Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Decoding the baby registry matrix

Baby gear. There's a ton of it, and as first-time parents, it's really hard to figure out what you need versus all the junk that you'll never use. Couple that with the fact that every baby is different and that for every person who swears by one product, there's another person who tells you to avoid it at all costs, and pretty soon you don't know what to do.

When faced with the question of baby gear, I did what I do best and researched, maybe a little too much. On just one day early in my pregnancy I received three recommendations for the book Baby Bargains, which is to baby gear what What to Expect is to pregnancy reading. Every expecting parent has read it, and there are copies to borrow. So, our neighbor Mimi immediately loaned me her copy and I went to work flagging pages for big-ticket items like cribs, strollers, car seats and baby carriers. Matt was tasked with some Consumer Reports online research as well. In the end we discovered that if it's a big-ticket baby item sold in America it meets reasonably strict safety standards. (The only exception I personally believe exists to this rule is for IKEA cribs, which were eerily pulled with little explanation from the American market last month. Just this week two new IKEA cribs have been introduced in American stores, but I'm skeptical enough that we're staying away.)

In addition to reading portions of the Baby Bargains book (reading the whole thing would make your head explode), I also started polling the approximately one-third of my friends who have one or more kids. I received numerous emailed lists of baby registry suggestions friends had made for me as well as lists friends had received from other friends during their pregnancies. This is chain mail at its best.

Not surprisingly, I started to get really conflicting information, but certain patterns did emerge. While in L.A. with my brother's family we noted their strollers and feeding supplies. While in Argentina with our friends Dawn and Jon we got to know their toys and decided if we could put up in the long term with the noises emanating from these devices. Over time, certain brands and products emerged as consistently recommended by both the Baby Bargains book and real people whom we know and trust: Maclaren, Ergo Baby, Graco, BumGenius. Also the recommendations for what you need versus what you'll probably never use started to become more consistent.

Baby Bargains also devotes a section of its book to detailing the differences among various stores' baby registries. Some stores truly have horrific return policies, which for me seems like a big reason to stay away. With all the knowledge in our arsenal, we ultimately decided to register at Buy Buy Baby.

Disclaimer: I almost did not register here because I absolutely despise the store's name. Seriously? Mass consumerism at its worst. But, despite its horrible name, here's why it's awesome.

1) Although Buy Buy Baby does not have a ton of locations (I want to say there are approximately 40 nationwide), it does have one in Springfield, Va. and one in Rockville, Md., both of which are in the D.C. area.

2) It has an extensive website which also includes items not carried in the brick and mortar stores.

3) It carries every single brand we were looking for, which cannot be said for any other registry option that also includes brick and mortar stores. (Yes, we could register at Amazon, but we wanted a physical store as well as a good online presence.)

4) STORE COUPONS! Buy Buy Baby is owned by Bed Bath and Beyond. You know how much I love and stockpile Bed Bath and Beyond coupons, as do most people I know. You can use any non-expired Bed Bath and Beyond coupon at Buy Buy Baby. There are Buy Buy Baby coupons as well, though so far in my experience those have just been $5 off $15 or more. There are, of course, exclusions. You cannot apply coupons when purchasing certain high-end brands, but these particular brands change depending upon exactly what the fine print says on that particular coupon. So, for example, one coupon might exclude Ergo Baby, but another coupon might not. Confusing, but worth the investigation. The one caveat: store coupons can always be used in store, but they cannot be used online. They can, however, be used when ordering over the phone, so phone orders seem like a great way to go.

5) COMPETITORS' COUPONS! Buy Buy Baby will take virtually any coupon under the sun. Obvious competitors' coupons include stores such as Babies R Us. But, if you want to buy baby clothes at Buy Buy Baby and you bring in a Macy's coupon they'll take it because Macy's sells baby clothes.

6) PRICE MATCHING! Again, Buy Buy Baby will match prices from any other competitor. But here's where Buy Buy Baby absolutely destroys the competition: they'll even price match Amazon and Costco. Insane, right? So, for example, the Graco Kensley Pack N' Play on our Buy Buy Baby registry costs $69.99. On Amazon the list price is $79.99, but they're selling it for $62. Matt and I don't quite get how or why Buy Buy Baby price matches Amazon or Costco and still stays in business, but we do plan on taking full advantage of this registry feature.

