Strollers and spreadsheets: a data-driven mom’s guide on what to buy for your first child

Activity Gym

My child with the activity gym she never used.

I’ve been sharing our baby prep process a lot with other moms-to-be lately, so here it is in the interests of helping other parents figure out the whole buying for your first baby thing.

When you’re a super nerd, you prep for a baby just like you would any other major project: with strong research and collaborative spreadsheets. I had a two-step process:

  1. Send a survey to all your parent friends to ask about their experiences, to know what you should and shouldn’t buy.
  2. Create a spreadsheet containing a master sheet of purchases, and a sheet for each type of product you are trying to buy. Log your research and decide on a victorious product.

Now let’s talk a little about each step.


First things first: here is the survey we sent out. If I had done this more recently it would have been a Google Form: so it goes.

Now why send a survey out? Several reasons:

  1. I was already asking all my parent friends the same set of questions — a survey allowed me to ensure I hadn’t forgotten a question, and helped me not interrogate people over and over.
  2. I really wanted to know what our *friends* did, not random people on the internet. The practical experience of real-life friends in parenting is so much more valuable, because your friends actually share your same outlook and values, and so their decisions on stuff are much more likely to be applicable to your own life.
  3. Lots of our friends don’t live in Vancouver, and an email survey let them all participate.

And a couple of notes on how we applied the survey:

  • we promised all responses would be private
  • we offered the option of answering the survey through phone or an in-person chat instead, and in-person chats turned out to be lots of fun! We got to visit our friends’ houses and see how they set everything up, and our friends got to wax on expertly on being parents, so it was win-win.

In hindsight, the survey was one of the best things we did in the early stages. Having a diversity of responses to the same questions helped me see there was a huge range of possiblities for tackling common parenting issues. I know Buzzfeed now has a giant 100,000 person survey on do’s and don’ts for baby purchasing, but there’s still no research like the experience of those living in similar experiences to you.


Here is a modified version of the spreadsheet we used.

Each spreadsheet has columns headed with our desired criteria: then all we had to do was fill in the boxes with info and make a decision. All credit goes to my husband who is truly the master spreadsheet maker in the family.

The survey already will help narrow down what you might want to get. The next key step in compiling your research, though, is knowing what’s actually available to buy.

That means researching what stores are in your area (or what online stores you want to buy from) and identifying the range of products they carry — then only comparing the products that they have in stock. There’s no point in looking up products that aren’t carried in stores available to you.

A couple of other notes:

  • Back in 2011 when we were making this list, the best place for comprehensive reviews of strollers and other equipment was BabyGizmo.com. They feature videos so you can actually see everything in action, which is super helpful.
  • Do some creative googling and look up advice from people in similar situations to you to find equipment advice. For example, since we live in a small space in an urban environment, advice from New York mom bloggers was very helpful in determining which strollers to buy and which compact equipment to use.
  • Our spreadsheet has actually got too much stuff on it - some items we never even bothered with in the end, like a rocker or an exact number of onesies.


A few other things to keep in mind:

  • Big lesson: TRY TO BORROW AS MUCH STUFF AS YOU CAN! You’re only going to use most of this stuff for six months-ish, so if you can, it’s way easier to borrow things like car seats for limited times. Parents are always looking to offload their old kid stuff anyway! Also, buying secondhand is also a great option: most baby stuff is in practically new condition by the time a kid outgrows it, so why bother buying new? Make sure to check out this post for tips on places to buy kid stuff used. Also it’s sustainable if that floats your boat. 
  • Hedge your bets by buying less rather than more, since you have no idea what your baby will be like and what they will prefer (don’t listen when your coworker or friend insists that babies need a certain item, you really just won’t know!). For example, we went out of our way to buy these fancy space age glass baby bottles, thinking that we’d get her to use them, and it turned out our baby just hated all bottles and never wanted to use any of them. GREAT.
  • Even though you are a parent, you are still a functioning adult with distinct preferences —ergo don’t buy stuff that you hate and find unpleasant to use, because it will not somehow become tolerable because you are a parent. You also can buy non-baby stuff and repurpose it for kid uses. For example, 10-packs of microfibre cloths from Canadian Tire were by far the best baby product I bought, and you can keep using them practically forever!
  • Try to buy stuff that has a dual purpose, so things don’t become detritus the minute your kid outgrows it.
  • Take note of the season when your child will be born and acquire clothes accordingly - i.e.: you won’t need a giant newborn winter coat if your baby is born in June, unless you live on Baffin Island.
  • They will not need toys until 9 months onward, really.

Good luck!

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