NEW YORK — Choosing a stroller, when it can cost from $30 to $1,200 or more, can be as daunting as buying a car. Do you need hand brakes or will foot stops do the job? How big a seat and how much padding? And, of course, how many cup holders? • Some families end up buying two or even three strollers before they find one they like. Here are practical tests and other steps to take to cut the uncertainty and save money the first time around.
1Start with you: Match the stroller to your lifestyle or that of the family you're buying for, recommends Alan Fields, co-author of Baby Bargains. Many feature-loaded strollers will lose their appeal the first time you're forced to change plans because you can't fit your stroller onto a bus or the subway , no matter how prestigious the brand. Conversely, if your top goal is lulling your baby to sleep, those same strollers may be just right. Even a $2,995 Balmoral pram from Britain's Silver Cross could be in order.
Generally, urbanites will want a lightweight and compact buggy for navigating congested sidewalks and public transit, while suburbanites may prefer a "travel system" — a stroller that comes with an infant car seat. For hikers and parents who cope with slushy sidewalks and ice several months a year, an all-terrain stroller with hand brakes may be essential.
2Testing, testing: Just as you would test-drive a car, you should try strollers in real-life situations, especially when buying one used.
Wear flip-flops to go shopping so you can test whether the foot brakes require hard shoes to set and release. And check that the stroller slips easily into your car's trunk, especially if you have a hybrid with a big battery, says Cindy Lewis, founder of Adviceforbaby.com.
Above all, because putting down the baby is sometimes out of the question — say she's sleeping or you've just emerged from a taxi onto a sidewalk — a stroller that takes two hands to unfold should be out of the question, too. Carley Roney, editor in chief of TheBump.com, a Web site of The Knot Inc., recommends filling one hand with something big and unwieldy and making sure you can manipulate the stroller with the other hand without falling over.
3Remember options are optional: If you're easily seduced by accessories, the array of cup holders, sunshades and food trays available on some strollers may be dangerous to your wallet. Figure out, before you get to the store, which are truly beneficial and which you and your baby can live without or add on later.
Don't choose a high-end model just for its sunshade, for example, when you can buy a shade separately for less than $20. But if you plan to go around with two kids at a time, a built-in running board for one to stand on may be worthwhile, says Fields. And it'll be much safer than jury-rigging one or letting a child stand on the stroller's folding mechanism.
4Shop around: It's always a good idea to compare prices but especially for strollers, whose prices can vary dramatically depending on the type of retailer, season and other factors.
Once you've narrowed your search to a couple of models, be sure to check online and call a variety of stores for their prices. But also ask the manufacturer when new models will hit stores because many retailers will discount the old ones significantly, even if the difference is just in color, Roney said.
Also check children's consignment shops. And online exchanges like Craigslist and your area's parent network (try googling "parent network" and your state or city) are great sources of gently used baby equipment for a small fraction of the retail price.