Interview with a Savings Expert - Sandra Gordon

Are you a new parent? Do you worry about what products are best for your baby? Do you wish you could just ask an expert all of your questions? Well, we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to do just that.

Sandra Gordon has writes about baby products, saving money, as well as health and nutrition for some of the most trusted resources around – including authoring the Consumer Reports Best Baby Products. If you ever Google a question – you would be fortunate to find her answer. Read our interview with Sandra and learn more about her story, expert parenting tips, and how you can save money while raising a newborn. 

In addition to your own site, BabyProductsMom.com, you have written for some of the terrific sites publications including ShopSmartMag.org and the Harvard Medical School. What inspired you to start working as a writer?

Growing up in Nebraska, I wanted to write for magazines in NYC. Fast forward to my junior year of college at the University of Nebraska, in Lincoln. Over the summer that year, I interned at Walt Disney World in Florida. Disney World has a college program that entails living in a place called Snow White Village with hundreds of other college students, working at the park, and attending Disney University once a week. It was lots of fun and just a wonderful experience because I got out of Nebraska and met lots of students from all over the country. I wrote about my experience and SEVENTEEN magazine bought it. With that clip in hand (after graduating and spending an obligatory year in law school), I headed to NYC and landed a job as an editorial assistant at Glamour magazine. What can I say? Disney World changed my life.

Much of your writing focuses on health, nutrition, baby products, and saving money (a personal fav!). Where does your expertise stem from?

My expertise stems from interviewing lots of experts, which means physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and registered dietitians for my health and nutrition pieces, and money-saving types for my budget work. With baby products, Consumer Reports wanted the mother of young children to write the 8th edition of their book, "Consumer Reports Best Baby Products." I ended up writing the 8th, 9th and 10th editions and spending lots of time in this "space." I discovered that there really aren't many baby product experts out there per se, so over the years, I've sorta become one. One of my missions is to help new parents gear up safely and inexpensively.

You have two children of your own. What is the best piece of advice you ever received that every mom should know?

When my second daughter, Amelia, was about 2, she did something that my mom didn't like. I'm not sure what it was. Mom was visiting from Nebraska and we were driving somewhere, with Amelia and Mom in the back seat. Instead of getting mad, Mom said, "You don't get my attention." then turned her head in a mock huff. Over the years, that incident has stuck with me. Attention is everything to kids. It's parental currency. Anyway, I try to keep Mom's example in mind whenever I'm trying to reinforce good behavior and get my girls to stop doing the annoying stuff.

Between friends, family, and fans, you must get hundreds of questions. What is the most common question you get asked and what advice do you give?

One of the most common questions I get asked is, "What's the best stroller?" I have a lot of personal favorites, but the answer isn't so simple. You really have to drill down and think about your lifestyle. Will you be using the stroller in the city, and taking it up and down subway stairs? Or in the suburbs, where you'll be strolling around your neighborhood or lugging your stroller in and out of your car? Everyone wants to cut the process short and just get what their best friend/sister/co-worker recommends. 

Even though word of mouth and online reviews are powerful motivators, I encourage new parents to put stroller recommendations through their personal filter and then do their homework by actually going to the baby superstore and taking strollers for a spin. Even if you end up ordering online, you can learn so much just by getting your hands on actual strollers before you buy.

In the description of your book, Save a Bundle: 50+ Ways to Save Big on Baby Gear, you state that most parents spend over $14,000 on their children in the first year alone – wowzer! What are a few of the biggest costs new parents face that they may not realize before having a kid?

Diapers and formula can really add up, each costing thousands of dollars by the time you're done with them. And don't get me started on the cost of daycare. And itty bitty rompers and onesies are so cute. It's hard to anticipate these sorts of costs before having a kid. But kids are a game changer, financially and every which way. 

In addition to using coupons, can you share a few easy techniques to cut the cost of raising a baby?

