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Why That Stroller Strains So Many Parents’ Budgets

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

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.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Brittney Laryea
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Brittney Laryea is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Brittney at [email protected]

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Cities with the Largest CO2 Output Per Household

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

A warming planet can really burn consumers…financially, at least. Climate change has cost U.S. taxpayers $350 billion over the past decade, according to one report from the Government Accountability Office, and that number is expected to swell to $35 billion per year by 2050.

So which households are to blame? We have found that the carbon footprints of households in different cities varies widely, with households in the West spewing more carbon emissions than ones in urban, denser areas.

For this study, we’ve defined carbon footprint as the combined total annual amount of carbon dioxide produced to support the lives of each member of a household. In other words, every time you drive your car, buy groceries or heat your home, you’re adding to your household’s carbon footprint.

The study analyzes the largest 200 metros in the U.S. by population, and measures the annual average annual metric tons of CO2 emitted, per household.

Take New York City, with a population of nearly 14 million. It’s consistently ranked as one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases among U.S. cities, but this study found it has the smallest carbon footprint on an emissions per household basis.

Key Findings

  • Among the top 200 cities that we looked at, Provo, Utah had the largest carbon footprint, spewing a whopping average of 10.55 metric tons of carbon dioxide per household a year.
  • The West dominated the ranking’s top three cities with the biggest carbon footprint, with Ogden, Utah ranking No. 2 — boasting an average annual 10.16 metric tons of CO2 per household. No. 3 was Greeley, Colo., with an annual average of 10.04 metric tons of CO2 per household.
  • In contrast, New York households had the smallest carbon footprint, emitting an annual average of just 5.38 metric tons of carbon dioxide.
  • California is quite climate-friendly. San Francisco had the second smallest carbon footprint, with an annual average of 7.12 metric tons of CO2 per household, followed by Los Angeles, with an annual average of 7.15 metric tons of CO2 per household.
  • In general, wealthier cities with more cars per household had larger carbon footprints, while denser cities had smaller footprints.

Cities with the largest carbon footprints

Our study revealed that cities in the West have the largest carbon footprints. The top five cities with the highest average CO2 emissions per household are:

  • Provo, Utah (10.55 metric tons)
  • Ogden, Utah (10.16 metric tons)
  • Greeley, Colo. (10.04 metric tons)
  • Appleton, Wis. (9.86 metric tons)
  • McAllen, Texas (9.81 metric tons)

Not surprisingly, we found that cities with larger carbon footprints tended to have more cars per household. Transportation is a major factor when calculating a household’s carbon footprint—one study even found that housing and transportation are responsible for more than half of all U.S. household carbon emissions.

Households in Provo which have the biggest average household carbon footprint in our study, own an average of 2.1 cars and travel approximately 25,000 miles annually by car, while only 2% of commuters take public transit. Ogden, with the second-largest carbon footprint, touted similar statistics: Households own an average 2.04 cars and travel approximately 24,000 miles in them annually, while only 2% of commuters use public transit.

Cities with the smallest carbon footprints

In general, dense, urban cities have the smallest average carbon footprints. We found that the top five cities with the lowest average CO2 footprints per household are:

  • New York (5.38 metric tons)
  • San Francisco (7.12 metric tons)
  • Los Angeles, Calif. (7.15 metric tons)
  • Miami (7.65 metric tons)
  • Chicago (7.65 metric tons)

One factor that is likely responsible for cities with relatively small carbon footprints is the widespread use of public transit. Our study found that households in New York City have 1.27 cars and travel 13,000 miles annually (compared to Provo’s household average of 2.1 cars and 25,000 miles of travel). Meanwhile, an impressive 31% of New York City commuters take public transit (compared to Provo’s 2%). The average San Francisco household has 1.66 cars and travels 17,000 miles annually, while only 15% of commuters take public transit.

Another reason for the smaller carbon footprint in big cities can be chalked up to urban density. New York City has the highest residential density score, likely due to the low number of single-family, detached homes in the city. We found that 37% of New York City households were single-family, detached homes, while that number was 67% in Provo and 75% in Ogden. Buildings with multiple apartment units have been known to use significantly less energy than single-family homes.

Why being eco-friendly is financially smart

Going green isn’t just good for Mother Earth. It can actually save you some green, too. Residents in the cities with the largest carbon footprints spent significantly more money on annual transportation costs than those in cities with the smallest carbon footprints. Residents in Provo, for example, spend nearly $16,000 annually on transportation costs, according to our study. In contrast, New Yorkers spend around $10,000 annually on transportation.

