Not Buying It

Stop Overspending and Start Raising Happier, Healthier, More Successful Kids


By Brett Graff

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This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around March 29, 2016. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Most parents will do just about anything to secure happy lives and bright futures for their kids. Add in competition with other parents and near-constant pressure, their drive to give their kids the best of everything can backfire, setting back the child and the household finances. 

Brett Graff, "The Home Economist," exposes how overspending can harm children by setting back intellect and encouraging narcissism, depression and unhealthy or unsafe habits. By unearthing research on pricey baby gear, oversized houses, so-called "educational" toys and after-school lessons, expensive sports equipment and private coaching, even certain organic products and unregulated "natural" medicines—she even has eye-opening findings on private schools versus public schools—Graff proves that we can spend too much getting our kids ahead and wind up instead setting them back. 

Not Buying It proves that sound, rational decision-making about spending is far more beneficial for our kids than purchases made out of fear, pressure and confusion. With Graff's guidance, you'll confidently create the financial strategy that's best for your family, not the one pushed by marketers or practiced by your neighbors. Not Buying It is your blueprint for emotional and financial freedom, and the stability your children deserve. 



Starting Out


Save Estimated $6,428.19


The Stuff You’ll Skip

Stroller: $650.00

Bottle warmer: $39.99

Wipes warmer: $29.00

Infant sleeper set: $129.00

Video baby monitor: $239.99

Stroller fan: $19.99

Play yard netting: $8.99

Stroller seat cover: $59.99

Diaper stacker: $24.99

Infant swing: $159.99

Infant bouncer: $249.99

Air purifier: $169.99

Stationary entertainer: $99.99

Classical baby art DVD: $6.99

Baby TV Musical Instruments DVD: $5.99

Classical Baby Dance DVD: $6.99

Total Cash Outlay: $1,901.87

Total Invested Savings after 18 Years: $6,428.19

The editors of a popular baby website have compiled for their large community of moms-to-be a list of the best strollers around. One such model reminded the editorial panel of a transformer, and the group collectively gushed about how you can even charge your cell phone with this bad boy. This stroller, like nearly all the editors’ picks—including one you can carry on your back (which makes one wonder why you wouldn’t just carry your baby)—costs more than $800.

This may sound old-fashioned, but I think it’s perfectly fine to charge your cell phone at home.

Keep in mind, those baby website editors—and also their readers who are presumably weeks away from having babies—have every reason to be excited. Becoming a parent is the most thrilling and transforming of all life’s events. Not to mention the one that involves the most responsibility. We’re going to be in charge of tiny, defenseless human beings. And we know it’s our job to protect, nurture, and safeguard our children the best we can. We’re ready to do anything and we’re prepared to buy anything. Just tell us what we need.

That’s the attitude that makes a profit-seeking industry salivate: customers who are emotional, inexperienced, terrified, and deeply committed to the cause for which they’re shopping. All together, in the United States we bought about $5.8 billion worth of baby stuff online1 in 2013 and about $11.9 billion in stores2 that same year, according to research from IBISWorld. We fill our carts with infant merchandise we truly believe is critical for the child’s survival. Never mind that the human race has survived some two hundred thousand years without cell phone–charging strollers.

Not only will our kids endure, but also we can in some cases do a better job of parenting if we calm down long enough to stop adding things to our carts. Yes, we’ll need to buy for our babies—items such as cribs, car seats, clothes, and of course strollers. But while considering our choices, we have to remember that we don’t need every single product on the market. What’s more, the most expensive versions with the fanciest features are not—under any circumstances—safer. They’re not more educational. They won’t make our infants happier.

No matter what we buy, all of it is guaranteed in a matter of two years (maybe three) to evolve into garbage, as your child grows. If you spend too much money on what will soon be a Salvation Army donation—even if you can well afford it today—you likely are taking from your child other things that can really improve her life later on.

Nursery Ready


You must buy a crib, and if there’s a purchase we promise is for short-term use, it’s a bed that by design creates a barrier between the bathroom and your future toilet-trained toddler. This is not an item you will have forever. For now, the one and only feature your infant crib must have is a manufacture date of June 28, 2011, or later. Do not buy your crib at a thrift store; do not accept a hand-me-down. Current safety standards apply only to cribs made after that date. Before that day, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announced forty-six recalls of more than eleven million cribs because they had the potential to strangle or suffocate children.