7) A hassle-free returns policy.

Although our registry is still a work in progress, it is mostly complete now that we've had plenty of time to gather information this summer. We tried to follow the classic registry "rules" and have a variety of big and small ticket items from diverse price ranges. Ultimately, though, of the slightly more than 100 items on our registry, the about 70 percent are under $50, and a good portion of those are even under $10. We know that infants only need so much stuff, but we tried to think of the registry in terms of the baby's first year of life and the items we are most likely going to use during that time.

Besides the typical stroller, car seat, baby carrier items you'll find on our registry, we also added:

-Basic white clothing items, like long sleeve side-snap undershirts to keep the baby warm during its winter arrival

-Kiddopotamus swaddle wraps and a Halo Micro-Fleece Sleep Sack for when the baby is no longer cool with swaddling.

-Multiple crib mattress pads, Pack N' Play mattress pads and changing table pad covers, because one thing everyone we know can agree on is the fact that those will get soaked and you'll need extras at 3 a.m. Our current plan is to try out the Pack N' Play as a bassinet during the baby's first few weeks of life next to our bed.

-A diaper bag that doesn't look like a diaper bag, plus an all-in-one diaper carrier and portable changing pad for those times when we don't need an entire diaper bag (or when Matt's flying solo)
 -An extra car seat base so that one can go in Matt's car

-The Lamaze Space Symphony Motion Gym that we absolutely adored during our time in Argentina. Our friends' baby was so mesmerized by this, plus it plays cute Super Mario Brothers-esque music, so we can dig it.

-BOOKS! I think about 12 of the 100 items on our registry are books, but I guess that's to be expected for a baby born to two teachers. In reality, though, books are some of my go-to baby gifts, but I always shy away from buying classics, figuring the parents already own them. So, I put some classics like Goodnight Moon and Pat the Bunny on there to help eliminate any duplicate book worries for anyone who happens to be like me!

-BumGenius cloth diapers with snap closures. Yes, we're going to do cloth diapering, and no we are not insane, nor do we care if you choose to cloth diaper your baby or not. We're doing this more for economic reasons than environmental reasons, too. (When the baby is first born, it will likely be too small to fit into the cloth diapers for a couple weeks, so we'll use disposables at first. And when we travel we plan to use disposables.) We've known enough people who have done this successfully, and with the time I'm planning to take off work this seems feasible. To help make this process easier, we're also planning to get the BumGenius Diaper Sprayer to attach to our upstairs hallway bathroom toilet.
 -Our "wishful thinking" big-ticket registry splurge is the Stokke Tripp Trapp high chair, which we absolutely love aesthetically in addition to the fact that it grows with the child. We know our house will have lots of plastic baby items in it soon, but this is one item we would like to keep around our dining room table for all our future family meals.
Here are the items you won't find on our registry:
-Aden and Anais bamboo swaddle blankets -- we've already been gifted these in an adorable print (that even matches the nursery color scheme...way cool), and they are awesomely soft.

-Baby quilts/blankets -- I have three hand-made quilts from when I was a baby that my mom recently passed along to me. Plus, less than a year before she passed away Matt's grandmother knitted us a beautiful blanket which she gave us at my bridal shower. We've been saving it for a baby, and we are so touched to have this sentimental item to give Baby girl Awesomerod from her great grandma.

-Diaper pail -- we have a secure trash can with a removable pail that will do the trick.

-Baby girl clothes -- we hope to borrow as much as possible from generous friends who've already offered. Plus, we figure people (ourselves included) will enjoy buying reasonable girl clothing.

-A baby swing -- if we decide to use one, we will borrow one.

-Infant bathtub -- ditto to the swing.

-Items that to us seem unnecessary, like a bottle sterilizer or wipe warmer

-Breast pump -- I would like to breast feed, but I know it doesn't work for everyone, and I know that even when it works women change their minds all the time about how long they'll do it for. Since I don't have to worry about pumping at work, I'm going to hold off on a pump and see where my life takes me. If needed, we can always rent one from the hospital. Breast feeding is the great unknown right now (well, there are a lot of unknowns, but that seems like a significant one).

So, while I still feel overwhelmed at times by all the baby gear on the market, I feel like we've made a dent in sorting it all out.

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