Monday, July 28, 2008

How much is too much?

I got into a discussion the other day with my friend. We were talking about baby strollers and she said how she was getting rid of her first "travel system" because she's having a second baby. She's getting a double stroller and, I think, a new carseat. Anyway, she was quite pleased that it was going to fetch almost $220. She said, "Well, I did pay $495 for it."

My eyes nearly popped out of my head. "WHAT?" I almost gasped. I tried to keep my composure because I didn't want to appear as though I had never heard of money before. I also didn't want it to seem like my baby was perfectly comfortable wallowing in filthy contraptions from second-hand stores. But I asked her, "Why did you pay $500 for a baby stroller system?"

She said, "Well at the time my first baby was born, this was the one that was listed as THE BEST by Consumer Reports. I just wanted my baby to have THE BEST. I knew it was very expensive and I didn't ask anyone else to chip in on it. I didn't register for it. I just bought it because I really wanted him to have it."

I probably should have shut up. I probably should have respected her right to throw away her money spend her money however she wanted to. But I didn’t.

I asked her, “Do you think that carseat is safer? I mean, don’t all carseats have to pass a basic set of safety standards? Sure the more expensive one has more padding, maybe it’s stain resistant or something, and it reclines or whatever. But basically what makes it the BEST?”

She told me that she just really liked that stroller and since it was her first baby she wanted something special for him that she gave him. Me, I’d go for something personal like a scrapbook or maybe a baby toy that was my own as a baby. But that’s just me.

Later, I felt terrible. Who am I to judge how a mom spends her money for her child. And it’s not like she was spending money on THE BEST cigarettes or something like that. She wanted to protect her baby. What could be wrong with that?

But once again, it caused me to think about the baby industry. I really considered how much they play on mothers’ emotions and tie those emotions to their pocketbooks. Some facts are just facts: One stroller may have thicker padding and easy recline and a larger sunshade. But once a mommy starts to see “Better UV protection for your baby’s sensitive skin” and “The most comfortable ride for your baby” and “Your baby’s safety is our #1 priority” their best intentions turn to mush. Especially first-time mommies.

And, here’s proof. Although I knew all this and could justify it all in my head, I still felt guilty that I had opted for the near-cheapest carseat at Wal-Mart. It had everything I needed but nothing more. It was safe and it latched easily enough for me, so I snagged it. I never even thought about reading Consumer Reports. I thought, Do I care less about my child’s safety than that mom? See, even though I know something in my head, I still got an ache in my heart about it. The consumer industry knows all too well that there are few consumers easier to swing into spending money than a mom looking to do right by her kids. It makes me mad. And it makes me think. And, I hope, it makes me a little more aware of my place in this consumer-driven world.


Bridgett said...

Oh it's so hard for first time mamas! It is bewildering. I was lucky in some ways, with my scrubby dutch background making me totally uninterested in a $500 stroller. But I still *registered* at Babies R Us. Debated bassinets and jogging strollers and glider rocking chairs. In the end, I was a total hippie mama, but the first few months of baby #1, I was totally sucked in.

Angie @ KEEP BELIEVING said...

You are spot on about this - playing to the heartstrings of mothers. The formula makers do the same thing - as though the generic formula (which is one of the most regulated foods on the market) is something only crack moms would buy. Even WIC and such covers the most expensive formulas and juices and baby foods.

All industries do this, though. It is up to each consumer to look back and say, "whatever, I am not falling victim to this."


Elizabeth said...

I kind of think that it's part playing on emotions but it's part actual testing. I totally checked out consumer report stuff and got one of the safest ones and only spent just over $200 or less for a whole system. I will use it for subsequent children as it lasted well. I wanted as good as I could get for what we could afford...I could never have purchased a $500 set so it wouldn't have worked for me financially but we went with the best for the $ on the safety items and on other things (ie: crib, furniture, decor, shelving) I got used on craigs list, goodwill, and so forth. We just balanced the new with the used and we didn't over do it at all. While I think $500 is a lot of $...if she's getting $220 out of it...that's a great deal in the long run. :-) I don't think it makes a mom less interested in safety at's just what touches a mom most & what helps her sleep at night better. Know what I mean?

Moxy Jane said...

So true. For our first child, we visited Babies-R-Us, because it was the thing to do. After about 20 minutes we stumbled out, totally intimidated and wondering how in the great goodness did we ever make it to adulthood without all that crap?!

I still have pangs...I still get jealous. But, I, like you, then also realize that it's all marketing and emotional manipulation. I don't love my children less because we shop for second hand everything. In fact, that's part of the lessons we're trying to impart..Reduce, ReUse, Recycle. The earth is covered with enough junk...please don't add more!

It's really tough to be a parent. I guess we're all just doing the best we can.

Moxy Jane
Austin, TX