First, if you're going to have a shower, register for everything you'll need for your baby's first year. Put practical stuff on this wish list, including diapers, diapers and more diapers, and formula, if you'll be using formula. And really hone this wish list, as if you're paying the tab yourself. Tailor it to your lifestyle and do your homework by going to the store and getting a good feel for the products. If you're not sure about something, don't put it on your registry. 

Back to formula: If you use formula, use up all the freebies that will come to you every which way, then buy store brand formula and register for store brand infant formula too. It's just as good as name brands because infant formula is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. By law, store brand formula has to be nutritionally equivalent to name brands. Store brands are everywhere--at the supermarket, WalMart, CVS, Target, CostCo. Store brand formula costs 50% less, saving up to $1,000 during your baby's first year. If you won't be using formula, breast feed for as long as you can because it's free. 

Give reusable diapers a try too, and see if you can use them at least part of the time, like on weekends, to cut diapering costs. Also, don't feel that you have to be completely set before your baby is born. You can buy stuff as the need arises. If your baby needs to be constantly held, for example, then go out and buy a soft infant carrier. And keep in mind that you can register for money at sites such as depositagift.com. When you've got a new baby, money always comes in handy.

You literally wrote the book on the Best Baby Products for Consumer Reports, reviewing hundreds of products. What is one big ticket item that is really worth the money?

A decent car seat. Car seats are regulated by the federal government so technically, a $50 car seat should be just as safe as a $250 one. And a $50 one is completely fine. But some manufacturers are going over and above government regulations, to make car seats even better than they have to be. There's no side-impact safety standards for car seats, for example. But some manufacturers are marketing car seats with this added safety feature, and advising the government on what this safety standard should be. Seats with added safety features like side-impact protection cost more, but if you can afford it, I'd spring for one of these seats.

What about the flip side. What is one thing that people frequently spend too much on?

Itty bitty rompers and onesies are so cute, but they can be pricey, especially if you buy designer brands. For some parents, baby and toddler clothes are even kind of addicting. But babies and toddlers grow so fast, they won't wear anything for long. So don't spend big bucks on baby clothes. Don't register for them either. Clothes are the number one new parent gift, so just let the bounty roll in. And don't be afraid to shop secondhand for clothes, especially holiday wear. But inspect used clothing. They should either be new or look like new to you. No loose buttons or appliques (radar: choking hazards), or loose threats, which can get wound around a baby's finger.

I feel like my Facebook feed has transformed from pictures of friends at parties to a stream of baby photos. Do you have any advice for those of us shopping for baby shower gifts on a budget?

Don't be afraid to give practical stuff, like diapers. And if the new-baby parents have a registry, use it. So many gift givers think they're being creative when they go off-list, but that can backfire. New parents tell me that's how they ended up with 15 hooded towels--everyone thought they were buying something no one else had thought of. If there are big-ticket items on someone's registry, like a stroller, car seat or crib, don't be afraid to crowdsource this purchase and ask others if they want to go in on that item with you.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your expertise with our fans! Any last words of advice for people trying raise children on a budget?

Yes, have a budget. So many people don't have one. I think it's a good idea to track your spending for a month by writing it down or tracking it on your iPhone to see where your money goes. That shows you where you can cut back. For me, it's food shopping. I'm always trying to sharpen my grocery shopping skills because at this stage in life, my girls, who are now 12 and 14 and competitive swimmers, are big eaters. I'm amazed in the supermarket, for example, when the person right next to me reaches for the not-on-sale orange juice. I want to say, "Hey, look here. This brand is on sale and there's even a coupon in the supermarket circular for an additional $1 off."

I think saving money first starts with awareness. Then it becomes kind of a game. How can I get great stuff for less money? Coupons help and just basic planning, like an idea for at least three dinners for the week ahead when you head to the grocery store, and having a list and sticking to it.

Like this interview? Check out the rest of our Interview with a Savings Expert series. Have a question for an expert or someone you want to see interviewed? Tweet your suggestions with #SavingsExperts to @CouponPal!

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