Babies tend to outgrow things faster than you can say “0-to-3-month-onesie.” That means there are tons of used baby goods out there that have barely been slobbered on. Opting for these hand-me-downs over new items can save you money when you need it most.
It also helps the environment. “We owe it to future generations to take a step back from the consumer culture and think about how these purchases are affecting the planet,” says Katy Wolk-Stanley, who blogs as the Non-Consumer Advocate. “If we can also save money at the same time, all the better.”
The best items to get secondhand
Baby clothes are among the best things to buy or receive used. Many of the onesies that are a buck at thrift stores or free from a loved one haven’t been used at all. Often, babies outgrow their tiny clothes before they can wear them, says Lauren Kay, executive editor of The Bump parenting website. Plus, many parents are gifted new clothes that aren’t the right size or style, she says. So they land in the giveaway pile. As for clothing that’s actually secondhand, each baby who’s worn it has likely done so only a few times.
Aside from clothes, look for used toys and books, which tend to remain in good shape for a while.
Used baby stuff that needs more scrutiny
As a rule of thumb, newer is better for things your baby will sit, lie or put much of their weight on. If you go used, then it’s also safer to receive these items from people you trust, so you know how old the product is. A changing table your neighbor bought new two years ago is probably fine, but who knows about the one on the Goodwill shelf. Wherever you get a secondhand item like this, Google it to check if it’s been recalled, Wolk-Stanley says. Knowing the manufacturer and model name will help you find this information.
Keep in mind that some baby gear, deemed “durable products” by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, must meet certain safety requirements. Think high chairs, infant swings and strollers. Also note that cribs should be manufactured after June 2011, when current safety standards went into effect, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Buy car seats new, if possible. (See AAP’s guidance on used car seats here.)
Where to get used baby items
Check out yard sales, as well as consignment and thrift stores. For the extra frugal, Wolk-Stanley recommends Goodwill outlet stores, where you pay by the pound. Clothing at those outlets is an “incredible deal,” she says. “There’s nothing more lightweight than a tiny cotton baby onesie.” You can also find used clothing, often with tags still attached, on the Poshmark and thredUP websites, Kay says.
Online communities can also be a great source for acquiring stuff for cheap or free. Wolk-Stanley recommends joining a buy-nothing group, in which neighbors give, lend and share items for free. (Check Buynothingproject.org for a group near you.) Nextdoor.com also includes a marketplace for neighbors to give and sell items.
Kay suggests searching Facebook for a parents group in your area, where neighbors sometimes give away goods. She adds that these groups can also help you meet other local parents and receive advice. “It really does take a village,” she says.
Speaking of villages, tap your tribe. Wolk-Stanley suggests letting friends and family members know you’re in the market for hand-me-downs. “People love the stuff they had for their babies,” she says. “They’re tied up with good memories.” So loved ones will likely relish giving these items a good home (and freeing up some closet space). Also, friends and family with young ones are the perfect source for pricier items your baby may love — or hate. For example, Kay’s friend loaned her a bouncer, which Kay’s baby didn’t like. “I thought, ‘Thank goodness I didn’t spend $300 on this,’” she says.
How to inspect secondhand items
Whether you get used gear from Aunt Sally or the Salvation Army, check if it looks safe and relatively clean. Wash everything, Kay says. Most fabric goods can be soaked in a natural solution or thrown in the washer. And many plastic items can be boiled in the same way you sanitize a bottle, she adds.
Whatever you bring home should be in good enough condition to survive a washing and whatever your baby throws at it. Take a pass on stuff that seems too grimy to clean thoroughly, as well as toys that look older than you. (No thanks, lead paint and splinters.)
If the things you got used are still in good shape after your baby has moved on, you know the drill. “The best thing you can do is pass them along again,” Wolk-Stanley says.