That’s exactly the kind of statistic that can cause a new parent to panic and buy the most expensive crib available—for safety’s sake. Thing is, spending more money on a crib does not buy you a safer crib. Some very high-priced brands have rushed to return money to customers because they turned out to have dangerous entrapment and suffocation hazards. In October 2010, for example, Ethan Allan recalled its drop-side cribs selling for between $550 and $900 after the company learned the drop side could detach, thanks to malfunctioning hardware.3 One baby became entrapped and two fell out. In July 2010, Pottery Barn recalled its $600 drop-side crib after thirty-six reported problems.4 There were also recalls of lower-priced models. The general problem here was a new drop-side feature that made it easy to reach infants but was discovered to be dangerous. While new federal standards ban drop sides—while demanding slats be stronger, mattresses more supportive, and hardware more durable (find the standards at—one thing is still true: More money doesn’t buy you a safer crib. First, these strict standards apply to every crib for sale in America. That means the $895 Vanessa sold by baby-store-to-the-stars, Bellini, and the $159 Graco sold by website-to-the-unshowered,, have been subject to the same inspection process.

And second, when you look at recent product deficiencies—even after the government called for stricter standards—it was two high-end and two mid-priced lines that were found to trap and suffocate babies. In August of 2014 a Franklin & Ben Mason model—retailing for $700 in stylish colors such as “weathered grey” and “rustic brown”—was recalled for the potential to trap babies.5 And that same year, the slats and spindles (the very reason you buy a crib, it’s worth mentioning) of the $800 Oeuf Sparrow cribs were detaching.6 Parents who chose the most reasonably priced cribs fared better in more ways than one.


To protect against the dangers posed at bedtime you’re likely ready to invest in a baby monitor, big time. The temptation is to choose a model high tech enough to notify you when—if this is even available—your baby drifts throughout the sleep cycles. We’re talking about the kind of equipment employed by spies and secret service agents. If safety’s at stake, who cares what it costs?

Video monitors—some costing $350—make it possible to watch real-time footage of your baby, even sending the action to your smartphone. Others have cameras that can pan to show the rest of the room. They all typically allow two-way communication, so you can even talk to your baby from wherever you happen to be.

But what if the real price is compromised security for your entire family? Because if your camera is hacked—and let’s be very clear, your camera can be hacked—there will be some unwelcome company in your baby’s room. Adam and Heather Schreck told Fox News they were sleeping in their home when they heard a man yelling, “Wake up baby, wake up,” at their ten-month old daughter.7 Heather picked up her cell phone to check the wireless video monitor in the baby’s room and saw the camera was panning, seemingly by itself. Adam raced in and, when he entered, the camera rotated from the baby and aimed itself at him, and he became the target of the hacker’s obscenities.

Even before this story and others like it hit the news, Jeff Weinsier of Miami ABC affiliate WPLG reported on air that he set up a generic video baby monitor receiver in his news vehicle and drove around local neighborhoods.8 The receiver picked up footage of babies in house after house, crib after crib, and monitor after monitor. Passing by some homes he saw sleeping babies, driving by other homes he saw empty cribs. Turns out, watching other people’s babies is even easier than taking candy from them.

If you’re using a monitor that wirelessly uses the Internet to send video to your phone or mobile device, then you may at some point access a public Internet connection, say, at a coffee shop or an airport, explains Michael Peros, chief technical officer for It then takes only simple equipment—in some cases a download—for a hacker to nudge himself between the router and your phone, where he intercepts all the information being sent to you—without you even knowing. Not only will the hacker see everything you see—your baby, for starters and also, say, your emails about when you’ll be away from your baby—but he has access to all the information stored on your device, including your calendar. Putting it all together: He knows what your kid looks like and when you will be on a business trip.

Even monitors that access password-protected wireless Internet connections are not safe, says Peros. Our passwords are easily cracked in seconds by a simple download, usually because they’re pretty short. “The internet was created for sharing information,” says Peros. “Anyone who says ‘it’s secure’ is lying.”

There are video monitors that don’t use the Internet; those are the ones that Miami reporter Weinsier was able to access from his truck. How? Because all baby monitors operate on the same frequency, says Peros. The Federal Communications System demands it; otherwise the monitors would bleed into the frequencies used by burglar alarms or cell phones. And monitors are open and ready to connect. Weinsier demonstrated this frequency phenomenon to the mothers he invited outside after discovering he could see their kids. Most of them vowed to shut their own monitors off for good, wondering out loud how many times they’d been watched themselves. These women were mostly worried about walking around half dressed or breast-feeding, which if you ask me, says a lot about their fine parenting, strong marital relationships, and overall sanity. (I for one shiver at the thought of a stranger listening to my uncensored dialogue.)

