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Car Seat Regrets: How I could have avoided spending $1000 on car seats

By my estimation, when my two children (currently 4 and 2 years old) are done with car seats, I will have spent over $1500 on securing these little suckers into the back seats.  Recently, I purchased my 4 year old daughter a new convertible booster car seat, which will be the 5th car seat of her lifetime.  This latest car seat is the best and by the end of this post I will explain what I would have done differently and why I would recommend our newest car seat to any father with children under the age of 3.

Oh, where did the money go.  Like I said in the opening, I’ve spent a lot of money on car seats.  How? Well, first we started with the infant car seat and base – for first-time Dads, this is a system where there is a docking base that straps to the car’s seat and the infant seat snaps into the base and can be transported out of the car with a handle.  This car seat was a bridal shower gift and was reusable for our two children, so I really can’t count that as an expense.  But I did have to buy an extra car seat base and for many people this is where the car seat dollar drain begins.  Average car seat base is about $50 – we used/recommend the Graco Snugride.

Fast forward, when the child is too big for the infant car seat and now it’s time for a toddler car seat.  I did my usual investigation for these and landed on a Britax Marathon seat because of its ratings and it just felt superior to the other brands.  Of course, it also averages around $250 per seat.

Many families can get by with just 1 car seat, but these things are a pain the ass to transfer between cars and with my wife and I trading responsibilities on pickup and dropoff routines, we had to buy another one.  There goes another $250.

Fast forward some time and baby number 2 comes along.  For the first year or so, not a huge issue – we had our children close enough in age that we could reuse the infant car seat (but please note that these car seats have expiration dates and depending on the time between uses, it may not be a good idea to recycle).  But, when it was time for my youngest daughter to jump into the toddler car seat, we needed to expand once again.

Luckily, we had a friend whose youngest just moved to a booster seat and had an extra toddler seat for us, but we still needed 1 more for the other car and to support the aforementioned pick-up/drop-off juggling.  There goes another $250.

Fast forward 2 years and my older daughter (now 4-and-a-half) is itching to get out of the toddler seat and into a booster seat.  This is where the recent part of the story picks up.

I had done some research online for booster seats and found that a variety of them existed but didn’t realize that many of them can support multiple phases of use.  What does that mean?  Well, the critical features with a toddler car seat are the Latch system for clipping the seat into the built-in hooks in cars and the 5-point harness system of belts/clips.  With booster seats, the whole idea is that you are moving the child into using the car’s seat belt instead of the clips.  My nephews and nieces are all in booster seats, which I had always seen as being a restaurant-style booster, either with a back or not, but always using the car’s seat belt.

Little did I know that some of the nicer (and more expensive) “3-in-1“ convertible booster seats offer an option to start with toddler seat equivalent Latch and 5-point harness system and then transition to using the car’s belt instead.  In fact, these seats not only offer an ability to remove the toddler seat belts/clips and replace it with the car’s seatbelt, but they also have an option to remove the back of the car seat to provide a bottom-only, backless booster seat.  Quite the metamorphosis and one that can change in parallel with the child as she grows.

So there I am looking at this nice new Graco Nautilus booster seat that I just purchased $200 and thinking, “Why the hell didn’t I just buy this from the beginning?”  I could have bought this when my daughter was ready for the toddler seat and then just had her grow with it for the next 5-7 years.  Instead, I’m out there buying toddler car seats every other year.

Now, the one thing that these 3-in-1 convertible booster seats do not appear to support is the rear-facing position.  Car seat guides and pediatricians will tell you to keep your child rear-facing in the toddler car seat for as long as possible.  So, can these 3-in-1 booster seats completely replace the need for a toddler car seat?  No, not if you’re following the book exactly.  But if you’re like us, we moved our kids front-facing pretty quick in the toddler car seat, so you may end up in my shoes questioning the need for the toddler car seats when these 3-in-1 booster seats are much more practical.  You certainly don’t need to buy multiple toddler car seats for multiple children like I did.

One Response to “Car Seat Regrets: How I could have avoided spending $1000 on car seats”

  1. Victoria says:

    I love this! I drive a 16 year old car and I plan to drive it as long as possible. Most people would consider my car “embarrassing”, but the amount of money I save is definitely worth it! It’s getting me that much closer to paying off my student loan debt, and that’s what matters.

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