Don’t break the bank for baby

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Preparing for baby’s arrival can put a dent in your credit card if you’re not careful. There’s the basics to buy – car seat, crib, and diapers – and then all the frivolous items – adorable clothes, toys, and sweet blankets. Before pulling out your wallet next, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Here’s a quick gut-check for when you feel that urge to splurge on baby:

What’s my motive? 

Your 1 year old is having a hard time mastering the spoon and bowl without sending Cheerios raining into the air. You spot some adorable designer bowls with suction-cup bottoms that would solve the problem immediately. But wait: Is it really a problem? Doesn’t your son need to learn how not to tip over his bowl? Sure, it’s a messy process, but a necessary one.

Does baby really need it? 

You and your 8 month old are at a weekly play date, and your daughter goes bonkers for her neighbor’s ExerSaucer. You start thinking, I must get one for our house! But must you? After all, if she has the same toy at home, she won’t enjoy it nearly as much as she will at her friend’s house. If we needed to get our children everything they liked, we would all have to move Disneyland into our backyards.

Who is it for? 

Your son desperately needs a new haircut. You can either take him to get a $12 cut at the local barbershop, or you can spend $30 at the fancy kiddie salon where he’ll be strapped into a race car seat with his eyes glued to cartoons on a nearby screen. So much more fun for him! But wait: Isn’t it also much easier for you? No need to hold him down or distract him. All that is fine, if it’s worth the extra $18 to you. As long as you know for whom you’re really spending.

What am I afraid of? 

You find yourself thinking, My daughter should really have a… or, What will happen to Junior’s gross motor skills if every other child is enrolled in tumble class and mine isn’t? In an era of economic insecurity and fierce competition for good schools and good jobs, we are relentlessly focused on getting our children ahead. So much of this is based on fear: The fear that our children will fall behind because we—terrible parents!—didn’t do enough for them. Buying something out of fear is never a good idea.

Pamela Paul is the author of Parenting, Inc.: How we are sold on $800 strollers, fetal education, baby sign language, sleeping coaches, toddler couture, and diaper wipe warmers—and what it means for our children.

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