We also shouldn’t bother skipping the wireless in favor of cords. Summer Infant had to recall two models of baby monitors with electrical cords after two kids strangled themselves.9 One was a ten-month girl from Washington, DC, whose camera had been placed on the top of the crib rail. And another was a six-month old boy from Conway, South Carolina, whose monitor had been placed on the changing table attached to the crib. Also, a twenty-month-old boy from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was freed in time, but was found in his crib with the camera cord wrapped around his neck.

Another option for nightly baby espionage is a monitor that records your baby’s movements. But again, those darn cords. The ones attached to the Angelcare Movement and Sound Monitor strangled two babies who pulled the cords from under their mattresses and into their cribs.10

The good news is that the traditional baby monitors—the audio kind made by companies including Graco, Safety 1st, Summer Infant, and Angelcare—are still for sale in stores, starting at about $13.99. Monitors are typically handy at night, when we’re sleeping and wouldn’t otherwise hear our baby’s cries, nature’s alerts to the fact that the child needs something. Maybe it’s a changing, maybe a feeding, perhaps a little conversation—babies are fanciful with their late-night requests. But it’s the noise—the audio—that would notify you. Not the video.

Would a streaming video of the kid help you sleep better? News flash: New parents are not afforded the luxury of sleep. But even so, the answer is no, probably not. A video offers some convenience in that you can look up at the monitor while eating peanut butter in the kitchen instead of getting up and walking into your kid’s room. But even if your journey to that crib happens to be particularly arduous, it’s also likely productive. Who is the better cop: the one in the security office with her feet up, glancing occasionally at a monitor? Or the one checking things out in person, shining a flashlight and peeking around? Wouldn’t that cop be more likely to notice something awry? Perhaps the crib sheets are too loose or someone left the window open?


One Step Ahead tells you on every page of its website that the company is “helping you raise happy, healthy kids.” And yes, that’s true in that the company designs and manufactures products that can—if used properly—be very helpful. That’s what the slogan means. But, their engineers are not in your home, lending a hand at bath time. And the products do not operate on their own. And in June 2013, the company’s Chelsea & Scott bath seats were recalled for failing to meet safety standards.11 In fact, from late 2012 to 2013, over thirteen models of bath seats—including those by Dream on Me12 and Thermobaby13—were found to tip over.

Let’s be clear: Bath seats themselves will not harm our children. On the contrary, bath seats allow us to wash the kids with two hands. But a super high-end bath seat with thick suction cups, plush cushions, and play toys may give an adult the kind of false sense of security that lets her rush to shut off the oven or check a text. More than 471 babies less than twenty-four months old died in bathtubs between 2006 and 2010, according to a report from the Consumer Product Safety Commission.14 Another 191 kids were injured. The most common reason, says the report, is that the children were left alone while caregivers figured for just one moment they could tend to other activities. A strong and expensive bath seat would not have saved them. An on-site adult, on the other hand, would have.

You know better than that, you’re thinking. You’d never leave your baby unattended. But is anyone else going to bathe your child? Grandparents? Aunts? Babysitters? Are you 100-percent-super-triple-quadruple sure?

Today bath seat standards are stricter. They’re supposed to tip less easily. But the Number One change is in the size of the label—it’s bigger—warning you to watch your kid. We can spend as much money as we like, but (1) we need a human adult in that room at all times, (2) we’ll still toss it in five months—shorter than your pregnancy—and (3) like cribs, all bath seats must adhere to the same federal safety standards.

Car Seats

If you want to protect your child from death, then car seats are totally the way to go. When it comes to automobile accidents, car seats reduce the risk of death to infants by 71 percent, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and reduce the risk of death to toddlers by 54 percent.15

Heather Darby, child passenger and safety coordinator at the Minnesota Department of Public Safety, says to consider two things without fail. First, she recommends buying the best-fitting seat for our children—height and weight limits for each model are listed on the box. And second, we absolutely have to choose the seat we find easiest to install.16

The most expensive car seat won’t provide more safety, though it may cause confusion that could be dangerous, says Darby. See, regardless of whether a car seat costs $50 or $500, all makes and models are required by federal law to follow the same strict safety standards. Though more cash might get you thicker padding that could come in handy on day-long drives, these models may also have additional seat belt glides or seat belt locks that make installation more difficult. There’s one detail to which you must attend before your car seat can perform its life-saving mission: making certain it’s properly installed in the car. You wouldn’t pull a television from a box, stick it on a table and expect it to work—no matter how much you paid. Same thing with your car seat.

