Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Car Seats: Cents & Sensibility

Have you seen what car seats cost?  It's crazy how expensive some of them are!  Yes, you can get car seats with loads of bells and whistles and doodads.  Guess what...you don't need all that!  At the end of the day, you need a car seat that is safe.  That's it.  Safe.  From there you can decide what is convenient that you think you really want (notice I didn't say need).

When we were picking out our infant car seat, we decided to get a carseat/stroller combo.  That way our car seat would fit in the stroller when needed, and a combo is usually cheaper than buying the pieces separately.

When I was about halfway through my pregnancy, Colin and I went to Babies R Us and spoke to the employee who worked in the car seat section.  We told him we wanted an affordable option and asked what he recommended.  He gave us an economic suggestion (which in the end we liked and chose) and his top (more expensive) suggestion.

We picked a car seat that was safe but not overly fancy.  The stroller was also simple.  There were just a few things I wanted the stroller to do.  I wanted it to be easy to push back and forth (looking for wheels that wouldn't stick), have an area at the bottom to stick a bag, and I wanted cupholders for me (at the top) and for the child (at the seat).  Some strollers don't have cupholders, and that was a deal breaker for me on some options.

We also picked blue.  Yep, blue.  Not pink, even though we were having a girl.  What were we thinking?  Well, I'm not a huge fan of pink things.  I like pink clothes and decor, yes, but some pink baby items are just not my thing.  Blue is my favorite color.  We picked a soft, subtle blue/grey/yellow print.  If we decide to have another child one day, we will most likely be using the same car seat and stroller for that child.  Blue works great for a boy or a girl.  Yes, you can use pink or whatever color you want for a boy, but generally speaking, I wouldn't pick pink for a boy.  Using the same combo for another child would save us a ton of money.

The great thing about most infant car seats is that they snap into a base.  It makes it so easy to take the seat in and out of the car, which is what you do a lot with an infant.  We got a second base for a second car, so we could move the seat from car to car without having to unlatch the base every time.  It's affordable and something I recommend.

My daughter at 18 months is still in the infant car seat.  Why?  Well, she is still supposed to be rear facing, and she hasn't outgrown the size requirements for that seat.  If you have questions about rear/front facing and when to move to a new seat, this article from Baby Center is worth checking out.

We just recently bought a convertible car seat.  Why?  To prepare for when Harlow is ready to move to a new seat, and because we got it for such a good deal!  I think this is when parents really wind up spending a lot of money.  When they go to pick out a convertible seat, they're drawn in by the colors, padding, pillows, cup holders, whim whams, and doodle daddles (those are things, right?).  I have read a ton of reviews and articles.  Here are a few things I've come across from numerous reviews:
  • If your car seat has all the accessories you can imagine, it's likely the car seat will be bulky and heavy.  That means it will be difficult to carry from car to car.  Most convertible car seats don't have bases like infant seats, so you will have to completely unbuckle it from the car to move it.
  • The above also means it will take up more space in the car.  It may limit how far back your front seats can move.  It may make it a tight fit for someone to sit in the back seat beside the car seat.
  • Cupholders can get really messy and cause more of a headache than help.
  • The more pieces/fabric/etc. there are to the seat, the harder it is to clean.
I did want a cupholder for our car seat, but I found one that has a folding cupholder, so it can only be used when I want it to, and it is easier to clean.

I found a convertible seat with great safety, comfort, and size reviews.  The regular price is under $70!  I was able to get the car seat ordered and shipped for less than $42!  Can you believe it?  Amazon had it in their warehouse deals, because the box was damaged.  It was a brand new seat that happened to have a damaged box (that will just get thrown away anyway).  I'll take it!  I found the exact same car seat online at Walmart on permanent rollback for less than $48.

Here are a few suggestions I have when you start picking out a car seat (or stroller):
  • Don't get too caught up on design.  I hate to tell you that most people who will see your stroller are strangers who won't even notice and especially won't care.  Both the car seat and stroller will get dirty and worn with use.  A few compliments really aren't worth the hefty price tag.  And I mean all of this in the nicest way :).
  • Keep an eye out for sales.  I started looking for a convertible seat a few months ago.  About once or twice a month, I look on a few sites to see if anything has come up at a great price.  It really doesn't take a ton of effort, but it saves a ton of money.  I have always found the best prices online and not in stores, including Walmart online and Babies R Us online.  They have inventory online that is cheaper and not kept in stock in the store.
  • Read reviews.  This does take some time and can get overwhelming.  I've had to tell myself not to overthink it.  I read reviews to see what people like and don't like to see if the item is a good fit for what we want.
In the end, only you know exactly what you want and need.  I just hope this can assure you that a great seat can be affordable.  Don't get caught up in the allure of things that really don't matter.  If you live on a small budget like we do, your car seat shouldn't be a burden to buy and shouldn't cause debt or credit card interest.  I really do mean all of this in the most encouraging way possible.  I want you to feel a sigh of relief to know that you can keep your child safe even on a budget.

I also want to note that I am in no way an expert on car seats.  This post is strictly to inform you of our journey in finding seats.  I have not linked directly to what seats we have, because I don't want you to be influenced to buy something you don't like or to send any signals about a certain brand or seat.  Please ask a store associate (that specializes in car seats) and/or read online reviews.  After you purchase your car seat, you can go to your local fire department for them to correctly install it in your car.  Isn't that nice?!

I hope this helped, and I hope you know I love you even if you spring for that $800 stroller combo :).

Sidenote: We have a cheap (like $20 or less) umbrella stroller, too.  It's great for neighborhood walks or for when we don't have a lot of room in the car to pack the big stroller.  It doesn't have cupholders or a place to store a bag, but that's the point of a compact stroller.  We use it all the time.  Just thought I'd let you know you might want to spring for an umbrella stroller. :)

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