Indeed, making the switch from commuting by car to public transit can result in substantial savings. A household can save $10,000 by taking public transit and living with one less car, according to the American Public Transportation Association. It’s also beneficial for the planet; the organization claims that if communities invest in public transit systems, they can cut the country’s carbon emissions by 37 million metric tons annually.

An environmentally cleaner commute isn’t the only way going green can save you money. Cutting down on the energy you use in your home can help, too. Assess how your home is using (and wasting) energy. Sealing uncontrolled air leaks, for example, can save you 10% to 20% annually on your heating and cooling bills, according to the Department of Energy, while replacing your five most-used light fixtures with bulbs that have earned ENERGY STAR status can save you 9% annually on your electric bill.

Other simple steps you can take to reel in your energy bill include regularly examining your HVAC system air filter, reducing the temperature of your water heater to 120 degrees and shutting off lights when you are not using them.

Tips on being more eco-friendly while saving money

There are easy ways you can cut back on the amount of money you spend on energy, while also shrinking your carbon footprint. For transportation, you can:

  • Switch your commute from driving to taking public transit.
  • Bike or walk to work.
  • Carpool with a co-worker.
  • Consider switching to an energy-efficient car.

At home, you can:

  • Adjust your thermostat for when you’re not in the house.
  • Seal uncontrolled air leaks.
  • Switch to LED lightbulbs.
  • Insulate your water heater tank.
  • Fix leaky faucets.

Another way you can have a positive impact on the earth — while also doing yourself a favor financially — is taking a close look at socially-responsible investing.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney analyzed 2017 data from the Center for Neighborhood Technology Housing and Transportation Index.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Sarah Berger
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Sarah Berger is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Sarah here

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Multi-Level Marketing and Military Families: How to Spot a Scam

Editorial Note: The content of this article is based on the author’s opinions and recommendations alone. It has not been previewed, commissioned or otherwise endorsed by any of our network partners.

Being a military spouse isn’t an easy job. Non-enlisted spouses deal with difficult realities that many Americans don’t understand, from frequent relocation to defacto single parenting during deployment periods. That makes earning an income while caring for a family — especially one with young children — extremely difficult.

With challenges like these, it’s no wonder the unemployment rate among military spouses is 13%. That’s more than three times as high as the unemployment rate among civilian men and women.

Enter multilevel marketing businesses, or MLMs for short, that promote the opportunity to make money selling products directly to others. On the surface, their flexibility and built-in community may seem like a godsend to military spouses looking to bring in some extra cash. But are they all they’re cracked up to be?

How MLMs work

Besides selling your own products, MLMs involve recruiting others to join your team and sell products to the people in their circles as well. With most MLMs, you get a portion of your team member’s profits when someone joins your sales network. As the process repeats itself and your team members recruit sales networks of their own, you may continue to get a piece of the profit from everyone who signs up underneath you.

You can probably name several MLMs, also called network marketing companies, off the top of your head. There are the classics, like Tupperware, Amway, Avon and Mary Kay, along with newcomers like Beachbody, LuLaRoe and Rodan + Fields.

Yet although MLMs have been around for decades (or centuries — Avon was founded in 1886), they’re often a poor investment of your time and money. An AARP Foundation study reveals that 74% of people reported making no money or losing money as a result of their involvement with an MLM. (Investing your cash in a high-yield online savings account would actually be a safer bet, statistically.)

Why MLMs are so popular with military families

Military families in particular are often targeted by direct-selling consultants. Sometimes, this comes from a genuine desire to help military families that are looking for an additional source of income, suggested Anthony Kirlew, financial coach at Fiscally Sound.

Yet others believe the intentions of MLM recruiters may be more sinister. “Military wives are an easy target [for MLMs],” said Melissa Blevins, founder of Perfection Hangover, a small business website geared toward women, “because they’re seeking community, purpose and ways to stay busy and make money while their husbands are deployed.”

MLM recruiters often approach women (military wives or otherwise) with promises to solve the problems they’re facing. For example, a recruiter may show you a flexible way to earn extra cash (often lots of it) with a work schedule that fits your busy life. Plus, if you move, you don’t have to start over. You can take your direct-selling business with you.

The targeting of military families has a lot to do with the transient nature of military service, said Peter Marinello, vice president of the Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council for Better Business Bureau (BBB) National Programs. “I think the military community is very vulnerable to direct-selling opportunities and a lot of different kinds of scams.”

This frequent relocation can also lead to loneliness among military spouses, and MLMs offer to help those who are seeking new friendships. But Blevins, who had her own negative experience selling for Beachbody, warned the friendships you make when you join an MLM may not last once you stop participating, and you run the risk of losing your existing friends if you start bombarding them with sales pitches.