Yet still, the CDC found over 72 percent of car seats were misused in a way that could be expected to increase a child’s risk of injury during a crash.17 There are many degrees of ineptitude here, so we’ll start at the very beginning: Simply tossing it in the car without any proper and secure attachments or—it’s hard to believe we’re going here—neglecting to strap in the child is equivalent to not having a seat at all.

But even minor missteps can be deadly. If the seat belt isn’t locked or the lock isn’t secure, the car seat will swing wildly in a crash. If we route the seat belt through the wrong tracks, which can happen if, say, the car seat is convertible from rear- to front-facing and maintains distinct routes for each installation, the car seat will not work to its maximum potential.

If your car was built before 1996, then you will need some extra features, most notably a contraption called a “lock off.” This sets the seat belt into lock mode, so in the event of a crash, the car seat doesn’t jar in any direction. Cars constructed after that year are required to have seat belts that lock automatically, which is perhaps something you—like me—already learned when yours for no apparent reason constricted around your neck. The way it’s supposed to work, however, is that after pulled out to its longest capability and then released at the desired length, the belt should lock back into place. If your car was built after 1996, you might want to implement this latch system, which locks the belt in place.

Here’s the good news: Personalized help installing your car seat is completely free. You can ensure that any seat is tightly secured by going to almost any hospital, fire station, or police station. What’s more, hosts more than eight thousand safety inspection events across the country. Their technicians take a four-day course and are trained in car seat installation.

There are also some tips from officials to consider. Keep your child in a rear-facing seat until age two, says American Academy of Pediatrics.18 Your child should not shift more than one inch side to side or out from the seat. The harness material around the baby should be snug. If you can pinch it, it’s too loose. The retainer clip should be at the child’s armpit level, not higher or lower. It also helps to follow state laws about seats, which is not only safe but also cost-effective, as there are fines.

The Laws of Car Seat Safety

The decision to reverse a rear-facing seat or switch to a booster is one governed by state law. The Governors Highway Safety Association ( lists the restraint required by ages and weights on its Child Passenger Safety Laws page:

Feeding Frenzy

I would as a personal opinion say that money for infant formula is well spent, but economists and researchers and doctors—essentially the entire free world—point to the benefits of breast-feeding. The National Resources Defense Council even has a handout, reminding us all that mother’s milk strengthens a baby’s immune system, reduces ear infections, and protects against allergies, dental cavities, and cancer.19

There are also some pretty significant economic benefits, according to the NRDC. Formula costs $800 a year. And what’s more, over the long term, one group of formula-fed infants had $68,000 in health care costs over a six-month period compared to an equal number of nursing babies, which had only $4,000 of similar expenses. Formula feeding also requires buying a collection of products—bottles, bottle cleaners, bottle warmers, and nipples, many of which you’ll never use—which is not a fact from the NRDC but a fact nonetheless (trust me). And it’s only fair to mention that breast-feeders with jobs will need those things too, plus a pump.

Breast-feeding wins by a mile (we get it, we get it), but if we do decide to perform the unthinkable—introducing to our babies’ systems the manufactured nutrients in infant formula—we’ll have to pick a brand to serve. You can seek out prices in stores if you happen to feel compelled to comparison shop. But these companies don’t give you that kind of time. They’re waiting for you at the hospital with samples, hoping to get you at the start of this journey and stick with you until the toddler end.

The good news is that formula produced in this country is going to be a fine blend of milk solids and chlorides and other essentials. The better news? If you wanted to switch to a less expensive brand, that would be very well too. The Food and Drug Administration carefully regulates infant formula, setting minimum amounts of twenty-nine nutrients and maximum amounts for nine of those nutrients. Although manufacturers might vary in their formula recipes, says the Mayo Clinic on its website,20 the FDA requires that all formulas contain the recommended amount—and no more than the maximum amount—of nutrients that infants need.

