Buying for baby: keeping costs down

Buying online can save you money, but be aware of any hidden costs and make sure you comparison shop, too.
Buying online can save you money, but be aware of any hidden costs and make sure you comparison shop, too. 

For the first four years of your baby’s life you could spend, on average, over $20,000 on baby purchases, with the bulk of the cost in the first 12 months. 

On average (according to IBISWorld 2009), parents spend this much per year for the first four years on the following items:

Furniture: $539
Clothing: $1564
Nappies: $1381
Footwear: $35
Nutrition and food: $863
Toys: $378 
Other: $534 
Total: $5,393 

But there are ways to try to keep those costs down, such as the following.  

  • Wait and see what you need. It’s wise to buy a few essentials and then spend carefully as the need arises.
  • Make a wish list for friends and relatives. Try to think ahead so you'll know what you need when someone asks what to give you for a present.
  • Avoid buying expensive things your baby will soon outgrow, such as size 0000 clothes or a bassinet.
  • Don’t underestimate the value of easy care items - ideally you want to be able to throw the item in the washing machine and perhaps the dryer.
  • Think about renting or borrowing some items – for example, many libraries offer toys and children’s books, and some councils and community organisations provide baby car capsules for hire. (Visit the Essential Baby Directory to find businesses that hire out baby equipment.)
  • Shop around. The internet is convenient for comparison shopping, as long as you know the brand and model names of the products you’re looking for. Variety stores have regular sales, so with a bit of planning you can take advantage of them to save money.

Buying second-hand

There can be some risks in using secondhand goods for children. They might not be safe, or might be worn or damaged and therefore dangerous. 

There are some products you shouldn’t buy second-hand; for example, car restraints, as you can’t be sure they haven't been in an accident. With other products, such as cots, make sure they meet current safety standards. 

However, you can save a lot of money on other items, such as children’s clothes, which might have had very little wear.

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Buying on eBay

eBay is an online treasure trove of used and new baby products up for auction, but there are a few guidelines to keep in mind when using these sites to buy baby items.

  • Just because it’s listed on eBay doesn’t mean it’s a bargain. Before you decide on your highest bid, check how much the item retails for on other sites or in the shops.
  • Check the postage price, as it can vary greatly.
  • Check that the available payment methods suit you.
  • Each eBay seller has a feedback rating made up of comments and ratings from other eBay members who’ve bought from them. A high feedback score can be a good sign of a reputable dealer, but take the number of transactions into account as well.
  • Some eBay sellers list items in US dollars or British pounds, even on the Australian eBay site. Double-check the currency. (Websites such as xe.com provide daily exchange rates.)
  • You can’t usually inspect goods for sale on eBay before buying, so look for items with several clear photos taken from different angles. The item’s description should also indicate its condition. If in doubt, contact the seller before you bid to ask about the item’s age and condition.

Mail-order shopping

Australians spend millions of dollars each year on mail-order products and services. The Australian Direct Marketing Association (ADMA) has a set of rules which forms the code of practice for its members. If the company isn't an ADMA member, the rules don’t apply.

  • If goods ordered don’t arrive in the specified time, under ADMA rules you have the option of continuing with the purchase or cancelling it and getting a refund.
  • If the goods never arrive, an ADMA member must trace or replace the missing goods, or refund your money.
  • If the goods are damaged in transit, an ADMA member must pay to replace them, including postal charges you incurred when returning them.
  • Australia Post will compensate you if it appears the damage was its fault.
  • If you want to cancel the order, you can do this only before it’s reached the merchant.
  • Never send cash through the mail. If you pay by personal cheque or credit card you’ll have a record of whether (and when) the company received your order and payment, which is preferable to using money orders or bank cheques. If you use a credit card the bank will refund you if the merchant fails to provide goods or services (time limits apply).
  • If the merchant goes broke before filling your order, you become an unsecured creditor and have probably lost your money (but using a credit card may provide you with some recourse).
  • Standards vary internationally, so a product deemed safe in one country may not meet Australian safety standards.
  • Check the wording in the advertisements carefully, taking note of ‘inspection without obligation’ periods, and check the goods thoroughly before using them.

 Buying on the internet

  • As with mail order, a product deemed safe in one country may not be acceptable here.
  • If there’s something wrong with a product, you may find it’s not clear which country’s consumer protection laws will apply. This can present a problem with returns, refunds or even enforcing warranty repairs. Ask the vendor for this information before you buy.
  • Shipping costs can add dramatically to the price of a product.
  • Remember that exchange rates vary, so check what rate you'll be charged by both the vendor and your credit, charge or debit card.
  • Send an email to the vendor before you order to check its returns policy and whether the product you want is in stock.
  • When buying online, you should always check that the site is secure: look for the key or padlock symbol you can find in your browser’s URL or address bar. A broken key or padlock signifies an unsecured site, while a solid key or padlock indicates that the data will be encrypted and safer.
  • Make sure you get written confirmation of your order, or print out and keep a copy of your order and receipt from the internet.

Download your free CHOICE guide for expectant parents, or for more expert, unbiased product tests and information, visit choice.com.au.