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Toddler Gear: When to Skimp or Splurge

This story is part of a bigger MoneyWatch package on when to skimp and when to splurge. Click here to see other stories in the package.

In my last "Skimp or Splurge" post, I discussed how new parents waste $6,000 on infant gear during a baby's first year. Unfortunately, some moms and dads continue to spend freely (and frivolously) throughout the toddler years.

Here's some help for parents looking to scale back and prioritize spending:

When to Skimp
1. Helmets
If your toddler rides around on a scooter or bicycle, you need to look after her noggin. The good news is that you don't need to spend a lot on a helmet to get good head protection. "The Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute bought and tested six helmets-ranging in price from less than $10 to more than $200-and found they performed almost identically on standard impact tests," according to ShopSmart magazine, which is owned by Consumer Reports. Just make sure you purchase head gear that fits well.

2. Toddler Beds
Once your little monkey starts climbing out of his crib, it's time to move him into a big kid bed. But that doesn't mean you have to spend $200 (or more) on a finely crafted toddler bed. Since the shelf life on these tiny cots is so short -- maybe a year? -- you might as well skimp and purchase a $60 frame from Target or Walmart instead.

The reality is that you could save even more money by skipping the toddler bed altogether. That's because Baby Bargains' Alan Fields says little ones can go straight to a twin mattress.

When to Splurge
Classic Toys
Classic toys like building blocks, stacking rings, and peg boards aren't only iconic, they're also safer. Let's face it: toddlers love to put things in their mouths. High-quality, wooden items are less likely to break and cause fewer choking hazards, or have toxic lead paint, according to Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician and co-author of Toddler 411.


Organic Foods
According to a recent government report, environmental toxins may cause more cases of cancer than previously thought. And children are particularly vulnerable since they are so small and their bodies are growing so quickly. One way to protect your toddler is to feed him organic foods. Since they can cost up to 50% more, focus on fruits and vegetables that typically aren't peeled (you want to avoid pesticides) and foods that come directly from animals, including dairy and meat products (so you can steer clear of hormones and antibiotics).

What toddler items did you splurge on?

Stacey Bradford is the author of The Wall Street Journal, Financial Guidebook for New Parents.
Building Blocks image by Holger Zscheyge, courtesy of CC 2.0.
More on MoneyWatch:
Your Baby Registry: When to Skimp or Splurge
Best Cars for Families with Young Children
A Budget Lesson for Toddlers
Five Ways to Spy on Your Day Care Provider
Parents: 3 Family Tax deductions You Shouldn't Miss
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