Raise Them Better for Less

In the unlikely event the theme of the past few pages wasn’t as noticeable as a baby food stain on a new silk shirt: All baby products are required to adhere to the same federal standards regardless of the price stamped on the package. That means selecting the least expensive products—even when doing so for exactly that reason—will not put your child’s sleep patterns or automobile safety at risk. It does not make you less of a parent. It does not mean you don’t care. It means you may not own the occasional unnecessary bells and whistles. It means you will have more money for more important things. (I have a whole book of them here.)

Thing is, even if those features seem attractive—perhaps even critical—in the store, they could make you miserable at home. Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis found that shoppers who chose more expensive, complicated products were more likely to later have buyer’s remorse.21 After a series of four experiments, they learned buyers were overwhelmed with all those features. When it comes time to install them, they really just wished the product would perform the basic function they bought it to do in the first place.

The true gauge of parent wealth might be not the crib the kid owns but the number of words she’s taught. Betty Hart and Todd Risley in 1992 visited homes of families across socioeconomic backgrounds to examine the conversations between parents and children.22 They found that wealthier parents spoke more frequently and more positively to their children. As a result babies on welfare heard about 616 words per hour, while those from working-class families heard around 1,251 words per hour, and those from professional families heard roughly 2,153 words per hour. By the time the kids were three years old, there was a thirty-million-word gap between the kids whose parents were professionals and those on welfare. After follow-up investigations when the kids reached third grade—ages nine and ten—the researchers discovered those who heard more words as babies had made greater academic advances in critical areas such as vocabulary, language development, and reading comprehension. They quickly concluded that the kids who start behind will stay behind.

Parents can do a lot for free. Speaking to our babies is a good start. But we can also accelerate the vocab-building process by including the baby’s name in those sentences, says Heather Bortfeld, a developmental psychology professor at University of Connecticut.23 Babies recognize their own names at about 4.5 months and can then start to use them as anchors that will put other words into context, says Bortfeld. Think about it this way: When you hear people speaking a language you don’t understand—Ukrainian, perhaps—it sounds like a stream of sounds that doesn’t seem to break into words, she explains. But if you happened to recognize one single word, say, weekend, then you can start to figure out the meaning of surrounding words.

It works the same way with babies who don’t understand most of the language but can hone in on their names and words such as Mommy. In a series of experiments, Bortfeld found that six-month-old babies could recognize new vocabulary words that had been anchored to their own names, but not new ones anchored to another name, even though they had heard the two vocabulary words equally as often. They also listened longer to conversations that contained their names, proving they could more fluently process those words (and are as egotistical as we are).

The wonderful news is not only is it in your interest to skip apps and screens and toys, but also you have someone new to listen to all your brilliant remarks in the event your spouse is tiring of them. To teach your child new words, simply speak to her. And you don’t have to be there all day. If you’re dashing off to work, explain to the kid over your quiet breakfast of eggs and juice—hahaha, just kidding—scream to your child over your shoulder (while racing to locate a clean shirt) some of the activities she’ll be doing that day. Tell him what you’ll be having for dinner. Good news: Without the ability to speak back, the kid can’t complain if you change the menu. (Just don’t be surprised if he one day excitedly exclaims, “filet mignon” at the sight of a Chinese takeout container.)

When we get tired of speaking to our babies, we should just ignore them, a practice that also turns out to be highly educational. That’s because infants as young as four months of age who play solo with an adult nearby will learn to think creatively and problem-solve, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.24


On Sale
Mar 29, 2016
Page Count
288 pages
Seal Press

Brett Graff

About the Author

Brett Graff, the “Home Economist,” is a former U.S. government economist and correspondent for Reuters who writes on the psychology of consumer spending. Her writing is published in the Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Kansas City Star, Detroit News, and has been featured in Glamour, Good Housekeeping, American Baby, Redbook, Maxim, Ladies’ Home Journal, First for Women, Cosmopolitan, Women’s Health, and the Los Angeles Times. She has also written for,, the Nest, the Knot, and the Bump.

Her television segment, “The Home Economist,” ran for four seasons on Nightly Business Report, and Brett has made appearances on CNN, CNBC, Headline News, France 2, and each of the Miami ABC, NBC, and CBS affiliates.

Brett is a wife, a mother of two young girls and a recovering PTO officer, where she learned in the trenches that traditional economists are wrong in assuming people are rational shoppers—particularly if those people happen to be parents.

Learn more about this author