Why That Stroller Strains So Many Parents’ Budgets

Miami mom Stephanie Viney, 28, says she chose a pricey UPPAbaby stroller for its many features and sturdiness. Baby strollers come in a variety of styles and price points, from $20 to more than $1,000. (Photo courtesy of Viney.)

No one needs to tell a new parent that raising a child in America is a pricey endeavor.

New parents can expect to spend about $233,610 on a child’s basic needs through age 17, excluding savings for higher education, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

One of the first purchases you’re likely to make as a new parent is a stroller. When it came time for Brooklyn resident JiaYao Liu, 23, and her baby’s father to buy a stroller for their baby boy, now 3, they walked into Babies R Us expecting to spend about $80-$100. They were sorely mistaken.

“I didn’t expect it to be that expensive until I went and I looked,” Liu says.“You just want to carry your child from Point A to Point B, and there are some strollers with a whole bunch of toys on them, and I don’t think it’s necessary.”

The couple ultimately purchased the most-affordable stroller they could find. Liu says it was a store brand and the practical choice, based on her needs. Still, at around $130, it was a little outside their price range.

New Orleans resident Demetra Pinckney, 29, had a similar experience when she and her husband picked out a stroller for their baby registry.

“They have some strollers that are $500, $600,” Pinckney says. “I’m thinking: ‘Oh my goodness. No, I have to live. They have good strollers that don’t have to cost you a whole paycheck.’”

The stroller she picked out and ultimately received as a gift cost about $400.

Over the past few decades the baby stroller has gone from a practical parenting necessity to a luxury item for some, says Paul Hope, senior home editor at Consumer Reports. While you can still find a budget-friendly stroller, an increasing number of new premium models are priced north of $1,000.

“What I think has happened is that we have really seen the emergence of a lot of premium brands and they have become sort of a status symbol,” says Hope.

Why are baby strollers so expensive?

Marketers and manufacturers have capitalized on a ripe market, says David Katzner, president of The National Parenting Center, a parent advocacy organization, explaining why more high-priced strollers have entered the market. The organization has reviewed parenting products since 1990 and this year reviewed its first $1,300 stroller.

“For parents, our testers, the sticker shock is remarkable,” Katzner tells MagnifyMoney. He says the high prices prompt some parents to jokingly ask if the stroller is magical — for the money, can it educate the children, or even change a diaper?

Some parents are willing to spend top dollar even for products that will only be used until their little ones are able to walk on their own.

Miami mom Stephanie Viney, 28, says an expensive stroller is worth it if you have the money to spend.

When she and her husband were getting ready to have their first child, Finn, now 23 months old, they picked out an upscale traditional stroller: the UPPAbaby Cruz stroller, car seat and accessories totalling $1,100 for their baby registry.

“It is definitely expensive once you get everything you need; what sold me on it was the big, easy-access basket underneath,” says Viney. The stay-at-home mother and hairdresser says the stroller has held up well and is practical for her on-the-go lifestyle. “The UPPAs are sturdy strong strollers. You get what you pay for.”

A year after they received their first stroller, the couple shelled out $1,200 to upgrade to an UPPAbaby Vista stroller, large enough to hold both Finn and his four-month-old baby brother.

What you’re getting for the money

The most expensive strollers may be made with premium materials like leather upholstery, have some extra padding in the seat area, larger wheels that absorb shock, cupholders or extra basket space underneath. Viney’s UPPAbaby Vista even incorporates a “piggyback” attachment, which will allow one child to stand and ride along when they’re big enough. She and her husband are both tall, so she says it helps they can adjust the handlebar up and down, too.

“With very premium priced strollers, you might get premium materials and construction [or] the brand name, but there are very few categories of anything we test where paying more gets you more in the way of reliability or performance or even longevity,” says Hope.

How to make an informed stroller purchase

Even for Katzner, who has been reviewing parenting products for over a decade, navigating the stroller industry is at times “very, very confusing.”

“Worst of all is walking a trade show floor when they are all just filled with all the same product,” says Katzner, whose position requires he often attend trade shows where manufacturers display new strollers, car seats, feeding and nursing systems and other baby products.

“In many cases the person in the booth is struggling to show how their stroller is different from the guy next to them,” he says. “You might find as a parent you are in the exact same place. You might say, ‘what’s the difference?’”

Compare and test drive

A stroller is not an insignificant purchase. You’ll need to purchase one just like you would need to purchase a car seat or any other baby items and you will likely use it for a number of years. With many options to consider, your decision may depend on myriad factors.

Whatever you do, don’t let peer pressure be one of them, says Katzner. He advises parents not to simply choose what’s popular or has the best ratings online.

He recommends parents to some online research, take notes, then go test out strollers in person before they settle on a pick.

If you feel pressured to keep up with your peers, keep in mind, Consumer Reports has not found any reason to buy a stroller that costs more than $1,000, says Hope.

