reyne Rice, a trend analyst for the Toy Industry Association, a trade group that says it’s helped develop federal toy safety standards. “At an early age, the parent or caregiver is the baby’s favorite plaything,” she says. With that in mind, look for a few simple toys with bright colors and interesting sounds that will stimulate baby and let you play, too. Rice’s picks for infants age six months and younger: soft blocks, stacking rings and sturdy board or cloth books.

Breast-feed

Health and nutritional issues aside, breast feeding is the clear winner against formula in affordability. “Over the long haul, it can really save a lot of money,” says Flais — roughly $2,000 a year, according to Consumer Reports’ most recent annual study on infant formula.

Spread the word

Strategically alert a few groups that you’re expecting a baby, and you’ll never have to pay full price for diapers, baby food or formula. Plenty of companies are itching to send you coupons, says Renee Rosiak of Connecticut, a mother of four-month-old twins. Here’s where to spread the word:

* Manufacturers: Brands including Similac, Beech Nut and Pampers offer welcome kits including free samples, as well as regular newsletters full of coupons.

* Retailers: Target (TGT

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) and Babies R Us send out extra coupon booklets to parents who create a registry with them, while The Children’s Place offers coupons each year on your child’s birthday.

* Supermarkets: Most have baby clubs with coupons and extra rebates. For example, Shop Rite offers $10 back for every $100 in baby items purchased.

* Social networking sites: Rosiak has found freebies through Freecycle and Twitter. With so many coupons available from other sources, moms at networking sites like Moms of Multiples and MomsLikeMe.com often give away coupons for brands they don’t use or for products their kids have outgrown.

Pick double-duty items

Look for items that will continue to be useful as your baby grows. For example, forego a changing table that you’ll use for just two years in favor of a regular dresser and a separate changing pad that can be strapped to its top. Or purchase a travel system stroller that includes a strap-in car seat and adjusts to accommodate kids as old as four.

Make your own baby food

Thanks to a range of baby cookbooks on the market, making your own baby food is extremely cost-effective, Flais says. One 2.5-ounce jar of Beech-Nut Chiquita bananas costs 45 cents at Shop Rite, but a pound (16 ounces) of the ripe, fresh fruit costs 79 cents. She suggests working in big batches and freezing individual portions in ice-cube trays to reheat later.

Buy bulk staples online

The lowest unit price on big staples, like diapers and formula, often can be found online, says Verdery. Diapers.com accepts manufacturer’s coupons and offers its own sales and coupon codes. (Another tip: Check out the warehouse club, where prices can be as much as 50% cheaper than they are at the supermarket.)

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