The difference between a legitimate opportunity and a scam

You’ll find people who are superfans of multilevel marketing programs and others who despise MLMs as a whole. Perhaps the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

Marinello confirmed, “There are a lot of good MLM opportunities out there. They are not all scams.” But they require due diligence before signing up. To properly vet an MLM, Marinello suggests reading income disclosures to “see who’s making money [and] at what level.” You should also review compensation plans and rely on outside resources to help shape your decision.

If you want to learn more about a specific direct selling organization, the following ideas may help:

  • Check with your state attorney general for complaints before signing up for any networking marketing opportunity.
  • Search online to see if any lawsuits have been filed against an MLM before joining — such as the FTC’s settlement with Herbalife or the more recent lawsuit brought against LuLaRoe by the Washington state attorney general.
  • Talk to former consultants or search online for the opinions of people who once joined a particular MLM but ultimately left.
  • The BBB Institute for Marketplace Trust sponsors the Military & Veterans Initiative — a program designed to help veterans, servicemembers and their families avoid scams.
  • The Direct Selling Self-Regulatory Council (DSSRC), a collaboration between the BBB and the Direct Selling Association (DSA), is another solid resource to use when vetting MLMs.

How to spot a pyramid scheme

Some MLMs are pyramid schemes in disguise. A pyramid scheme may look like a legitimate network marketing opportunity on the outside. But there are key distinctions that could waste both your time and your money if you fall for it.

  • You don’t earn money by selling a legitimate product or service.
  • You’re trained to focus primarily on recruiting new team members underneath you.
  • Financial statements from the company either (a) are not available or (b) show that the MLM earns most of its money from recruitment instead of sales.
  • The commissions you earn come primarily from money paid by new team members themselves, not outside sales.

Working for an MLM is not a quick fix to your financial struggles

The reality doesn’t always live up to the hype where MLMs are concerned. Some MLM participants are quick to over-promise your chances of success in an effort to add a new team member to their network.

In reality, most people who join MLMs don’t earn the enormous sums of money often advertised by salespeople. AARP’s study found that nearly 21 million Americans have participated in an MLM. Yet only 7% earned over $10,000. Fewer than 1% earned more than $100,000.

Even those who do manage to make some money through MLMs may have to work much harder to earn that income when compared with other jobs. A MagnifyMoney survey finds that the vast majority of multilevel marketing participants earn less than 70 cents an hour.

Kirlew also advised approaching MLMs with the right mindset. “While MLM’s are pitched as a great way to earn extra income, people should know it’s not like a part-time job, but rather a part-time business.”

“If someone has a need for immediate income,” he continued, “I would recommend a part-time job and not an MLM.”

Most businesses don’t succeed — including MLMs — Kirlew pointed out. “The extra added pressure of trying to meet short-term financial goals is usually not a good combination with starting a new business.”

If you’re already in debt because of an MLM investment or other financial missteps, there are a number of tools you can use to improve your situation. This guide detailing financial resources for veterans in debt is a great place to start.

Seven red flags to look for before joining a multilevel marketing team

  1. Beware of MLMs that require a hefty buy-in. If you’re asked to put up a large upfront amount to join, Kirlew said it could be a sign of a scam.
  2. An aggressive sign-up pitch is cause for concern. Kirlew advised looking out for “high-pressure sales tactics to get you to sign up” when you’re considering an MLM. If someone tells you to “act now” or lose out on an opportunity, you should probably walk away.
  3. Proceed with caution if a company won’t buy back unused products. If you purchase product to stock your inventory and don’t sell it all, some MLMs offer to buy your unused product back. Mary Kay, for example, will repurchase product at 90% of the original cost for up to one year after purchase. MLMs that won’t rebuy your unused products should be avoided.
  4. Watch out for companies that require you to continue purchasing inventory after your sign up. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) warns if you have to buy more products than you can sell in order to stay active in an MLM, you should hang on to your money.
  5. When an MLM focuses on recruitment, not sales, it could be a sign of trouble. Marinello said, “Anytime you hear a sales pitch that’s recruitment heavy and not focused on selling the product, I’d be very wary.”
  6. If a company promises a huge return on your investment, be on guard. Extravagant income claims made by a salesperson, particularly in the social media space, may be a warning sign, Marinello advised.
  7. You should also be on guard if an MLM company promises “miracle cures” for buyers. The FTC recommends avoiding any companies that make claims of “miracle ingredients” or “guaranteed results” where health products are concerned.

The bottom line

While some MLMs may offer the flexibility and community military spouses crave, don’t make any rash decisions and do your homework. Kirlew also advised that you trust your gut instincts before signing up.

“If something doesn’t feel right,” Kirlew said, “it is either not right or not right for you.”

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Michelle Black
Michelle Black |

Michelle Black is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Michelle here