While you’re at the store, try any of these shopping tips to help make your decision.

Consider your lifestyle

Stroller options can be categorized into three main families: traditional, jogger, and umbrella. (Though you can find strollers with mixed features.)

What you ultimately choose will depend on how you plan you use the stroller.

If you are very active and plan to exercise with the stroller or take it along with you on tough terrains, you may want to consider a jogger. On the other hand, if you will need to lift the stroller often, you may choose, instead, an umbrella stroller.

“Umbrella strollers are really fabulous for collapsing on the subway or in transit going to the airport,” Hope says.

After her son turned 2, Liu supplemented her first stroller purchase with a $20 umbrella stroller from Target.

“It was difficult because of the subway stations,” she says of her first stroller. “Every time I had to fold the stroller and carry my bags, my son and his bags up the stairs.”

However, many jogging and umbrella strollers can’t be used with children less than 6 months old, because they don’t always accept car seats. That’s why Liu bought the big, chunky stroller, first. Hope says most people opt for the traditional stroller, as it suits most needs.

“Traditional strollers that accept an infant car seat or are compatible are typically the best value,” says Hope. “You’re guaranteed that the stroller will be safe to use with a baby that is under six months.”

Test for ease of use

Put the stroller through a comprehensive test when you’re shopping to test how easy it is for you to use. After all, you’re the one who will be spending the most time with the stroller. Katzner recommends you choose something that makes your life easier.

Everyone will have different determining factors. In general, Hope suggests shoppers check for how it feels to do things like lift the stroller, strap in the child, adjust the backrest or lock the wheel brakes.

In addition, he advises shoppers to take the stroller for a ride to test how easy it is to navigate. Hope suggests going with a small child if you already have one — or ask a friend or family member if you can take their youngster for a test drive — to simulate real-life situations like making tight turns and encountering curbs.

Liu says her first stroller weighed about 10 to 15 pounds, and she could fold and carry it with one hand when traveling in the city. She says a basket underneath also came in handy when she went out grocery shopping or had her son with her and had to bring along a bunch of his things.

On the other hand, the Pinckneys have a pickup truck, which makes it easy to load and unload a bulkier stroller. They also live in a suburban area, where they are less likely to need to lift or fold the stroller.

Look for the JPMA logo

“There is not a whole lot you can look for as a consumer in the way of safety,” says Hope. But, organizations like the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association (JPMA) regulate strollers and they test for a whole host of safety factors, so you don’t have to. Look for the JPMA logo on the stroller box to feel confident the stroller you put your baby in meets today’s safety standards.

Some strollers and online retailers like Amazon.com may display the National Parenting Center’s seal of approval, too. The organization has real parents test and review children’s products on many features, so you can get a sense of what it’s like to actually use the stroller. Although the strollers the NPC reviews are generally already JCMA-approved, the organization notes that its seal of approval does not imply or guarantee product safety.

Question the salesperson

The salesperson’s job is to make sales, but your job is to be a responsible consumer. If you get to the store with one stroller in mind, but the salesperson pushes you toward a different pick, ask why, says Katzner.

“Of course the salesman is going to try to sell you the $600 stroller,” says Katzner. “Put them to the test and ask why. What does it do? What’s the difference?”

In the end, you’ll walk out more confident in your choice having asked all your questions, instead of feeling as if you were coerced into choosing a stroller with features you weren’t interested in, or may not ever use.

Think ahead

Hope says most traditional strollers that carry an infant car seat can be used from when the baby is born until they are about four or five years old; traditional strollers commonly adjust to accept a child that weighs up to about 50 to 60 pounds.

If you plan to have more children, you’ll need to do some forward thinking when choosing your first baby stroller. A durable stroller can go a long way. And, as long as safety standards don’t drastically change, it could serve you for more than one child.

When they had their second child, Viney ran into an issue. She now needed a double stroller, but her UPPAbaby Cruz couldn’t be converted into one.

“Once I realized I got the wrong UPPAbaby I was very upset,” Viney says. Because they already had $500 worth of seats and accessories, they decided to stay with the same brand and get a UPPAbaby Vista — the new stroller and a second seat cost about $1,200.

“The sales guy should have definitely asked if we were going to plan for more kids because when spending this kind of money you want to have it for long,” says Viney.

The bottom line: Don’t follow the crowd

Asked if she would have chosen a more expensive stroller, were money no object, Liu says no.

“If at the time I had more money or wasn’t strapped for cash I would have gone with the same thing. It was practical. It was fine. I have no complaints about it,” says Liu.

Pinckney, on the other hand, says she would choose a more expensive stroller if it had features her current stroller is missing like a tray up top, for parents, or cupholders.

It all comes down to personal preference. Choose the stroller that best fits your lifestyle at the best price point for your budget. Most importantly, pick a stroller that will make your life as a parent that much easier.

“Do not go beyond your means,” says Katzner. “Do not get something that is going to be unwieldy and make your life more difficult.”

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